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The Penobscot River Trails in Grindstone consist of 25 kilometers of exceptional mountain bike and cross-country ski trails that parallel the East Branch of the Penobscot River. The superb multipurpose recreational complex offers hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and paddling. There is a visitor center and two arguably palatial warming huts. A well-designed hand-carry canoe-kayak boat landing is located on the river.
Last winter when my wife, Nancy, and I were skiing and snowshoeing the Penobscot River Trails with our retired friends, Diane and John Stokinger, we resolved to return in the summer for a surf and turf adventure. Our plan was to paddle the river one day and bike the trails the next.
Recently, the four of us met at the Hay Brook Canoe-Kayak Facility at the southern end of the trail network to begin the surf portion of our escapade. Leaving a shuttle vehicle in the parking area, we transported four solo kayaks and gear north on Route 11 for about 15 miles to Stacyville. From there we traveled west on the dirt Swift Brook Road for about 10 miles to Whetstone Falls on the East Branch where there is a small parking area on the left and a path to the lower end of the falls. Crossing the bridge over Whetstone Falls leads to the southeastern entrance of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
On this day, we were particularly fortunate because the river was flowing at 1,450 cubic feet per second, more than twice the mean volume. Whetstone Falls is rated Class III in difficulty; however, we launched at the foot of the rapid that consisted of perhaps 100 yards of easy Class I maneuvering. Everyone in our group had a trouble-free descent.
Shortly after, we met a couple tubing the river. They too were traveling to Hay Brook. Given their lack of paddles for propulsion, we commented it seemed likely they would have a long day. The unflappable inflatable voyageurs remarked that if problems developed they’d leave the river and walk the trails.
Kayaking conditions were exceptional. We enjoyed clear sunny skies, warm temperatures and a light refreshing headwind. The high water propelled us along in what was primarily quick water with occasional ripples. While paddling, glimpses of the Penobscot River Trails were common.
After proceeding for several miles, we located a gravel beach on an island where we stopped for a lunch break. Continuing downriver, a large group of exuberant cyclists were seen riding south on the trails. Shortly after, Hay Brook entered on the left. Around the bend, we disembarked at the very convenient Hay Brook Boat Landing, completing an 8.25 mile cruise.
We arrived at the large Penobscot River Trails parking lot early the next morning for the turf segment of our outing. Hot, humid weather was forecasted for later in the day, so our goal was to complete a ride before the temperatures rose to an uncomfortable level. After signing in at the Visitor Center, we rode north on the Tote Road for about 2 miles to Riverside Trail junction.
From the junction, the trails are one-way traveling north on Riverside and returning south on Tote Road. Our group separated to pursue varying riding agendas. The Riverside Trail is a stimulating hilly, twisting path with numerous bridges and frequent views of the river while the inland Tote Road is a wider, more level surface. Four Link Trails connect Riverside with Tote Road to facilitate shorter rides.
I rode Riverside Trail to Trails End. Just beyond, I passed the Long Meadow Warming Hut to a junction with Long Meadow Hill Trail, an optional spur that turns left. After a steady climb up Meadow Hill for about a kilometer, I enjoyed an exhilarating descent to Tote Road. The remainder of my ride on Tote Road was generally downhill. Based on the signage that trip approximates 17 miles.
Our two-day excursion paddling and biking the Penobscot River Trails was a delight. The trails are simply remarkable. We’ll return to ski again next winter.
Read about several more exciting whitewater river and stream trips in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.” Five bike trails are also featured along with three unique offshore island bike rides.
Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are… More by Ron Chase, Outdoors Contributor