For the first time since I started this column half a decade ago, I find myself without a car. It’s a turn of events that, while not unpredictable (Christies have notoriously bad luck with cars, which are driven until catastrophic malfunction), was unexpected. It was also something that I thought would surely make my column impossible. Most of the trips covered in this column are hours from home, with little in terms of public transport to cover the miles.

Rather than concede defeat – another thing intrinsically difficult for Christies – I decided to explore just how far the public transportation in the Greater Portland area could carry me. By using only local buses and ferries, could I put together a worthwhile list of destinations?

The answer, thankfully, is yes. The Portland Metro bus system (and, by extension, its partner services and ferries) spans a great swath of southern Maine, covering dozens of miles of coastline and as far inland as Bridgton.

Over the last week, I’ve used the bus system to explore the urban and rural trails of the Portland area. It’s been a great chance to reacquaint myself with some favorite trails, as well as discover new gems.

I’ll note that this list covers a few of my favorite routes off the Metro, and by no means is meant to be comprehensive. The Portland Trails network alone, almost all of which is accessible by public transportation, maintains 70 miles of hiking, walking and biking trails. Add on other routes, and there’s far more than could be covered in a single column. Please consider this a starting point.

Route 4, which runs between Portland and Westbrook, accesses the Westbrook Riverwalk at the Main Street and Vallee Square stop. The Riverwalk follows the Presumpscot River east for a mile and a half, with views of mills, waterfalls and kayakers. From the Brighton and Rowe stop, it’s a short walk down Rowe Street to the 85-acre Fore River Sanctuary and Jewell Falls, Portland’s only natural waterfall. The Brighton and Lucas stop drops at the trailhead to the Capisic Brook Trail in Capisic Park, home of Portland’s largest freshwater pond.

Route 5, connecting Portland to the Jetport and Maine Mall in South Portland, accesses the Fore River Sanctuary from its southern end at the Congress and Frost stop. You can also pick up the Forest City Trail, a 10-mile network of trails running from the Stroudwater River to the Presumpscot Falls, at the trailhead behind Unum at the Congress and Unum stop. It’s a 10-mile hike in one direction, but thankfully the Route 9 bus picks up near the trail’s end at Auburn Street.

Route 7 provides access to the Audubon Preserve and Mackworth Island trails in Falmouth, at the Route 1 and Gilsland Farm and Route 1 and Andrews stops, respectively. The former is a 65-acre sanctuary with more than two miles of trails, while the latter is a 1.6 mile loop around Mackworth Island.

The Metro Breez, an express service started last year that connects to Falmouth, Yarmouth, and Freeport, accesses the same Falmouth trails as Route 7 (albeit from a bus stop slightly farther away). It also provides access to the Royal River Trail in Yarmouth via the Yarmouth Town Hall stop, and Leon Gorman Park in Freeport via the L.L. Bean stop. Service will extend to Brunswick in August – depending on where stops are placed, this might add even more hiking opportunities for those willing to venture up the coast.

Portland’s buses charge a one-way fare of $1.50, with free transfers available if you’re changing lines at a stop. The Breez fare is slightly more, at $3 per trip. Both the city and Breez buses have a bike rack affixed to their fronts, and it’s free to transport your bike.

Beyond the eight routes of the Metro, partners extend the system significantly. The South Portland Bus Service provides service from Portland to Willard Square in South Portland via Route 21 – from here, it’s only a mile and a half down Cottage Road to Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light. Bug Light is accessible from the same stop (as is Scratch Bakery and Willard Scoops, if you need a snack). The Lakes Region Explorer, which runs four times daily during the week from Portland to Bridgton (with a $3 fare), offers stops in Naples, Casco and Windham, and exploration opportunities along Sebago Lake.

The Casco Bay Island Transit District, also known as Casco Bay Lines, runs multiple ferries to Peaks, Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Cliff, Long and Chebeague. Most of the islands offer some sort of hiking – the best of the bunch are the four-mile loop of Peaks Island, and the 20-minute walk from Long Island’s town landing to the “singing” sands of South Beach. As with the Portland buses, you can cart a bicycle onto the ferries for use on the islands.

The options don’t stop there. Beyond the municipal options (and, frankly, beyond the scope of this piece), things expand even further.

With Amtrak trains and Concord Coach buses, the Maine coast from Bangor down to Kittery is easily and inexpensively reached without a vehicle of your own.

While I wouldn’t wish a sudden and unexpected vehicle loss on anyone, I’m glad that I’ve gone through the experience. I’ve relied heavily – perhaps too heavily – on having my own vehicle to explore the outdoors. I hadn’t give much thought to how much my work could exclude the many folks in the greater Portland area going carless, by choice or otherwise. Hopefully, this column provides a starting point for those who want to explore the outdoors without a car.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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