The Mountain Division Trail, like many old railroads that have been transformed into trails, is flat and mostly paved, so doable for people of all fitness levels. Photo by Jake Christie

Earlier this month, the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy unveiled their preferred route for the Great American Rail Trail, a massive undertaking connecting rail trails – former railroad beds that have been converted to multiuse trails – between Washington, D.C. and Washington state. While the proposed 3,700-mile trail doesn’t come anywhere near Maine, it did get me thinking about the rail trails here in our corner of the country.

Maine has 33 rail trails, spanning more than 400 miles, that offer endless opportunities for walking, biking, hiking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and more. I love rail trails because they’re a particularly easy way to experience long, scenic stretches of landscape. Because they follow railroad grades and are often paved asphalt or gravel, many are much more accessible for children, the elderly and people with challenges to mobility.

The Mountain Division Trail is a particularly ambitious project, which aims to follow the Maine Central Railroad’s Mountain Division line more than 50 miles from Portland to Fryeburg. For now, just two segments of the Mountain Division Trail exist: a 4-mile paved section in Fryeburg, which my brother Josh has written about in this column previously; and a 5.6-mile mostly paved section in Standish, Gorham and Windham, which I visited this spring.

Actually, I’ve already been twice this spring, and plan to visit again soon. This stretch of trail, just half an hour from Portland, is a gem – enhanced by the fact that it offers easy access to two nature reserves that are each worthwhile destinations in their own right.

To access the trail, park at the Mountain Division Trailhead at Johnson Field, on Chadbourne Road/Route 35 in Standish; at Shaw Park, off Sebago Lake Road/Route 237 in Gorham; or at Gambo Recreational Area, off Gambo Road in Windham. As of last summer, parking is no longer allowed at the Windham Post Office on Main Street/Route 4, at the eastern end of the trail.

The Mountain Division Trail crosses over the Presumpscot River between Windham and Gorham. Photo by Jake Christie

Other than an 1-mile section of gravel in Standish, the trail is entirely paved and mostly flat, with easy grades and no sudden turns. The five road crossings are well-marked, so you can focus your attention on the scenery as you pass through woods and farmlands and over fields. There’s an especially scenic railroad bridge crossing over the Presumpscot River, between Windham and Gorham; and a number of beautiful, expansive fields near the Route 237 crossing. I saw a number of people jogging, walking and biking on the trail, but biking would be my recommendation – the 11-mile out-and-back ride from the Standish trailhead makes for a lovely cruise.


The gravel section of the trail in Standish passes along through the southern edge of the Portland Water District’s Sebago Lake Land Reserve, a stunning 1,700-acre reserve with more than 13.5 miles of trails. Access to the reserve (parts other than the stretch of Mountain Division Trail) requires filling out a free land access permit at the trailhead, which I highly recommend. These trails have a huge amount of variety, including some steep elevation changes that were created by glacial movement through the area thousands of years ago. A few quick excursions can bring you to expansive views of the reserve’s three small ponds, where you’re likely to see anglers casting lines during fishing season. Deeper trips into the northern half of the reserve will take you over hills and into a network of springs, wetlands and streams, where you may see salamanders and frogs (along with some of their predators, like owls and foxes).

Near the Presumpscot River crossing, a paved path perpendicular to the Mountain Division Trail will take you to Gorham’s Shaw Park, which features a baseball field and a boat launch. Continue past the park along this gentle, curving trail for just half a mile and you’ll arrive at Presumpscot Regional Land Trust’s interesting Gambo Preserve, next to the Gambo Dam.

Nearly 200 years ago, Maine’s first and largest gunpowder mill went into operation at what today is the Gambo Preserve in Gorham. Photo by Jake Christie

Encompassing a single half-mile loop trail along the river, the Gambo Preserve is quite small – but there’s a lot of history packed into that little space. Nearly 200 years ago, Maine’s first and largest gunpowder mill went into operation on this very spot next to the Presumpscot and prospered in the following decades; during the Civil War, the Oriental Powder Mill provided a quarter of the Union army’s black gunpowder, with a daily capacity of 6,500 pounds. While the site is empty of nearly all its industrial trappings now, the eastern side of the loop passes the remains of a wheel mill (used to grind gunpowder ingredients), a canal lock and an old weir; the western side follows an old canal towpath, where beasts of burden once pulled barges along the now-dry canal to move them between Portland and Gorham. Cross the scenic dam and follow Gambo Road for about 1,000 feet to get back to the Mountain Division Trail.

The eastern end of the Mountain Division Trail is at the crossing with Main Street in Windham, where mile markers indicate that you’re only about 11 miles from Casco Bay in Portland. The Sebago to the Sea Trail – another ambitious trail project, connecting Sebago Lake to Portland – continues along the railroad tracks. The adventurous (and prepared) can continue along to seek out new sights and challenges on the way to the sea. Otherwise, there’s plenty to explore right here in Windham, Gorham and Standish, on a trip along the Mountain Division Trail.

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

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