I’ve gotten into the habit of strolling along Gardiner’s new waterfront trail after the kids’ music class Friday mornings. The trail (which, as far as I can tell, has not been officially named yet) is a short but pleasant walk through the woods along the Kennebec River south of downtown Gardiner. The trail follows an easement through land owned by the State of Maine, parallel to, and down a steep bank from, the railroad tracks and Route 24.
You can access the Kennebec River Rail Trail from the waterfront trail by following Main Avenue from the Waterfront to the north end of the Hannaford parking lot.
The head of the trail is rather well-concealed at the far end of a large expanse of dirt that the City recently purchased from Webber Oil through a Land for Maine’s Future grant. Based on the proposed Waterfront Park Expansion Diagram on the City’s website, this brownfield will one day be a park with lawns and an arts pavilion. To access the trail, you can park at the Waterfront on Main Avenue and follow the newly-built timber boardwalk to its south end, and meet the trail just beyond the canoe/kayak launch site. For those with strollers, bikes or disabilities, be aware that the boardwalk drops off a good 18” to trail level. Alternatively, you can park along Water Street and reach the trail via a small alleyway just beyond Bailey’s Garage. This is a somewhat hazardous access point because Water Street’s sidewalks do not extend this far and the alley is used as parking for the garage.
Distance: ½ mile (one way)
Hiking Time: ¼ - ½ hour
Once the trail bypasses the brownfield and enters the trees, it becomes a pleasant walk, under a canopy of Norway maples, paper birches and other mixed hardwoods, with intermittent views of the river. The trail is wide and level, surfaced in crushed stone, with lovely granite benches creating resting or reflecting spots at regular intervals. Half a mile south of the Waterfront, the trail ends in a cul-de-sac, with more stone benches around the circle and access to a small sandy beach at low tide. Some traffic noise from Route 27 carries across the water, but birdsong, rustling leaves and lapping water offer a soothing counterpoint.
I love taking my kids here—the smooth level surface makes the waterfront trail ideal for pushing the stroller and the short length makes it manageable for little hikers and beginning bikers. Once you get past the sketchy starting points mentioned above, it’s a nice, safe place for little ones to explore. About halfway down the trail, an old yellow caboose sits along the train tracks just uphill from the trail. I’d love to see it moved down near the trail and renovated into something kids could play in.