Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 | SUBSCRIBE

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

New England Regional

Boston to Portland, Maine--and even Canada

By train, bike, bus, and boat

July-August 2009

Cyclists of all levels can enjoy the coastal Eastern Promenade Trail in Portland.

Cyclists of all levels can enjoy the coastal Eastern Promenade Trail in Portland.

Courtesy of Portland Trails

The only passenger train to Maine, the Downeaster, runs five round trips a day from Boston to Portland. Although the train itself belongs to Amtrak, the route is run by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), which is good news because, unlike most Amtrak trains, the Downeaster allows bikes on board with advance reservations, making it possible to go from Boston to multiple points north--as far as the legs will travel. (See website for details.)

If a shorter trip appeals, the Downeaster’s earlier station stops include Durham, New Hampshire, where a frequent shuttle bus service (which is run by the state university and takes bikes) goes to nearby Portsmouth--a desirable biking destination with beaches, restaurants, lodgings, parks, and the historic Strawberry Banke neighborhood. Or get off a bit later, at the Old Orchard Beach depot, and grab a shuttle for a day or two of swimming and sunning there.

The trip from Boston to Portland takes two hours. A city bus can then carry visitors to a range of spots, including the Old Port downtown, where select restaurants and galleries commingle with the usual T-shirt and ice-cream venues. Portland’s other lures include the Portland Sea Dogs (minor league baseball), the Portland Art Museum, a working lobster-boat excursion, and a visit to the octagonal Portland Observatory, the last maritime signal tower in the United States.

Biking around the city is a lot of fun, especially as civic leaders and activists there continue to make it safer, easier, and more beautiful to ride, thanks to a series of pathways, including the central 2.1-mile Eastern Promenade Trail that follows Casco Bay, and the Bayside Trail now in the works. The Casco Bay Ferry Line (which allows bikes) travels to local islands, including Peaks Island (where businesses are within walking distance of the dock) and then on to Little Diamond, Great Diamond, and finally, Cliff Island, where most residents do not use cars.

For those craving international adventure, the high-speed CAT ferry typically leaves Portland at 8 a.m. and arrives in Yarmouth, at the southern tip of Nova Scotia, by 1:30 p.m. Bikes are allowed--and even encouraged--as bike touring is gaining in popularity there.