Portland, Maine, the largest city in the state of Maine, the cultural and social capital of the the "vacation" state, and long a favorite of cyclists for its network of bicycle routes and trails.
The trailhead for the Eastern Promenade Trail can be accessed at the corner of Commercial and India Streets near the eastern end of the Old Port area adjacent to the Ocean Gateway Terminal. Free on-street parking in the immediate area is limited to 2-hour periods between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, but other options, such as the East End Beach parking area or public parking structures are available.
We parked our car for free on Commercial Street not far from the trailhead at around 2:30 pm. A quick discussion with a very friendly parking cop making his rounds on a bicycle let us know that he was done with his "chalking" of the tires of parked vehicles, and he didn't think anyone else would be coming by to check during the remaining half hour between our 2-hour period and the 5:00 pm cutoff point.
After a few minutes of getting our gear together, we set off on our bicycles on the Eastern Promenade Trail along the waters edge. This paved trail is a popular one used by all sorts of people who we saw out for a stroll, jogging, or cycling in the afternoon sun. A nice sea breeze helped keep us cool as we made our way past defunct rail cars and the restored passenger train of The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum. We could see passengers sitting in the open rail car waiting for the start of their 1.5 mile ride (each way) along the Eastern Promenade Trail.
Just a bit further along, we rode down slope of the Fort Allen Park, built in honor of veterans of World War I. On a day clear of fog, the view out over Casco Bay from the trail is spectacular. From the trail we could see cargo ships, sailing yachts and in the distance Peaks Island, Great Diamond Island and the north coast of Maine.
The trail begins to climb a bit as you head further along through the Eastern Promenade Park and looking out over the bay you can see the remnants of an old swing bridge which was once part of the Grand Trunk Railway between Quebec and Maine.
Continuing on along the crest of the hill we rode past the city's water-treatment plant whose objectionable odor is fortunately a short moment — at least on bicycles — in an otherwise wonderful ride.
Riding past a long graffiti mural, we approached the bridge where Interstate 295/Route 1 crosses the channel into the Back Cove. We got a bit confused at this point, not having researched the route as well as we could have. There is the option to follow the trail to the right and under the bridge, or to turn left and cross a small street and continue on an obvious two-laned multi-use path. We decided to turn right which led us under and around the other side of the bridge and up a ramp to a bike lane with two further options: the first, to take a ramp down to the right, the second, to continue along the southbound leg of the bridge and into some bushes.
We turned back, re-tracing our steps to the point where we crossed the small street (Sewage Plant Road) and continued on the multi-use path. What we didn't know at the time was that if we had kept going along the bridge into the bushes, we would have ended up back on the Eastern Promenade Trail on its inland return loop.
So, back at our first decision point, it turned out that the multi-use path we were now on ran parallel to Sewage Plant Road which turns into Marginal Way — a fairly busy street in north Portland. After about 4 blocks we ran out of path and had to get onto the street itself. There is a bike lane on Marginal Way and we continued on it for a bit and then made a very fortuitous decision to turn right at Preble St/Elm St, crossing under Interstate 295/Route 1, then taking a right on to Baxter Boulvevard and unwittingly to the Back Cove Trail. There was an easier way to get here by taking that down ramp I mentioned earlier in the path from atop the bridge — see the map — but again, we hadn't done our normal research on this trail.
By not taking that down ramp, we missed the first part of the southbound Back Cove Trail which takes you through Back Cove Park at the southern end of the Back Cove. Here's a Google map of Back Cove Park.
Happily, we managed to stumble our way onto one of Portland's most popular cycling loops on Baxter Boulevard. This is a moderately-shouldered bike lane which parallels a stone dust path, both of which ring the entire 4 mile circumference of Portland's Back Cove, a tidal basin that dries out to mud flats at low tide.
There are rest stops with portable bathrooms along the way for trail users. At any given point along the trail one can enjoy a very picturesque view of the other side of the cove from under the cover of beautiful shade trees.
We rode along the entire Back Cove and followed the trail up the ramp to the bridge again. Recognizing the spot where we had been before, we knew how to get back to the outer part of the Eastern Promenade Trail so that we could retrace our path back to the car while enjoying the view of Casco Bay once again.
We decided to ride into the Old Port section to have something cool to drink before packing it up. We ended up parking our bikes outside of an Irish pub called "Rí Rá" and taking an outdoor table where we had a couple of ice cold Sam Adams Summer Ales and some delicious fried Calamari strips. All in all, a very fun trip and a great way to see the outskirts of Portland in a fairly short span of time.