Scenery along the Fish River Fort Kent.
Photos by Carey Kish
Looking across to Clair New Brunswick from ski slopes on Lonesome Pine Trails.
Hikers on the Levee Trail along the Saint John River in Fort Kent
Hikers on the Fort Kent Trails and Greenways system along the Fish River.
Hikers enjoy the old growth woods along the Fish River in Fort Kent.
Hikers amid the thick growth along the Fish River Fort Kent.
Carey and his Fort Kent hiking companions Carey Travis Jandreau Laura Audibert Alain Ouelette.
Fort Kent Blockhouse.
Situated at the confluence of the Fish River and the St. John River on the northern margin of Aroostook County is Fort Kent, a vibrant and picturesque village of 4,000 hardy residents.
Rich in history, culture and natural beauty, the town boasts a remarkable array of year-round recreational opportunities, including a bounty of walking and hiking trails.
I’ve been to Fort Kent just a couple of times, on the way back from a weeklong paddle on the Allagash River and on my way into the remote Deboullie Public Lands. But making a stop on Main Street each time for gas and snacks can hardly be considered a proper visit, and as such I’ve been itching to get back to enjoy more of the flavor of the place.
Fort Kent is often called “the little town that could” for its can-do spirit in the face of adversity, notably the major floods and fires it has endured through the years, as well as its ability to harness large numbers of volunteers for world- class events like the biathlon World Cup, which drew 20,000 people and thrust the town into the international spotlight.
This summer I got a good taste of the friendly, welcoming and spirited nature of Fort Kent when I connected with a handful of local folks for a wonderful six-mile circuit hike along the greenways and through the green spaces of town. This scenic and surprisingly wild trek is one I would repeat in a heartbeat.
My hiking companions included Alain Ouellette, a longtime resident and former town manager; Travis Jandreau, registered nurse at Northern Maine Medical Center and co-owner of First Mile Brewing; and Laura Audibert, forester and trails advocate. We met up at the First Mile monument on Route 1 and the start of the 2,400-mile highway that extends to Key West, Florida.
The Riverside Trails system meanders along the levee next to the wide St. John River, offering lovely views north to Clair, New Brunswick, before reaching the Fish River and the iconic Fort Kent Blockhouse. The first structure in what would become Fort Kent, the blockhouse is the only fortification built during the Aroostook War, the bloodless border dispute between Great Britain and the U.S. in 1838-39 that was resolved by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842.
On the far side of the Fish River, the trail wends through pretty Riverside Park and past the northern terminus of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile water journey that begins in upstate New York. Beyond the huge log pavilion (restrooms nearby), the path soon crosses Main Street before threading through lush woods along the Fish River.
The St. John Valley Heritage Trail, an old railroad grade connecting Fort Kent with neighboring St. Francis, is the next segment of the route. At the base lodge of Lonesome Pine Trails, the northernmost downhill ski area in Maine, we turned to make the 500-foot climb to the top of Stevens Hill via a marked snowshoeing trail.
From the warming hut atop the grassy ski slopes is a great view north into Canada. From here the trail winds back downhill to the base lodge, rejoins the rail-to-trail and continues west.
The final leg of the loop is again along the St. John River, with the long span of the international Clair-Fort Kent Bridge in sight ahead as you work your way toward downtown.
The community-managed Fort Kent Outdoor Center abuts Lonesome Pine Trails to the south and is home to seven miles of pleasant trails well-suited for hiking. Combined with the Riverside Trails, there are plenty of miles for an entire weekend of outdoor fun on foot.
Autumn is a fantastic time to see Fort Kent and take a hike, but winter also is great. Just bring lots of warm clothes and your snowshoes or cross-country skis to enjoy the trails, as well as downhill gear to ski the groomers at Lonesome Pine. Download a comprehensive Fort Kent Trails & Greenways map at fortkent.org (click on “community links”). Check out lodging and dining options and other fun things to do at fortkentchamber.com.