Riding the Rails: The Amtrak Downeaster to Freeport, Maine
February 7, 2013

This past November, Amtrak’s Downeaster train, which has long made roundtrips between Boston and Portland, Maine, celebrated expanded service to Brunswick and Freeport. The project included the installation of more than 30 miles of rail and 33,000 ties, the rehabilitation of 36 grade crossings, and the construction of two station platforms.

If you have any train lovers in the family, those are facts you’ll want to have handy. And if you’re wondering how the train got its name, in Colonial times, Maine shipbuilders called the sailing vessels they built “Downeasters,” so it’s a nod to that history.

Freeport these days is widely known as a shopping mecca, with more than 150 shops within walking distance of the train depot, but if you have a family like mine (no one really likes to shop for very long), why go to Freeport?

Here are just a few reasons why:

  • The L.L. Bean flagship store, or “Beans” as everyone calls it in Freeport, offers a fantastic Discovery Series through its Outdoors Discovery Schools, at a minimal cost. 
  • If you stay at the charming family-owned Harraseeket Inn, just about three blocks from the train station, you can take advantage of custom tours offered by the inn, such as guided hikes, camping (the inn will set up camp for beginners), kayaking, fishing, and pretty much any kind of adventure you can think of outside.
  • Freeport serves as an excellent base to explore Maine’s coast, as well as parks like nearby Bradbury Mountain.

Programs offered by L.L. Bean include snowshoeing, skiing, archery, fly fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking, biking, and more. They cost as little as $20 and are a great way to introduce children to an activity, to serve as a refresher class, or just to enjoy as a fun group outing. Unique tours like a lobster and biking trip along the coast make for great day trips. All the equipment is provided and one thing I truly appreciate is that the instructors never, ever try to sell you anything.

On a recent visit, when the weather didn’t cooperate for snowshoeing, we instead went hiking at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, about a five-minute drive from the heart of Freeport (top image and below). Chip, general manager of the Harraseeket Inn and son of the owner, served as tour guide. The 200-acre park has trails that take you along the gorgeous coast, and you can read about the surrounding islands on interpretive panels found along the route. Though, if you go with someone as knowledgeable as Chip, you won’t need the signs!

The trip from Boston’s North Station to Freeport takes just over three hours, and it’s a comfortable, relaxed ride. We left Boston on a Friday morning; the train wasn’t full and there was plenty of room to spread out, work online (the train offers free Wi-Fi), or play cards in the café car. On the Sunday morning return, the train---every seat taken---seemed full of Celtic fans on their way to a game. Fares starts at $22 one way for adults and $11 for children ages 2 to 15.


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