Here’s some great drives that are extra special during the spring in our travel destinations USA guide series. If you’re not from the North East then this could be a great item for you should Maine be your destination in the next few weeks. Obviously if you’re from the area then you may know some of these drives but hopefully some will be new to you.
An open winter has left us with an early spring, with weeks to go before the trees and greenery returns to Maine. If you are smart, and earnest, you already have the yard cleaned up and winter is in the rearview mirror. What a perfect time to travel to places that are usually hidden away by lush foliage, scenes and places that you might otherwise miss entirely.
You can find all kinds of travel guides and special routes to take when there is autumn’s colorful glow or the delights of summer, but doesn’t it make sense to get off the beaten path, abandon the tried and true and explore new roads and find Maine’s truly treasured places?
If you travel around Maine for work, you might know all about these unique routes. If you study the Maine Gazetteer in your spare time, you might have always wanted to try these roads, but never made the effort. Here’s the impetus to give it a whirl. What have you got to lose? A couple of dollars’ worth of gas might be worth finding some new places to enjoy, away from the tourists and the thicker, and often slower, pace on the main routes.
Ellsworth to Stonington
Part of exploring rural roads and tarmac off the beaten path requires that you be flexible and patient. If the road is open, nicely maintained, and bestowed with a new paint job (new pavement), then it’s always a thrill to open the throttle a bit and press the pace. At other times you must be vigilant for the unexpected — the sights that you’ll always miss at other times of the year.
These scenes are prevalent all the way down the Blue Hill Peninsula if you want to spot glimpses of the coast, hidden beaches, or old farms nestled into the pines.
Obviously, Route 15 South has to be part of your journey, but there is a cluster of feeder-routes that surround Blue Hill, Brooklin and Brooksville that make this part of Hancock County so enjoyable.
One could start with following Route 176 from Orland into Surry and on to East Blue Hill, stopping at the village proper to survey the park and launch ramp or taking in the secluded yacht club as you approach Blue Hill. Once in town, a swing down South Street reveals the golf course and several stately mansions that hug the shore. Catching up to Route 175 swings you around the picturesque harbor at The Nub as well as Blue Hill Falls. On the way to Brooklin, there are rolling hills and prime views of Mount Desert Island plus two peninsulas to explore — Flye Point and Naskeag Point. These diversions are well worth the effort, especially a stop at Naskeag Harbor at low tide so you can walk the expanding beachfront.
Back onto 175 leads to Sedgwick and then the elevated view of Eggemoggin Reach as you approach Sargentville. After regaining Route 15 you can cross the Deer Isle Bridge and explore the roads around Little Deer Isle before accessing the Reach Road in Deer Isle and navigating around the little back roads of the whole island. Stinson Neck Road, Greenlaw Road, Whitmore Neck Road, Stinson Point — you have to hit them all if you want to find the little villages of Sunshine, Sunset and Oceanville to get a feel for the real Stonington/Deer Isle community.
Once you get back to the ‘mainland,’ bear left again onto Herrick’s Road and head west to South Brooksville, a stop at the Buck’s Harbor General Store and the yacht club and then onto a tour of Cape Rosier. By now, you haven’t gone very far in real miles, but hours have passed if you have taken in the interesting stops along the way, gotten out to walk around and explored, and given the camera some exercise.
Of course, given enough time, there is still Penobscot, Castine and Orland to explore, but they can be another trip all by themselves. Put that it the memory bank for another ride.
St. Georges Byway to Port Clyde
Have you ever noticed that there are a whole heck of a lot more roads on the west side of the Penobscot River than there are the east side? This is the two Maines — developed and populated ‘western Maine’ versus rural, wooded ‘eastern Maine.’
Still, population density is low in these parts even though the roads are more plentiful — and very interesting.
From Belfast, head out Route 3 like you are going to venture to Augusta. At the top of the hill in Belmont, bear left onto Route 131 and head southeast to Searsmont, Appleton and Union. These rustic communities offer grand vistas of the hills around Camden, plus several streams, ponds and working farms. Old barns, numerous stone walls, plus some lumber mills and fishing holes are but a few of the interesting stops.
Once in Union you can turn onto Route 235 and head for Waldoboro (trip number 3) or, stay on 131 through Warren, into Thomaston and across Route 1 into South Thomaston, St. George, Tenants Harbor, Port Clyde and Spruce Head. Again, taking the road less traveled will reveal countless little harbors, beaches and special places that you might not ever see in the summer because of the crowds, the traffic, and of course, the tree cover. You can also picnic at Marshall Point Lighthouse, made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Forrest Gump, or hit the State Park at Birch Point, or the prominent lighthouse at Owl’s Head. Of course, motorheads must stop at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum for at least a short visit.
At the end of this loop you can find yourself back in Rockland or Camden and revel in the slog back up Route 1 to Hancock County, hopefully in a convertible with a full moon rising out of Penobscot Bay.
Head Tide, South Bristol, and Pemaquid
If you’ve gotten this far, then these kinds of trips are obviously your cup of tea. Looking at old barns, viewing old cemeteries and finding old grist mills and restored villages is much more than obstacles on the trip. Linking old roads, and an exhilarating drive to these spots, is the key.
This loop can start again from Belfast or headed east from Augusta on Route 3 — there are no wrong ways to exploring this part of central Maine. The ride down Route 220 in Washington, into Jefferson and west over to Route 215 leads to Alna outside of Wiscasset and a historic village called Head Tide. Colonial churches, houses and even an old damn populate this secluded spot along the Sheepscot River. Clever signs highway intersections that used to designate these major routes to market.
From Alna, you are near the gateway to history at Edgecomb, Boothbay and Southport Island, or, Damariscotta, South Bristol, and Pemaquid. If you choose the latter, pick up 129 and keep bearing right at all turns so you can hit South Bristol. Here, you’ll find the second busiest bridge opening in Maine — Bristol Gut — plus a quaint fishing village. If you keep going south onto Rutherford Island, you’ll reach Christmas Cove where you can view the Thread of Life Ledges in John’s Bay. All of the great summer homes are vacant and if you are vigilant, I can promise you more than one really nice, secluded picnic spot with your own private beach.
Head back up 129 to Pemaquid Road east and you’ll loop around to New Harbor, Fort William Henry, Pemaquid Beach and Pemaquid Point Light. A walk on the rocks at Pemaquid has to be part of every Mainer’s memories.
The return trip will bring you up Route 32 through Round Pond, Bremen and Waldoboro. Small boat shops, art galleries and fishing harbors abound, so little effort is needed to find more treasures.
Western Maine, Part One
The rural roads around Western Maine offer a bounty of trails, tumbling streams and waterfalls, covered bridges and exciting driving. You can pick so many different routes that if you kept track, you would have loop overlapping loop.
One version starts west of Augusta on Route 202 to Winthrop. After passing downtown Winthrop, jump onto 133 over to Wayne. This is lake country, with lots of water everywhere. After Wayne, point west onto 219 to North Leeds. Right at the end of the brand new bridge across the Androscoggin River, take Route 108. When you join Route 4, follow the signs to get back onto 108 and follow the west side of the river through Canton, East Peru, on to Rumford. As you approach the giant paper mill, veer right back across the Androscoggin River into Mexico, where it’s a good idea to gas and refuel yourself for the ride north on Route 17 to Rangeley. This ride takes you deep into the Maine woods, but with a decidedly rustic feel. You can stop at Byron and Coos Canyon and try your hand at panning for gold — at least stop for the beautiful rock sculptures and the engaging water falls or you can press on looking for moose and the 50-mile view from Height of the Land. At this turnout, the majesty of Mooselookmeguntic Lake as well as the Richardson Lake chain stretch off toward the New Hampshire border.
Once over the mountain, you arrive at Oquossic, where you can certainly go west to New Hampshire, or, east to Rangeley and Rangeley Lake. At Rangeley, if you have lots of time, amble up Route 16 to Dallas and Stratton and on to Eustis and Kingfield, or down a vastly improved Route 4 to Phillips and Strong. Nestled up against the Sandy River, these twin towns embrace their rural past. The architecture, the history is worn right on the town’s face. Downtown encourages you to turn onto 149 and take in more of the river and the rolling terrain.
Route 149 will bring you to Farmington where you can ride the main route, 4, again or divert to 41 and Vienna, 137 to Smithfield, Rome and Oakland and continue across middle Maine back to the coast in Belfast.
Blue Ridge Parkway
OK, so this ride is not in Maine yet it remains an all-time favorite and a definite ‘bucket-list’ route for any traveler. Add in the mountains of East Tennessee and the circuitous roads in this region of the country and you have a rich formula for fun driving. Include the reserved lifestyle and the rich history and you have the ingredients for days of exploring that will entice you turn after turn.
During spring, early spring, the roads are less traveled, too, so this means that you can get out there and find all of the little delights that the travel guides talk about but you just can’t bear to visit when the motorhomes are about and the kids are out of school. Trust me, this is a trip where you want to set your own pace.
Get out there and travel!