Even Vacationland still hides pockets of undiscovered country. We’re spilling the beans on 10 super-scenic places to visit in Maine.
From our September 2016 issue.
Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary
At the southern end of the 100-Mile Wilderness is a rare mature forest, 1,639 acres uncut since the late 19th century, blanketing the slopes of Borestone Mountain. It’s the Maine Audubon Society’s largest and least-known preserve. Originally the rustic camp of a wealthy California family, the remote property has three stunning alpine ponds and a handful of turn-of-the-century lodges available for rent.
Peaks-Kenny State Park (401 State Park Rd., Dover-Foxcroft; 207-564-2003), on Sebec Lake, is known for its sand beach and gorgeous mountain views, as well as excellent salmon and trout fishing. Pitch a tent and spend the night or head over to The Inn (5 E. Main St., Dover-Foxcroft; 207-805-8839), which caters to tenderfoots with six luxurious guest rooms in an elegantly renovated mill complex alongside the Piscataquis River. In the same building is a café serving panini, soups, and Maine craft beers.
► Just north of Monson village, turn right onto Elliotsville Rd. After 8 miles, turn left after the bridge onto Bodfish Rd. Parking area is .7 miles on the left, after the railroad tracks. The gate and trailhead are on the right. Sanctuary: 207-631-4050, June–Sept.; 207-781-2330, Oct.–May.
Way, way back when the earth was young and restless, it bucked and shook until it cracked, allowing hot magma to burst forth and fill the seam. Over time — okay, several million years — that seam of basalt rock eroded into an oceanside cascade of ledges now known as the Giant’s Stairs. Part of the McIntosh Lot Preserve owned by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust and the town of Harpswell, the Giant’s Stairs are at the midway point of a spectacular half-mile cliff-walk trail.
Under new ownership as of 2015, the iconic 61-year-old Cook’s Lobster & Ale House (68 Garrison Cove Rd., Bailey Island; 207-833-2818) has greatly expanded its menu, including the ways it serves lobster (we counted 20). In Brunswick, the Bowdoin College campus (9500 College St., Brunswick; 207-725-3416) is home to two superb — and very different — museums: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, exhibiting a fine collection of European, American, modern, and contemporary works, and Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, chronicling the early-20th-century polar explorations of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan with historic photos, fascinating taxidermy mounts, expedition gear, and other artifacts.
► From Cook’s Corner in Brunswick, follow Rte. 24 south for 14.5 miles, crossing the Cribstone Bridge onto Bailey Island. Turn left on Washington Ave. Park at the Episcopal Chapel (except during services) or along the street. Trailheads are found on Ocean St. and Washington Ave.
The centerpiece of the 4,500-acre Great Pond Mountain Wildlands preserve in Orland, Great Pond Mountain is very nearly encircled by waterways. Stretching south are Craig, Heart, and Toddy ponds. To the west is Alamoosook Lake, fed by the Dead River, which wraps around the big hill’s northwest corner. Tucked under its eastern slope is little Hothole Pond, and beyond it, Branch Lake and Upper and Lower Patten ponds. All of which make for some breathtaking scenery atop the 1,038-foot rocky summit, a relatively easy 1.2-mile climb.
The world’s tallest bridge observatory, Penobscot Narrows Observatory (711 Fort Knox Rd., Prospect; 207-469-6553) offers a dizzying 360-degree view of the river, mountains, and nearby towns. The observatory is within Fort Knox State Park, home to an exceptionally well-preserved (and slightly spooky) 19th-century military fortification that kids love to explore. Speaking of spooky, be sure to check out the mysteriously stained monument to Colonel Jonathan Buck in Buck Cemetery (across from Hannaford supermarket, Main St., Bucksport). Legend has it the leg-shaped stain is a curse for Buck’s misdeeds, but a plaque in the cemetery tells a different story.
► From Bucksport, drive 6 miles north on Rte. 1. Turn left on Hatchery Rd. and drive 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Nature Trails Rd. and continue to Don Fish Tr. The Great Pond Mountain/Stuart Gross Trail is 1 mile past the Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery.
Little Wilson Falls and Gorge
Just west of Borestone Mountain, Little Wilson Stream tumbles over a mile-long series of falls and pools. At one end is the lower falls, where picnickers settle on the sun-warmed slate ledges and watch their children slide like otters down a moss-lined chute into a pool deep enough for swimming. At the other end is the big attraction — and a favorite stop for Appalachian Trail hikers: the upper falls, which plunge nearly 40 feet into a long, deep, and narrow canyon. Along the way are several small falls and rapids and a few pools where anglers cast for trout.
Part natural history museum, part home store, part joke shop, Kamp Kamp Moosehead Lake Indian Store (3 Lily Bay Rd., Greenville; 207-695-0789) is the wackiest, most marvelous store in the North Woods. Curiosities include a taxidermy mount of a road-killed doe’s stillborn fawn. Lakeshore House (9 Tenny Hill Rd., Monson; 207-997-7069), on Lake Hebron in Monson, is an inn and restaurant catering to families, AT thru-hikers, and sportsmen. The living room is stocked with games, puzzles, and toys. The restaurant, which serves yummy pub-style meals, sums up the vibe on its menu: “If you’re in a hurry, this is not the place to be.”
► Just north of Monson village, turn right onto Elliotsville Rd. and follow it about 7.5 miles. Turn left onto the gravel road opposite the turnout for Big Wilson Falls (also worth a visit) and drive .8 miles to the Maine Forest Service camping area and the lower falls. The access trail to the upper falls begins above the campground.
A 550-yard sandy crescent backed by a salt marsh, Seapoint Beach is a favorite of families who like its gentle surf. But there’s a reason this beach is something of a secret: summer parking is restricted to vehicles with valid Kittery dump stickers. Ignore the signs, and you’re almost certain to be zinged with a parking ticket. Your choice: park in one of Kittery’s villages and bike in or visit Oct. 1–May 14, when parking is unrestricted.
Kittery’s dining scene has exploded in recent years with options that range from outdoor lobster shacks (Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier, 16 Chauncey Creek Rd., Kittery Point; 207-439-1030) to inventive gastropubs (Black Birch, 2 Government St., Kittery; 207-703-2294) to contemporary bistros (Anneke Jans, 60 Wallingford Sq., Kittery; 207-439-0001). Just down the road from Seapoint Beach, Fort McClary State Park (Pepperrell Rd., Kittery Point; 207-490-4079) preserves the blockhouse, granite walls, and earthworks of a 19th-century installation and offers breathtaking views of Portsmouth Harbor.
► From Kittery Foreside, follow Rte. 103 east about 4 miles and turn right onto Cutts Island Ln. Drive 1 mile and turn right onto Seapoint Rd.
At the southerly tip of the Castine peninsula, Witherle Woods offers 4.2 miles of wide walking trails that meander through stands of spruce, fir, and hardwood. The crown jewel of the 185-acre preserve, managed by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, is Blockhouse Point, a stretch of steep bluff overlooking Penobscot Bay. Once a hotly contested, strategically significant Revolutionary War outpost, the woods now attracts birders in search of northern parulas and winter wrens, as well as locals and visitors wanting a quiet commune with nature.
Continue a little farther past the preserve entrance until you come to Dice Head Light (1 Battle Ave.). Stroll the grounds to take in the distinctive conical rubblestone tower built to guide ships at the mouth of the Penobscot River. Then, head back toward downtown and stop for a short stroll through Maine Maritime Academy’s scenic campus (1 Pleasant St.). The one-of-a-kind public college teaches all things marine — from engineering to biology to transportation (keep an eye out for midshipmen dressed in uniform). For hearty sandwiches, decadent sweets, and a water-view patio, stop by MarKel’s Bakehouse (26 Water St.; 207-326-9510) down near the town dock.
► From the intersection of Rte. 166 and Main St. in Castine, head south on Battle Ave. for a half-mile to the preserve entrance pullout on the right. Parking is available along the fence.
Just a five-minute boat ride from Richmond’s waterfront park lies Maine’s only ghost town — the six abandoned Colonial houses of what was once the 18th-century Kennebec River village of Perkins. At its peak, Perkins was home to 100 people, who made their living fishing, farming, building ships, and harvesting ice. Perkins died along with those industries, the final blow coming in 1936 when the Richmond-Dresden Bridge opened and the ferry ceased operations. Managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as the Steve Powell Island Wildlife Management Area, the bucolic, 4-mile-long-by-.75-mile-wide island is today home to white-tailed deer, red foxes, and bald eagles (not to mention an unknown number of human spirits). The IF&W ferries visitors between Richmond and the island, where hikers and mountain bikers are free to explore the 7 miles of dirt roads and hiking trails. Lean-tos in a grassy field overlooking the Kennebec can be reserved for overnights.
Located in a restored Victorian mansion, the Southard House Museum (75 Main St., Richmond; 207-737-8202) was started in the mid-1980s by Wilber Cooper as an end-of-life project after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer — it so reinvigorated him, it’s said, that he lived another 21 years. It features exhibits about Richmond’s shipbuilding and ice-harvesting past, as well as an extensive collection of antique tools. Old Goat Pub (33 Main St., Richmond; 207-737-4628), a handsome tavern that looks like its been shipped over from England, is Richmond’s very own Cheers, with a vast beer selection, excellent pizza, and friendly vibe.
► The waterfront park is in Richmond village on Front St. (Rte. 24), just north of its intersection with Main St. Reservations are necessary for all trips to Swan Island except for those accessing the island with their own canoe or kayak for day visits. Call 207-287-5252 or fill out the reservation form at maine.gov/ifw
Short and steep, with rewarding views of Square Pond and Mousam Lake, Abbott Mountain in the southwestern Maine town of Shapleigh makes a nice introductory hike for kids. Part of the 1.25-mile route is on a relatively flat (and private) dirt road that’s heavily posted with signs banning ATVs, snowmobiles, and other forms of recreation — but hikers are permitted. The trail itself is a scramble to the bald, rocky summit. Abbott Mountain is part of the Vernon S. Walker Wildlife Management Area.
Located in the former Arundel Barn Playhouse, Vinegar Hill Music Theatre (53 Old Post Rd., Arundel; 207-985-5552) is well into an inaugural season that’s heavy on nostalgic acts. See a list of upcoming performances.
► From Sanford village, follow Rte. 11 west about 8.5 miles and turn right on Owls Nest Rd. Drive 4.5 miles to Pitts Rd.
A 70-minute ferry ride from Portland, Cliff Island is Casco Bay’s most remote island community and one of only 15 Maine islands supporting a year-round population — about 60 people. The Oceanside Conservation Trust of Casco Bay holds a conservation easement on 18 spectacular acres at The Bluffs, and the public is welcome on the wild headland’s paths leading to North and South points.
Cheery yellow and red lobster buoys brighten the weathered storefront that houses Jenn’s Store and Cliff Island Café (11 Wharf Rd.), which serves pizza, sandwiches, ice cream, and — yum! — Belgian waffles. Allow plenty of time before or after your trip for exploring Portland’s historic Old Port (portlandmaine.com), which is jam-packed with boutiques, galleries, and great places to eat.
► The Casco Bay Lines ferry offers round-trip service between Portland and Cliff Island several times a day (frequency varies with the season). 207-774-7871
Deboullie Public Reserved Land
A carpet of green rolls over 1,981-foot Deboullie Mountain and its equally forested foothills, overlooking sparkling backcountry ponds full of salmon and trout. A paradise for hikers, tent campers, and solitude seekers, these nearly 22,000 acres of rarely visited state land hide ice caves, rock slides, waterfalls, moose, lynx, and black bears.
A northern Maine landmark for 70 years, Dean’s Motor Lodge (15 Main St., Portage; 207-435-3701) has great burgers and breakfasts, strong drinks from the bar, and a chatty staff. Inside Deboullie, Red River Camps (Chapman Tote Rd.; 207-435-6000) on Island Pond is an old-school sporting camp that caters to anglers, but welcomes anybody who loves cozy cabins and hearty, family-style meals. At $85 per person per night, their private island rental (with canoes and kayaks to come and go from your historic cabin and its two-story stone fireplace) is a steal of a luxe Maine vacation.
► From Portage in Aroostook County, take West Rd. to Fish River Rd. and the Fish River checkpoint for North Maine Woods. Turn right on Hewes Brook Rd. and follow it 20 miles to Deboullie. From St. Francis, take Rte. 161 to St. Francis Rd., registering at the checkpoint, and continue 8 miles. North Maine Woods day use and camping fees apply.