3 Under-the-Radar Maine Weekend Getaways

Summer is rapidly waning, but there's still time to plan one of these last-minute-friendly, so-very-Maine escapes.

Donnell Pond, Maine
Photo by Michael D. Wilson
By Adrienne Perron and Brian Kevin
From our September 2021 issue

Bauneg Beg and Environs

There’s more to southern Maine than beaches and boardwalk towns, and you don’t need to head north of York County to find the woods, hills, and trails the Pine Tree State is known for. Nestled in rural North Berwick, the Bauneg Beg Conservation Area (it’s usually pronounced “bonnih-beg,” although some folks say the g) consists of 89 acres of forest and footpaths on Bauneg Beg Mountain, stewarded by the Great Works Regional Land Trust. Some 3,000 surrounding acres are part of an “area of statewide ecological significance,” so designated by the state for their wildlife-rich wetlands. The mountain itself is a hidden gem, with stunning views of the coast and distant White Mountains. All around it are pastoral roads perfect for a Sunday drive and little towns like Lebanon and the Berwicks with lots of charm and none of the coast’s summer crowds.

Friday Evening

Make base camp at Huttopia (149 Sand Pond Rd., Sanford; 207-324-1752), an international “glampground” chain that opened its Maine location in 2019. The wood-framed, canvas tents ($135–$300, three sizes to choose from) have running water, electricity, bathrooms with showers, and plush beds — the comfort of a hotel room in the serenity of the forest. Huttopia has tiny houses too ($250–$340). Both options have a two-night minimum before Labor Day and on weekends thereafter.

Huttopia’s tents have decks with gas stoves or barbecue grills, but you’re on vacation: skip cooking out and head north to Alfred for dinner at Oak Street Bistro (3 Oak St., Alfred; 207-324-9700). The place has a nostalgic supper-club vibe, complete with Tiffany-style lamps, a grand piano in the lounge, and entrées like prime rib and baked haddock (alongside lighter options). Before dinner, cruise the neighborhood — the surrounding Alfred Historic District is full of 18th- and 19th- century buildings and old-school New England cachet.

If you’d rather have walls: The Lady Mary Inn at Hurd Manor ($220–$280, two-night minimum; 2 Elm St., North Berwick; 207-676-2133.) is elegant and historic and 10 minutes from Bauneg Beg’s trails.

Saturday Morning

Though none too long or challenging, the trail system on Bauneg Beg Mountain has a rugged feel.
Though none too long or challenging, the trail system on Bauneg Beg Mountain has a rugged feel. Photo by Danielle Sykes.

Head into Sanford for adorable miniature treats and a latte from Frannie’s Mini Donuts (913 Main St., Sanford; 207-604-2661), a colorful downtown café that the Hanselmann family opened last summer and named for the family pug. The tiny doughnuts come in some two-dozen flavors: choose classics like honey dipped or Boston cream or go wild with whoopie pie or peanut-butter explosion. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, go for a breakfast sandwich or smoothie bowl.

After loading up on carbs, head to Bauneg Beg Mountain Conservation Area (279 Fox Farm Hill Rd., North Berwick; 207-646- 3604). The mountain has three peaks — the southernmost is on private land and hosted a tiny ski area until 2007 — and a two-mile trail system. The best route follows the Bauneg Beg Trail to the North Peak Loop to the Devil’s Den Trail, named for a craggy, boulder-strewn section just below the 866-foot Middle Peak. From the summit, you can look down on Sanford and, on clear days, see Mount Washington and the Presidentials on the horizon. The trail is crisscrossed by old stone fences and follows boardwalks in its boggy sections — keep your eyes peeled there for orchids and the rare, yellow-throated Blanding’s turtle.

Saturday Afternoon

Back at Huttopia, take a post-hike dip in the outdoor pool or the onsite Sand Pond, a small, calm swimming hole. The front desk rents canoes and paddleboards ($8–$15 per hour).

If you have your own watercraft: You have to plan ahead to paddle at Bauneg Beg Pond, a reservoir ringed with cottages and home to loons, great blue herons, and snapping turtles. The only public boat launch (nonmotorized only) is at Bruce Abbott Memorial Park, four miles south of the mountain, on Morrills Mill Road. But getting a day permit to park there means mailing a copy of your car’s registration, a stamped return envelope, and a $10 check in advance to North Berwick’s town office. The upside of minimal public access? It’s just you and the locals out there.

Saturday Evening

There aren’t many restaurant patios like the one at Pilot’s Cove Cafe (199 Airport Rd., Sanford; 207-850-1183), which shares asphalt with the runway at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. Watch planes take off and land as you dig into house-made falafel or a towering plate of loaded nachos. On summer weekends after 9 p.m., the café becomes the Runaway, an outdoor cocktail bar and beer garden with live music or DJs and a decidedly grown-up party vibe.

If you cook out instead: Grab a pint before or after at Corner Point Brewing (1 Sullivan St., Berwick; 207-432-1095), a 19th-century mill building turned church turned taproom, with a patio on the Salmon Falls River. Try the Aroma Joe’s coffee porter, blended with joe from southern Maine’s ubiquitous coffee chain.

Sunday Morning

Before checking out, grab coffee and a crepe from Huttopia’s café, then take a drive through the York County countryside, past old barns and older stone fences, to Lebanon’s picturesque Grist Mill Bridge, over the Little River (on Little River Rd., a quarter mile north of Chick Rd.). Both the small wooden bridge, with its rubblestone supports, and the striking 1774 grist mill it overlooks are on the National Register of Historic Places (and the mill made HGTV when it was renovated into a luxe residence last year).

Sunday Afternoon

Play a round at Hammond Farm Disc Golf ($6 per player; 210 Fox Farm Hill Rd., North Berwick), a two-year-old, 18-hole course at the foot of Bauneg Beg Mountain. The “holes” (players aim for a chained basket at the end of long fairways) are hilly and wooded, and some are challenging, but first-timers throw at Hammond Farm alongside Frisbee fanatics. A clubhouse with disc rentals is opening soon; until it does, beginners can message the course owners on Facebook a day or two in advance to have rentals dropped off at the course for $1 a disc (you’ll need a putter and a midrange disc to get started).

If you’re not up for tee time: Take a walk at the Orris Falls Conservation Area (100 Thurrell Rd., South Berwick; 207-646-3604), where a 2.8-mile out-and-back hike leads to the namesake falls, a 12-foot cascade at the bottom of a deep ravine, and to Balancing Rock, a massive glacial erratic perched improbably on a smaller stone.

Kennebec Highlands

To spend your days wandering mellow mountain trails and your evenings wining and dining on the waterfront, you could join the throngs headed for Acadia or the Camden Hills. Or you could zig inland while they zag coastal and instead explore the 6,800-acre Kennebec Highlands, at the edge of the Belgrade Lakes region. Jointly managed by the state and the local 7 Lakes Alliance land trust, the wooded peaks top out around 1,300 feet and represent central Maine’s largest block of conserved land, with miles of trails and narrow forest roads beckoning hikers and mountain bikers. At the hills’ feet are Long Pond and Great Pond, ringed with seasonal camps, and on the isthmus between them, the little village of Belgrade Lakes offers everything a weekender needs, from lodging to lobster rolls.

Friday Evening

Check into the Seven Lakes Inn ($195–$250; 168 Main St., Belgrade Lakes; 207-877-4412), which longtime Belgrade Lakes summer person Jordan Kindy Shaw opened in June. The striking Italianate building was built as an inn and tavern in 1843, and Shaw has renovated its four guest rooms and common spaces in an updated farmhouse style. Breakfasts are light, healthful, and big on local producers — think house-made maple granola with yogurt from a creamery down the road.

For dinner, cross the street to the Village Inn and Tavern (157 Main St., Belgrade Lakes; 207-495-3553), where duck is the specialty of the house, but the lakefront lawn dining on Great Pond is the real draw.

If you can’t get a reservation: The Village Inn has eight rooms of its own, comfy and hotel-like ($165–$245). If rooms are booked up in town, your best bet is Airbnb, as plenty of camp owners on Great and Long ponds rent out lovely summer places for anywhere from $75 to $400 a night.

Sunrise from French Mountain, in the Kennebec Highlands. Photo by Benjamin Williamson.

Saturday Morning

After breakfast, hit the French Mountain Trail, a loop of less than a mile that leads to a 716-foot lookout over Long Pond, with views of the rest of the rolling Kennebec Highlands, including the swells of nearby Mount Phillip and the green whaleback simply known as The Mountain. The trail isn’t challenging but does climb a couple of hundred feet, and your footwear should be adequate for some rock-hopping. Watch for bald eagles and turkey vultures riding thermals over the ponds below. Find the trailhead on Watson Pond Road, three-quarters of a mile south of Route 27.

If you want a longer hike: Pack a lunch and head four miles down Watson Pond Road to find the 3.9-mile Round Top Trail. The lollipop loop trail is a fun clamber over rocks and past huge mossy boulders to a pair of lookouts near the 1,133-foot summit.

Saturday Afternoon

Grab a lobster roll — or, if the weather’s cool, a cup of the terrific lobster stew — from H.J. Blake’s for Goodness Sake (945 West Rd., Belgrade Lakes, 207-462-2280). Settle in at a picnic table outside the humble stand or head 1.5 miles up the road to the picnic area at the Belgrade Town Beach, on Long Pond, where you can take a dip after lunch. There’s no beach, per se, but big concrete steps lead to the water’s edge, where you can wade with a view of the surrounding hills. Of course, if you’re staying at the Seven Lakes Inn, you can also swim right off the dock out back.

Saturday Evening

Take a scenic spin encircling the Kennebec Highlands, heading towards the town of Mt. Vernon on Belgrade Road. Hang a right onto Route 41 to catch sunset over Flying Pond, then continue past the farms of Vienna to where the rural road meets Route 2 in Farmington Falls. Stop for beer, pizza, and/or ice cream at the FarmHouse Beer Garden (926 Farmington Falls Rd., Farmington Falls; 207-578-4353), a 19th-century farmstead where Saturday night usually finds bands playing to al fresco diners and firepit revelers. Watch for deer as you circle back to Belgrade Lakes on Routes 2 and 27. The whole circuit takes about 40 minutes, not counting your layover at the beer garden.

Renee Cunningham, here with husband Scott, opened Oliver & Friends Bookshop last summer. Photo by Nicole Wolf.

Sunday Morning

Wander the farmer-run stands at the Belgrade Lakes Market, outside the 7 Lakes Alliance headquarters (137 Main St., Belgrade Lakes; 207-495-6039). Duck in to check out interpretive displays about local ecology, including a taxidermied loon that’ll remind you just how jumbo the noisy birds are. Then, head up the road to the cozy Oliver & Friends Bookshop (87 Main St., Belgrade Lakes; 207-707-2123), where owner Renee Cunningham stocks the shelves with plenty of Maine authors alongside a nicely curated selection of bestsellers and dock reads.

spanakopita and baklava are among the specialties at Spiro & Company

Spanakopita and baklava are among the specialties at Spiro & Company. Photo by Nicole Wolf.

Sunday Afternoon

Stretch your legs once more on the Mountain Trail, just a mile north of Belgrade Lakes, on Mountain Drive. The main trail is a wide old logging road, and a few short loops spur off it. The best views are along the Long Pond Loop, which crosses open cliffs looking out over the pond and the hills you hiked yesterday. The route is about 1.5 miles out and back.

If you’ve had enough trail time: Rent a paddleboard from Great Pond Marina ($40 a day; 25 Marina Rd., Belgrade Lakes; 207-495-2213) and launch it right there to explore the shoreline of Great Pond. Rentals are full-day with a 4 p.m. return time, so you might as well stretch the weekend as long as you can.

Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land

Think of Maine’s public reserved lands like secret state parks that happen to be light on infrastructure. The Bureau of Parks and Lands manages 37 of these little-heralded conservation parcels for a mix of outdoor rec, habitat, and forestry, but the best of the bunch, like Hancock County’s Donnell Pond reserve, are wonderlands of camping, hiking, paddling, fishing, and more, geared towards those who don’t mind gravel roads instead of paved and pit toilets instead of flush. Donnell Pond offers mountains, lakes, and trails on par with its neighbor, Mount Desert Island (albeit way fewer of them), but sees a fraction of the visitation. And while you’d never confuse nearby towns like Cherryfield or Sullivan with Bar Harbor, there’s plenty worth seeking out in the little down east villages.

Friday Evening

It’s important to get an early start on Friday, not just because the area’s far-flung but also to catch dinner at Vazquez Mexican Takeout (38 Main St., Milbridge; 207-546-2219). Ramona Vazquez’s homemade tortillas and outstanding tamales are absolutely worth detouring for, but the little stand in the fishing/ blueberry town of Milbridge isn’t open on Saturday or Sunday.

Fortified with tacos and flautas, it’s time to make camp. Campsites in the Donnell Pond reserve are free and first-come-first-serve, but most are only accessible by paddling or backpacking. Two easier-in, easier-out sites are the Tunk Stream campsite, off Route 182, at the east end of Spring River Lake, and the Schoodic Beach campsites, at the end of Schoodic Beach Road, off Route 183, at the south end of Donnell Pond. At both, it’s less than a half-mile walk from parking to where you pitch your tent, so it’s still feasible to head into town. Both sites have lake access (BYO drinking water), picnic tables, firepits, and outhouses. Definitely download the recreation map from maine.gov/donnellpond.

If you’d rather not rough it: Sullivan and Hancock, just south of the reserve, offer a few cabin rentals and inns. Try the Acadia Bay Inn ($229–$369; 12 Miramar Ave., Sullivan; 207-422-0127), a rambling cottage-style Victorian built in 1880, where innkeepers Matt and Nicole Irwin are in their first season. The views of Frenchman Bay from the multiple wraparound porches are hard to beat (plus, no outhouses).

The late-summer view from Tunk Mountain in the Donnell Pond reserve.
The late-summer view from Tunk Mountain in the Donnell Pond reserve. Photo by Michael D. Wilson.

Saturday Morning

Down some camp coffee, munch some granola, and make for the trails ascending either 1,157-foot Tunk Mountain or 1,069-foot Schoodic Mountain, whichever is closer or strikes your fancy. Tunk Mountain is the slightly burlier hike, a 3.6-mile round trip to and from the summit that includes a few metal rungs up top. The path to Schoodic Mountain is a bit gentler, 2.6 miles round-trip from the parking area, with steep sections but no rungs or ladders. Both traverse open ledges patchy with wild blueberries, huckleberries, and other shrubs, some of them turning deep crimson in late summer. Both offer knockout views that take in the reserve’s ponds and the Acadia skyline. Find the Tunk Mountain trailhead off Route 182, near the west end of Spring River Lake, and the Schoodic Mountain trailhead at the end of Schoodic Beach Road, off Route 183.

fruits of the field at Catherine Hill Winery.
Fruits of the field at Catherine Hill Winery. Photo by Michael D. Wilson.

Saturday Afternoon

After your hike, hop in the car, crank the A/C, and make a scenic loop around the Donnell Pond reserve, along Routes 1 and 182. The drive follows both Maine’s Blackwoods Scenic Byway and the Schoodic National Scenic Byway and would take an hour with no stops. But do stop, for refreshment at Catherine Hill Winery (661 Blacks Woods Rd., Cherryfield; 207-546-3426), where Winston the Bernese mountain dog will greet you as you lunch on charcuterie and sample small-batch wines, and for treasures at Mill Stream Antiques (2141 Rte. 1, Sullivan; 207-422-3155), where the early–19th-century Greek Revival house turned shop is almost as interesting as the artwork, old woodstoves, and other curios inside.

Saturday Evening

Make a reservation at Ironbound Restaurant and Inn (1513 Rte. 1, Hancock; 207-422-3395), where the dining room feels like an old-world pub and the menu’s big on seafood dishes and elevated comfort food (try the locally smoked finnan haddie fish pie). Take your cocktail on the lawn and maybe toss a few balls on the bocce court.

If you’re hurrying back to camp: Grab a to-go box full of perfectly golden fried clams, shrimp, haddock, or scallops from Tracey’s Seafood (2719 Rte. 1, Sullivan; 207-422-9072), but call ahead to order, as the wait can be long.

Sunday Morning and Afternoon

The day is for fishing and swimming, in whatever order you prefer. The reserve’s ponds are full of landlocked salmon, lake trout, and more. Nautilus Marine Hardware (2317 Rte. 1, Sullivan; 207-422-0119), which you drove past yesterday, has spinning rods, casting rods, and bait. Schoodic Beach, on Donnell Pond, is quite a bit roomier than Spring River Lake Beach, off Route 182, but both are gorgeous, with soft yellow sand and views of the surrounding hills. Stay in the water until it’s time to break camp, and remember to leave your site better than you found it.