Stretching 125 miles from Milbridge to Eastport, the Bold Coast Scenic Byway encompasses fishing villages, vast blueberry barrens, and miles of raw, wild coastline. Here are three must-see stops along the way.
With its crooked, weather-beaten buildings and hand-painted shop signs, the easternmost village in the United States is curiously reminiscent of a frontier town, but instead of tumbleweeds and hitching posts, you’ll find coastal wildflowers sprouting from sidewalk cracks and a fishing boat or two sitting high and dry on the mudflats just a few steps from Water Street. Eclectic and free-spirited shops are stocked with locally made crafts, art, collectibles, and curiosities.
“Lubec is absolutely eccentric. You have to be eccentric to be here,” says Brenda Gay, owner of Whiting Bay Bed and Breakfast in neighboring Whiting. “This is a hard place to live. You have to be very creative and open to whatever comes next, whether it’s the elements or the economy.” What keeps people like Gay here is the same thing that draws visitors: the Bold Coast’s raw, desolate beauty. That beauty is on full display at West Quoddy Head State Park, where a candy-striped lighthouse warns vessels of the treacherous rock-braced shore, and a 2-mile walking path runs along high cliffs to Carrying Place Cove. You’ll also find it just over the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge on the rugged New Brunswick island of Campobello, where FDR’s beloved summer home is part of an international park (don’t forget your passport!).
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Imagine if Acadia National Park’s loop road was a hiking path hidden 1½ forested miles from the nearest roadway. That gives you some idea of the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, where a 9-mile trail network offers views from cliffs towering over the ocean. This may well be the most spectacular coastal walk on the East Coast — and most days, you won’t encounter another soul. Route 191, Cutler.
The Inn on the Wharf offers whale-watching cruises aboard the 26-passenger vessel Tarquin. The inn itself is worth checking out: a former sardine cannery, it’s been converted into a sleek, contemporary lodging house and restaurant that sits right on a working wharf, where fishermen unload their daily catch. The sunsets here are breathtaking. 69 Johnson St., Lubec. 207-733-4400.
Some of Maine’s finest handmade chocolates are found on a windswept stretch of road leading to downtown Lubec. Monica’s Chocolates offers traditional Maine candies like needhams (coconut bound with potato and dipped in chocolate) as well as Peruvian-style bonbons that owner Monica Elliot learned to make while growing up in Lima. 100 County Rd., Lubec. 866-952-4500.
Jonesport and Beals
Set aside your expectations of postcard-perfect seaside towns filled with antiques shops, art galleries, and sidewalk cafés. You won’t find that here. Located at the tip of a 12-mile-long peninsula, these tiny, unvarnished fishing villages offer a rare glimpse into Maine coastal life untouched (mostly) by tourism. Jonesport, on the mainland, and Beals, which comprises two islands, are linked by a bridge spanning Moosabec Reach, the half-mile-wide passage between Chandler and Western bays. Some 100 lobstermen fish out of these towns, and most of them don’t mind people observing as they unload their catches at the Beals-Jonesport Co-Op, which sits snugly by the bridge in Jonesport.
“You can stand on the pier, look down on the floats, and watch the boats unload crates of lobsters,” says Jonesport selectman Harry Fish. “And if you want to buy lobsters, you can usually get them right there.” Friendly rivals, Jonesport and Beals organized Maine’s first lobsterboat races in the 1950s. Today, sanctioned competitions are waged annually in 11 coastal communities, but it’s hard to beat the excitement of the original: the Moosabec Lobsterboat Races, always on the Fourth of July, draw hundreds of spectators, who gather on the Jonesport-Beals bridge to see who is the fastest lobsterman of all.
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At the heart of the Nature Conservancy’s 1,576-acre Great Wass Island Preserve is a 5-mile loop trail that penetrates a forest of gnarled and stunted jack pines, skirts rare coastal peat bogs, and crosses over exquisitely stark, wave-battered granite headlands. Black Duck Cove Rd., Beals.
Coastal Cruises, operated by Harry Fish and his sister Laura Fish, offers three-hour tours around Moosabec Reach, Great Wass and Head Harbor islands, and Eastern Bay — or anywhere else their passengers want to go. Their 23-foot, six-passenger cruiser, the Aaron Thomas, is nimble enough to offer close-ups of seals and other marine life. 117 Kelley Point Rd., Jonesport. 207-598-7473.
“Maine used to be better known for sardines than lobster,” says Ronnie Peabody, founder of the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum [now closed]. “Back in the ’40s and ’50s, a 30-foot-tall fisherman holding a sardine can with the words ‘Welcome to Sardine Land’ greeted drivers on Route 1 in Kittery.” At the time, some 50 canneries employed thousands of Mainers. Today, there are none. Displaying artifacts collected from shuttered factories and former workers, Peabody’s modest museum recalls the era when Maine was the sardine capital of the world. Due to health issues, Peabody says he has been forced to limit his hours this summer; he recommends visitors call to make sure the museum is open before venturing out.
Nearby Milbridge is the unlikely source of the most authentic Mexican burritos and tacos in Maine. Ramona Vazquez and her family opened Vazquez Mexican Takeout last year after more than a decade of serving migrant workers on the blueberry barrens from their food truck. Everything, from the flour and corn tortillas to the meat and bean fillings, is homemade and deeply flavored. 38 High St., Milbridge. 207-598-8141.
The sense of exhilaration begins to build when you turn off Route 1 in Perry and head southeast, traversing the ocean on the narrow strip of roadway that is Route 190. You are heading towards the edge of America: the small island city of Eastport. Jutting into Passamaquoddy Bay where it bends the international border, Eastport can feel like the end of the world — or, more intoxicatingly, like a launch pad to the rest of it. That’s how folks here see it as they work to reinvent their community (once the thriving center of the American sardine canning industry) as a major shipping port — the closest to Europe, in fact, on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard.
Like Lubec, Eastport’s downtown is characterized by a scrappy, independent spirit, and the whole island elicits a subtly mysterious aura owing to the mesmerizingly chaotic waters around it: the range between high and low tides is extraordinary (26 feet), and the converging currents of the Bay of Fundy and Passamaquoddy Bay create rare phenomena like standing waves, spouts, and the Old Sow, the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. Eastport is, indeed, a place of extremes.
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Located in a landmark 1887 bank building, The Tides Institute and Museum of Art embodies the can-do, we’re-in-it-for-the-long-haul spirit that is driving Eastport’s reinvention. The cultural center collects and exhibits art, photography, and historical artifacts from the Passamaquoddy Bay region, which encompasses both sides of the border. 43 Water St. 207-853-4047.
In business since 1900, Raye’s Mustard Mill & Museum is the country’s only stone-ground mustard mill, and tours are offered year-round. Raye’s makes two-dozen varieties of mustards, many uniquely Maine in flavor, like Moxie Mustard, Summer Harvest (made with wild blueberries), and Sea Dog Beer. We’re partial to White Lightning, which gives hot dogs and sausages a flavorful jolt. And yes, samples are available in the retail store. 83 Washington St. (Rte. 190). 800-853-1903.
Follow “the road of the isles,” the watery route to Campobello Island and Roosevelt Campobello International Park. From mid-June through September, East Coast Ferries carries passengers and their vehicles between Eastport and Campobello — with a stop at New Brunswick’s Deer Island — several times a day. Water Street ferry landing. 506-747-2159.
Located at the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation at Pleasant Point in Perry, the Waponahki Museum & Resource Center displays handmade baskets, beadwork, traditional artwork, and historical photographs. Visit the museum website and read the guide to visitor etiquette before you go. 59 Passamaquoddy Rd., Perry. 207-853-4500.