Acadia - Saint John Valley
Begin in the shipping port of Bucksport, which overlooks historic Fort Knox, the largest fort in New England. This mighty 1844 granite structure offers visitors a fascinating labyrinth of passageways to explore, and tremendous views of the Penobscot River and Verona Island. While visiting Bucksport, be sure to stop at the Bucksport Cemetery, where the gravestone of the town’s founder, Colonel Jonathan Buck, is marked with a mysterious outline of a woman’s leg—which residents have been unable to remove. According to local legend, the mark is the result of a curse by a woman whom the Colonel sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft. Also of interest is the 1916 Alamo Theater, which houses an historic film museum and offers screenings of vintage pictures dating as far back as 1901.
From Bucksport, travel east on Route 3 to Ellsworth, where you can tour the amazing Georgian-style Colonel Black Mansion. Built in 1862, this grand home features fine period furniture, a wonderful spiral staircase and lovely gardens. Also in Ellsworth, the spectacular Stanwood Homestead Sanctuary is a 130-acre nature preserve that shouldn’t be missed. Ellsworth offers a lovely downtown area, several quaint hotels and inns, as well as some fine eateries.
From Ellsworth, head south on Route 3 to the Mount Desert Island bridge. From here, all roads lead to charming villages, wonderful antique shops, old sea captains’ houses and spectacular mountains-to-the-sea views; the route defined here is only a suggestion! Take 102 south to Bass Harbor to view the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, situated on a dramatic precipice 56 feet above sea level. Continue to beautiful Southwest Harbor, a seaside village featuring shops, cafés and charming inns and B&Bs.
Head to Somesville along Somes Sound, the only fjord on the U.S. Atlantic coast, then east/south on 198 and 3 to the popular yachting destination of Northeast Harbor. Here, the fabulous Asticou Terraces and Asticou Azalea Gardens provide acres of beautiful gardens to explore, and nearby inns offer exquisite accommodations. From here, Route 3 takes you to the legendary vacation destination of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Opportunities for fabulous shopping, sightseeing and dining abound in Bar Harbor; in addition, the town offers a wonderful range of accommodations to suit any taste, from rustic to refined. If you’re interested in Bar Harbor’s roots as a summer resort for American tycoons, the town’s guided Victorian walking tour reveals how the rich and famous lived and played at the turn of the century.
Also make sure to bike the lovely network of carriage paths (designed and built by John D. Rockefeller Jr.) in Acadia National Park, as well as hike the park’s scenic trails and enjoy an island tradition of tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House. Locals will advise you to watch a sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, which is easily accessible by car. If you’d like to do some exploring on the water, Bar Harbor offers opportunities for kayaking, windjammer day-sails and whale- and puffin-watching cruises. In addition, if you’re interested in making your trip into a "two-nation vacation," you can step or drive onto the local high-speed catamaran in Bar Harbor and be in Nova Scotia, Canada in less than three hours.
From Bar Harbor, take Route 3 over the Mt. Desert Island Bridge back to Ellsworth, then head south on 172 to Blue Hill, where artists, musicians and craftspeople has created an exciting arts center. Here, you can enjoy a range of galleries and pottery studios, as well as gourmet restaurants, eclectic cafés, bakeries and some exceptional mansions and grand old homes which now serve as inns—some with spectacular views of Blue Hill Bay. Continue south on 172 to Sedgewick, then west on 175 to Deer Isle Bridge, an amazing suspension bridge over scenic Eggemoggin Reach. Head south on 15 to the quaint fishing villages of Deer Isle and Stonington—places which have lured (and, in many cases, kept) many yachtsmen, lobstermen and artists. The mixed character of these two communities is evidenced in streetscapes bearing everything from tackle shops to fine art galleries. Several local inns offer charming rooms and delicious local fare, as well as heart-stopping views of the sea.
Retrace your path to Blue Hill, then head to Bucksport by traveling north on Route 15, then west on Route 3. From Bucksport, travel up Route 1A to Bangor, the former lumber capital of the world, the birthplace of Paul Bunyan and Maine’s second-largest city. This grand old town has much to offer, including great shopping and dining, as well as a lively arts tradition. The city’s Penobscot Theatre Company offers a wonderful Shakespeare Festival (July 18-August 17), complete with a rotation of outdoor performances on the banks of the Penobscot River. In addition, the nearby University of Maine offers the Hudson Museum (which offers an exceptional anthropological collection) and the University of Maine Museum of Art, which features works by Pablo Picasso, Winslow Homer and Francisco Goya, among others. To catch a glimpse of the city’s grand lumber baron past, visit the West Market Square Historic District and Broadway area of Bangor, where wonderful mid-19th-century homes line the streets—including the spooky Victorian home of author Stephen King. (You’ll know his house when you see it!) Downtown Bangor offers several historic inns; in addition, larger hotels can be found in the Bangor International Airport area.
From Bangor, take a scenic drive through the great Maine woods up Route 15 to the junction of Route 11, continuing north to Brownville Junction, where evidence of the 1843 Katahdin Iron Works can be seen in the remaining blast furnace and charcoal kiln. Continue on to Millinocket, where several sporting camps and lodges offer great bases from which to explore nearby Baxter State Park, as well as experience the area’s great fishing and whitewater rafting.
An access road from Millinocket follows a loop through the southwest corner of Baxter State Park, and offers prime moose-sighting opportunities as well as breathtaking glimpses of mile-high Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak. Baxter State Park exists today because of a magnificent display of philanthropy; former Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter bought the entire 201,018 acres himself. In order to preserve the land he so generously set aside for others to enjoy, the park follows a limited admission policy—prior to enjoying the park (even for day use), contact the Park Reservation Clerk in Millinocket at (207) 723-5140.
From Millinocket, head east on 11 to Route 95 in Medway. Follow 95 North through the "big skies" of Aroostook County to Houlton, a town with a quaint, walkable downtown that is on the National Register of Historic Places. From Houlton, head north on Route 1 through the traditional farming communities of Littleton and Monticello, keeping an eye out for the beautiful potato blossoms that blanket the landscape in July. In Presque Isle, stay at one of the numerous local hotels and enjoy a day or two in 600-acre Aroostook State Park, which offers swimming at Echo Lake and hiking on Quaggy Joe Mountain (which offers magnificent views of Mt. Katahdin from its peak).
Head north on Route 1 to Caribou, gateway to the 80-mile Fish River chain of rivers and lakes, which is nationally recognized for its amazing salmon and trout fishing. Make sure to stop at the intriguing Nylander Museum to view geological and Native American artifacts. For a unique "two-nation" golf experience, take a side trip from Caribou to Fort Fairfield, where the Aroostook Valley Country Club’s course is split between Maine and Canada! In addition, Fort Fairfield hosts the region’s Potato Blossom Festival (July 14-22), which includes fireworks, a parade, delicious local fare and live entertainment. From Caribou, continue north to Van Buren, taking a side trip along the way to New Sweden, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Canada from the town’s park benches. In Van Buren, part of the distinctly French-influenced St. John Valley, visitors are just as likely to hear French spoken as English. This is due to the area’s Acadian heritage, which dates back to the 1700s. Don’t miss the Acadian Village (Village Acadien), a detailed living history site, complete with artifacts, people in period dress and cultural events.
Continue from Van Buren to Lille, where the Mount Carmel Museum and Cultural Center (converted from a twin-spired wooden church) offers wonderful musical performances. Continue on Route 1 to Madawaska, site of the gala Acadian Festival (June 27-30), which celebrates the area’s unique heritage with traditional food, music, dance and song. Continue on Route 1 west to Fort Kent, where an 1839 blockhouse built to protect local timber interests during border disputes with Canada still stands. From Fort Kent, you can embark on an exciting canoe trip down the nearby Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a magnificent 92-mile ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams (call the Bureau of Parks and Lands at (207) 287-4984 for planning details).
From Fort Kent, head south on Route 11 to Eagle Lake, stopping to enjoy the local wildlife area. Continue south on 11 to Ashland, site of the Ashland Logging Museum. This area also offers several traditional-style fishing and sporting camps providing charming, rustic accommodations, hearty meals and access to boats, guides and gear. Continue south to Knowles Corner, then east on 212 to connect with Route 95. Head south on 95 back to Bangor, from which you can easily travel back to Ellsworth or Bucksport to complete your trip.