Downeast - Aroostook
Begin this tour in Ellsworth, where you can tour the amazing Colonel Black Mansion. Built in 1862 with laborers from Boston and bricks shipped all the way from Philadelphia, this grand Georgian home features fine period furniture, a wonderful spiral staircase and lovely gardens. Also in Ellsworth, the Stanwood Homestead Sanctuary is a spectacular 130-acre nature preserve that shouldn't be missed. Ellsworth offers a lovely downtown, quaint hotels and inns, and fine eateries.
From Ellsworth, take Route 1 north to 182, where you have a choice of two scenic routes. For views of Schoodic Mountain (which provides excellent hiking trails and 360-degree views of Mt. Desert Island and Frenchman Bay from its peak) and dramatic rises blanketed with wild blueberry barrens, head eastward on Route 182, a designated State Scenic Highway, to Cherryfield. Or, to explore the Schoodic Peninsula and the traditional villages Down East Maine, continue on Route 1 north. This route reveals some of the highest tides and most spectacular cliffs and coves on the East Coast. Peppered along this dramatic shoreline are small communities where fishing is a major staple of the local economy.
From West Gouldsboro, take Route 186 south to Winter Harbor and follow the loop road around the Schoodic Peninsula. This lesser-known part of Acadia National Park is truly spectacular. Rugged Schoodic Point's granite cliffs stand in perpetual defiance of the churning Atlantic, and flocks of seagulls play in the sea spray and swirling wind. On a clear day, you can also enjoy amazing views of Mt. Desert Island across Frenchman Bay. Bring a picnic and enjoy one of the best shows on earth: the dramatic interaction between sea, rock and sky.
From Winter Harbor, continue on 186 to Prospect Harbor and Gouldsboro, where the Bartlett Estate Winery makes blueberry, apple and pear wines, and offers tasting tours.
Continue on Route 1 north to the charming town of Milbridge. Stop to admire the magnificent architecture of the town's homes and B&Bs, testaments to the area's 19th-century prosperity. To learn about its colorful past, visit the Milbridge Society & Museum, which, in addition to chronicling the Milbridge of yore, salutes the town's former doctor, who had a penchant for standing on his head. The town's annual Milbridge Days festival (July 20-22) - the highlight of which is a greased cod contest - has attracted national attention for its unique displays of town pride.
Head north on Route 1 to Cherryfield, where, if you opted for the scenic drive on Route 182, you would re-connect with the tour. This stately village is made up of fine old homes (walking tours of its historic district are available) and a park along the Narraguagus River. Located in the heart of wild blueberry country -12,000 acres of barrens blanket the surrounding landscape - Cherryfield is known as the "Blueberry Capital of the World."
Continue on Route 1 north to Columbia Falls and tour the Ruggles House, an exceptional Federal mansion. After earning his fortune in lumber, Thomas Ruggles had the home built in 1818, employing questionable techniques with his crew: locals claim he required a craftsman to complete the parlor's intricate wood carvings with a penknife. The process is said to have taken three years, but the result is nothing short of magical. Other notable features include a graceful flying staircase and a Palladian window.
Take 187 south to Jonesport and Beals Island, which together make up Maine's largest lobstering fleet. Enjoy the towns' antique shops, galleries, bookstores and restaurants, as well as a stay at one of the local B&Bs. If you're visiting during the 4th of July, catch the "World's Fastest Lobster Boat" race, where you can observe some spirited action on the high seas. Other opportunities for adventure include taking a Puffin Watch cruise to the islands where these colorful birds nest each summer.
Head north on 187 back to Route 1 and continue north to Jonesboro, where you can enjoy the beauty of Roque Bluffs State Park. Do some combing on the scenic pebble beach, or take a swim in the freshwater pond.
Further north on Route 1 you'll find the historic town of Machias. Here you can visit the Burnham Tavern, where local patriots planned the first naval battle of the American Revolution in 1775. Happily for them, they found victory: locals captured the British man-of-war, Margaretta, in a skirmish that ended with the ship's captain dying on one of the tavern tables. Unfortunately for folks further south, the British burned Falmouth (outside of Portland) in retaliation later that year. Today, Machias' library features a fireplace built from the stones used for the Margaretta's ballast.
From Machias, head east on Route 191 to Cutler, which, as legend has it, was settled due to a mistake made by a sea captain in 1830. One foggy night, Captain Bailey sailed a four-masted schooner aground in Cutler's scenic bay. Struck by the beauty of the place, he unloaded the ship's cargo (conveniently, it was lumber) and founded his own little town right then and there. Many of the town's current residents are Bailey descendants.
Continue on 191 to Route 189 and head for the town of Lubec, Captain Bailey's intended destination. The red-and-white striped light at West Quoddy Head dates to 1858, and occupies the eastern-most point in the nation. Muster yourself out of bed at one of Lubec's inns and take in a sunrise at the beacon - you can be the first person in the nation to greet the day. The light's grounds are lovely any time of day, often blooming with wild roses and daylilies. Take a scenic 2-mile walk along the cliffs to Quoddy Head State Park, where you can enjoy magnificent ocean views.
From Lubec, head west on Route 189 to Route 1 in Whiting. Take 1 north to Perry, stopping along the way at Cobscook Bay State Park (a fine place for a seaside picnic or camp) and the Reversing Falls in Pembroke - where, a few hours before high tide, seals often frolic in the water.
From Perry, take Route 190 east to Eastport, the eastern-most city in the nation. Eastport is built on a series of islands connected by causeways. The city's unique geography gave rise to the its role as a military outpost and, later, a deep-water port servicing the fishing and lumbering industries. Eastport was, in fact, British-occupied for four years during the War of 1812; the 1809 Barracks Museum, originally part of Fort Sullivan, displays old photos and memorabilia chronicling this era of Eastport's history.
While visiting Eastport, make sure you do some exploring on the water. Embark on a whale-watching cruise, or take a ferry to nearby Deer Island - catching a glimpse of the Old Sow Whirlpool (the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere) en route. Also nearby is Canada's Campobello Island, famed summer home of FDR. Once you're back on shore, explore Eastport's downtown, which offers several restaurants, shops and galleries.
Take 190 north to Perry, then follow Route 1 north to Calais, a popular border-crossing to Canada. Take a "two-nation vacation," or simply enjoy the town's shops and restaurants.
From Calais, head up Route 1 to Princeton, taking note of the change in surroundings along the way - as you head inland, you leave the rugged beauty of the bold coast behind, and enter a world of fragrant pine forests and serene lakes.
About five miles north of Princeton, head inland to Grand Lake Stream. According to many, the waterways surrounding this village provide some of the best fishing - and scenery - anywhere. As a result, the town caters to sportsmen and women by offering traditional lodges and boat access to remote lakes.
Head back to Route 1 and continue north to enter yet another world: the "big skies" and charming pastoral landscapes of Aroostook County. The fertile land here has made it an agricultural center for hundreds of years. In summer, the countryside takes on an almost ethereal beauty: delicate white potato blossoms stretch as far as the eye can see under vivid blue skies.
Head north on Route 1 to Houlton and explore the downtown area, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; enjoy some great shopping, dining and a foray into local history at the Aroostook Historical & Art Museum.
From Houlton, take route 2 west to the town of Island Falls. Here, make sure you visit the Webb Museum of Vintage Fashion, where a collection of over 6,000 pieces of clothing from the late 1800s to the 1950s is on display in a sprawling Victorian home. Take note of the mannequins, who model entire outfits formerly worn by members of the town.
Continue west on Route 2 to Mattawamkeag and visit the wonderful Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park. The term "wilderness" is somewhat misleading; the park's amenities include hot showers and drive-in campsites. And, if you're a fisherman, kayaker or hiker, this little beauty shouldn't be missed. The rushing Mattawamkeag River offers small-mouth bass and salmon, as well as exciting rapids that draw expert whitewater enthusiasts. In addition, a lovely network of hiking trails provides a great way to explore the surrounding hills.
Retrace your path east on Route 2 as far as Macwahoc, then take Route 170 south to Springfield. Pick up Route 6 and head east to Topsfield, from which you can follow Route 1 south to Baring. From here, you have two choices to complete your trip. To enjoy the scenic coastal route, retrace your path along the coast back to Ellsworth via Route 1 south.
An alternative, more direct route is along historic Route 9, locally known as "the Airline." First established by Calais residents as a dirt footpath in 1857, the road was eventually expanded to accommodate stagecoaches - offering transport to Calais that was an entire day faster than passage via steamship.
In an interesting example of 19th-century false advertising, steamship companies attempted to discourage their new competition by claiming that the road was over-run with wolves and thieves. Their plan backfired - stagecoach traffic boomed as more people than ever traveled the route purely for adventure's sake.
Today your drive down "the Airline" will reward you with views of the region's rural communities, stretches of forestland and open rises blanketed by wild blueberry barrens. Take Route 9 west to Aurora, then head south on 179 to Ellsworth.