Midcoast - Moosehead
Begin in Bath, home to modern-day shipbuilder Bath Iron Works as well as the 19th-century Percy and Small Shipyard - which, in its heyday, launched over forty-two schooners, including the Wyoming, the largest wooden ship ever built in America. The shipyard is now the site of the family-oriented Maine Maritime Museum. While in Bath, explore the brick-and-granite downtown of shops, pubs and magnificent restaurants. Stroll by the grand old sea captains' homes on Washington, High and Middle Streets, some of which now serve as inns and B&Bs.
From Route 1 in Bath, take Route 209 south down the 10-mile Phippsburg Peninsula, where you'll find Fort Popham, a massive granite structure built to protect Bath's shipbuilding interests during the Civil War. Not to be missed is nearby Popham Beach State Park, which features one of Maine's most glorious - and popular - sandy beaches.
Return to Bath and head north on Route 1 to Wiscasset. This charming village is situated on a hillside sloping gently towards the Sheepscot River; lining the streets are antique shops, galleries and restaurants. Several historic homes - including the fanciful 1852 Musical Wonder House, which features an amazing collection of musical machines - are open to the public, and offer glimpses of the town's 18th- and 19th-century shipping prosperity.
From Wiscasset follow Route 27 south to Boothbay Harbor, where shops, restaurants, inns and chowder-houses surround the snug harbor. During your stay, enjoy a whale-watching cruise, a day-sail or a visit to a nearby island.
Highly recommended is a 90-minute ferry ride (watch for dolphins, whales and seals en route) to Monhegan Island, believed by many to be one of Maine's most enchanting destinations. Artists such as George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper and Jamie Wyeth have found inspiration here; the Island's creative tradition can be seen today in the dozens of artists' and artisans' studios that welcome visitors. Monhegan's network of trails lead to sea cliffs, quiet coves and a magnificent pine forest, and its handful of quaint inns provide wonderful bases from which to explore.
From Boothbay, take Route 27 back to Route 1 and head north to Damariscotta and Newcastle. The main street connecting these villages is lined with 19th-century storefronts, housing shops, pubs, restaurants, galleries and an old-fashioned drugstore, complete with a ‘50s-style soda fountain. While in town, visit the Round Top Center for the Arts, a 1924 farm offering cultural events, as well as ovation-worthy ice cream.
Also of interest is circa-1808 St. Patrick's, New England's oldest surviving Catholic church; the steeple houses a Paul Revere bell. The nearby Damariscotta Mills area features extraordinary homes as well as the local "swimming hole" on Damariscotta Lake - look for a pair of bald eagles that nest on its shore. Before moving on, enjoy a stay at one of the area's charming inns.
From Damariscotta, take Route 130 through Bristol and the fishing village of New Harbor (stop along the way for a lobster!) to the bold Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, situated atop a wide stretch of wave-buffeted rocky coast. This grand old beacon has guided mariners since 1827; its history and that of the local fishing industry is chronicled in the Fishermen's Museum in the former lighthouse-keeper's quarters.
Return to Damariscotta, then travel north on Route 1 to Rockland, the homeport for several members of Maine's windjammer fleet; board one of these historic vessels for an unforgettable 3- or 6-day sail. (Some members of the fleet also offer day sails.) To tour Maine's scenic beauty on land, visit the nationally recognized Farnsworth Art Museum, which houses a significant collection of Maine landscape paintings.
In addition, several thousand works by the "first family" of Maine painting - N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth - are displayed in the Farnsworth's Wyeth Center, designed (down to the window shutter knobs) with the help of the Wyeths themselves. The Olson House in nearby Cushing (open for tours) was the setting for many of Andrew Wyeth's paintings, including Christina's World.
After a stay in Rockland, continue to Camden via Route 1 north. Here, the Camden Hills slope dramatically to the harbor. In 1912, Maine poet Edna St. Vincent Millay reflected on this mountains-to-the-sea landscape: "All I could see from where I stood/Was three long mountains and a wood;/I turned and looked the other way,/And saw three islands in a bay." Today, you can drive to the 800-foot summit of Mt. Battie to take in the poet's grand view of the hills and Penobscot Bay.
Stroll through Camden's picturesque downtown to enjoy shops, harborside restaurants and pubs, stopping along the way to enjoy the views from Harbor Park, designed by the same firm that planned Central Park. Across the street is the Camden Amphitheater, an open-air stage that hosts plays and musical performances. Camden also offers a wealth of exquisite homes-turned-inns, many with stunning views of the harbor.
Continue up Route 1 north to Belfast, where a Victorian downtown boasts fine old houses and great shops. During your stay, take a side trip to nearby Searsport, which, in the 1800s, was home to more sea captains than any other American community its size. The Penobscot Marine Museum, housed in buildings that once made up the town's center, pays tribute to these adventurous men who earned their fortunes sailing out of Penobscot Bay to ports-of-call around the world.
One more side trip will be well worth your while. Continue up Route 1 to Prospect, where you will see the towers of the newly built Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory soaring above the treeline. The 440-foot high Observatory is open to the public via a swift elevator, providing a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding hills, river and bay.
Back in Belfast, take Route 7 north through the rolling hills, pristine Maine woods and quaint towns of Newport, Dexter and Dover-Foxcroft, where Peaks Kenny State Park offers a great picnic area and beach on Sebec Lake. Head west on Route 6 to Guilford, stopping to see the town's covered bridge.
Follow Route 6/15 north to Greenville, nestled on the shores of 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake. The area's tourism history dates to the 1890s, when you could take a train from New York City directly to Greenville to enjoy the lake and the grand hotel at the base of Mount Kineo. Trains to the region are a thing of the past, but this has not decreased the area's popularity - in summer, Moosehead Lake provides swimming, boating and fishing grounds to a host of families and sportsmen and women.
As you might guess from its name, the Moosehead area boasts a large population of moose; local guides offer Moose Safaris via float plane, canoe or kayak.
During your stay at one of the area's lodges or inns, visit the S/S Katahdin, a gracefully restored 1914 steamship that now serves as a floating museum. The "Kate" also offers scenic tours of Moosehead Lake and passage to spectacular Mount Kineo, where you can hike, play a round of golf on a scenic 9-hole course, or just explore the grounds of the once-grand Mount Kineo House.
From Greenville, continue north on Route 6/15 to Jackman, where you can canoe the popular (and very beautiful) 42-mile Moose River Bow Trip, which begins and ends at the same point. From Jackman, take Route 201 - a designated State Scenic Highway - south to The Forks, where the Kennebec River offers some of the most exciting whitewater rafting in the East. Several local rafting companies provide gear, expertly trained guides, lodging and meals. (Ask about special packages for families with children.) The Forks is also home to 96-foot Moxie Falls, accessible via a worthwhile half-mile walk.
Continue south on Route 201 through Bingham to Skowhegan, where the celebrated Lakewood Theater offers summer stock at its finest. Continue south on 201 to the city of Waterville, home to the fabulous art museum at Colby College and the Railroad Square Cinema, a stand-out art and movie house that, along with the Waterville Opera House, hosts the Maine International Film Festival (July 12-21).
Take Route 11 south to Belgrade Village, the gateway to the chain of clear, island-studded Belgrade Lakes - one of which served as the idyllic setting for On Golden Pond. Enjoy a stay at one of the cozy local inns, or rent a charming summer cottage. The Belgrade Lakes Mail Boat provides postal services to lakeside residents, as well as water tours for visitors.
For a view of the lakes by car, try the scenic route to Augusta: take Route 27 north from Belgrade to New Sharon; pick up Route 2 west to Farmington Falls. From here, head south on Route 41 to Winthrop, then east on Route 202 to Augusta, Maine's capital.
Take a day to explore Augusta's Maine State Museum, which offers an amazing overview of the natural and cultural history of Maine. Also of interest is Fort Western, which hosted Benedict Arnold and his troops on their march to Quebec in 1775.
Head south on Route 27 to the riverside community of Hallowell, a great place to browse for antiques or grab a bite at one of the eclectic cafés on Water Street. Continue on 27 to the intersection of 194; head east on 194 through pastoral landscapes to Whitefield. Take 218 south to the enchanting early-19th-century village of Head Tide, nestled in a valley along the Sheepscot River. Continue south on 218 to Wiscasset, then head south on Route 1 back to Bath.