A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
There are many wonderful itineraries in New England and none are more different than the trip up the coast of Maine with its rugged beauty and picturesque charm. In the lower portions of the coast, the seaside villages are all relatively near the road, while above Portland the geology of the ice age created long fingers into the sea as the ice retreated, and you have to travel miles down winding backcountry roads to reach the tips of some peninsulas. What makes this itinerary so special is the fact that your pace is, by necessity, very leisurely since the roads wind from one lovely town or harbor to the next. You couldn’t drive fast if you wanted to-and, believe me, you won’t want to. For those who want to venture off the coast, north to the Moosehead Lake Region, a special detour is suggested that will allow you to experience the untouched beauty, and wilderness of the Maine Highlands-and hopefully afford sightings of Maine’s mascot, the Moose.
Recommended Pacing: There is no perfect way to follow this itinerary. Where you spend your time will be dictated by your personal interests. Allow a minimum of six nights-five, if you do not visit Salem and Marblehead. If you choose to visit Salem and Marblehead, spend your first night here. Day two takes you to Rockport and Gloucester and the small villages in the northeastern part of Massachusetts. After which you enter New Hampshire and quickly cross over the Merrimack River into Maine, where you stay overnight in the area of York or Kennebunkport. Continue north through Portland and Bath to the lovely village of Wiscasset and spend the night there. The following day, your drive takes you through Rockland to Camden, a favorite spot on the Maine coast and one of the most charming towns in which to spend the night. Conclude your itinerary in Bar Harbor with a two-night stay, allowing time to explore the Acadia National Park. If exploring some of the Nation’s last untouched wilderness appeals, and seeing Moose peaks your interest, consider continuing your journey north and inland to the Moosehead Lake Region as detailed at the end of this itinerary. You will want to add a minimum of two additional nights based in Greenville in order to discover the beauty of the region; take advantage of this sportsman’s paradise: cross-country skiing, hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking and of course, scouting for Moose.
Magnificent, old trees sit beside the roads with their branches hanging over the passing vehicles; houses are white and old barns have mellowed with the weather to soft browns and grays; and, everywhere, there are views down saltwater inlets, views that change with the rise and fall of the ocean tides. These wonderful trees open their bright, green leaves later in the spring than in the more southerly parts of New England, as winter and its snowy ground cover continues its hold in this northern territory. It’s said that to plant before the last full moon in May (generally around Memorial Day weekend) is foolish indeed, as there is always that one last frost which will nip your early gardening enthusiasm.
Fall foliage along the coast of Maine is often interspersed with the Maine pines, which tend, in the more southerly areas of the State, to predominate. It is only when one reaches north of Portland that the traveler gets the best of both, the craggy coast with its tiny inlets and sparkling blue waters, and the rippling colors of trees as they begin to turn into brilliant, autumn colors.
As you travel on the back roads and byways of Maine, be sure to stop at the farm stands which open in the late spring with strawberries, garden peas, and sweet peas, and continue into the bounty of summer produce, and then in the fall with the arrival of pumpkins, Indian corn, and interestingly shaped gourds.
However, before you reach this magical coast of Maine, you must take the time to visit Salem and Marblehead, where history buffs will find much to enjoy while walking the streets and learning about the lives of the citizens who lived in these communities over two centuries ago. Rockport and Gloucester offer visitors the opportunity to see the arts, antiques, and scenic harbors that make this part of Cape Ann so charming. Leave Boston on I-93 north, turning onto the circumferential Route 128 and I-95. Shortly after you have turned east on I-95 and are headed towards the north shore of Massachusetts, you find signs that will take you, via Route 114, towards Salem and Marblehead.
Salem, famous in the late 17th century for witchcraft hysteria, is well known now as the home of the Peabody Essex Museum, a superlative museum where you can easily spend several hours viewing the exhibits on the maritime history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The focus is on objects collected by the ship captains of Salem on their voyages delivering the colony’s goods to the capitals of Europe and Asia. Of particular note is the Asian export art collection (decorative art made in Asia for export to the West), considered to be the most complete of any in the world, featuring 17th– through 19th-century decorative and utilitarian objects used in homes and businesses. There is also a great collection of maritime art, as well as a focus on Asian, Oceanic, and African art, and Native American arts and archaeology. The Witch Museum offers exhibits and a sound and light show with vignettes of the witch trials of 1692. Chestnut Street is lined with mansions built by ship captains that reflect the wealth of that era and the shipping trade. Salem is also famous as the home of the House of Seven Gables, where tours bring to life the scenes from Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name. Pioneer Village (open from May through October) is a re-creation of buildings that existed in the early days of the settlement of Salem. There are houses with thatched roofs, dugouts, and a wigwam. Interpreters dressed in costume explain the daily life of Salem’s early settlers.
A visit to the North Shore would not be complete without a drive to Marblehead, and a walk in the historic district dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries when Marblehead’s harbor was, as it is today, a hive of activity. In fact, Marblehead is known as the sailing capital of New England. On summer weekends, you can see sailing yachts of every size and description racing and cruising in the waters of the harbor and nearby ocean from many vantage points.
If you’ve spent the night in the Salem and Marblehead area, you’ll now be facing the choice of a second day on the North Shore or moving onward into Maine. I recommend that you drive to Gloucester to visit Beauport, the Cape Ann Historical Museum, and, if time permits, the Hammond Castle Museum. My favorite of these three is Beauport, the 40-room home designed and decorated by Henry Davis Sleeper. Beauport is open from May to September and guided one-hour tours are available. If decor is of interest to you, this visit would be one you’ll never forget. This is one of the many fine houses that are owned by the SPNEA (Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) and a tour of several of these properties throughout New England would be well worth an itinerary all of its own. For details contact SPNEA at 617-227-3956, or visit their website at www.spnea.com.
After you leave Gloucester, take Route 127A to Rockport. This part of Cape Ann is the site of an artists’ colony and its galleries. Surrounding shops are very busy during the summer months with visitors enjoying the scenery of the old fishing village and harbor. In the harbor, one scene of an old fishing building and wharf has become so famous that it is known as “Motif # 1” to artists around the world.
Leaving the Cape Ann peninsula on Route 133, you drive through the town of Essex, MA, famous for its several antique shops, where you may find some treasure to take home. If traveling on a Wednesday or Thursday between May and September, you would be well rewarded to detour out to The Great House on the 2,100-acre Crane Estate. Presiding over rolling hills, quiet woods, open meadows, salt marshes, and miles of sandy beach and estuary islands, this 59-room mansion was built by Richard Crane and is preserved as a National Historic Landmark. (Note: the gate house of the Crane Estate has guestrooms available to travelers. See the Hotel Section for its description and more information.)
From Essex, Route 133 connects to Route 1A through the town of Rowley and onto Newburyport with its magnificent High Street, another town made famous by its shipping history and the homes of those associated with that very prosperous trade.
Exit the Maine Turnpike (I-95, the fast interstate highway) onto Route 1 (the road that connects one old historical town to the next) as soon as you can. The exit from the turnpike in York is a perfect place to begin this journey. In this lower part of Maine you will find yourself less than a mile from the coast, so driving in and out of the little coastal villages is quick and easy. If you can begin this itinerary in Maine with a drive through York and York Harbor, it’s a nice way to start to relax and see the sights, and experience the sounds and smell of the ocean. You’ll also begin to see some color in the foliage of the deciduous trees in these charming villages. There are a number of antique shops all along Route 1. Lower Maine has several collectives (where several dealers, rather than one, display their merchandise) in the York area.
Continuing north from the Yorks brings you to Ogunquit, which, in the language of the American Indian tribe of the Algonquins, means “beautiful place by the sea.” The long, narrow harbor is especially scenic, and while you may not see the lobster boats depart early in the morning, you can catch them returning in the afternoon with a following of inquisitive sea gulls seeking a free dinner. Because of the attractiveness of this area, many artists settled here-the subjects for their art are everywhere. The Ogunquit Playhouse offers theater performances on summer evenings.
Traffic along Route 1, as you drive north to Wells, can be especially tedious-even more so on a foggy or rainy day, when all the tourists are searching for entertainment and are visiting the concentration of outlet shops at the southern end of this route. I’d suggest, if at all possible, avoiding this drive at the beginning or the end of the beach day, when those who have spent the day on the sand and in the ocean find their way to restaurants, grocery stores, and back to their overnight accommodations.
In the town of Wells there’s a real concentration of antique shops offering formal and country furniture and decorative objects. Just north of Wells, Route 9 breaks off to the town of Kennebunkport, and I strongly recommend that you drive into “the Port,” as the locals call it. This is a storybook village, but was originally a fishing port. In the fall, the ancient trees on its main streets pour forth with gorgeous colors of red, yellow, orange, and everything in-between. You can still see the lobstermen go out to sea each day to empty their traps and to bait them for the next day’s catch. Kennebunkport has become a tourist Mecca, especially for its shops. To absorb the charm of this town with its lovely stately homes and elm-tree-lined streets, allow time to include a walking tour of the town center. Afterwards, find a spot to have a cup of New England clam chowder or a Maine lobster. One of the sights outside the town is the Wedding Cake House on Route 9A, which, as the stories go, was decorated with all manner of gingerbread trim by a sea captain who was called to sea immediately after his wedding.
Just north of Kennebunkport, taking Ocean Avenue first east and then north from the village, you come to the summer home of the 41st president of the United States, George Bush. Shortly thereafter, along Route 9, you reach Cape Porpoise, which exudes all the ambiance of a tiny fishing community with houses set on hills looking down on its lobster boats and other small craft. It’s tiny and will take only a short time to visit, but it’s charming. Make sure to take the time to drive through the village and out to the point from which you can see the lighthouse just off shore. Back on Route 9, you continue north a few miles to a barn on your left with a clock tower and a somewhat confusing sign on your right that points to Goose Rocks Beach. With one tiny store, this beach is a magnificent 2-mile-long stretch of sand-a rarity on the rocky coast of Maine. If you’re able to linger here, you become immediately aware that the tides on this northeast coast rise and fall 10 feet or more with each change of tide, so the beach you walk at low tide will become much narrower as the tide comes in. If you put a toe into the water, you quickly learn that swimming on the coast of Maine takes a degree of courage!
From Goose Rocks, drive north on Route 9 to Route 1 north, and then take I-95 onward to Portland. With its population of about 65,000, the city of Portland is the largest town you come to as you go northward along the coast. The port is an important one for the fishing industry and the city has become the center for commercial business in northern New England. This is a city that is perfect for sightseeing on foot since all the interesting spots are within a short distance of one another. There is also an advantage to walking as the pace allows you to study the architecture and permits the occasional glimpse into a hidden garden here and there. The downtown area of Portland has been revitalized and many of the historical buildings have been rehabilitated. There are many great restaurants and lots of shopping in boutiques known for their handcrafts. Portland has a great historical area and is a regional center for the arts. The Museum of Art focuses on artists of the state of Maine, and there are wonderful paintings by Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and John Marin. For those interested in seeing more of Casco Bay, there are seasonal, daily trips by boat to view the islands, though it is not always possible to disembark.
From Portland, you can take a ferry to Nova Scotia; but unless your time is very limited, I suggest you continue a little farther north by car along the coast to Bar Harbor. This is well worth the time, and from there it is a much shorter sea trip to reach the maritime provinces.
About 12 miles northeast of Portland, off the I-95, is the town of Freeport, made famous by the L. L. Bean store which is open 24 hours a day. Here you can find everything from a canoe or camp stove to a ski cap. This famous institution has now expanded into selling almost anything you can use in your home. Freeport has also become home to more than 120 brand-name outlet stores of every type which have been very cleverly and appealing incorporated into the heart of the old downtown. If shopping is your thing, this is the place to “shop till you drop.” Of greater interest to me is the Desert of Maine, a phenomenon of former forest where the winds of time have laid bare more than 500 acres of sand, now formed into sand dunes-in an area nowhere near the sea. To reach and view this phenomenon (open from early May until mid-October), take I-95 to exit 19 and then drive 2 miles west on Desert Road.
North of Freeport is the community of Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art with its collections of early-American portraits and (annually from mid-May until mid-August) a display of the paintings, etchings, and memorabilia of the artist Winslow Homer. The particular focus of much of his work was the coast and lore of Maine, so this becomes a topical experience for those interested in the work of this very famous American artist.
Just north of Brunswick, Route 1 begins its coastal-hugging path toward Bar Harbor, still 150 miles to the north. Long fingers of land stretch out into the sea, and a trip down any of these will bring great pleasure as you meander along winding, tree-lined roads between one small fishing village and the next. The village of Bath has been a shipbuilding center for hundreds of years, and its harbor hosts the relics of schooners from long ago. You can see ships in dry dock being repaired, in mothballs, or in the process of being built. As you view the wide harbor, it’s easy to imagine a time when commercial ships sailed from this port to the European capitals, the Far East, and to the West Indies. In Bath, a visit to the Maine Maritime Museum, with its exhibits on coastal life, the shipbuilding industry, and the commerce of Maine, would provide an interesting diversion for both adults and children. There is a movie on the lobster industry, as well as exhibits in a sail loft. During the summer, you can take a boat ride on the Kennebec River to observe the boat-building industry as it exists today.
From Bath follow the Route 1 a short distance to the intersection of Route 127 and turn south to Georgetown and on to Reid State Park. Here you will find wonderful dune beaches as well as tidepools for exploration-a great picnic spot. Continue on from Reid State Park to Five Islands to visit a charming fishing harbor and the picturesque Hendricks Head Lighthouse.
Proceed north across the bridge to the town of Wiscasset, one of my very favorite villages in all of New England-I especially love its long street leading down to the water. There could be no prettier village in which to take in fall foliage that Wiscasset. Magically, the natural beauty of the homes along its streets are enhanced that much more when the colors of fall foliage play off the sparking white clapboard exteriors. This is a community with tree-lined streets, white churches, and lovely old homes dating back to the 18th century. It’s also a terrific and popular center for antiquing, with an emphasis on country things rather than formal. In the winter, the pace is slower with the fickle weather, and some dealers open and others not.
Beyond Wiscasset, you are now in one of the most famous of all Maine regions-Boothbay Harbor. With a year-round population of only a couple of thousand, this is an area that can absorb the summer residents, the visitors staying the night, and those who will simply be passing through on the way north or south. This is one of the larger towns in the region and from here there are many options for boat cruises and excursions. Be sure to venture beyond the town and explore the roads that hug the water’s edge. A favorite drive is to follow Scenic drive (Route 96) east and then south to Ocean Point. Lovely residences enjoy this exclusive real estate and from here one can easily look out to Burnt Island Light House. If traveling with children and for an insight into Maritime Heritage, you might consider an excursion (departures from pier 8 in Boothbay Harbor) out to Maine’s ninth light house. Refurbished, actors play the role of light house keepers, are dressed in costume and stage an ambiance of days of old. (Tours July and August, 10 minute boat ride, two hour tour, www.balmydayscruises.com)
As you explore, this coastal region charm is at every bend in the road, as one scenic vista opens onto yet another and as one lovely old farmhouse with attached great barn and old faded-color siding leads to the next. Extraordinarily special are the little inlets from the sea with water shimmering so brightly that it almost blinds the eyes, wonderful green trees lining the banks. These saltwater extensions of the ocean bring the sights, sounds, and smells right up to the highway. With a dock here and there and a boat tied up, perhaps with a morning check of the lobster pots, this is a scene that will bring out your camera to capture a delightful memory. From the early spring green of new leaves signaling the end of winter, through the summer grasses and multicolored wildflowers, to the colors of fall, this is Maine at its best. Take the time to rent a bike and meander along the country roads that connect the little villages in the Boothbay area. Or at least park in a town or two, leaving your car under a red sugar maple so that you can smell the fall in the crisp air and collect a few leaves to press between the leaves of a book back home. There is no end to their shapes and colors; and by the time you’ve picked up a handful of chestnuts, you’ll be wondering how to roast them over a fire back home. To all of this, add the flavors of seafood from the neighboring waters, especially lobster served boiled or stuffed, cold or hot with melted butter, and your visit is something special. While I was visiting, not only did I have my fair share of lobster in every form, but I also enjoyed the seasonal local clams, oysters, and Maine shrimp.
If you are interested in islands and the charm they provide, you can take a boat trip from Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor, or Port Clyde to Monhegan Island. Lobstering is the island’s principal trade. The large number of artists who spend the summer here and work in the area augments the island’s population. There are miles of trails for the hiker, and spectacular views from practically every vantage point. Any photographer would find that a visit here provides more subject matter than there is film.
Working your way north again along Route 1, you will come upon Newcastle and, just north of it, Damariscotta. Both are seafaring villages with restaurants, shops, and overnight accommodations. Everything’s informal here, and you find the down-east Maine resident to be as special in his accent as in his friendliness.
A detour south from Newcastle to the tip of the peninsula will reward you with yet another charming fishing town, New Harbor with its colorful harbor and old fort, Fort William Henry Colonial Pemaquid, and Maine’s most photographed lighthouse at Pemaquid Point. Built in 1827 on a rocky ledge, Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is indeed very picturesque.
Rockland, with its almost 8,000 population, is the next town of size. It has all the hustle, bustle, and commercial activity of a modern seaport from which lobsters are shipped throughout the world. Here you find the Farnsworth Art Museum, which is almost a required stop because of its 19th– and 20th-century paintings by Fitzhugh Lane and a large collection of paintings by members of the Wyeth family, who traditionally summered in Maine. Their ability to capture local Maine scenery and everyday events in oil and watercolor makes a visit to this museum a rewarding experience.
Farther north on Route 1 is another of my favorite towns on the Maine coast-Camden, which surrounds a protected harbor full of windjammer schooners moored on summer weekends, as well as gorgeous yachts cruising the waters of Penobscot Bay. This is a harbor of constant activity-an artist’s dream from any angle. At the head of the harbor, high on the hill, is the Camden Library. From its windows and terraces, there are unforgettable views of all that lies below. In the fall when the foliage turns to red and gold, this view makes for one those indelible memories of your fall foliage trip. Be sure to leave time to drive on the back streets of Camden to see the displays of color and the fall gardens with their brilliantly colored chrysanthemums, asters, and other fall flowers. Main Street, lined with white mansions and more New England churches, is a great place to stop for lunch if your meandering around the town has you there at that hour. Enjoy the lovely architecture of the homes around you. There are art galleries, shops, and restaurants. In summer, window boxes and flowers thrive in the day’s sun and the evening’s cool temperatures. It would be difficult to think of a nicer place to stay than this delightful town. There is a good, little walking guide available locally, which I urge you to follow, for it will greatly enhance your visit. Also of interest, Camden is the host harbor for many seafaring schooners on which you can take a week’s or few hours’ cruise along the spectacular coast, either helping with the sailing or relaxing and soaking up the sun on deck.
As you leave Camden, given an extra half hour and a beautiful day, we recommend you take a short detour that will reward you with some memorable views. Just on the northern outskirts of town watch for a left hand turn to Mount Battie and Camden Hills State Park. This road winds to the top of the hill and affords some of the most incredible views of the harbor, bay and town.
From Camden travel northward along the coast through the towns of Belfast, Searsport, and Bucksport. From Route 1 take Route 175 south, and Route 15 down to Deer Isle, Sunset, and the incredible harbor of Stonington, one of the most photographed harbors anywhere. An old whaling town settled long ago by the Portuguese it’s main street now boasts a number of quaint restaurants, galleries and shops. After visiting Stonington, take Route 175 north to the delightful village of Blue Hill-the heart of this Blue Hill peninsula. There are small restaurants, lots of antique shops, art galleries, and places that will entice you through their front doors to look for a treasure to extend the memory.
There’s no way to return to the highway without taking another country road, but the Blue Hill Peninsula is wide enough to allow a different view from its eastern side. After the town of Ellsworth, you leave Route 1, taking Route 3 down into Mount Desert Island and the Acadia National Park. This park is an unforgettable experience and will cap your trip on the Maine coast, well worth the effort of getting there. Plan on at least one overnight in this area if you intend to spend any time in the Acadia National Park (we have inn recommendations in Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor). The smallness and compactness of this area allows for easy visiting of all that there is to do.
Mount Desert Island is about 108 square miles in size, its beauty lying in its granite quarries, mountains, pine forests, and freshwater lakes. From high on top of any of its mountains are panoramic views over the park and the surrounding islands. There are rocky mountains with exposed granite, and charming plants that seem determined to make the most of a short-lived season. Bright and diminutive wildflowers, blueberries, and plants with colorful leaves and berries will reward your camera with yet another photo opportunity. You can tour the park by car, guided bus, bicycle, or horse and carriage. You will want to linger and stop often, so I urge you to arm yourself with informational materials available at the National Park Headquarters and head off on your own.
Be sure to find and follow Loop Road, the park’s main attraction, as it winds its way along the coast and up to Cadillac Mountain. There are many places to park, to gaze, to photograph, and to smell, and many birds to watch in this ever-changing landscape. Be sure to get to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the spectacular views. (Take a windbreaker with you to protect you from the chilly breezes.) Other points of interest include Otter Cliffs and Thunder Hole-the water rushing into this narrow cavern with the changing tide sounds like thunder. If you have time, be sure to walk the Beach Cliff Trail, and visit Bass Head Light and other areas of the national park located in the Schoodic Peninsula. In the fall, what you’ll find here is not the towering maples and other deciduous trees with their brilliant foliage, but rather the beauty of small rock-hugging plants and the deep reds and russets that beacon forth from their tiny leaves. One of the most spectacular plants for fall color is the wild, Maine blueberry bushes-blushing with the brilliance of their unforgettable, red color.
A visit to the village of Bar Harbor is more enjoyable in the summer when you will find it alive with activity and summer residents. After Labor Day, the pace in this part of Maine slows down and the night begins to turn frosty with everything covered with dew. The smells of fall are very special and the clear crispness can almost be tasted. In the winter, many of its shops are closed. However, then the pace is slower, and there is a special, quiet charm without the crowds. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bar Harbor became a fashionable alternative to Newport, Rhode Island. Summer homes are grand beyond your wildest imagination and driving around Bar Harbor and down to either Northeast Harbor or Southwest Harbor will take you back to another era.
If you’re traveling to Maine to see fall foliage, you’ll need to plan to be traveling (normally) by late September, as fall color comes early here in this part of the Northeast.
This itinerary officially ends at Bar Harbor and from here you can consider a number of options. You can always retrace your route south, perhaps taking advantage of I-95 that efficiently covers the distance between Bangor and Boston. Because of its location, Bar Harbor would also serve as a good beginning to other journeys onward to Nova Scotia by boat. Another suggestion, by heading west from Bar Harbor, you can take an alternative route across Maine into New Hampshire and Vermont, visiting the more northern areas of the White and Green Mountains. Herein lie small New England towns where farming and milk production are the principal industries, and where being off the beaten track is not an inconvenience, but rather a wonderful bonus. These small New England towns truly paint a picture and provide a poetic sense of New England, and there is much joy in finding an inn with a cozy fireplace, a nice dining room, and congenial hosts. And finally, if you want to extend your journey and venture further north into the upper reaches of Maine and the Moosehead Lake Region (possibly when enroute to Quebec), consider the following suggested extension to this itinerary.
The Moosehead Lake Region is just one district of the Maine Highlands and its natural beauty, many rivers, lakes and mountains make it an outdoorsman’s paradise and provide the traveler with unique experiences. At the heart of the region is a lake of the same name, whose outline when viewed on a map, remarkably does indeed look like a moose head with those distinctive antlers! Maine’s largest lake, Moosehead Lake is forty miles long and 420 miles around and has an intricate shoreline that weaves in and out to afford some spectacular bays, coves, beaches and even embraces a few islands. At the southern tip of the lake is Greenville-the closest to a metropolis for miles around! In fact approximately 20 miles north of Greenville when traveling north on either side of the lake, roads are gated and there is restricted access into the wilderness area. There is actually talk of converting and preserving this magnificent region of northern Maine into one of the nation’s largest national parks.
There is no doubt that a visit, and a stay in the Moosehead Lake Region with Greenville as a base would provide the traveler with unique experiences. From here you can venture forth to explore the region. Where else can you stay in one locale and go dog sledding, ice fishing, whitewater rafting, snowmobiling, cross-country or downhill skiing, canoeing, kayaking, participate in a moose safari, and have a guide instruct you in the fine art of fly fishing? Seaplanes are a popular mode of transportation in these northern parts, but if you’re driving in the back woods on unpaved roads, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is good insurance that you’ll arrive at your destination.
We were intrigued by the notion of moose sightings and happened to be traveling at the prime time-late spring, early summer. Moose are famous for making unexpected, cameo appearances and if you are lucky, you just might see one with or without the aid of binoculars. Moose are definitely prevalent as is evidenced by the over 1,000 accidents and fatalities attributed last year to cars colliding with moose… so be careful! Part of the blame falls on the moose whose vision is limited to about 25 feet. Also, in the Moosehead Lake Region, moose outnumber people (tourists!) by 3 to 1. But if you are determined as we were, there are a few key guidelines to enhance your chances of a sighting.
With the exception of the lighthouse, there is no other image more symbolic of Maine than the moose. The fact that it is the state animal and appears as on the state seal is proof that the local residents are also enamored by this adorable, gangly creature. A large male may measure as long as 10 feet, stand 7 feet tall and weigh three-quarters of a ton. Cute and big, they are the largest antlered animal in North America and the largest member of the deer family in the world.
Observing moose in their natural habitat is exciting. Luckily for the moose-seeking traveler, the best times for sightings are also the best times for visiting Maine-late spring/early summer and in the fall. In the springtime, craving sodium that has been depleted from their bodies after the long winter, moose are attracted to the roadsides where salt remains from winter spreading; and with a weakness for tender, sodium-rich aquatic plants they are often seen at a pond or body of water. In late September and early October moose are on the prowl because it is mating season and because the bulls can also be very aggressive in their pursuit and mistake anything moving for an alluring cow a good zoom lens might be the preferred and conservative means of a “close up” viewing.
In general, Moose are nocturnal animals and the best times to sight them are early mornings or at dusk. You can venture forth to inlets and wooded areas by private car. In pursuit of moose it is possible to go off-road on many of the logging roads, but be alert for logging trucks, who like moose are bigger than you are! It is also possible to hire a guide and explore by canoe, kayak or seaplane. Regardless of the means of pursuit, remember to be careful. Although, moose are not considered dangerous, they are massive and you do not want to startle them. It is important to note that cows are very protective of their young and bulls are very aggressive in the mating season.
As a recommendation for the best areas considered for sightings are to simply explore the main roads and back roads around Moosehead Lake. From Greenville take Route 6 and then 15 to Route 201 in Jackman and follow it to Sandy Bay township at the Canadian border. Or travel Lily Bay Road from Greenville, traveling northeast, for approximately 20 miles and watch for moose at any point along the way. If you have gotten to Kokadjo and still haven’t seen any or enough, head to lazy Tom Bog just past Kokadjo-this bog is very popular with local moose! If you want to make a day of moose watching, drive to Rockwood, a town north of Greenville, from which you can then venture to Mount Kineo for some hiking, exploring and moose watching.
As a final note, moose definitely prefer shady, wet areas and so definitely focus your search around beaver flowages, marshes and swampy areas; logging areas where there is young growth as well as broccoli fields. Get a good map; pack binoculars and a picnic and hopefully, along with some patience, you will be well rewarded. But even if you are not fortunate to see a moose, in the pursuit it is guaranteed that you will see and experience some absolutely gorgeous wilderness. Although, centuries have passed since this region was settled by the Penobscot tribes and this was where early European settlers first landed in the mid-1700s it remains rugged, untouched and wild.
From Greenville your options are to continue your journey north to the Canadian border, travel east to New Hampshire or return south to the Maine Coast and on to Massachusetts. When here you will feel isolated from any sense of civilization, so it is very interesting/comforting to note that in terms of distance and time you are just 1½ hours’ drive from Bangor, 2½ hours from Portland and 4½ hours from Boston.
If returning south, consider extending your journey just a bit further north on the 15/6, traveling the east side of Moosehead Lake and at The Birches follow the 15/6 west to Jackman Station. Regarded as one of Maine’s scenic highways, from Jackman travel Interstate 201 south in the direction of Waterville and the junction of the Maine Turnpike, I-95. This loop first north and then south from Greenville has also been recommended as one of Maine’s most beautiful routes during the spectacular fall foliage.