There are 17 million acres of forest, 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, some 6,000 lakes and ponds, and nearly 3,500 miles of coastline — more than 5,000 miles if you count its islands. Maine, larger than the other New England states combined, is one big, beautiful place. Scenic drives are everywhere, and trying to select a handful of the best is like picking your favorite child. And yet, here we go: four of the prettiest drives in the state.
Bold Coast Scenic Byway
Miles of hiking trails, acres of blueberry barrens, tucked-away fishing villages, and endless coastal views await you on this 125-mile route, stretching from Milbridge to Lubec, at the Canadian border. This is Downeast Maine at its boldest. Follow Route 1 from Milbridge to Cherryfield, the blueberry capital of the world, and home to Wyman’s of Maine. A short detour on Route 193 north will give you expansive views of acres and acres of blueberry barrens. Back on Route 1, you’ll pass Wild Blueberry Land, shaped like a giant blueberry; stop in for fresh baked blueberry muffins and pies, before continuing on to Jonesport, a small, hard-working fishing village. A drive over the bridge to the Great Wass Island Preserve is a must-do. The island sticks farther out to sea than any other land mass in eastern Maine, and you’ll have spectacular coastline views on the 4.5-mile loop hiking trail.
Drive through Machias and onto Cutler, where the rocky, coastal landscape dominates the view. Stop to explore the wild and wonderful Cutler Coastal Public Lands, a 12,234-acre preserve with 10 miles of trails leading to pretty coves, pebble beaches, and steep sea cliffs with dramatic views.
Another detour will take you out to Quoddy Head State Park, at the tip of America’s easternmost peninsula, with a historic lighthouse and 5 miles of scenic trails. In Lubec, a stone’s throw from Canada, you’ll find 91 miles of shoreline, and a friendly little village.
The Golden Road
Fill up the gas tank, load up the cooler with snacks and drinks, and bring your sense of adventure. A four-wheel-drive truck would help, too. This 96-mile private logging road was built by the Great Northern Paper Company and runs from Millinocket to the Canadian St. Zacharie Border crossing. It was built to connect the company’s Millinocket mills to its vast forests in the north. Today it offers access to Maine’s great northern wilderness, with dense forests dotted with pristine rivers, ponds, lakes, hiking trails, and remote camps.
Some of it is paved, most of it is not. We recommend the dusty, scenic jaunt from Millinocket to Greenville; it’s about 70 miles and will take two to three hours, or more, depending on stops and road conditions. You’ll pick up the Golden Road just outside the southern entrance to Baxter State Park, about 9 miles out of Millinocket; it’s not well-marked but any local will be able to direct you. For the first 30 or so miles, the road parallels the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Stop at the Abol Bridge where you’ll have a fabulous view of Mount Katahdin. Just beyond the bridge is a 4-mile or so access road leading to the Ice Caves trailhead within the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area. The 2-mile in-and-out trail takes you to the shores of First Debsconeag Lake, and is a worthy detour.
Continue on to Ripogenus Dam, straddling Ripogenus Lake on one side and the West Branch gorge on the other. The plunging gorge, with its wild rapids, is a favorite playground for whitewater rafters.
There are forest and mountain views galore, shallow ponds where moose browse, and not much else as you continue on the gravel and dirt road. You’ll reach a fork in the road where a small, rustic sign indicates the way to the remote town of Kokadjo and Greenville beyond.
Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway
This region in the western mountains of Maine includes 33,000 acres of protected wilderness, punctuated with more than 100 remote lakes and ponds. The 35.6-mile designated scenic byway offers a pretty peek at the unspoiled landscape.
Begin on Route 4 in Small Falls, following the up-and-down road into the town of Rangeley, hugging the shoreline of Rangeley Lake. Consider poking around town a while, perhaps taking a scenic boat or kayak tour of the lake.
The route continues to the small village of Oquossoc, home to the Outdoor Heritage Museum, housing an impressive collection of artifacts, boats, wildlife, and art, as well as an authentic 1910 sporting cabin.
Follow Route 17 from here as it climbs the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline to the Height of Land outlook, where you’ll have unobstructed views for miles and miles of nothing but woods, mountains, and lakes, including Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson lakes. It’s arguably one of the finest views in Maine, especially in fall when the densely forested mountain slopes are painted with fiery autumn hues.
The road heads south from here, traveling through valleys and then alongside open fields and farms, ending just north of Houghton.
Schoodic National Scenic Byway
There’s Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island and then there’s Acadia National Park on the Schoodic Peninsula: same stunning mountain to sea views, without the crowds. This coastal Maine route meanders down the peninsula into the park, traveling through small villages with shoreline walks and water views.
The byway begins on Route 1 in Hancock; check out Tidal Falls Preserve, an 8-acre parcel overlooking the reversing falls in the Taunton River. Continue on Route 1 as it flanks Flanders Bay, hugging the coastline through Sullivan. Turn on Route 136 heading down the peninsula to Winter Harbor, where you can watch lobster boats coming and going at the town pier. Now, head into the Schoodic district of Acadia National Park, with continual woods and water views, and 7 miles of hiking trails. Stop at Schoodic Point at the tip of the peninsula, where waves crash against a wide expanse of granite ledges. The byway loops around the other side of the peninsula into Birch Harbor and Prospect Harbor, home to the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org