The state of Maine is naturally built for road trips, with a sprawling geography that stretches 363 miles south to north, from Kittery to Fort Kent, and 242 miles west to east, from Gilead to Calais.
And never mind that the venerable Maine Atlas & Gazetteer was invented here in 1976.
So, when it comes to road-tripping, we Mainers know what we’re doing, and you can bet there are jumper cables, a shovel and a come-along cable puller in most of our cars and trucks, to boot.
As a kid growing up in Bangor, road trips were a regular part of life, as soon as my friends and I were old enough to get hold of a car or two. Travel mischief was always at hand, and it didn’t take much convincing to call in sick for work or skip class so we could pile in for a wild drive to Bar Harbor or Baxter, Portland or Boston. The destination rarely mattered; it was the simple joy of going that we relished so much.
That longing for the freedom of the road has never been satisfied, and, as an adult, I still make plenty of road trips – some planned, some spur of the moment – to see the sights, make a few stops, enjoy a meal, relax at a pub and meander home refreshed. It’s always good fun.
GPS technology has taken much of the joy out of modern traveling. You just plug in the coordinates or search for the address, set the device and go. No thinking in that – and, I say, no fun.
Why not try shutting off the GPS or leaving it at home? Pack your Gazetteer, some snack food and cold drinks, extra layers perhaps, a camera and binoculars. A small bag with a toothbrush isn’t a bad idea either, in case you’re having so much fun that you want to turn it into an overnight.
Here are a handful of road trips that’ll get you out and about to a host of interesting places – from York County to Aroostook, Down East, Moosehead and the midcoast – that are a few degrees off the radar screen and worth the adventure, whether it’s for a few hours, a whole day or an entire weekend.
Double Eagle II Trans-Atlantic Balloon Launch Site
A monument in the beautiful Aroostook County countryside commemorates the first successful manned hot-air balloon flight across the Atlantic Ocean, after more than a century of failed attempts by many. Piloted by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman, the Double Eagle II launched from Presque Isle and, after a flight of 137 hours and 6 minutes, landed in a barley field outside of Paris. Swim, hike and picnic at Aroostook State Park just down the road.
GETTING THERE: Take I-95 north to Houlton, then follow Route 1 for 38 miles to the site just south of Presque Isle on Spragueville Road. Bonus: Along Route 1 from Houlton to Presque Isle, visit the roadside stops (nine planets plus the sun) of the world’s largest complete three-dimensional scale model of our solar system.
Elephant Mountain B-52 Crash Site
On Jan. 24, 1963, a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flying a training mission over Maine’s North Woods was damaged by severe turbulence and crashed into the slopes of Elephant Mountain. Of the nine crew members, only the pilot and navigator survived the accident. Wreckage lines both sides of the easy quarter-mile path into the site, where there’s an information kiosk and slate memorial leaning against a large piece of the cabin of the downed plane. It’s a somber experience, and many have left a variety of flags and wreaths over time.
GETTING THERE: From the blinking light on Route 15/6 in Greenville, drive north on Lily Bay Road for 6.7 miles. Turn right on Prong Pond Road and reset your trip-o-meter. At 1.8 miles, bear right; at 3.8 miles, bear left at a fork. Cross North Brook on a bridge at 5.4 miles and, just ahead, bear left at a junction. At 6.7 miles from Lily Bay Road, bear right at a fork and, at 7.1 miles, the road makes a sharp right turn. Parking is along the right side of the road across from the trailhead.
Mount Agamenticus Auto Road
Mount Agamenticus in York is one of just three prominent Maine mountains with auto roads to the top. From the grassy summit meadow and two observation decks, sweeping views are possible from the Atlantic Ocean to the White Mountains. The ski lodge of the former Big A Ski Area is now an environmental education center, and Maine’s first fire tower is here, too. An information kiosk describes the rich history of the mountain. Stroll around the peak on the easy Big A Trail.
GETTING THERE: From Exit 7 off I-95 in York, follow Chases Pond Road west and then north for 3.5 miles. Turn left on Mountain Road and drive an additional 2.5 miles to reach the base of the mountain. The paved auto road leads 0.7 miles to the top of Mount Agamenticus.
Pineo Ridge Blueberry Barrens
A fascinating chapter of Maine’s geology is on full display on Pineo Ridge in the heart of the vast blueberry fields in Columbia. A visit to these fruity barrens is worthwhile anytime, but especially in October when the vast fields turn a spectacular fiery red. Pineo Ridge is a large glacial marine delta, a flat expanse composed of sand and gravel dotted with granite boulders and kettle from the last ice age some 12,500 years ago. The site is part of Maine’s Ice Age Trail, a fascinating self-guiding geo-tourism route with 46 stops through Down East Maine.
GETTING THERE: From the junction of route 1 and 193 in Cherryfield, drive north on Route 193 for 0.7 miles. Turn right on Ridge Road and drive a little over three miles to the open barrens on Pineo Ridge. Explore further east via Pea Ridge Road. The blueberry fields are private property, so it’s a good idea to call Wyman & Son Co. (546-3381) to let them know you’ll be out there.
Great Salt Bay
The Great Salt Bay forms part of the Damariscotta River tidal estuary, a region that’s rich in marine life, birds and animals, human history and natural beauty. On the southeast shore of the bay is Great Salt Bay Farm and the Salt Bay Farm Heritage Center. Maps are available here to guide you around the other nearby sites. South of the farm is the Whaleback Shell Midden, once the largest oyster shell heap in the world. On the northwest side of Great Salt Bay is the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder, which provides passage for spawning alewives on their annual migration from the ocean to Damariscotta Lake.
GETTING THERE: Traveling north on Route 1, pass the main Damariscotta exit and continue for just over 2 miles to the blinking light at Belvedere Road. Turn left on Belvedere Road, and soon you’ll see a white farmhouse opposite a large barn: This is the Damariscotta River Association headquarters.
Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow more of Carey’s outdoor adventures at mainetoday.com/blog/maineiac-outdoors.