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Mary Ruoff

Freelance writer Mary Ruoff of Belfast wrote the "Way Down East" chapter of Fodor's "Maine Coast" travel guide and has contributed Maine content to other Fodor's guides.

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Posted: February 2, 2017

Getaways way Down East

Mainers can find respite at these remote inns in winter.

Written by: Mary Ruoff
Above: Elsa's Inn on the Harbor in Prospect Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Elsa’s Inn on the Harbor in Prospect Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Even when Maine’s busy summer tourist season peaks, visitors can venture way Down East to experience stunning scenery in remote settings. They also come for the quietude and slower pace in the fishing villages and small towns dotting the coast beyond Mount Desert Island, home to popular Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, to experience the “real” Maine away from the crowds.

Not that things don’t perk up in Maine’s most easterly communities come summer. Open signs appear on homestead galleries, restaurants and small museums. Lobster boats offer scenic cruises. Lubec Brewing Co. recently opened in the up-and-coming seaside town of the same name. A few years ago, the state christened 125 miles along Route 1 and peninsular roads in coastal Washington County as the Bold Coast Scenic Byway (boldcoastbyway.com).

If summer visitors find serenity way Down East, perhaps it’s the perfect destination for Mainers who crave a winter getaway that provides a few days of solitude and respite from today’s always-on, screen-obsessed world.

Sledding at Middle River Park in Machias, which offers lots of options for winter outdoor recreation. Photo courtesy of Downeast Coastal Conservancy

Sledding at Middle River Park in Machias, which offers lots of options for winter outdoor recreation. Photo courtesy of Downeast Coastal Conservancy

Downeast Coastal Conservancy’s pocket-friendly 2017 “Winter Access Guide” can be printed from its website (downeastcoastalconservancy.org, click on “Conserved Lands”). The nonprofit has more than a dozen preserves, but the guide directs visitors to the five that are well-suited for outdoor winter activities, from walks and sledding to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

South of Washington County in Hancock County, Schoodic Peninsula on Frenchman Bay is home to an offshoot of Acadia National Park (nps.gov/acad), which gets far fewer visitors than the main part of the park, thus the appeal, along with the wave-pounded shoreline and sweeping views that extend to Mount Desert Island’s peaks. The 29-mile Schoodic National Scenic Byway starts above Ellsworth on Route 1 and follows Route 186 on the peninsula (schoodicbyway.org).

We’ve spotlighted two bed and breakfasts – one on Schoodic, the other in Washington County – that stay open year-round even though many lodgings in the region don’t. In every season, their innkeepers point visitors toward outdoor gems that are well hidden, even for Maine.

ELSA’S INN ON THE HARBOR, PROSPECT HARBOR (SCHOODIC PENINSULA)

179 Main St. elsasinn.com, (207) 963-7571

The living room of this B&B in Prospect Harbor, one of several Schoodic Peninsula villages, looks out on the water. A seafood processing plant – what was the last sardine cannery in the country and is now Maine Fair Trade Lobster – is in view, too, giving visitors a taste of the local scene. A classic Maine mid-1800s home with a long porch and distinctive steep gables, the inn has six guest rooms ($115 to $130 off-season versus $140 to $175 peak season). Some are accessible only from outside, offering the privacy some guests prefer. All rooms have TVs, private baths, down duvets and water views.

Breakfast is served at Elsa's. Photos courtesy of Elsa's Inn on the Harbor

Breakfast is served at Elsa’s.
Photos courtesy of Elsa’s Inn on the Harbor

Much of the new 8.3-mile bike path system in Acadia’s Schoodic section is well-suited for cross-country skiing (some grooming may be done). There are also 8 miles of hiking trails; a 6-mile, one-way loop road wends past a spruce fir forest, marshland, coves, harbors and a smattering of islands. Based at the park’s historic Rockefeller Hall, the Schoodic Institute (schoodicinstitute.org) sponsors events like hikes, lectures and the Acadia Winter Festival, Feb. 10 to 12 this year (activities include a lumberjack demonstration, lectures and a showing of “The Great Alone” film, about a sled dog racer’s comeback).

Schoodic Arts for All (schoodicartsforall.org) holds art workshops and classes and hosts performances at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor, including the monthly Last Friday Coffee House. Chris Ross and the North, an alternative rock-ish band from these parts, whose lead singer was the New England Music Award’s 2014 Songwriter of the Year, performs Saturday, Feb. 11.

For dinner off-season, head to The Pickled Wrinkle (thepickledwrinkle.com) in Birch Harbor. Serving pizza, seafood and pub food (sandwiches and seafood entrees, $8 to $19), it’s “where the locals go.”

ENGLISHMAN’S BED AND BREAKFAST, CHERRYFIELD

122 Main St., englishmansbandb.com, (207) 546-2337

Rear view of Cherryfield's Englishman's Bed and Breakfast shows the inn's guest house behind the home and the frozen Narraguagus River. Photo courtesy of Englishman's Bed and Breakfast

Rear view of Cherryfield’s Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast shows the inn’s guest house behind the home and the frozen Narraguagus River. Photo courtesy of Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast

Inland on Route 1, Cherryfield’s streets rise from both sides of a rocky, shallow stretch of the Narraguagus River. This Washington County B&B, one of the few in-town residential properties abutting the water, is a 1793 four-square, Federal-style home built by a prosperous early settler. Many original architectural features remain, like the huge hearth in the “keeping room,” where breakfast is served. The guest house off the back deck has a queen bed (a loft can accommodate a few more guests), kitchenette, TV and picture windows with river views ($95 off-season, $125 peak season). Upstairs, the main house’s two guest rooms ($85 off-season, $95 to $100 peak season) have original fireplaces (not in use) and share a shower (one room has a half-bath) but can be rented as a suite.

Now in its 12th year, owners Peter and Kathy Winham (yes, he’s from England and even sells teas) often direct cross-country skiers to an ungroomed trail at Petit Manan Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov) less than a half-hour away in Steuben. The conservancy’s Pigeon Hill Preserve near the refuge is a good choice for experienced snowshoers. Scientific nonprofit Eagle Hill Institute (eaglehill.us), also in Steuben, sponsors community lectures, concerts and dinners, including one paired with a violin and piano concert for Valentine’s Day (or just attend the concert). A stop on the Bold Coast Scenic Byway, Cherryfield is a great base for exploring the route further Down East: 40 minutes to county seat Machias, an hour and 25 minutes to Lubec and an hour and a half to Eastport.

Photo courtesy of Englishman's Bed and Breakfast The guest house at Cherryfield's Englishman's Bed and Breakfast.

Photo courtesy of Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast
The guest house at Cherryfield’s Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast.

Whatever the season, you don’t have to leave this pretty village to enjoy yourself outdoors. Much of the former lumbering center is in a 75-acre National Historic District with stately homes in various architectural styles (Queen Anne, Italianate, Second Empire, Federal, Greek Revival). There are small parks on both sides of the Narraguagus River. Hikers and snowshoers head to wooded Weald Bethel Trail System on the south end of town (part of Maine Seacoast Mission’s campus, seacoastmission.org). Passing through Cherryfield, the state’s 87-mile multi-use Down East Sunrise Trail (parksandlands.com) is popular with snowmobilers but also open to skiers, snowshoers and walkers.

Even in summer, when more restaurants in the region are open, 44 Degrees North (44-degrees-north.com) in neighboring Milbridge (en route to Steuben and Schoodic, which is 25 minutes from Cherryfield), is a great choice, with dining and pub rooms (sandwiches and entrees, $8 to $20).

If you do escape way Down East this winter, be forewarned: You’ll want to return come summer. For more information: DownEast & Acadia Regional Tourism (www.downeastacadia.com) and Schoodic Chamber of Commerce (acadia-schoodic.org).

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