I know these are fighting words, but, here it goes: Cutler is the most beautiful place in Maine — specifically the Cutler Coast Public Lands. It could almost be mistaken for the coast of Ireland with its steep, steep rocky drops into azure [albeit freezing] waters. That alone is worth the long drive up past Machias, the blueberry capital of the Northeast. I left Portland on a Friday night after work and returned home Saturday night so it’s possible to explore – and enjoy – this area during a regular weekend.
But there’s a few more things you’ll want to see while you’re Down East on this overnight mini adventure.
DESTINATION: Cutler, a 4-hour drive from Portland; cutlermaine.net
HOW MUCH: Your biggest expense will be gas. After that it’s only about $14 for a campsite and another $4 for pie.
WHO: Anyone who is willing to sleep on the ground. Dogs are allowed at the campsites and on the hike.
WHEN: Before October
TIP: You will not have cellphone coverage. Bring a map. Seriously.
It’s a sad fact that we’re losing our night’s sky due to light pollution. As cities grow and people light their porches, we’re able to see fewer stars. Lucky for you, Cutler has amazingly dark skies. After 10 p.m. (maybe after driving Down East after work on Friday?) on a clear night you can see the white, cloudy outlines of our galaxy streaking across the star-filled sky. You’ll never see more stars in your life.
Head up to Cobscook Bay State Park (40 minutes from Cutler) where you’ll find tent sites for $14 for Maine residents. You can reserve online ahead of time so long as your reservation is two nights or longer. Some sites are non-reservable, so you could risk it and head up hoping there’s a spot left. Dogs are welcome at Cobscook Bay State Park. If you don’t get an ocean-side camping site, the park has a big, open field with picnic tables — perfect for stargazing. Just make sure to lather up with bug spray first.
Cobscook Bay State Park, 40 S Edmunds Road, Dennysville. $14 campsites for Maine residents. www.maine.gov/cobscookbay
Ask a local where to get breakfast and they’ll send you to the Whiting General Store (at the intersection of routes 1 and 189 in Whiting), which is halfway between the campground and the Cutler Coast. Remember, you’re Down East in the fishing villages, so their breakfast time probably ended before yours began. Around 9 a.m. on a Saturday, the pizza and burgers are already under the heat lamps. That said, Whiting General Store staff will happily make you a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich on an english muffin, but go for sausage-egg-and-cheese on a wrap instead. They’re damn good.
Once you have your coffee and eggs, head toward Route 191 for the Cutler Coast Public Lands. Follow the sign for the parking area from 191 and find a loop hike (about 10 miles), but for an enjoyable (and pretty easy) day hike, I’d recommend heading toward the coastal route and staying on it until you reach the Blackpoint Cutoff (about 2.5 miles) and then turning back around to return. Who would want to go inland when you have sweeping — and I mean sweeping — views of a miles-long stretch sheer, jagged cliffs abutting open ocean?
The hike is relatively easy, but it has some climbs and many rocky parts that will require your full attention. Although the hike is on a flat ridge, it’s safe to bring your dogs on this hike too.
The first mile is a wooded stretch to get to the water. After that, follow the “Use Stairs” sign for your first overlook. When you get back to the trail, you’ll wander in and out of young pine forest. Below you, you’ll see caves, coves and blue-green lagoons. After half a mile, the forest opens up to thickets of wildflowers. The ocean here is full of black boulders jutting up intermittently, giving the place a sci-fi, “am I in Planet of the Apes?” feel. Toward the end of the 2.5-mile long hike in, if you follow another “Use Stairs” sign, it will bring you to a beach that’s made entirely of black, smooth stones. It’s a good place for a freezing-cold dip. Turn back around and head for the car because the views back are just as amazing with miles more of coast.
It’s worth noting, you can hike in about 5 miles and camp at sites along the trail, but be warned: There are only three sites, no reservations and five miles is a lot if you’re carrying a tent.
Whiting General Store, 136 U.S. 1, Whiting. facebook.com/WhitingStore
Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, off Route 191, Cutler. 1.usa.gov/1JmUv1s
This region prides itself on its blueberries. The Machias Blueberry Festival pops up in August each year — and although you missed it for 2015 — the town always has blueberry desserts. Head to one of the many diners (Helen’s is a local favorite) and grab a slice of pie to go. Alternately, most of the gas stations in town will sell you a pint of local blueberries for $3.99. Take your treat(s) to downtown Machias and head to the river. The Down East Sunrise Trail abuts the river (as does Bad Little Fall Park, by a waterfall). Find a nice rock where you can sit with your pie and watch the cormorants dry their wings.
Helen’s Restaurant, 111 Main St., Machias. helensrestaurantmachias.com
Get out of dodge (at least for a little while) with a mini adventure. These excursions can be done in a day – sometimes an afternoon – and will hopefully lead you to places you’ve never been. This is Maine, after all, and we all need some adventuring.