The quintessential American road trip is still possible. The kind with classic small towns, friendly local restaurants and inns, and breathtaking views. Maine’s Route 1 delivers on all counts, but you need to detour here and there to see the best of this wild-at-heart coastline—the painterly lighthouses, homey lobster shacks, and blueberry barrens that go on forever. These suggestions are laid out south to north.
Just over the New Hampshire line, Kittery is Maine’s oldest town, with a maritime history going back to 1623. Old houses and a quaint, compact downtown make this a must stop on your Route 1 road trip. The town is an oasis of old-fashioned charm, away from the mall outlets of the highway. Browse the shops, get a bite in one of the fine restaurants, such as local favorite Lil’s café, and then head out to Fort McClary on Kittery Point, a protected spot for more than 275 years.
A 25-minute drive from the town of Bath, Reid State Park ranks as Maine’s first state-owned saltwater beach. Its gorgeous 770 acres include rocky tidal pools, salt marshes, a tidal lagoon, and—unusual in Maine—sand dunes and sandy beaches. From Griffith Head, a high headland, you can take in wonderful seascapes dotted with islands and lighthouses. Lunch at Five Islands Lobster Co. on lobster pulled from surrounding waters.
Pemaquid Peninsula Ramble
Spend a full day exploring a peninsula favored by artists such as Edward Hopper. After a hearty breakfast in Damariscotta, just off Route 1, head south to New Harbor and sign up for a half-day trip with Maine Kayak. You’ll explore Muscongus Bay and its stunning views of land and sea. Then check out Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, a white beacon commissioned in 1827; the Keeper’s House, Fisherman’s Museum, and Pemaquid Art Gallery offer a taste of local life.
Midcoast Puffin Watch
Take a puffin tour out of New Harbor in the late afternoon when adult puffins have returned to their rocky roosts. Enjoy sensational views of Eastern Egg Rock and Monhegan Island. To learn more about Maine’s efforts to protect the beloved seabird, head up the coast to the Audubon Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland. If you’re there in the morning, stop at Atlantic Baking Co. for delicious artisan breads and pastries.
Lobsterman for a Day
This detour will plunge you deep into the heart of Maine tradition and lore. Book a lobster fishing scenic tour with the Mail Boat out of Stonington and watch crews haul in lobster traps. The salt air, the rock of the boat, and the captain’s stories about lobster fishing and island life make this an up-close experience not to be missed. Afterward, savor a cup of fresh roasted brew at 44 North Coffee or a cold treat from Stonington Ice Cream Company. And don’t forget to get tasty lobster rolls from the Maine Lobster Lady’s food truck, which is open all season long.
Schoodic National Scenic Byway
One of the best cycling runs in the state courses 29 miles around beautiful Schoodic Peninsula. You’ll pass blueberry barrens in shades of violet and green in late summer, scarlet in autumn; distant mountains; fishing villages; old New England architecture; picturesque lighthouses; eagles and osprey; and of course, stunning prospects of cliffs and sea. The route also passes through the only mainland section of Acadia National Park.
The Bold Coast
The small town of Cutler offers a number of exciting possibilities, starting with a hike on a lovely stretch of the Bold Coast Trail through coastal forests, freshwater bogs, and blueberry fields. Steep headlands afford stunning views of hidden coves and vast ocean vistas. For a real Downeast Maine experience, spend the night in the Little River Lighthouse, a Victorian landmark built in 1888.
Located on the easternmost point of the United States, West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, dating from 1858, catches the first rays of the morning sun. Quoddy Head State Park protects 541 acres of bogs and rocky beach. Grab a snack at Becky’s Seafood truck or a craft beer at Lubec Brewing Company. Spend the night at the Peacock House, a former ship captain’s home overlooking the Bay of Fundy.
Perched across the bay from New Brunswick, Canada, Eastport is known for its riptides and strong currents. The churning water creates a cornucopia for seals and eagles at high tide. And for more site-seeing, check out Eastport’s mansions, which hearken to the late 19th-century canning industry. Just south of Eastport are the towns of Lubec and Cutler. Here travelers should find a cliffside to stand and watch for whales and other sea life at the deepest ports on the East Coast.
Bold Coast Scenic Bikeway
Discover the small towns and harbors of Maine on this blessedly peaceful 211-mile route extending from West Gouldsboro to Calais, opposite mainland Canada. Design a loop for the day or a put together a multi-day trek. You’ll pass historic lobster fishing villages, expansive blueberry barrens, quiet woods, and a splendid shoreline, all on rural back roads away from heavy traffic.