Maine is the biggest state in New England and one of the most geographically diverse, from ocean cliffs to mountains and everything in between. Plus it’s a great place to hop in a car and just watch the world go by, stopping to stretch your legs at awe-inspiring natural wonders and quaint towns. Whether headed to the beach or trying to find a road less taken, here are our favorite roadtrips through the state.
Coastal Route One
Tip to tip, there’s no better way to watch Maine’s landscape and people evolve than the coastal north-south road. From seaside villages to blueberry fields and fishing harbors, the entire road stretches almost 530 miles, making it impossible to see it all in one day, so break it into chunks: start from York where you can check out the Nubble Light, and then strap in for the four-hour drive past the likes of pretty Camden to Bar Harbor and the outdoor wonderland that is Acadia National Park.
Built by the paper companies to service trucks on the long haul between the mills in Millinocket and Canadian forests 96-miles to the north, the Golden Road is an out-of-the-way gem. Once teaming with logging trucks hauling ancient hardwoods to make paper and furniture, the Golden Road today more typically feeds hikers looking to tackle Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin. The decline of the forest industry in the state has left legends about the roads’ origins (either the cost – reportedly $1 million a mile to make, or its drive to vast forests, which created fortunes) but a lifetime of access to premier fishing and whitewater rafting. There’s awesome lookouts before the trail ends at the St. Zacharie Quebec border crossing.
Rangeley Lakes Byway
From Madrid to Mexico (Yeah, Maine) this scenic interstate highway winds around pristine lakes back-dropped by mountains. For 52 miles through rural, Western Maine, routes 17 and 4 pass a land of vast forests, mountain towns and streams, rising to the Height of Land in Roxbury. Rangeley Lake is famed for its trout fishing, while the camps along the numerous water bodies provide relief for those looking to prolong their stay.
Grafton Notch Byway
This scenic, rural road runs 21 miles through Western Maine mountains to a high pass into New Hampshire. From Newry in the south to Upton, the road passes unique geographical features like Screw Auger Falls, crosses over the Appalachian Trail and meanders alongside covered bridges like the 87-foot, painted wood span near Sunday River, Maine’s most photographed. Day trippers planning on hiking should head into glacier-carved Grafton Notch State Park, part of the Mahoosuc Range, where swimming opportunities and views from the likes of Table Rock abound.
The Bold Coast Scenic Byway hugs rural sea cliffs and pine forests before ending at the easternmost point in the United States. Stretching from Milbridge and ending in Lubec (famous for its puffins), for 125 miles travelers will encounter a Maine unencumbered by tourists, a secret route to Canada where towns largely subsist, look and feel as they have for generations. Blueberry barrens alter the landscape along the way, with numerous lonely bays, inland marshes, rivers and fishing ports.
The Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway
This 89-mile rural interstate road takes travelers through the back country heart of Maine. The Byway begins at Baxter State Park’s southern entrance and treks north along Route 11 and the Penobscot River to Patten, ending at the park’s northern entrance and Grand Lake Matagamon. The culmination of this trek is assuredly Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain at 5,268-feet and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. But the road is the gateway to the state’s newest national monument with the same name, offering those inclined to the outdoors, unparalleled fishing at the West Branch of the Penobscot River, hiking through unspoiled trails, white-water kayaking, camping, moose-watching or just plain ol’ getting away.
Pequawket Trail Scenic Byway
This 60-mile route along Maine’s Western border with New Hampshire takes you from lakes to mountains. Offering stunning vistas of Burnt Meadow Mountain and the White Mountains, the two-hour trip is perfect for leaf peeping in the fall, while the region’s numerous campgrounds and hikes are ideal summer picnic territory. The byway runs from Standish to Gilead, and offerings include nice side trips to The Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, as well as active farming communities in Baldwin and Hiram.
Schoodic National Scenic Byway
With Bar Harbor as your base, this is a scenic 29-mile drive along to the other half of Acadia National Park. The trip passes beautiful lighthouses and stoic nature, offering plenty of views of Cadillac Mountain and Mount Desert Island. The whole trip takes about an hour-and-a-half, passing wildflowers, osprey, eagles, plus the seaside villages and working harbors from Sullivan to Prospect Harbor.