US ROUTE 1 up the coast of MAINE
You'll head through the cores of all the best towns, and find all the nooks and peninsulas leading to the coolest historical sites.
US Route 1 up the coast of Maine may be one of the most scenic drives in the country, no matter what the season. If you have a few days to really spend exploring, the stops can seem endless, but the good ones are worth it.
Our first stop was in York. Nubble Light, or Cape Neddick Light, sits on a small island directly off of Cape Neddick in York. In the early 20th century, a Keeper of the Light's wife started a business of ferrying York tourists to and from the island for tours of the lighthouse. Today the island is not accessible to the public, although the view of the lighthouse is still great from the mainland. If you have some extra time and want to go for a hike with incredible views, check out nearby Mount Agamenticus. At only 692 feet above sea level, it's not the tallest mountain, but it gives spectacular views of the ocean and coast since it's only six or so miles inland.
Next we turned off of Route 1 just past Bath, crossed the Kennebec River and took Arrowsic Road down to Doubling Point Lighthouse. The light is at the end of a boardwalk that juts out into the river. The foundation was restored in the late 90's and now the lighthouse is preserved and protected by Friends of the Doubling Point Light. You can read more about the light and their mission on their site.
After the Doubling Point Lighthouse we got back on Route 1 and headed about thirty minutes north to Damariscotta, Maine. In Damariscotta there are remains of an oyster midden along the banks of the Damariscotta River. This shell midden consists of mostly oyster shells, left behind by indigenous people who started plucking oysters out of the river at least two thousand years ago.
Named the Whaleback Shell Midden, it's been a Maine state historic site since 2005, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969. The midden was the east's biggest midden until it was excavated for lime in the 1800's. Directly across the river is the now-larger Glidden Midden, and along the banks sit nine more smaller middens. Trails lead from the parking lot down to the banks, through an apple orchard. There are various places to sit on the banks and have a snack. We brought Walrus and Carpenter oysters from Rhode Island for our meal when we got to Camden where we were staying, so we pulled a few out and shucked them at a picnic table.
After spending some time at the midden, we headed north to Rockland, Maine where we ventured out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. The light is at the end of a 4,346 foot long breakwater that extends from Jameson Point into Rockland Harbor. The breakwater was completed in 1900, eighteen years after it was started, and the lighthouse was finished by 1902. The harbor is beautiful at sunset.
Camden, Maine is where we finished the oysters and settled for a few nights. The town is quiet and humble in the late autumn and early winter when two-thirds of its population leave for warmer weather. Camden has beautiful hills to hike for some of the best views of its harbor and Megunticook Lake. The quiet winter downtown is also beautiful, and has a handful of great places to eat and drink.
Camden Hills State Park has many great trails surrounding Mount Battie. We started with the Mount Battie Trail, which we picked up right on the edge of town, off of Megunticook Street. The trail was steep and rocky but still fairly easy except for the icy parts. The hike up and back is about a mile and a half. Early in the morning, you'll get an amazing view of the sun rising over Penobscot bay and downtown Camden.
There is a tower at the top of Mount Battie which was built in 1921 in a very similar way to a tower in Newport, Rhode Island. The Newport tower's origin is not completely clear, and it's sans staircase, but it's surely an interesting design. After admiring the Newport tower for so long, it's really neat to be able to have access to such a similar tower. And when you climb the Mount Battie Tower, you'll find unbelievable views of both the ocean and rolling mountains.
Another amazing hike we found very close to downtown Camden was the Maiden Cliff Trail, a few minutes north on ME Route 52. You can easily do a loop of about 2 miles, but this loop connects to other trails in Camden Hills State Park if you want to extend your trek. The main loop itself could be quick and easy, except for the many lookouts along the route that make it easy to spend a whole afternoon up on these hills. The first part of the trail quickly gets you up to some amazing ledges looking over Megunitcook Lake. Mid-loop you can explore a flat trail through some fields, and then turn back for a slightly higher ridge, still overlooking the lake.
Acadia National Park is an hour and a half north of Camden on Route 1. It's a place so well-known for it's eclectic landscape of rocks (specifically the really beautiful pink granite of Cadillac Mountain) and sea that you can probably picture Acadia in your head even if you haven't been there. But being there in person- especially off-season- is still mind-blowing because seeing those colors and textures in person is necessary for a full appreciation. The late autumn essence of Acadia was a palette of greys and blues with a little chartreuse, harsh shapes in the rocks and dried flora, and a general quiet besides the sporadic howling wind.
The bottom of Cadillac Mountain that day was approaching fifty degrees with blue skies. Then half-way up Cadillac as we were rounding rocky corners, we'd sometimes find it hard to catch our breaths because the wind was so harsh. And at the top, there was an urge to grab a railing, or a rock, or a tree trunk when the wind blew so hard. The edge of Mt. Desert Island melted into the ocean, and the clouds flew by overhead.
Acadia National Park is an amazing place, and is definitely worth seeing off-season. It's a place that may seem manicured and crowded, but when you endeavor the weather to get to the top by trail on a harsh day, you can feel like you have it all to yourself. Cadillac Mountain is one of the highest natural peaks with ocean views in this country, as the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. In the autumn and winter, it's the first place in this country to see the sunrise. The pink granite of Cadillac Mountain was made from volcanic forces millions of years ago and then gouged and smoothed by the last ice age. The colors of the rock are truly beautiful. While you're in the park, drive the entire three and a half mile Park Loop Road for some of the best rocky beaches, look-outs, inlets, and pines.
After our hike up Cadillac Mountain, we stopped in Bar Harbor for lunch. Bar Harbor is a sweet, wind-worn town with some charming vibes in the quiet season. We passed an old theater, and got a coffee and a milkshake at a classic soda fountain. It was humble and historic.
On the way back south on Route 1, we stopped to check out some more lighthouses on the coast of Maine. The first were in South Portland- Bug Light and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, the latter of which is a walk down a 900-foot causeway. Portland Head Light is a little south in Fort Williams Park, where you can picnic, explore the fort, and take in some amazing ocean views.