Route 1 begins on the Canadian border and runs through 527 miles of rugged and storied Maine scenery and coastline. This road has carried traffic above the ship-strewn Atlantic since the 1920s, overlooking a crisp-aired shoreline of craggy cliffs, rocky beaches and white-tipped blue sea. And the view isn’t just about the ocean – to the west there are breathtaking views of vast lakes and tall peaks. The area’s eventful history can be explored at the exquisitely-preserved Portland Head Lighthouse, while its marine life can be sampled on the seaside picnic tables of Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier.
There are two main reasons to pull off Route 1 and visit Grand Lake Stream, a small and rugged waterside community wedged between two wide and wild lakes. The first reason is the eponymous stream itself, which runs through three miles of land from West Grand Lake to Big Lake a little further south. These three miles are home to a string of fabled pools and waterways that provide some of the greatest landlocked salmon fishing on the American continent, drawing anglers from across the States. The second reason is to experience the town’s long tradition of hand building wooden canoes, known as Grand Lakers, used for generations to navigate the area’s lakes, streams and rivers. Otherwise, there are a number of atmospheric lodges and cabins to stay in, and lots of lovely walking trails through the woods and the water surrounding the town.
Route 1 takes drivers right past Bar Harbor, a small village on Mount Desert Island nestled between the lush green woods and mountains of Acadia National Park and the watery offshoot of the North Atlantic Ocean. Here, visitors and residents can enjoy fresh air and the sea breeze while taking in history, culture and the gorgeous views of downtown Bar Harbor. The area offers all the treats that Maine has to offer: fresh seafood, sailing, fascinating wildlife and classic New England disposition, with its own distinct flavor.
Also on Mount Desert Island, the Acadia National Park encompasses a craggy shoreline of foaming waves, exposed rock and the occasional sheltered cove. Inland, the terrain rises and falls dramatically, with craggy mountains looming over marshy meadows. Broken stone roads, built for horse-drawn carriages in the late 19th century, make for great hiking and cycling routes through this coastal wilderness.
This unusual gift shop sells a range of handcrafted wooden items – coffee tables, bookcases, cupboards, stools, ship models, lamps – all made by the inmates of Maine State Prison, who also man the cash register and help with the general running of the shop. A rehabilitation program enabling the prisoners to make a wage and develop skills while inside, it is in fact a continuation of a program that has been going on since the early 19th century, when inmates worked in a quarry and built wooden wagons, buckboards and barrows. The standard of the craftsmanship is, generally, exceptionally high, and these goods are truly unique to New England – federal laws dictate that they can’t be sold outside the state’s borders.
Lots of lighthouses are strung along New England’s coastline, but few are as well-preserved or spectacularly positioned as Portland Head Light, which looks out over the Atlantic from the shores of ruggedly beautiful Fort William Park. It first lit its 16 whale-oil lamps in 1791, and a striking red-roofed keeper’s complex was built alongside the tall white tower in 1891. Today, the lighthouse illuminates the history of the New England coast, with an excellent museum showcasing numerous lenses and several interpretative displays.
Once a working lobster pier, this simple outdoor eatery first began selling boiled lobsters and sandwiches to locals in the 1950s. Since then it has expanded steadily, helped by its beautifully evocative position overlooking Pepperrell Cove, immersed in the sounds and smells of the sea. The pier is dotted with colourful picnic tables, a handful of which are under cover in case of inclement weather, and a stall sells lobster in various forms – you can pick a live one of the tank and have it boiled in fresh seawater – along with fish and chips, chowder, oysters, mussels and clams, as well as tuna rolls for less adventurous landlubber taste buds. Diners are also encouraged to bring their own picnic hampers with food and drink, and make the fresh seafood part of a wider seaside feast.