Destination: On the Road in Western Maine
Three summer drives to waterfalls, panoramic vistas, state parks and more
BY SANDY LANG
|Taking a dip at Screw Auger Falls, in Grafton Notch State Park; West Parish Congregational Church, in Bethel.
In summer, when the crowds are lining up for shore dinners on the coast, the mountains of western Maine are at their most lush—perfect for woodsy pursuits in tall pine forests and treks along splashing white-water rivers. This is the rustic, almost-to-Canada landscape that inspired Henry David Thoreau to write The Maine Woods, with his tales of campfires and midnight canoeing. Thoreau’s spirit of exploration rings particularly true when you’re standing at the windy Attean View overlook, just south of Jackman, and reading the plaque with his words: “Rise free from care before the dawn and seek adventures.”
The Appalachian Trail passes through western Maine, so it’s common to see roadside trailheads and backpack-laden hikers. Mountain bikers pedal trails like the Narrow Gauge Pathway (a former railroad route in Carrabassett Valley),
and there are plenty of day hikes to peaks, waterfalls and swimming holes. The Rangeley Lakes Region attracts canoers, while scenic covered bridges entice artists and photographers.
Reach this part of the state by driving a few hours north of Portland. You’ll be traveling through Maine’s Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties, mostly on two-lane roads (with frequent “Moose Crossing” signs) through small towns and past glassy, cool lakes that seem to be calling out for a quick dip. Here are three drives chosen for their summer scenery and roadside adventures.
1. BETHEL TO UPTON
(U.S. HWY. 2, RTE. 5, RTE. 26)
With its white-painted churches, coffee shops and the campus of the 175-year-old prep school, Gould Academy, Bethel feels justified in calling itself the state’s “most beautiful mountain village.” From there, it’s about a 15-minute drive north on Rte. 5/26 to Newry, where a brief diversion up Sunday River Road leads
to the Artist’s Bridge. This covered, wood-beamed structure built in 1872 over the Sunday River has been the subject of countless paintings.
Stop at the intersection of Hwy. 2 and Bear River Road (Rte. 26) to see the Bear River Trading Post, stocked with fishing and hunting gear. The owner sits on a beaver-pelt-covered stool while he rings up your purchase. On Rte. 26, the painted line in the road stretches north and west like a ribbon, with views of the Mahoosuc Range and White Mountains rising in the distance. Grafton Notch State Park borders both sides of the road for part of this 20-mile drive, with good signage for trailheads, including a demanding leg of the Appalachian Trail and an uphill hike to Old Speck (elev. 4,180 feet). A must-see here is Screw Auger Falls, a deep, narrow, twisting gorge of granite walls and loud,
In Upton and just beyond, you reach what locals call the Height of Land, where the elevation is high enough for a sweeping view. And if you cross the New Hampshire state line and continue another 10 miles west, the road dips down to the shores of Umbagog Lake, and then climbs again to Errol, home
of L.L. Cote, a large outdoor clothing and gear store that’s well-known for its woodland taxidermy displays (check out the rare white moose).
THE DETAILS: A there-and-back route, this drive is
62 miles round-trip, or 82 miles if you continue to Errol, NH.
Known for wood-fired pork, chicken and ribs,
served from a shiny trailer parked just off Rte. 26.
3 Bird Hill Rd., Locke Mills; 207-875-2553;
dinner for two, $25*
Painted in yellows and oranges, with display cases
of fresh pastries and a collection of vintage coffee
pots. Soups, salads, panini. 119 Main St., Bethel;
207-824-6386; lunch for two, $20
Go downstairs to reach this cozy pub at the Sudbury
Inn. The menu lists clam chowder, steamed mussels,
bison burgers, pizza and more than 25 beers on tap.
151 Main St., Bethel; 207-824-6558; dinner for two, $30
*Prices cover a meal for two without drinks, tax or tip.
2. STRATTON TO THE RANGELEY LOOP
(RTE. 16/27, RTE. 4, RTE. 17)
A dozen miles northwest of Sugarloaf Mountain and Carrabassett Valley is the White Wolf Inn, on Main Street (Rte. 27) in tiny Stratton. To fuel up for an afternoon drive, stop here for five-spice pork barbecue sandwiches and Curly Wolf Whiskers (fried fiddlehead ferns). Stratton is also home to a narrow causeway across the Dead River and Flagstaff Lake—and some incredible water views.
Turning southwest, Rangeley Road (Rte. 16) follows the Dead River’s south branch through a valley with views of Saddleback Mountain in the distance. Locals call this stretch Moose Alley because of the plentiful moose sightings. Turn on the car radio to hear French pop music, thanks to signals drifting down from the Canadian province of Quebec.
The goal of this drive is to loop around Rangeley Lake, part of the 111 lakes and ponds in the Rangeley Lakes Region. City dwellers began summering here in the 1850s, when railroad lines were completed.
Century-old inns and lodges like the Rangeley Inn and the Loon Lodge Inn still welcome guests for meals and overnight stays. There’s a state park on the lakeshore, and you can get a bird’s-eye view of it all by booking a jaunt with Acadian Seaplanes, based on the waterfront in the town of Rangeley (acadianseaplanes.com; flights from $56 for 15 minutes).
A there-and-back route with a loop around Rangeley Lake, this drive is 61 miles round-trip, or 85 miles if you begin and end in Carrabassett Valley.
An après-ski hangout for the Sugarloaf crowd
in winter; hometown Olympic snowboarder
Seth Wescott is an owner. The kitchen delivers
steaks, barbecue and pasta. 5016 Access Rd.,
Carrabassett; 207-237-2211; dinner for two, $45
POUR HOUSE TAVERN
Meatloaf, fish and chips, and other classics are
served in this tavern at the century-old Rangeley
Inn. Check out the vintage moose head and huge
stuffed bear as you pass through the lobby. 2443
Main St., Rangeley; 207-864-3341; dinner for
WHITE WOLF RESTAURANT
Spot a wolf silhouette on a sloped roof and you’ve
found this unassuming café. The chalkboard menu
offers pizzas, burgers, Maine micro-brews and
specials like Slow Flying Crispy Duck with
Crabapple Glaze. Main St. (Rte. 27), Stratton;
207-246-2922; dinner for two, $40
PICKFORD PUB & LOON LODGE
Rustic and elegant, with wood-paneled walls and
woodstoves for chillier days.
The pub and restaurant
offer prime sunset views of Rangeley Lake. Entrees
might include chicken pot pie and braciola with
spinach. 16 Pickford Rd., Rangeley; 207-864-5666;
dinner for two, $60
3. OLD CANADA ROAD SCENIC BYWAY—SOLON, THE FORKS, JACKMAN
The historic route between Quebec and Maine hugs the Kennebec River, with spectacular views along the way. Trucks loaded with giant logs rumble past, and log cabins are everywhere. On one of Solon’s hills, next to Hwy. 201, look for
a sign for Bob’s Custom Cuckoo Clocks.
If Bob Therrien’s woodshop is open, stop to see his white pine and cedar cuckoo clocks, and palm-size carved maple leaves, eagles, wolves and moose.
Farther north, the Kennebec and Dead Rivers meet in impressive white water at The Forks. On land, The Forks is more of an intersection than a town, with a few taverns and inns that fill with people who have come to canoe or raft the two rivers. About two miles west off Moxie Pond Road, a 1½-mile trail leads to 90-foot Moxie Falls, one of Maine’s tallest waterfalls.
Jackman is the northern outpost for your drive. After checking out the breathtaking Attean View from the overlook parking lot on Hwy. 201 (you can see Quebec from here), continue on to crest a few more peaks before reaching Jackman, with a commercial main street, and cottages and cabins on Big Wood Pond. If the weather is fine, most everyone will be spending the day outdoors. There are always blueberries to pick, fish to catch and trails to follow
in the summer in western Maine.
A there-and-back route of 63 miles round-trip.
This little steak house serves big steaks, and seats
only a couple dozen guests. BYOB. 1 Forest St.,
Jackman; 207-668-5572; dinner for two, $45
RCI affiliated resorts in Western Maine include:
SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN HOTEL
Prime location at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain.
White-water rafting and mountain biking nearby.
5092 Sugarloaf Access Rd., Carrabassett Valley
“There are dozens of hiking and biking trails,
swimming holes, scenic points and fun outdoor
activities for everyone.”
This resort has an 18-hole PGA golf course, and a
health club with an
outdoor heated pool (open
year-round) and saunas. 21 Broad St., Bethel
“Bethel Inn is a gem, worth coming to and worth
GRAND SUMMIT RESORT HOTEL
AT SUNDAY RIVER
A mountain resort near some of the best
hiking trails. Plus, a pool, hot tub and sauna.
97 Summit Dr., Newry
“The sauna and the housekeeping service
THE JORDAN GRAND HOTEL
AT SUNDAY RIVER
Sit back and relax in front of your unit’s fireplace,
or use the child-care service available and treat
yourself to an evening at the spa. 27 Grand Ave.,
“Nearby Step Falls is like a giant waterslide with
water holes all the way down the side of the mountain.
Bring your swimsuit."
For complete member reviews
(as member reviews have been condensed)
and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call
Club Members, please call your
specific Club or RCI telephone number.
NON-RCI AFFILIATED RESORTS:
MILL HILL INN
Historic six-room inn on the Common, renovated
and reopened in 2010 by
a local potter. Occasional
gallery shows and live bluegrass music in the
Studio Bar/Bistro. 24 Mill Hill Rd., Bethel;
$115 per night
CROCKER POND HOUSE
Airy, five-room Craftsman-style B&B
wooded acres, built and owned
by a local
architect. 917 North Rd., Bethel; 207-836-2027;
crockerpond.com; doubles from $125 per night
A new log-cabin structure with seven large
rooms. Near the entrance road to Sugarloaf and
hiking and biking on the Narrow Gauge Pathway.
3004 Town Line Rd., Carrabassett Valley;
207-237-2077; nestlewoodinn.com; doubles
from $105 per night
LOON LODGE INN
The 102-year-old residence-turned-lodge is a
lakeside classic, with nine guest rooms, a pub
and a restaurant. 16 Pickford Rd., Rangeley;
207-864-5666; loonlodgeme.com; doubles from
$90 per night
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: Summer 2011
Photos: Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands; Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce