Maine’s Big Sur
Along the Atlantic Coast
|Mileage||232 miles (374 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||4 hours, 34 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||US Highway 1|
|Forest PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.||America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Bath, ME▼, Brunswick, ME▼, Phippsburg, ME▼, Wiscasset, ME▼, Newcastle, ME▼, Bristol, ME▼, Jefferson, ME▼, Thomaston, ME▼, more...Rockport, ME▼, Lincolnville, ME▼, Orland, ME▼, Sullivan, ME▼, Franklin, ME▼, St. Andrews, NB▼, Calais, ME▼, St. Stephen, NB▼, and Hulls Cove, ME▼|
3.3 average from 155 votes
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Natural areas along this route require an entrance fee used to protect and maintain our most scenic treasures. Save time by purchasing your forest passes before you go.
Maine’s Highway 1 hugs the winding coast similar to California’s Big Sur, but here you will discover the rugged Atlantic Coast, replete with history, culture, lighthouses, pristine natural splendor and the decadent flavors of the ocean’s bounty.
Our scenic drive is described starting in Brunswick and follows US-1 to Calais, but as with many of our scenic drives, you can begin in either direction or just enjoy small sections of it. Some of the activities we recommend are scenic detours, so keep this in mind when planning this trip.
Much of this extraordinary landscape has been shaped by the last Ice Age. Glaciers smoothed the hills and when they melted, rushing water created wonderful islands and fjord-like bays.
To reach Brunswick, take exit 28 off I-295 and follow US-1 east. Gateway to the beautiful mid-coast region, this historic town has been explored by European settlers since the early 1600s and is home to the first college in Maine, Bowdoin College. Stroll downtown on Park Row to discover beautiful architecture, many of these homes on the National Register of Historic Places. Celebrating Civil War General and hero, is the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum (M3), which features many personal and civil war artifacts. The museum is preserved by the Pejepscot Historical Society, and offers guided tours. There is a fee to enter and combination tickets are available to tour the Skolfield-Whittier House as well. This stunning Victorian home was built between 1858 and 1862 and features original furniture and art. Both are open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Art lovers will not want to miss the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (M6) with paintings from Fra Angelico to Rene Magritte, decorative arts, sculpture and much more. The museum is free of charge, although donations are welcome. Tucked away from downtown, stunning views of wildflowers, birds, and the river await on the Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path (A8). The 2.6-mile paved trail is a delight for walkers, joggers and cyclists. Parking is available at either end, at Water Street and Cook’s Corner.
Traveling north on US-1, you soon arrive in Bath. The downtown preserves its historic charm, and was recently named Best Main Street in America. Quintessential New England architecture, local shops and a range of dining options make for a nice stop. The Maine Maritime Museum (M1) explores the maritime heritage of the region beginning with its heyday of wooden shipbuilding. Among the exhibits are thousands of artifacts, photographs, maps and a full size metal sculpture of the “Wyoming”, the world’s largest wooden ship. Included with the entrance fee which is valid for two days within a week, are tours of the Percy & Small Historic Shipyard with original buildings tools and equipment and the Donnell House, the Victorian era home of a shipbuilder.
For an interesting look at the confluence of freshwater and saltwater, consider a side trip on ME-209 from Bath to Popham Beach State Park (H1). Here the Kennebec River meets the Atlantic Ocean and features a spit (a long stretch of sandy beach), and views of Fox and Woods islands offshore. Enjoy long, sandy beaches where lifeguards are on duty during the summer, picnicking and hiking trails.
Back on US-1, consider another side trip on ME-127 to Reid State Park (H2) in Georgetown. The wide and sandy Mile and Half Mile Beaches are a contrast to the often rocky beaches of Maine. Enjoy beachcombing — keeping an eye out for moon snails and their unusual circular egg cases which look like they’re made of rubber and explore sandy dunes, rocky tidepools, or the salt marsh, which is a nesting areas for endangered terns and piping plovers. Make a day of it with short hikes, picnic areas with charcoal grills, and snack bars. There is a day-use fee to enter.
Continuing north, you soon arrive in the town of Wiscasset. Park near the Lincoln County Courthouse to begin the Village Walking Trail which highlights the oldest continually functioning courthouse in Maine, many other historic buildings and exquisite views of Sheepscot River. The 1811 Old Lincoln County Jail (A9) and attached 1839 Jailer’s House is a fascinating look into the justice system of the time. Learn more from stories told by docents who lead tours in summer. There is a small entrance fee. Meandering the downtown streets you will find many antiques shops, art galleries and restaurants. Leaving town, consider a side trip on ME-27 and ME-96 to Ocean Point for a particularly scenic drive of fabulous ocean views, lighthouses and islands in the distance. Many tour boat excursions for deep-sea fishing and whale-watching dot the route.
Back on US-1, you soon arrive in the town of Damariscotta and just afterwards, is yet another side trip down ME-130, which leads to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (A1). Featured on the Maine State Quarter, the historic lighthouse was originally built in 1827 but quickly deteriorated and was rebuilt in 1835. The lighthouse-keepers home is now the Fishermen’s Museum where you can learn about the history of the lighthouse and the region. Situated within Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park, explore the ocean-carved shores, stunning views and enjoy a picnic to the sound of crashing waves. Instead of backtracking, return to US-1 via the coast-side on ME-32 to Waldoboro, a ship-building town with a long history.
From Waldoboro, is another scenic detour to enjoy the myriad of rugged coves by taking ME-220 to Friendship, a working lobster harbor and returning to US-1 via ME-97.
Back on US-1 (with the detour or without), you soon arrive in the town of Thomaston where you should detour down ME-131 to the picturesque fishing village of Port Clyde. Here you will discover untouched, wild seashore with spectacular scenery. Making a wonderful day trip is a ferry ride to Monhegan Island (H3). Nature lovers and birders will enjoy the whimsical puffins as the boat passes the nesting islands of terns, and the rocky outcrops that are home to harbor seals on the way back. The rocky island itself is barely a square mile in area yet features 17 miles of interwoven trails offering the chance to spot Northern Gannets, Blackpolls, Sharp-shinned Hawks and others depending on the season. Aside from birds and exceptional views in all directions, the island is a vibrant fishing village and haven for artists which means you can peruse art galleries and artist studios and then dine on juicy fresh seafood. Note that there are no cars or paved roads on the island so come prepared to walk. Among the many destinations is the Monhegan Lighthouse. Though not open to the public, the grounds offer beautiful views. The Mohegan Historical and Cultural Museum is located in the light-keepers house (the lighthouse in now computerized) and highlights the region’s history and flora and fauna. The museum is free but donations are appreciated. History buffs will want to see the Tercentary Tablet commemorating John Smith’s visit here in 1614. Except for Swim Beach which is small and primitive — there is no safe swimming on the island. The undertows and surf are strong, dangerous and deadly.
Once back on the mainland, retrace your way back to US-1 via ME-73 to Rockland. In Rockland, visit the Maine Lighthouse Museum (M4) which houses the largest collection of lighthouse lenses, lighthouse artifacts and Coast Guard memorabilia in the United States. Overlooking the Rockland Breakwater and Penobscot Bay, the museum is within walking distance of many shops, art galleries and restaurants. There is a small admission fee and free for kids under 12.
Heading north on US-1, you soon arrive at Camden Hills State Park (H4). This 5,700-acre park has much to offer — swimming, kayaking, wildlife watching, and camping. Here you will find many trails for hiking, and a few that permit cycling, horseback riding and in winter, snowmobiling. Hike to the top Mount Battie which stands 800-feet above sea-level and you will be rewarded with stunning 360-degree panoramic views of Camden, Penobscot Bay, Mount Megunticook and more. Climb the stone tower, picnic and revel in the idyllic scenery. If you’re not up to the hike don’t miss out — take the winding Mount Battie Auto Road. This is a popular spot for fall leaf-peepers.
The city of Camden is a scenic coastal town vibrant with unique shops, historic architecture and restaurants featuring the flavors of New England. The harbor is always bustling with a variety of watercraft, taking advantage of an incredible cruising bay. Sightseeing cruises, kayak trips and day sails can be booked here.
The next section of the drive hugs the coast of Penobscot Bay, winding up towards Bucksport. Just after the town, consider snaking down through the peninsula to the Holbrook Island Sanctuary (H5) which is home to diverse ecosystems — forest, wetlands, meadows, mud flats, sandy beaches and rocky coast. Explore the many short trails that criss-cross the three-mile island or launch your kayak or canoe for a different perspective. The park is free but donations are accepted. The road leading to it is practically untouched by modernization. Get there by heading east on ME-175, then south on ME-176. At the end of ME-175, you can drive to Deer Isles by heading south on ME-175 and looping back via ME-15. You can return to US-1 via ME-176 which brings you to Ellsworth.
In Ellsworth, Birdsacre — Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary (H6) is a must stop for bird-lovers and historians. Towering forest, grassy swamps, ponds and springs are home to a wide array of birds, plants and wildlife. Traverse a series of trails including the Stevenson Pontoon Bog Walkway to explore unique wetlands, or the Everglade Boardwalk and crushed stone Pinkham Path which is handicap accessible. The sanctuary is also home to birds that have been injured and cannot be returned to the wild such as Barred Owls, Short-Eared Owls, Red-Shouldered Hawks and more which can be viewed in enclosures. The Stanwood Museum is the homestead of Captain Roswell Stanwood and where his daughter Cordelia J. Stanwood began her journey as a highly respected ornithologist and photographer, a visionary of her time. The museum is open during summer to September and is free.
Ellsworth is also the gateway to Acadia National Park. Here you may want to detour to the Mount Desert Island Drive.
Our drive continues north on US-1. Stop at the Frenchman Bay Scenic Overlook (V1) for spectacular views of Frenchman Bay and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. After passing Hancock, the Schoodic Scenic Byway (ME-186) begins — and a detour here rewards with unspoiled natural landscape, charming fishing villages, lighthouses, art, and culture. Traveling along the coast of Frenchman Bay, enjoy birdwatching, sea kayaking or a boat tour to see Atlantic Puffins and other wildlife. Towards the middle of ME-186, is an entrance to Acadia National Park, a natural wonder with no end to the breathtaking views. It also offers a seemingly limitless array of recreation including hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking, rock climbing, camping, or just a leisurely stroll along untouched wilderness, wildflower meadows, and the rugged rocky coast. At the tip of the peninsula is Schoodic Point (H9) where you can listen to the thunderous crashing of waves and inhale the sea breeze. There is a fee to enter the Acadia National Park which is covered by the America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
At the end of ME-186, you rejoin the US-1 and continue heading north. Soon you will enter Washington County, also known as Sunrise County as it is the first sunrise each morning in the United States. The Down East region of Maine grows millions of pounds of blueberries, producing nearly 85% of the world’s blueberries. Indulge in these juicy gems by taking a farm tour or celebrating at the annual Machias Wild Blueberry Festival held in August.
In Steuben, take a side trip to the Maine Coastal Island National Wildlife Refuge (A2) by turning right onto Pigeon Hill Road. The 8,100-acre refuge is comprised of more than 50 offshore islands and four coastal parcels protecting the habitat of nesting seabirds, bald eagles, shorebirds, waterfowl and migratory songbirds. There are many trails for hiking and birdwatching such as the 1.5-mile Hollingsworth Loop Trail on Petit Manan Point featuring interpretive signage or the 4-mile round trip Birch Point Trail which begins in a blueberry field. Please respect the Refuge rules to protect the fragile habitats. Get more information on this vast refuge at two offices, one located in Milbridge and the other in Rockport.
Back on US-1, you soon approach the town of Milbridge, a locavore’s delight featuring fresh cheeses and dairy products, fruit, vegetables, wine and seafood. Taste, tour and then explore art galleries and studios and outdoor recreation opportunities such as kayaking and biking. Afterwards, head north on US-1 to visit Cherryfield, known as the “blueberry capital of the world”, and then continue on US-1A towards Harrington.
Continuing north from Harrington brings you to the town of Columbia Falls where you can tour the Thomas Ruggles House (A3). Built for Judge Thomas Ruggles in 1818, this house is a stunning example of Adamesque-style Federal Period architecture and is renowned for its flying staircase. Completely restored, enjoy intricate woodwork, art and period furnishings. There is a small entrance fee. Just after Columbia Falls, consider a side-trip on ME-187 to the fishing villages of Jonesport and Beals Island, where you can watch fisherman haul in their lobster traps and dine on fresh seafood. Immerse yourself in peaceful surroundings and ocean views by taking a cruise to Machias Seal Island, home to the largest puffin colony in Maine or Petit Manan Island, one of the most important spots for colonial nesting birds. Guarding the coastline is the 123-foot Petit Manan Light. ME-187 loops back to US-1.
As you arrive in Jonesboro, consider yet another detour to Roque Bluffs State Park (H10). Located on Schoppee Point, this unique day-use area offers secluded sand and pebble beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and freshwater swimming in Simpson Pond. Rent kayaks or hike among five trails exploring old-growth forest, orchards and shores. As for most of this region, be prepared with layered clothing for weather changes and low visibility due to fog.
In Machiasport, Fort O’Brien State Historic Site (A4) preserves the remnants of Fort O’Brien, built first in 1775 destroyed and refortified in 1777. The fort was used during three wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Explore the bronze cannon known as “Napoleon” which fired 12-pound cannonballs, and enjoy the beautiful views with a picnic overlooking Machias Bay.
After passing the town of Whiting, consider a side-trip to Lubec, the eastern-most point of the continental United States by heading northeast on ME-189 to Quoddy Head State Park (H11). Hiking trails intersect the forest and two bogs, offering the chance to discover rare plants and displaying great views of the Bay of Fundy. The photogenic red and white striped West Quoddy Head Lighthouse creates a striking design in this rugged, natural setting. The lighthouse is closed to visitors but you can explore the grounds and learn more at the visitor center and museum in the keeper’s chambers. From ME-189 turn right onto South Lubec Road and the park will be on your left.
Retrace your way back to ME-189. If you head north on ME-189 you can cross over the Franklin D. Roosevelt International Bridge (B1) to Canada, and the fascinating Campobello Island in New Brunswick. Be prepared, as a passport is required. Here, visit the Roosevelt Campobello International Park (H14) created in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt who spent many summers here throughout his life. Five turn-of-the century cottages remain as well as the park’s centerpiece — the 34-room summer home of FDR which is open to visitors. The park is a natural treasure, featuring coastal headland, rocky shore, sphagnum bog field, salt marshes and forest which create an incredibly diverse habitat. Visit the Mulholland Point Lighthouse and the harbor seals that congregate here, enjoy the many scenic overlooks in search of passing whales and porpoises, stroll the beach, camp overnight and luxuriate in the peaceful surroundings. The park is free and the grounds are open year-round though the facilities are only open Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Just adjacent is Herring Cove Provincial Park (H13) which features a mile-long beach, hiking, camping and golf course.
Retracing back to US-1, you will pass through the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge (A5), the easternmost refuge in the Atlantic Flyway and an important stop for migratory birds. Cobscook Bay State Park (W2) offers majestic views and superb bird-watching. Cobscook is the tribal word for “boiling tides” in Maliseet-Passamaquoddy which is evident after observing the large tides come in. Surrounded on three sides by the pristine waters of Cobscook Bay and Whiting Bay, the park is a great base for tent and RV camping to enjoy clamming, canoeing, and sea kayaking.
As you approach the town of Pembroke, don’t miss the side trip to Pembroke Falls Park (A6), to see the largest reversing falls in the United States. Reversing falls occur due to powerful currents of the tidal waters filling and draining in Cobscook Bay. Enjoy the sounds of rushing water, eagles, basking seals and in season, wild Maine blueberries. To get there from US-1, turn onto Ayres Junction Road and take a left at the fork in the road. Look for Leighton Point Road and follow the signs to Reversing Falls.
Just north of Perry, the 45th Parallel Picnic Area (H12) hosts a pink granite stone placed here in 1896 marking the 45th Parallel, halfway between the North Pole and the equator.
Continuing north, stop at the St Croix River Overlook (V2) for views of the red cliffs of the Saint Croix River. Heading north from here, keep an eye out for pink granite markers along the road once used to time racehorses owned by James S. Pike.
In the middle of the Saint Croix River sits Saint Croix Island, where in 1604, Samuel de Champlain marked the first European settlement north of Florida. The National Parks Service operates the St Croix Island International Historic Site (A7) on the mainland where you can explore an accessible interpretive trail featuring bronze figures of the French and Passamaquoddy, as well as historical displays highlighting the interaction of the two cultures. There is no charge to enter. Visits to the island are not encouraged due to its fragile nature.
The scenic drive comes to an end in the town of Calais. Visit the headquarters of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge (A5). Three trails begin near the refuge office, including the 1/4-mile wheelchair accessible Woodcock Trail. From October 1-27 enjoy the 3.3-mile Fall Auto Route which is open to private vehicles to enjoy the majesty of the autumn foliage.