Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway-thefedsarealwayswatching

13 Maine Scenic Drives to Discover

Maine is known for its stunning landscapes from shore to the far north, and taking a scenic drive is one of the best ways to see more of the state.

Every bend reveals a postcard-perfect tableau: quaint lighthouses silhouetted against fiery sunsets, precarious cliffs standing tall against crashing waves, and mountains towering, almost admiring their own reflection in pristine lakes.

Mixed in with the charming towns and expanses of land, you’ll find a slew of scenic drives to consider from every corner of Vacationland.

You know the one thing you won’t find? Billboards. Yet another reason to take a Maine scenic drive is because it’s one of four states that ban them, all to make your sightseeing ride that much more authentic.

Blackwoods | photo via downeastacadia

Blackwoods (Route 182)

REGION: Downeast
LENGTH: 12.5 Miles
TIME: 30 Minutes
START/END: Franklin/Cherryfield

At first glance, Blackwoods Scenic Byway in Downeast Maine seems like an easy enough trek through the woods once owned by Colonel Black. The two-lane State Route 182 (part of which is Blacks Woods Road) seems even narrower with the overbearing trees lining the path.

While the route takes 30 minutes at best, plan for a few hours so you can explore the trails like Tunk Mountain’s 4.5-mile moderate exploration through erratic boulders and lakes. You can also add three miles to the route to hike the Sprague Falls Preserve 1.4-mile trail. Still not remote enough? Book the Boar’s Nest Campground, accessible only by a paddle upstream.

For all the old growth, scenic beauty, and fall foliage chatter about this road, it’s also one of the most haunted roads in Maine. Legend has it that a woman named Catherine and her beau died in a car (or carriage) accident. She walks the road looking for her lost lover, asking passersby for a ride. If they say no, an ominous fate awaits.

Considering how often the road is shrouded in fog and how those stately trees seem to grab at you in the night, it’s more of a spooky byway than a scenic byway.

St John Valley-francklaboue
St John Valley | photo via francklaboue

St. John Valley Cultural/Fish River (Route 11)

REGION: Aroostook County
LENGTH: 137 Miles
TIME: 1-2 Days
START/END: Hamlin/Allagash/Portage Lake

This double scenic byway duo received a national designation in 2021. The full scenic byway combines the St. John Valley Cultural Byway with the Fish River Scenic Byway. That extends the trip to 137 miles along the northern terminus of Route 1, starting in Hamlin, and extends along the St. John River to Allafash.

Along the way, Acadian culture awaits, from historic sites to authentic food like ployes and poutine. Waypoints include Acadian Village, Acadian Landing, Musee Cultural du Mont-Carmel 19th Century church, and Ste-Luce Catholic Church, built in 1836.

Dropping from the crown of Maine in Fort Kent to Portage, the Fish River section covers a nearly 40-mile stretch of road mostly for the intrigue of hunters and anglers.

Guide service line the route if you want to take a trip on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway or explore the North Maine Woods in any season.

Try to time your trip to reach Portage Lake Beach at sunset for stunning views. You can also head to North Maine Woods from Portage. Visiting in summer? Bring all the bug spray you can find.

Grafton Notch State Park-Grafton Notch-rt26things
Grafton Notch State Park | photo via rt26things

Grafton Notch Scenic Byway (Route 26)

REGION: Mountains & Lakes
LENGTH: 21 Miles
TIME: 3 Hours
START/END: Newry/Upton (NH State Line)

If there’s one reason to take the turn before Sunday River in Newry, it’s for the epic adventure along the Grafton Notch Scenic Byway. It’s almost a crime to take this road without leaving the car given how many waterfalls, gorges, and challenging peaks mix into this rugged landscape.

The road winds along the lower elevations along the Bear River, meeting up with Grafton Notch State Park and Mahoosuc Public Reserved Lands. Spring brings raging rivers and waterfalls, while fall drops some of the best foliage views statewide.

Mother Walker and Screw Auger Falls are just a short walk from the pullouts along the way. Step Falls is worth the 1.1-mile hike. You can walk a quarter of a mile to Moose Cave, which showcases the chaos of glacier retreat. The cave is named for a Moose that fell into the hole and was trapped.

Climbing Old Speck Mountain requires advanced hiking skills. Mahoosuc Public Reserved Land encompasses a dozen of the most treacherous mountains of the Appalachian Trail.

They even have snacks waiting for you along the way at Puzzle Mountain Pies. If you want to see this land in the winter, consider taking the ITS 82 snowmobile route.

Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway-thefedsarealwayswatching
Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway | photo via thefedsarealwayswatching

Katahdin Woods & Waters Scenic Byway

REGION: Maine Highlands
LENGTH: 88 Miles
TIME: 2+ Hours
START/END: Just South of Togue Pond Gatehouse/Matagamon Gate

This route in the wilderness of Maine’s Highlands starts and ends at one of the entrances to Baxter State Park, though it does take the long way. The park is home to the highest peak in Maine, Mount Katahdin, at 5,270 feet.

FAIR WARNING: If you’re planning to visit Baxter State Park, review the rules and follow them explicitly. This rare piece of preserved land was created for the benefit of the wilderness, not tourists.

While the scenic drive is worth the effort if you have an outdoor adventurer inside you, it will be hard to resist the thousands of acres to explore and rivers to ride. Along the way, you’ll pass through Millinocket, the gateway to Baxter State Park, and Grindstone, where the Penobscot River Trails await.

You want to add a night sky view to this road trip, as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is near the northern terminus of the byway. It’s an International Dark Sky Sanctuary and one of the only places east of the Mississippi with skies this dark.

Million Dollar View Byway | photo via odueck

Million Dollar View (Route 1)

REGION: Aroostook County
LENGTH: 8 Miles
TIME: <30 Minutes
START/END: Danforth/Orient

This short route comes with big views, so add it to a longer trip on Route 1 than making a special trip from, say, Portland to see it. You’re looking for just two scenic vistas along the way, one that gives a view over Grand Lake and Canada. The other vantage point looks across the landscape of Maine, with peaks like Katahdin on the distant horizon.

If you can get enough of this remote region, book a fishing trip, scenic boat ride, or overnight stay at Rideouts in East Grand Lake. At the northern end of the Million Dollar Byway, turn east in Orient to cross into Canada by car.

BORDER TRIP: You can boat across the international boundary without a passport, but you cannot land on a shore in Canada.

Moosehead Lake-makayla_glidden
Moosehead Lake | photo via makayla_glidden

Moosehead Lake (Route 6)

REGION: Highlands
LENGTH: 59 Miles
TIME: 2 Hours
START/END: Jackman/Rockwood/Greenville

Route 6 between Jackman and Greenville covers several ponds and lakes, most notably the “shaped like a moose’s head with antlers” Moosehead Lake.

The road pivots at Rockwood, where you can catch the boat ride to Mount Kineo State Park and explore the trails that lead to its impressive 700-foot cliff. Moosehead Lake Public Land offers easy to challenging hikes, with lakes dotted across the mountain landscape.

During the summer, extend your trip to the water by riding a Katahdin Cruise on a steamship. Lily Bay State Park is just 10 more miles up the road on the other side of the lake.

Closer to Jackman, stop at Sawyer’s Maple Farm for tapped-from-the-tree sweet juice. The fourth Sunday in March is Maple Syrup Sunday across Maine.

Pequawket Lake
Pequawket Lake | photo via naylor_tothewall

Pequawket Trail (Route 113)

REGION: Lakes & Mountains
LENGTH: 60 Miles
TIME: 1-2 Hours
START/END: Standish/Gilead

Give yourself plenty of time to explore this route between Standish and Gilead. Along the way, you’ll cut through Evans Notch, where water on the south side heads to the Saco River, and northbound water meets with the Androscoggin River.

Near the northern terminus, you’ll be in the White Mountains National Forest. To help you figure out that massive beast that is mostly in New Hampshire, here’s the Androscoggin Ranger District based in Gorham, New Hampshire, but covers the Maine section, which is the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness.

A hidden gem in this area is near Brickett Place, where you can hike a three-mile loop around Bickford Slides, a daring duo of waterfalls on the way up to Speckled Mountain. Climbing Blueberry Mountain gives panoramic scenery at what should be called the BILLION Dollar View.

Steep Falls Village Preserve shows the impact of logging on land, as this was a logging town from the 1800s through the late 1980s. About one-third of a mile off the scenic byway in Steep Falls at the Limington town line, look for a small pullout and walk the path to Steep Falls and the beach area. It’s a local secret.

For a fun stop in Fryeburg, check out Weston’s Beach, a sandy escape on the calm waters of the Saco River. For an artsy escape in the mountains, look up the schedule at Stone Mountain Arts Center.

TRAVEL TIP: The northernmost 11 miles of this route, starting just after the New Hampshire-Maine state line near Brickett Place, are closed from late October through late May due to winter weather conditions.

Route 27
Route 27 | photo via shawntphoto

State Route 27

REGION: Lakes & Mountains
LENGTH: 55 Miles
TIME: 1.5 Hours
START/END: Kingfield/Coburn Gore (Canadian Boundary)

This road is what I like to think Benedict Arnold would smugly call the “You’re Welcome Scenic Byway.” His trek through this treacherous terrain during the Revolutionary War paved the way for us to enjoy the route today.

Route 27’s scenic byway begins in Kingfield and heads north to the entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain, a Maine icon, and Bigelow Preserve above Flagstaff Lake. Right around the lake, you’ll pass through Cathedral Pines’s old-growth forest (amazing in an area that was logged so much) before following the Dead River (Benedict’s route) to Canada.

If you’d like to explore the river, try a ride on the North Forest Canoe Trail. Take this ride hungry so you can enjoy the famous feast at Trails End Steakhouse in Eustis. Farther north, enjoy the scenic views at Chain of Ponds Public Land.

SIDE TRIP: If you’re wondering the eternal Maine tourist question of “Where can I see a moose?” this is for you. Between Stratton and Rangeley, Route 16 is 19 miles of a road better known as “Moose Alley.” (Though, in all honesty, several roads in Maine and New Hampshire bear that moniker.)

Bold Coast
Bold Coast | photo via mrs.b_munz

The Bold Coast

REGION: Downeast (VERY Downeast)
LENGTH: 125 Miles
TIME: 3 Hours
START/END: Millbridge/Easport

The Bold Coast starts to take shape after Millbridge, just east of Acadia National Park. Slowly, the shoreline begins to take a firmer shape, anchored by bedrock tougher than the rocks in the rest of coastal Maine. That means tall and rugged cliffs, the runningback in the coastal football field.

Wild blueberries grow in summer abundance, with Machias holding the annual Wild Blueberry Festival and Wild Blueberry Land along the way in Cherryville. In fact, I am toasting this segment as I drink a shake made with Wyman’s blueberries from Cherryville. Once you taste this treat, you’ll forget about those other blueberries.

Eventually, the blueberry fields bow down to the steep shoreline near Cutler, where Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land should be on the itinerary of any Downeast visitor. Why pay for a whale-watching tour when you can see them here for free?

The route continues to Lubec and Eastport, two of the easternmost locations in the state. Mowry Beach Preserve holds a drowned ancient forest under its waters, and the West Quddy Head Lighthouse sits atop one of the famed cliffs.

Don’t come this far only to come this far–head over the Canadian border from Lubec and visit Roosevelt Campobello International Park, or keep the trip going on the Quoddy Loop.

TRAVEL TIP: Pair the Blackwoods Scenic Byway with the Bold Coast Scenic Byway. Don’t pick up a ghostly hitchhiker.

Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway-Forks
Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway | photo via ericsmainelife

Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway (Route 201)

REGION: Kennebec Valley
LENGTH: 73 Miles
TIME: 90 Minutes
START/END: Solon/Sandy Bay Township (Canadian Border)

Old Canada Road from Solom to Canada is still a busy distribution route connecting Canada to the coast, but it’s also one of the easiest Maine scenic drives for those who aren’t a fan of getting out of the car.

Scenic views await along the way, where you can quickly pull over, soak in the view, read a kiosk, and keep going. You follow the early steps of Benedict Arnold’s Expedition, including paddling Arnold’s Trail or finding the hiking routes near Caratunk that walk in the footsteps of the March to Quebec.

Near Moscow, you’ll pass a retaining wall filled with birdhouses named the Million Dollar Birdhouse Wall. The name comes from the price to build the wall. Nobody is sure why the birdhouses started showing up.

At Forks, take the short hike to Moxie Falls, among the tallest waterfalls in Maine. Once you’re past Fork, you’re off Arnold’s Trail as he took the Dead River to where Route 27 is now. You’ll start to notice some maple farms off the side of the road.

You’ll pass through Jackman (where you can start the Moosehead Lake Scenic Byway if you turn east), and you should stop to get gas if you’re running low. This is the last chance before Canada.

Finally, the last picnic stop on the route has Jim Mac Falls (aka “The Falls”) which is an easy roadside stop with a payoff of a 45-foot horsetail fall.

NOTE: This route is also nicknamed “Moose Alley.”

Rangeley Lakes-cyclefanatix
Rangeley Lakes | photo via cyclefanatix

Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway

REGION: Lakes & Mountains
LENGTH: 52 Miles
TIME: 1 Hour
START/END: Byron/Oquossoc/Madrid

The Rangely region stands out in the Lakes & Mountains, notably for this scenic stretch of road that hugs three sides of Rangley Lake and provides scenic stunners at places like Height of Land and other roadside parking areas.

The quintessential mountain town of Rangeley provides a welcoming and walkable downtown. Saddleback Mountain offers four seasons of outdoor adventures. Near Sandy River, you’ll cross the Appalachian Trail.

Perhaps there is no greater reward for a Maine roadside stop than at the Smalls Falls Rest Area. However, you won’t be able to tell from the road. The entrance hooks around behind some trees, where a gorge opens up beyond the parking lot. The trail, about half a mile long, covers at least four waterfalls. Your Instagram needs a photo from the footbridge.

Schoodic National Scenic Byway
Schoodic National Scenic Byway | photo via corridor_solutions

Schoodic National Scenic Byway

REGION: Downeast (Acadia)
LENGTH: 29 Miles
TIME: 1 Hour
START/END: Hancock/Prospect Harbor

This short but robust route covers the Schoodic Peninsula, otherwise known as the Quiet Side of Acadia National Park. Stephen King Fans will want to take a short trip to 303 Point Road, where the house used in the original Pet Sematary movie is located.

You’ll veer off Route 1 to Route 156, which will eventually turn into Schoodic Loop Road. This road is open in the winter, barring extreme winter weather. It scoots around the peninsula, where you can visit the point or take the hike to Schoodic Head. Another place to stop on the roadside is Blueberry Hill, with wide patches of bedrock to enjoy the views of Little Moose Island.

You’ll need to buy a pass to Acadia National Park, especially if you plan to stop at the must-see Schoodic Point. That pass is valid for seven days.

Acadia All-American Road-genesisquanchv
Acadia All-American Road | photo via genesisquanch

Acadia All-American Road

REGION: Downeast
LENGTH: 40 Miles
TIME: 3 Hours
START/END: Trenton/Bar Harbor

The Acadia All-American Road could also be called “Going to Acadia National Park,” because the route follows what every park visitor will drive.

Starting in Ellsworth, you’ll work your way through Trenton and across the water to Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor is one of the most delightful destinations Downeast and is worthy of a stop for shopping and a meal.

In addition, you’ll pass through the most popular parts of the park, like Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, and the road to Cadillac Mountain on Park Loops Road. Please note that driving to Cadillac Mountain requires a reservation from late May through Late October and a separate reservation for a sunrise summit.

Tired of driving? Hop on the free Island Explorer at Acadia National Park, which has more stops than the scenic byway offers.

TRAVEL TIP: For my gas money, I’d extend this route to include Sargeant Drive along the Somes Sound, north of Southwest Harbor. YOu can’t beat the views, and it’s not widely publicized.

The Scenic Tours are Yours to Explore

It’s worth noting that every scenic drive listed is on paved roads that are regularly maintained during severe weather and winter. You should still check the New England 511 website for road construction, closures, or weather damage.

Also, one of the famous roads in Maine is the Golden Road, which goes from Millinocket to Quebec. This is a townless, rugged, remote stretch of wilderness that is used for logging but open to the public. It’s the most adventurous Maine scenic drive and takes you to the unspoiled wilderness of Debsconeag Lakes, where you can explore ice caves, wetlands, lakes, and forests.

Hungry? Consider options like the Maine Oyster Trail or the Real Maine Ice Cream Trial.

Just be sure to watch out for moose on the roads, as they like to linger around dusk and dawn.

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