So, you wanna be a Maine tourist? Here’s how! We’re going on an EPIC road trip from Portland Maine to Bar Harbor Maine, taking the scenic way along Route 1. The road trip trots past icons like lighthouses and lobsters but also covers some secret stops you won’t find unless you know where to look.
Visiting Maine is as much about the places as it is about the people, and too many tourists miss that facet of the fantastic options on the coastline. To be considered a “Mainer,” residents have generational touchstones and unique information to share.
Sure, you can stop in Kennebunkport with thousands of other tourists, waiting an hour for a lobster roll and staring at the Bush family compound from a distance. That’s a fine way to spend a day while also exploring Dock Square and crowded beaches, but you won’t get the essence of Maine.
Route 1 is a strong thread in the fabric of Maine’s historic tapestry — one that dates back to the 1650s when wagons chugged through dirt and snow. Now, it’s a major north/south thoroughfare that stretches from Fort Kent Maine to Key West Florida.
Of its 527 miles in Maine, we’re going to explore about 160 miles with beaches that will blow your mind and be much less crowded than The Kennebunks.
Maine’s Regions on the Portland to Bar Harbor Road Trip
Maine has various names for its regions. The checkmarks aren’t roadside markers, and many Mainers have had too many locally crafted beers arguing the points. However, here are the coastal boundaries of the towns you’ll be visiting (according to the Maine Office of Tourism):
- Greater Portland & Casco Bay extends from Scarborough to Brunswick and includes the islands in Casco Bay.
- Mid Coast Maine runs from Bath to Winterport.
- Downeast Maine begins at Verona Island and Bucksport and runs all the way to Lubec and Eastport next to the Canadian border.
Traffic Tip for a Route 1 Road Trip
Distance: 163 miles
Drive Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes (without tolls and stopping)
Since most Maine visitors come during summer and fall, we’re going to assume you’re visiting during one of those seasons to make the most of the weather and road conditions.
If you want to avoid the infamous traffic of Route 1, you should visit after Labor Day but before the end of October. Traffic might be frustrating, but when you’re taking a road trip from Portland to Bar Harbor Maine, the slowdowns can nudge you to stop in the nooks and crannies we’re going to explore.
Portland: The Road Trip Begins
Since this is a road trip, we’re going to assume that you’ve already enjoyed the amazing things to do in Portland, but if you want to rest the night before the drive, numerous overnight options await in every Portland neighborhood.
Sunrise at Portland Head Lighthouse
You’ll have to backtrack a little bit here because the Portland Head Lighthouse is actually in Cape Elizabeth, 5 miles south. If you want the epitome of a Maine sunrise, though, this is the place, and it’s easy to get back on the highway afterward.
Diner Car Breakfast
Grab breakfast before hitting the road at Miss Portland Diner, “Portland’s Only Landmark Diner.” Late summer visitors should get something with Maine’s famous wild blueberries. Miss P’s breakfast sandwich also includes Maine maple syrup wrapped in French toast.
Falmouth: The Secrets of Mackworth Island State Park
The sharp turn to get across the causeway to Mackworth Island is a “Blink, and you’ll miss it” street, but look for the signs to the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This park surrounds the school.
TIP: Get here early because the small parking lot fills up quickly.
This small island was once owned by the legendary Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter, and he had a summer home here. This man championed a state park bearing his name surrounding Maine’s tallest mountain. However, it was Mackworth Island that stole his heart.
The pet cemetery here honors his faithful companions, a lineage of Irish setters, and a “noble horse.” Despite what some may say, this pet cemetery did not inspire Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Mr. King explains the real inspiration here.
The island has a 1.25-mile trail around it with a forest in the middle where you can build a fairy home and see other homes that have been carefully crafted. A Civil War Pier and a “Listening Tree” round out the interesting things to do on this famous piece of land.
Freeport: L.L. Bean’s Hometown
A stop in Freeport is a must on a road trip from Portland to Bar Harbor Maine. Leon Leonwood Bean turned a frustration with wet feet while hunting into a global brand, and the company is still headquartered in Freeport.
If nothing else, get a photo in front of the massive L.L. Bean Boot, but you can also explore four L.L. Bean stores and an outlet store across the street with dozens of additional outlets.
Consider a 1-mile detour to check out the Desert of Maine because isn’t it weird to have just one small desert in an otherwise lush state? Blame the glaciers because you’ll find out when you stop by this eccentric attraction.
Brunswick: Swing By a Historic Bridge
Just 12 miles from Freeport, you can experience the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge, which was built in 1892 to accommodate mill workers walking to work at the nearby mill.
The bridge has some “give” to it (nothing too nauseating) and spans just 300 feet. Fall foliage is especially stunning from this viewpoint.
Bath: All the Time Is Maritime
While Bath’s charm could easily keep you busy the rest of the day, the one must-see here is the Maine Maritime Museum. It just makes sense that this museum stands in the “City of Ships.”
Wooden shipbuilding and lighthouse history reign here with an easy one-hour boat tour of Maine lighthouses and the Bath Iron Works where naval ships of the future are being built.
Afterward, cross over the river to Woolrich and look for the 70-foot-long, 12-foot-tall lobster on the roof of Taste of Maine. Try out a traditional lobster roll, or go for the world’s largest lobster roll to feed a group. Save room for a Wicked Whoopie pie for dessert.
Edgecomb: Find the Fort
If you’re traveling with a military buff, Fort Edgecomb State Historic Site is an easy stop with a blockhouse that pre-dates the War of 1812. You can go inside the blockhouse and look at the scenic views from the musket ports.
The Sheepscot River surrounds the 3-acre park. Informational kiosks explain the important history of the building to “block” enemies from accessing the once robust port of Wiscasset (“wiss-CAH-sit”).
Thomaston: Crafts From Behind Bars
Since 1824, some of the most unique and cherished crafts sold to tourists along Route 1 in Maine have been made by prisoners. The Maine State Prison Industries Program gives those behind bars a job, responsibility, and pride in working for the benefit of the community through the Maine State Prison Showroom.
If the idea of shopping at a store full of prisoner crafts is intimidating, let me remove any doubt — you will be hard-pressed to find this level of quality and craft skills in regular souvenir shops. Plus, the reasonable profits go back to the state to help more prisoners plan healthy paths back into society.
Rockland: For Lighthouse Lovers
Rockland Maine marks the halfway point on our Portland to Bar Harbor road trip, so you can consider spending the night here to enjoy the many things to do in this waterfront town. The top must-see attractions include the Maine Lighthouse Museum and the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.
You should know that the lighthouse museum is more than just trinkets and scenic structure history. It’s about the purpose of the lighthouse and all the people who risk their lives to save people from the sea. Stories of lighthouse keepers’ families and U.S. LifeSaving Services (precursor to the Coast Guard) fill the space.
“You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”Motto of the U.S. LifeSaving Service, 1848 – 1915
Standing proudly since 1899, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse continues to undergo repairs and regular maintenance. The nearly 1-mile-long breakwater is walkable and the only way to access the lighthouse and tours.
Rockport: See the Famous Seal Statue
Rockport Maine is well known for the story of Andre the Seal. The life-sized bronze statue honors Andre, the friendly harbor seal who resided here each summer from 1961 to 1986, delighting locals and tourists alike with his playful antics. It’s located in Rockport Marine Park, along with the Rockport Lime Kilns — the last of their kind on the Maine coast.
See the “Oreo Cookie Cows”
They are famous for the white belt of fur around their bodies, which gives them the appearance of a sideways Oreo. Kids absolutely love to see the Oreo cows.
The Aldermere Farms Ocean Trail is a short half-mile walk to a beach full of large, smooth rocks.
Camden: Head for the Hills and the Falls
Maine is full of idiosyncrasies, and Camden is an excellent example of that. A hill that isn’t all that high and a waterfall that isn’t all that tall both provide stunning fingerprints to make the community stand out.
You definitely need to stop and appreciate Megnticook Falls because this trademark of Camden might not be here for much longer. Residents pooled together to “Save the Dam” that creates the falls, which run right under the main section of town before cascading into Camden Bay. At Harbor Park, you can walk right up to the edge.
Then there’s Camden Hills State Park with trails from the beachside to the bluffs. Mount Battie is the apex — less than 1,000 feet above sea level but somehow makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Also, Camden offers wonderful accommodations if you want to break the road trip into two (or three) days.
Searsport or Stockton Springs: Driver’s Choice
Many Route 1 drivers have longed to ditch the traffic and find respite, and I’ve got two places where you can do just that.
Moose Point State Park in Searsport Maine sits tucked away off the highway, but it offers nearly immediate access to the shoreline with stunning views of Penobscot Bay and much smaller crowds than almost any other beach in the state.
If things had gone according to plan, Fort Point State Park would be much more than a lesser-known 120-acre state park and historic site. It was planned to make Stockton Springs a town to rival Bar Harbor.
Additionally, this land served as the home of Fort Pownall, built in 1759. The lighthouse was built in 1836, and the tower that still stands was designed in 1857.
The only thing you can’t see at Fort Point State Park is the Fort Point Hotel, which was a summer hot spot in 1872. After 26 years, the hotel burned down, and the Maine resort dream went up in flames with it.
The hotel could accommodate up to 200 guests, most of whom were wealthy elite from Boston and New York City who arrived by steamboat. With its posh clientele and state -of-the-art amenities such as running water, gas lights, stables, a bowling alley, and two dance pavilions, the Fort Point Hotel was built in hopes that the Fort Point area would grow to rival Bar Harbor.”Fort Point State Park brochure
Bucksport: The Leg of the Cursed Monument
If you like fantastical legends with no evidence whatsoever, there’s a place you simply have to see in Bucksport. The Buck Memorial rests alongside Route 1 in this town.
Bucksport Maine is named after Colonel Johnathan Buck. He was a righteous man by all historical accounts. He settled the town that bears his name, opening a general store and building the mill industry. After the British burned the town down, he worked to restore it in 1783. He died in 1795.
That’s the end of his story and the beginning of the legend. It centers around a witch being burned at the stake and cursing John Buck.
“Jonathan Buck, listen to these words, the last my tongue will utter. You will soon die. Over your grave they will erect a stone… upon that stone the imprint of my feet will appear, and for all time, long after you and your accursed race have perished from the earth, will the people from far and wide know that you murdered a woman. Remember well, Jonathan Buck, remember well.”The words of a dying witch, allegedly told in the Haverville Gazette in 1899, citing the Philadelphia Enquirer (meaning we have no way of proving if that was actually published, but it is the most commonly accepted story)
Putting aside that, of all the curses possible, a foot on your grave seems rather paltry, you can’t deny that the shape of a leg and foot (much like a witch’s boot) appears on the stone under his name. It’s also why one of the top reasons people search for the town is to find out about The Curse of Bucksport.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE: Visit the Fort Knox Historic Site and Penobscot Narrow Bridge & Observatory
Ellsworth: The Gateway to Downeast
Your Route 1 “leg” of the trip ends in Ellsworth Maine before taking the turn to Bar Harbor. Trust me when I say that you’ll want to stretch your legs before you tackle the traffic of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
A great place to do that is the Woodlawn Museum, which includes a historic home filled with thousands of artifacts, trinkets, and treasures. You can walk 2 miles of trails that once served as a racetrack for the prestigious owner. A croquet field rounds out the things to do in this Ellsworth piece of history.
Bar Harbor: Are We There Yet?
TIP: Ellsworth is just 20 miles from Bar Harbor, but the traffic might make you wish you were in regular traffic back on Route 1. Try to time this part of the road trip for early morning or late evening.
You’ve arrived! Bar Harbor is a waterfront town facing Frenchman Bay and the anchor town of Acadia National Park.
Bar Harbor is a blend of incredible natural beauty, a rich past, walkable charm, and coastal culture, making it a quintessential Maine destination with few parallels. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from for dinner and awesome lodging options to rest after your journey.
An Alternate/Faster Road Trip From Portland to Bar Harbor Maine
If you simply enter Portland and Bar Harbor on your GPS, it’s likely going to take you the “fastest” route using I-95. That means you’ll be taking the Maine Turnpike, which is a toll road. This drive will take you through the towns of:
With Augusta being the state capital and Bangor being the former home — and inspiration for the writings of — Stephen King, you can find plenty of scenic stops along the way.
A Boat Trip Between Portland and Bar Harbor Maine
Ferry services no longer run between Portland and Bar Harbor, but you could charter your own boat to take that trip.
On the other hand, you could take a side boat trip along the scenic route laid out above, leaving from Rockland or Lincolnvillve to explore Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, and Matinicus via the Maine Department of Transportation Ferry.
NOTE: Matinicus cannot be a day trip due to its distance and limited ferry service.
A Maine Road Trip Is Worth It
The transition from Greater Portland & Casco Bay to the more branched-off coastline that leads up Downeast is worth exploring even before you stop in one of the many small towns, roadside attractions, state parks, and historical sites along the way.
No matter which section of road you choose, each Maine town collectively brings its own vibe to earn the state nickname Vacationland.