Maine: Off the Beaten Path in Maine
Maine is filled with majestic mountains, pristine lakes and miles of craggy coastline. No matter where you are in the state, you get the distinct feeling that time has stood still.
In the "Pine Tree State", hunting, fishing, logging and tourism feed both the people and the economy. Winters are long, the fall foliage is spectacular and the locals are warm and friendly. On many roads, you will see "Moose Crossing" signs, and they mean it. In a recent two-year period, over 2,000 car accidents involving moose were documented.
The Maine accent is noticeable most everywhere ("Yuh cain't get theyah from heeah.") and there are a lot of expressions you'll never hear anywhere else. If you fall down, you took a "digger" (dig-gah). If it was a bad fall, it was a "wicked digger". If you're very busy, then you're "right out straight", and if you're pretty sure something isn't going to happen, then it "taint likely". Stop pronouncing your "r's" while you're there and you'll sound more like a local. "Ayep, that lobstah suppah was wicked good." ("Yes, that lobster supper was very good.")
There are so many spectacular places to visit in Maine that no tour guide can cover them all. So let's discover the best of Maine that is off the beaten path.
Seafaring Adventures in Maine
- Approximately 20 miles off of Maine's coast is the feeding grounds for hungry whales. Bar Harbor is where most of the whale watching tours originate, but you can find others up and down the coast. There are so many whales to be found that a lot of tours offer a money-back guarantee. Cap'n Fish's in Boothbay Harbor is one of the best. And if you stay overnight at their Inn just across the street, you'll get a nice little discount on your tour fare.
- If you want to truly experience Maine, then a Windjammer ride is a must. The Heron, a classic wooden schooner yacht, sets sail out of Rockport. You can enjoy their "Maine Lobster Lunch", "Gourmet Sunset Sail", "Maine Lighthouse" tours or book a private tour for you and your group. If you happen to be in the area in late-June, be sure to stop and watch the classic yacht regatta held every year.
- The Casco Bay Lines Ferry was started in 1878 as the Casco Bay Steamboat Company. Its purpose was to provide regular, year-round transportation between Portland and the Inner Islands: Peaks Island, Little Diamond Island, Great Diamond Island, Long Island, Chebeague Island, and Cliff Island.Take a ferry ride to one of the islands, particularly Cliff Island with a year-round population of 90, and you will think you have stepped back in time.
Maine's Flora and Fauna
- Maine is home to the only Atlantic Puffin nesting colonies anywhere on the East Coast. There are five islands off of the Maine coast that are home to Puffins, and while many Puffin Tours can get you close, very few have landing permits. Puffins live on the water and only come to land to lay eggs and raise their chicks, so the best time to see them is late spring through late summer. Norton's in Jonesport offers Puffin Tours in season, and they are one of the few with a landing permit for the most inhabited island, Machias Seal Island.
- McLaughlin Garden on Route 26 in South Paris is a horticultural paradise. Bernard McLaughlin moved into this property in 1936 and began planting flowers. Although he had no experience or formal training, He eventually became known as the "Dean of Maine Gardeners", and his two-acre garden became renowned across the state. If you're near South Paris in late-May or early-June, be sure to stop into their annual Lilac Festival.
- Dump watches rarely happen anymore in Maine. Yes. I said dump watches. But if you do manage to find one, it is something that you cannot miss. I attended many years ago in Rangeley, where every Saturday night pretty much the whole town would head up to the dump just before nightfall. Everyone would circle their cars around facing the dump and wait. As the bear came out to feed, the headlights were turned on and everyone would enjoy the show. In an effort to keep bear in the forest where they belong, most of the open dumps in Maine were replaced with giant incinerators. But I hear they may still have some in Greenville and Kokadjo...
Where to Eat in Maine
- Maine lobster has a distinct sweet taste and it is found in abundance all over the state. "Lobster pounds" are an institution in Maine. At these casual roadside eateries, you purchase your live lobster by weight, and they are then boiled in huge wood-fired vats outside in sea water. Stop by at Wells Beach Lobster Pound in Wells, and Troy and his uncle will cook you up some fresh sweet lobster better than you've ever tasted.
- Red's Eats in Wiscasset is universally acclaimed for having the best lobster roll in Maine. More than one whole lobster, including plenty of claw and tail meat, is set in the butter toasted bun and served with a side of mayonnaise and melted butter. Travel and Leisure Magazine named Red's Eats one of the top 10 lobster shacks in the country. Red's founder, Al Gagnon, passed away in 2008, but his family is continuing on the tradition.
- Moody's Diner in Waldoboro is a place you must visit. Their Whoopie Pies garnered a mention in Saveur Magazine's "Top 100 Food Finds" in 1999. They didn't stop there. Their Maine blueberry muffins have received a gold medal from the Culinary Hall of Fame and Gourmet Magazine requested the recipe for their scrumptious walnut pie.
Maine: Way Off the Beaten Path
- You're not seeing things. The picture on the right is an actual sign in Norway, Maine. Imagine telling your friends that while you were on vacation, you visited Lisbon, Vienna, Belgrade and Rome! These aren't the only towns in Maine named after cities in other countries. In fact, some towns are named after the countries themselves. Did you know that there is a China, Mexico and Peru in Maine? There are some towns with extremely bizarre names as well. But who wouldn't want to visit Lobster, Maine or Masachusetts Gore, Maine?
- Bar Harbor is a cute little town just next to the Acadia National Park. It's got all the obligatory cute little shops and things that tourists just love. But if you head over to Bridge Street at low tide, you can actually walk across the sandbar that appears twice a day over to explore Bar Island, that is owned and maintained by the Acadia National Park. Be careful, though, and head back to shore no later than 1-1/2 hours after the official low tide or you risk getting stranded!
- The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, located 35 miles northwest of Portland, is the home of the last four surviving Shakers in the world. The Shaker community has been living a very simple life here for over 220 years. The Shaker religion was founded around the 3 C's -- celibacy, confession and communalism. This means that they do not bear children and instead rely on converts to keep the community going. With only four Shakers left, it is feared that they might be the last of the community. The village lets you peek into life as it was 200 years ago, and the 340-acre Sabbathday Lake is surrounded by orchards, forest and farmland.