Maine is the largest state in New England and without much in the way of mass transit, if you’re exploring it (and you’re not wearing cycling cleats right now), chances are good you’re exploring it by car. Maine has nearly 24,000 miles of roadway, and I’m going to estimate that 23,000 of those are scenic. Maybe more in the fall, when caravans of “leaf peepers” take to the byways to ogle at the foliage. In the spring and summer, Maine is a classic road trip destination, blessed with natural beauty and enough quirky small towns to punctuate the drive. And god knows we have antique shops. I’m an admitted road trip fanatic—I love nothing more than picking a direction, filling the tank, and heading out, itinerary be damned. This is a great state for it. This diverse selection of the state’s scenic drives show off every corner of Vacationland.
Coastal Route 1
The grand mama of Maine summer road trips, U.S. Hwy. 1 hugs the coast for some 300 miles between the borders of New Hampshire and Canada. This is the Lobster Trail, through the classic seaside towns of Rockland, Camden, and Belfast, through quaint and mildly touristy villages like Freeport and Wiscasset, and along the “Bold Coast” of working class Down East Maine. My advice? Take a week.
Grafton Notch Byway
Wind along with the Bear River through a scooped out valley between stoic granite cliffs hundreds of feet high. The 20-mile stretch of Route 26 through Grafton Notch State Park will inspire photo ops, so luckily there are plenty of pull-outs. Set aside time to detour on foot to several lovely waterfalls along the way.
Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway
An especially lovely drive in the autumn, State Routes 17, 16, and 4 form a semi-circle around Rangeley Lake, skirting a few mountains, crossing the Appalachian Trail, and passing the dramatic overlook of Mooselookmeguntic Lake known as Height of Land. Grab lunch at Rangeley’s charming Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro.
This largely unpaved, 96-mile road through Maine’s northwoods might as well have been paved in gold for the Great Northern Paper Company, for which it provided access to lucrative woodlots between Millinocket and the Canadian border. Gird your shocks and enjoy Katahdin views, scenic whitewater overlooks, pristine lakes and campgrounds—maybe even a moose sighting.
Million Dollar View Scenic Byway
Heading north out of Danforth on U.S. Route 1, the road rises along the side of the adorably named Peekaboo Mountain. You can glance east across the Canadian border into the rolling hills of New Brunswick, down into the blue of the border-spanning Grand Lake, or west at distant Katahdin. Take the turn-off to the summit overlook.