Exploring Western Maine: Outdoor Gems and the Open Road
On a map of the USA, the state of Maine looks like a giant green thumb jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean from the northeast corner of the country.
Dubbed the Pine Tree State, Maine should be at the top of a nature seeker’s list. You really don’t know peace of mind until you stand on a Maine mountaintop with the wind whistling through your jacket, or canoe a quiet bog with only the water dripping from your paddle to break the stillness.
Map Your Route to Maine
Interstate highways from Boston, Massachusetts, direct many travelers to Maine’s southern coast, but there’s much more to this state than the shoreline. Driving in from the west allows you to see a different side of Maine. Rather than following Interstate 95 northeast from Boston, follow Interstate 93 about 270 kilometers north of Boston into New Hampshire until you reach White Mountain National Forest and then head east on U.S. Route 2 toward Maine.
Driving on U.S. Route 2 brings you to Bethel, Maine, a quintessential New England town with a village green and town square. Entering the state a bit farther north on Route 16 leads you beside the babbling Androscoggin River and through seemingly endless forests to the old-timey, specks-on-a-map lakeside villages of Oquossoc and Rangeley.
Mount Katahdin in northern Maine marks the northernmost end of the Appalachian Trail
Stunning Views in the Mountains
Don’t miss the stunning 360-degree views from atop Bald Mountain or the more challenging Mount Aziscohos. If you want to bag two peaks in a day, climb Saddleback, then pick up the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and trek another 2.25 kilometers northeast to reach the Horn. Your achy thigh muscles at sundown will tell you it’s been a good Maine day. Just promise you’ll spend enough time in Maine to canoe or kayak on Rangeley Lake, to glimpse a bald eagle in the South Bog Conservation Area or to hear the soulful cry of a loon – unforgettable.
A swamp sparrow in the Maine wilderness
Spotting Wildlife Roaming the Countryside
Venturing farther east, you can view half a dozen 4,000-foot peaks from the comfort of your car by driving the 67 kilometers from Rangeley to Stratton to Kingfield on Route 16. That stretch of road, especially near dawn or dusk, is a likely place to spot a moose. Elsewhere in the area, keep an eye peeled for wild turkeys, deer, coyotes, beavers, kingfishers, woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows, otters and even the occasional black bear.
Spotting moose and other wildlife while exploring Maine
Excursions in Thoreau's Footsteps
As the capper to your ramblings through this wild state, consider a guide Thoreau trip offered by the New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket, around 115 kilometers north of Bangor. Henry David Thoreau wrote The Maine Woods, a book about three arduous jaunts he made in the mid-19th century through these forests. You’ll have it far easier than the Sage of Walden Pond did on these paddling and hiking excursions, which last one to three days and are led by a registered Maine guide. Longer trips culminate with a seven- to 11-hour scramble up Mount Katahdin, the 1,605-meter-high jewel in the crown of 848-square-kilometer Baxter State Park.
Fishing at the Kidney Pond dock in Baxter State Park
Journey Along the Appalachian Trail
Because Katahdin is at the northern end of the 3,516-kilometer Appalachian Trail, expect to meet a “thru-hiker” or two on the mountain’s flanks in August or September. These hardy — and often grungy — souls are completing a journey of 5 million steps along the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. Honor their accomplishment by asking for their “trail name.” (You’ll be amused by the responses.) Oh, and share a sandwich or two from your pack, won’t you? As you’re about to discover, being active all day in the great outdoors of Maine can stoke a powerful appetite.
The view form the top of Mount Katahdin