The road trip is synonymous with American travel culture, and there’s no better place to explore the natural beauty of the United States by car than in the beautiful state of Maine. The Pine Tree State offers scenic vistas and activities for everyone, from rocky coastlines and sandy beaches to granite mountain peaks and wildlife.
In the northeast corner of mainland USA, many of the country’s most famed scenic highways originate here. You can easily begin your road trip across Maine from urban Portland, nearby Boston or even Canada.
Because this largely rural and geographically spread-out state does not offer a robust public transportation system, we recommend taking a road trip. While Subarus and pickup trucks are the unofficial vehicles around here, you don’t need four-wheel drive to get to most places in Maine unless it’s the middle of the winter and you’re looking for fresh powder to shred in the mountains.
As Mainers like to joke, “You can’t get here from there,” so be patient and don’t be afraid to get lost on the back roads. You never know when you might come across a moose, the perfect lobster roll or just a natural vista that will take your breath away.
1. Coastal Route 1 Maine
Best road trip for Maine coastline views
Kittery–Calais; 273 miles
US Route 1 extends down the Eastern Seaboard from Fort Kent, Maine, to Key West, Florida, clocking in at 2390 miles in total. The historic route started as the Atlantic Highway, which was established in 1911 and stretched from Calais, Maine, to Miami.
Today, Route 1 offers one of Maine’s most scenic drives during the summer and fall months. Starting from Kittery, the two-lane highway follows the coastline up to Calais before swinging inland up to the Canadian border in Fort Kent. Most people take Route 1 from Kittery up to Ellsworth and head to Acadia National Park.
A road trip through Coastal Maine can be an ambitious day trip from Portland, and most prefer to take a leisurely weekend to enjoy the area’s many traditional coastal towns, beaches, seafood joints and family attractions.
Spend a night in Maine’s largest city and foodie hotspot, Portland. Drive north through Freeport and the Midcoast, stopping to purchase some flannel and duck boots at LL Bean and visit the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland. Enjoy lunch by the water in Kennebunkport.
Continue your drive north toward Ellsworth, where you can take a detour to breathtaking Acadia National Park for a couple of days. If you venture beyond Acadia, you’ll discover one of the most beautiful parts of the state: the Bold Coast. A drive through Downeast Maine will bring you through what locals may call “real Maine,” with its small towns and working waterfronts. Stop at Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec and then drive to the small inland town of Calais.
From here, you can continue your drive up to Fort Kent and cross the border to Canada or head back south.
Detour: If you have more time, spend another day or two exploring the many islands off the coast of Rockland and get a feel for New England’s traditional seafaring communities.
2. Maine’s Route 302
Best road trip for fall foliage
Portland–Fryeburg; 53 miles
Perfect for a day trip, the drive from Portland to Fryeburg on Route 302 is especially beautiful during the fall months when the leaves start changing color.
Start your day with breakfast in Portland. Grab coffee and donuts at HiFi Donuts and walk along Portland’s working waterfront, one of the few left in the country where you can still see catches of lobster and fish being hauled in throughout the day. Portland’s historic Old Port district is full of charming boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants if you prefer a sit-down breakfast.
After a few hours in Portland, hop in your car and take Route 302 west. You’ll pass through Windham and the Lake Region area, where you’ll begin to find more pine trees and farmland than people.
If you’re traveling during the hot summer months, you can stop at Sebago Lake State Park or one of the few public beaches along the roadway for a dip in Maine’s deepest and second largest lake.
In Naples, you’ll cross the Causeway over Long Lake. If you’re hungry, grab lunch at Rick’s Cafe (open from late May to early September) or take a tour of Long Lake aboard the Songo River Queen II, a replica Mississippi River Paddle Wheeler.
Continue north toward Bridgton. During the winter months, Pleasant Mountain is open for both day and night skiing, and hiking during the summer months is also rewarding. Less than 45 minutes from Bridgton, you’ll enter the pastoral town of Fryeburg.
Planning tip: A short drive from Fryeburg lies the gateway to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, North Conway, if you want to make a weekend of it.
3. Route 2 in Maine
Best road trip for farmland and mountains
Bar Harbor–Gilead; 192 miles
Route 2 is part of a cross-continental highway from Washington to Maine that crosses the border into Canada. Whether you’re completing the full 3600-mile Great Northern Road Trip or just a scenic day trip from the coast, Route 2 provides plenty of scenic views as you wind through farmland, small towns and mountains.
Start in Bar Harbor, from where you can easily spend a few days exploring Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. From the Atlantic Ocean, travel inland to Maine’s third-largest city, Bangor – the hometown of world-famous writer Stephen King. Grab a selfie at King’s house and in front of the Paul Bunyan statue before continuing east through the small former mill towns and fields.
Stop in the college town of Farmington for lunch before continuing your journey through the western mountains of Maine. Newry, Bethel and Gilead are all picturesque New England towns with forested granite peaks in the distance. During the summer and fall months, stretch your legs on the many nearby hiking trails in the White Mountains or hit the slopes at Sunday River during the snowy months.
4. Schoodic National Scenic Byway
Best road trip for uncrowded coastal views
Hancock–Birch Harbor; 315 miles
Most people don’t realize that Acadia National Park is more than just Mount Desert Island. A small portion of the park is located on Schoodic Peninsula, on the mainland. The remote peninsula offers acres of unspoiled and uncrowded nature. If you want to avoid the crowds on Cadillac Mountain or in the village of Bar Harbor, take the Schoodic National Scenic Byway to a remote part of the national park.
The Scenic Byway runs along Route 1 from Hancock to Gouldsboro, where you’ll take a right-hand turn onto Route 186, proceed along Schoodic Peninsula and then through the small fishing villages of Winter Harbor and Birch Harbor.
The Schoodic District of Acadia National Park contains 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular Schoodic Head Trail, which summits the highest peak along the peninsula. The peninsula is also home to countless other hiking and walking trails in the Frenchman Bay Conservancy and Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Local tip: The peninsula and surrounding islands are also an incredible place to explore by kayak or canoe.
5. Maine Island Trail
Best “road” trip … by boat
Kittery–Eastport; 294 miles
The pleasures of road trips in Maine aren’t limited to cars. For an only-in-Maine experience, buy or rent a boat and hit the 375-mile recreational waterway trail that follows the coast of Maine from York County to Washington County.
Founded in 1988, the Maine Island Trail connects more than 200 wild islands with mainland camping sites on both public and private lands. The trail and many of the wild islands are maintained with the help of thousands of volunteers and the Maine Island Trail Association.
In the greater Portland area, many of the islands in Casco Bay can be accessed easily by sea kayak, a perfect weekend getaway. For a longer trip, you’ll want a motorboat or sailboat, as Maine’s open water can be dangerous if you’re not a skilled mariner. Portland Paddle offers guided trips throughout the summer months from Portland.