A 5-hour drive North from the Escape Campervans Depot in New York will bring you to one of the most picturesque areas of New England; Coastal Maine. With Summer temps are still lingering and the crisp air and foliage of Fall right around the corner, this is the perfect time to visit coastal Maine. Fall is my favorite time to visit this area – the weather is chilly, the crowds have all but disappeared, the leaves are beautiful. One important note for travel planning – many businesses in this area with shut down after Columbus Day, so keep that in mind.
1. Portsmouth, NH
Not technically Maine, but super close and worth a stop. Stroll through the streets and visit small shops. Enjoy some craft brews and peruse the stacks at Portsmouth book and bar. Walk through the gardens and enjoy a lively arts scene with outdoor shows and concerts.
Next, head an hour north to the city of Portland. If you’re a foodie or a craft beer lover, Portland will NOT disappoint. Check out the brewery tour at Allagash, as well as some great smaller craft breweries (some favorites are Rising Tide and Foundation, among others). Don’t miss Holy Donut for your sweet fix – potato donuts that are SO delicious. From Portland, skip the highways and head North up coastal Route 1.
Just a few minutes north of Portland is Freeport… home of the LL Bean flagship store. Forget some gear? You’ll find whatever you need and then some in this village of shops and outlet stores. Grab some food at the 1912 Cafe (located inside the enormous LL Bean store – trust me, it’s good!). Wash it down with a tasting at Maine Beer Company. Keep an eye on the calendar of events for free concerts and festivals on the LL Bean grounds.
There are some great camping options in this area. Wolfe’s Neck Oceanfront Camping in Freeport has a variety of sites to choose from, many with waterfront or with ocean views. Bonus – there are bike and kayak rentals onsite. Head a few minutes inland for Bradbury Mountain State Park – home to some great hiking/running/mountain biking trails as well. A little further North up Route 1, take a right and head toward the ocean for stunning waterfront camping at Hermit Island campground, near Popham Beach.
Stop off at Red’s Eats right off Route 1 in Wiscasset for a lobster roll or some delicious fried seafood, then continue North over the bridge to Boothbay. Explore the waterfront boatyards, and don’t miss the beautiful Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.
Next up is Rockland and its surrounding areas. Just south of downtown Rockland, South Thomaston has my favorite lobster roll at McLoons – an unassuming shack at the end of an island road with endless water views, lobster boats, picnic tables, and DELICIOUS lobster.
Take a hike at Owl’s Head State Park for a picnic with a view, and visit the Owl’s Head Lighthouse there. Try Birch Point State Park for a secluded beach day.
Looking for some indoor (rainy day?) activities? The Owl’s Head Transportation Museum has a fascinating array of all things transportation – cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, bicycles, planes – you name it, it’s there. Stop into the Salty Owl, a cafe tucked inside the tiny Owl’s Head Airport for a delicious meal (breakfast and lunch – the food is phenomenal) while watching the planes come and go. The Farnsworth Museum in downtown Rockland will make any art lover’s heart swoon, especially Andrew Wyeth fans! Looking for a movie or concert? Check out the Strand Theater (also right in downtown).
While downtown, don’t miss Rock City Coffee for some caffeinated goodness (they also have music events and sell food all day, as well as beer and wine!). Cafe Miranda is another fantastic Rockland restaurant. For a true farm to table experience, don’t miss Primo – you can walk the grounds of their farm and gardens to see where your meal is coming from before dinner.
Take a unique hike out to the Rockland Breakwater; an almost mile-long granite “path” leading out into the water and to the Breakwater Lighthouse.
Before continuing north up Route 1, consider hitting the water for a day trip to visit one of the coastal Maine Islands. From the Rockland area, you can catch a ferry to Monhegan (ferry from Port Clyde) for a car-free island adventure (yes, you read that right – no paved roads and no cars on the island). Hike, explore restaurants and a brewery on the island and then ferry back to the mainland in the afternoon. Another island trip worth exploring is the ferry from Rockland to North Haven. Explore the island and dine at Nebo Lodge (their barn suppers are an amazing experience!).
Continue north to the harbor town of Camden. Camp at Camden Hills State Park and enjoy some of the best hiking along the coast. Hike up to the summit of Mount Battie (also accessible by car) and Mount Megunticook for panoramic views of the countryside and the harbor. Explore the quaint downtown and refuel after your hike with some coffee from Zoot, lunch or dinner at Waterfront, or some noodles at Long Grain.
Check out the trails at the Camden Snow Bowl and Ragged Mountain Preserve for some phenomenal trail running and mountain biking. Need some rental equipment? There are several kayak tours available along the waterfront right in downtown Camden along the boardwalk. Didn’t bring your bike or want to explore the waters of nearby Megunticook Lake? Head to Maine Sport Outfitters for bike, kayak, and stand up paddle board rentals.
8. Belfast and Beyond
Continuing north on route 1 will bring a bit more solitude, along with the continued beauty of the rocky coast. A must-stop for camper van lovers is the Beetle Shop in Belfast. They are a well known VW shop and almost always have some very cool vans in their lot to gawk at.
Stop into the Big Chicken Barn in Ellsworth (right off rt 1), a HUGE antique and book marketplace house in – you guessed it – a giant old chicken barn. This is a fascinating step back in time, with some very interesting finds inside.
Stop and climb the observatory of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and visit Fort Knox near Bucksport. From here, head to Bar Harbor and then Acadia for some National Park camping and exploring!
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