Maine’s Big Sur Scenic Drive

197 Miles (317 Kilometers) | 1 day | April through October | Road to Schoodic Point is one way.

From National Geographic's Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways


U.S. 1 from Ellsworth to Calais is truly a road less traveled. Most tourists never get past Bar Harbor and miss the crashing surf at Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Point, the tiny fishing villages that dot the coast, and the small cities a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. This is the route that links them all.

Start at Ellsworth and head north on U.S. 1 for 9 miles [14.5 kilometers] to the Hancock-Sullivan Bridge across Taunton Bay. Pull over after 1 mile [1.6 kilometers] at the Sullivan Harbor Scenic Turnout for views of Cadillac Mountain and Mount Desert Island. Sixteen miles [25.8. kilometers] east of Ellsworth, turn right on Rte. 186 for Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Point. For the next 6 miles [9.7 kilometers] the road winds along the eastern shore of Frenchman Bay to Winter Harbor Village. Less than a mile [1.6 kilometers] from town, turn right for a side trip to Schoodic Point, a 2,016-acre [815.9-hectare] preserve with a 6-mile [9.7-kilometer] scenic drive along the windswept granite shores of Schoodic Peninsula, views of Mount Desert and Cadillac Mountain, hiking trails, and tidal pools full of life. The park road ends at the tiny fishing village of Wonsqueak Harbor.

Pick up Rte. 186 a few miles north at Birch Harbor. At the end of Rte. 186, head north again on U.S. 1 and continue for 2 miles [3.2 kilometers], turning right to visit Bartlett Maine Estate Winery (+1 207 546 2408. Tours and tastings May-Oct.), where the Bartlett family has been making fruit wines since 1983.

Follow U.S. 1 for 3 miles [4.8 kilometers] to reach Washington County, the Sunrise County. Once the territory of the Passamaquoddy Indians, it is larger than Delaware and earned its sobriquet by being the first place in the U.S. to greet the rising sun each morning. It could as easily have been called the Blueberry County—about 15 million pounds [5.6 million kilograms] are harvested each year.

Turn right onto Pigeon Hill Road in Steuben (Stoo-BEN) to visit the 3,335-acre [1,349.6-hectare] Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge (+1 207 546 2124), where more than 300 bird species—including bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and roseate tern—have been sighted. A few miles farther, at the head of Narraguagus Bay, is Milbridge, home to one of the world’s largest blueberry processing plants. Stay on U.S. 1 at the junction of U.S. 1A to visit Cherryfield, the "blueberry capital of the world." To skip Cherryfield and cut out several miles of driving, take 1A north for 8 miles [12.9 kilometers] to Harrington.

Continue for 3.5 miles [5.6 kilometers] past Harrington to Columbia Falls and stop by the elegant Thomas Ruggles House (+1 207 483 4637. June–mid-Oct.; Donation), built for a rich lumber dealer in 1818. Just past Columbia Falls is a right turn onto Rte. 187 for a 10-mile [16.1-kilometer] side trip to the boatbuilding and fishing communities of Jonesport and Beals. In Jonesport, look for the puffin mailbox of Capt. Barna Norton (+1 207 497 5933. June-Aug.; Fares) to sign on for a cruise to Machias Seal Island or Petit Manan Island. Take Rte. 187 back along the shore of Chandler Bay to U.S. 1.

Once back on U.S. 1, it’s less than 2 miles [3 kilometers] to the turnoff for Roque Bluffs State Park (+1 207 255 3475. May–mid-Oct.; $1 adm. fee), with its sandy beach and freshwater swimming pond. The shire town of Machias is just 5 miles [8 kilometers] beyond the turnoff. Turn right on Rte. 92 just south of town to visit the Fort O’Brien State Historic Site (+1 207 726 4412. Mem. Day–Labor Day), near where the first naval battle of the Revolution was fought in 1775, and Jasper Beach, with its wave-polished pebbles of jasper and rhyolite.

About 16 miles [25.7 kilometers] past Machias, turn right onto Rte. 189 for Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, and Campobello Island. Turn off Rte. 189 after 9.5 miles [15.3 kilometers] to go to Quoddy Head State Park (+1 207 733 0911. May–mid-Oct.; Adm. fee), with its West Quoddy Head Light. The park’s steep ledges offer a terrific vantage point for the famous Bay of Fundy tides, which rise 20 to 30 feet [6.1 to 9.1 meters]. The candy-striped lighthouse, perched atop a 90-foot [27.4-meter] cliff on the easternmost point of land in the U.S., is visible from 20 miles [32.2 kilometers] at sea.

Once back on Rte. 189, continue toward Lubec. This easternmost town in the U.S. was once home to 19 sardine factories and is now the site of the Old Sardine Village Museum (July-Aug. Wed.-Sun. Adm. fee). It’s also the access point for the International Bridge to New Brunswick, Canada’s Campobello Island, and the 2,800-acre [1,133.1-hectare] Roosevelt Campobello International Park (+1 506 752 2922. Late May–mid-Oct.), summer home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As you climb the hill after clearing customs, turn around and look across the Narrows, where the strongest tidal currents on the East Coast flow at 15 mph [24.1 kph]. Friar’s Head Picnic Area, on the left just before the entrance to the i nternational park, offers views of Lubec, Eastport, Cobscook Bay, and the mouth of Passamaquoddy Bay. If you’re headed for Eastport and want to save about 40 miles [64 kilometers] of driving, consider taking the ferry. The Deer Isle ferry leaves just a few miles past the park entrance; from Deer Isle you can take another ferry to Eastport.

Retrace Rte. 189 to the junction of U.S. 1 and head north toward Calais. After 3 miles [4.8 kilometers] the road enters the southern boundary of the Edmunds Unit of the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge (+1 207 454 7161), a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, including the reclusive American woodcock. Many of its 6,700 acres [2,711.4 hectares] border Cobscook Bay, and when you watch the tide come in from the shores of Cobscook Bay State Park (+1 207 726 4412. Mid-May–mid-Oct.; Adm. fee), it’s easy to understand why the Indians named the bay "boiling tides"—they average 24 feet [7.3 meters] in height.

Seven miles [11.3 kilometers] past the state park entrance, watch for the turnoff to Pembroke Falls, one of the nation’s largest reversing falls, a tidal phenomenon. The road to the falls is poorly marked: Turn right off U.S. 1 onto Leighton Point Road; after 3.2 miles [5.2 kilometers], turn right and continue for 1.2 miles [1.9 kilometers] past the Clarkside Cemetery. When the road forks, go left and continue 1.7 miles [2.7 kilometers] into the park. The tip of Mahar Point provides a fine view of the fierce whitewater created when Dennys Bay and Whiting Bay flow into Cobscook Bay. Watch for bald eagles, ospreys, and seals.

Halfway between the Equator and the North Pole lies the town of Perry, named for Commodore Oliver H. Perry, a hero of the War of 1812. Two miles [3.2 kilometers] from the Perry town line, at the junction of U.S. 1 and Rte. 190, turn right onto 190 for Eastport. For the first few miles the road passes by the Pleasant Point Indian Reservation, home to over 700 Passamaquoddy Indians. The Sipayik Museum (+1 207 853 4001) on the left tells the tribe’s story. It’s another 5 miles [8 kilometers] to downtown Eastport. To see Old Sow Whirlpool, one of the world’s largest, turn left onto Water Street at the end of Rte. 190, pass the entrance to the Deer Isle ferry, and continue to Dog Island at the end of the road. The whirlpool is best seen about two hours before high tide.

Back at the junction of U.S. 1 and Rte. 190, continue north on U.S. 1 for 2 miles [3.2 kilometers] to the 45th Parallel Picnic Area. The red granite stone marking the halfway point was erected in 1896 by the National Geographic Society. About 5 miles [8 kilometers] from here, pull over at the next rest area to view the red granite cliffs of the St. Croix River.

Between Robbinston and Calais look for 12 small, sequentially numbered granite markers on the river side of the road. Lumberman and journalist James S. Pike put them there in 1870 to time his racehorses. St. Croix Island National Historic Site (+1 207 288 3338), at the Calais town line, is named for two long coves that meet to form a cross. Samuel de Champlain landed here in 1604, making this island in the middle of the St. Croix River the site of the country’s first white settlement north of St. Augustine, Florida.

The city of Calais (CAL-lus), along the bank of the St. Croix River across from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, is one of the busiest ports of entry along the 3,000-mile [4,828-kilometer] U.S.-Canada border. Continue north on U.S. 1 through town for 5 miles [8 kilometers] to the 16,080-acre [6,507-hectare] Baring Unit of the Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge (+1 207 454 7161). With the Edmunds Unit to the south, it’s the northernmost in a chain of migratory bird refuges that extends from Maine to Florida. A fitting sentinel at the end of this road to the border, the American bald eagle has taken up residence here. Nesting areas line the entrance to the refuge at Charlotte Road.


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