Arriving in Maine
If you’re coming north on I-95, you’ll know you’re in Maine when you cross over the Piscataqua River Bridge that separates Kittery from Portsmouth, NH. Pass the Kittery Trading Post, decorated in wooden sculptures and animal heads, drive up through York, Kennebunk, and blaze right on through Portland. You’re heading for smaller, lesser-known towns — Freeport and Yarmouth — where you can take in some historical architecture and gear up before heading even deeper into the state.
Stay in Freeport for the night, which is where you’ll find the Broad Arrow Tavern, the Harraseeket Inn with its 23 fireplaces and unique focus on local food, and the 24-hour L.L. Bean flagship store and its ultra-realistic taxidermy exhibits and indoor trout pond. Rent bicycles at Wolfe’s Neck Farm or Freeport Ski and Bike and head to Yarmouth for the afternoon. The town, set along the Royal River, was settled in the 1630s, with plenty of historical architecture on display. Pedal down West Main Street and you’ll find a historical brick schoolhouse, for instance. Or head eastbound on Route 88, go over the Royal River bridge, and you’ll end up at Grist Mill Park, an excellent place to have a picnic with a view of the falls.
For dinner, try the Royal River Grill House in Yarmouth or the Maine Harvest Dining Room back at the Harraseeket Inn. Your second night is going to be spent outdoors, so enjoy the comforts of a bed while you can.
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park
When you’re standing in the center of Freeport, surrounded by outlet stores, it might be a little difficult to believe that a protected area of marshland, open fields, and an oceanside trail system exists just a 10-minute drive away — but it does. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park was developed in 1969 and protects 200 acres of white pine and hemlock forest, as well as saltwater marsh and shoreline on Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River. The Harraseeket Trail will take you through all of this in just 1.5 miles.
For camping, one of many great options is an oceanside tent site at Recompence Shore Campground on Wolfe’s Neck Farm — cabin rentals are also available.
Fly fishing the Royal River
You can’t visit the Royal River without making an honest attempt at fly fishing. And if you’ve never done it before, classes are offered through L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Schools. (You can take kayaking, archery, and map reading classes as well, among others.) What you really need to perfect in your fly fishing lesson is that 10-and-2 movement of the wrist. Once you’ve got that down, you can start worrying about the habits and affinities of salmon, trout, and togue.
If you’re lucky enough to snag one on the line, and you’ve got the quick wit to set the hook and a nearby friend to grab a net, then good for you, you’re an angler. But keep in mind that it’s difficult out there, and the fish you angle for are clever. And if the afternoon sun is rising and you still haven’t had a bite, take heart in the words of Henry David Thoreau: “Many go out fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”
On the water, Casco Bay
The great thing about stand-up paddleboarding is that anyone with a little bit of balance can do it if, yeah, they accept the fact that they’re probably going to fall in once or twice. Again, if you feel like you want some instruction beforehand, L.L. Bean runs a class. Their Flying Point Paddling Center is an excellent place to gain your bearings on the SUP board, and from where you can catch a swift current that will bring you out into Casco Bay. Sounds intense, but it’s actually a pretty easy paddle.
Head for Lower Goose Island, a 166-acre island off the coast of Harpswell. It’s privately owned, but the family donated a 44-acre preserve to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust a few years ago. The preserve is located on the south side of the island and is a great place to bring your board ashore and do some hiking around on your now-sea legs.
Lower Goose is also surrounded by the Goslings, an archipelago of Casco Bay islands that have recently been donated to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in their entirety. And even though you’re really just a few miles offshore from Portland, Brunswick, and Harpswell, here you’re completely immersed in Maine’s natural coastal habitat. There’s the solitude brought on by the sun hitting the saltwater, the rock of (hopefully) gentle waves, and the distant bark of seals sunning themselves on the immersed ledges. Maine is known for just this type of coast, so don’t leave without getting out on the water.
Coos Canyon cliff jumping
Now that you’ve had time to explore some lesser-known adventures in the southern portion of the state, it’s time to head north. Make the 80-mile drive up to Byron — you’re going to Coos Canyon for some cliff jumping. The area was actually named after Lord Byron, the poet who once wrote, “I love not man the less but Nature more.” And when you get there, you’ll see what the man was talking about.
Coos Canyon is a 32-foot-high gorge on the Swift River that plunges into water reaching depths of 20+ feet. If you’re not much of a cliff jumper, try panning for gold in the shallows — they’ll give you a tutorial at the local gift shop. But if you are the daring type, head to the 20-foot ledge at Toby’s Beach. When you’re standing with your toes over the precipice, you can take a little zen from the sound of the nearby rushing waterfalls. Yeah, you might feel a little anxiety, some tingling nerves, but come on, it’s nothing a little cold water can’t cure. 3, 2, 1…
This is it, the last hurrah. Time to get a little higher. Tumbledown Mountain isn’t far from Byron — find it in Unincorporated Township 6, topping 3,000 feet and looking out onto Crater Lake. You’ve done a lot on this trip, so opt for the milder Brook Trail. It begins on an old logging road before taking you up a steep ascent to the summit — the whole route, round trip, is about 5 miles.
There’s a peace that you experience on top of a western Maine mountain that you can’t get anywhere else. This isn’t the coast — it’s not a top tourist destination — and you may very well be up there all by yourself.
And that’s the great thing about Maine. If you know where to go, you can really be alone. It’s not that difficult to get a 360-degree view of undeveloped nature — of lakes, streams, mountains, and nothing but eastern conifer forest enveloping it all — completely to yourself.