There’s no other state quite like Maine. Pristine wilderness, endless trails, and magical waterfalls fill the landscape of this sparsely populated state, meaning there’s no shortage of scenic drives to take advantage of several times during the year.
There’s a reason Maine is called Vacationland – each scenic drive takes you through quaint coastal towns, winding nature trails, and of course, opportunities to see moose and bald eagles in their natural habitats. And the best part? You can take in some of the prettiest places in Maine in just a few hours of driving.
The Best Scenic Drives in Maine
Whether you’re interested in scaling the majestic Mt. Katahdin, capturing photos of breathtaking fall foliage, or snagging one of those famous lobster rolls, Maine scenic drives should undoubtedly be top of your travel bucket list.
1. Scenic Drives in Maine: Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway (Route 201)
- Distance: 80 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours direct to 1 day
Wind your way through the mountains of western Maine along the Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway. This route is a Maine Scenic Byway, but it also holds the distinction of being a National Scenic Byway (and for good reason!). The drive follows an old Abenaki tribe trade route, hearkening back to when the lumber business reigned supreme.
The Old Canada Road is also a nature lover’s paradise, filled with opportunities to go off the beaten path to fish in the Kennebec River, raft down the swiftly flowing rivers of The Forks, boat on Wyman Lake, and take in gorgeous Maine scenery. After you’re done, grab a bite to eat and enjoy a cold beer at the Kennebec River Brewery.
When you’re ready to come in from the outdoors, take in dinner and a show at the Lakewood Theater in Madison, one of the U.S’s oldest operating summer music theaters. The Lakewood Inn and Restaurant offers some of the finest cuisines around that pair perfectly with the local talent. (Pro Tip: Call in advance to make a reservation!)
And, of course, who could forget the moose? This Maine scenic drive, which stretches from Solon to the Canadian border, has also been nicknamed “Moose Alley” because of the many opportunities to see moose feeding in the rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes that run parallel to the drive.
When to go: Each season offers different opportunities to enjoy the Old Canada National Scenic Byway route, from snowmobiling in the winter to whitewater rafting in late spring and summer. And, of course, who could forget the showstopping foliage in the fall?
2. Scenic Drives in Maine: Grafton Notch Byway (Route 26)
- Distance: 21 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours
This 21-mile stretch of Route 26 begins in Newry and travels along the Bear River to end at Grafton Notch State Park and Lake Umbagog. The rustic two-lane road transports drivers to a bygone era where crumbling farmhouses and stone walls dot the breathtaking landscape.
Stop to picnic in Spruce Meadow or hike the 42-mile Grafton Trail Loop, connecting travelers to the Appalachian Trail. Grafton Notch State Park also offers some of the best views in Maine, such as Screw Auger Falls, Mother Walker Falls, and multiple towering peaks.
You might want to stop at Sunday River Ski Resort on your way back to your hotel or cabin, which offers luxurious spa accommodations, ski lessons for the whole family, and even daycare services. If you have time, take a walk across the Sunday River covered bridge, also known as the Artist’s Bridge. This historic covered bridge holds the distinction of being the most photographed and painted bridge in Maine.
When to go: You will most enjoy this Maine scenic drive in late spring through the fall, although you have access to Sunday Ski Resort during the winter.
3. Scenic Drives in Maine: Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway (State Routes 17, 16, &4)
- Distance: 52 miles
- Time needed: 2.5 hours/1 days
No Maine road trip would be complete without a scenic drive around picturesque Rangely Lake and across the Appalachian Trail. Hike through Coos Canyon and take advantage of the many photo opportunities, like the Height of Land on Route 17 that overlooks Mooselookmeguntic Lake, Toothaker Island, and ruggedly beautiful mountains.
Regardless of the time of year, there’s always something to see and do on this scenic drive. You’re likely to spot a moose or two in the Maine scenery, and the foliage is spectacular during the fall season. Pack a swimsuit and head to Smalls Falls in the summer or Saddleback Mountain Ski Area in the winter.
(Pro Tip: Smalls Falls is a great area for children. Take advantage of the picnic area and walking trail to the falls)
Learn about the rich culture and history in Maine’s mountainous region by exploring Oquossoc village near Rangeley, Maine Forestry Museum, and the Wilhelm Reich Museum. Then, grab a bite to eat at the Portage Tap House in Oquossoc, and don’t forget to follow up with dessert at Pine Tree Frosty (open during the summer months).
When to go: There’s always something to see and do when you drive the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, from snowmobiling and skiing in the winter to hiking, fishing, ATV riding, and sightseeing in the warmer months.
- Distance: 60 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours/1 day
Named after the Sokokis Indian tribe that once populated the Saco River Valley, the Pequawket Trail Maine Scenic Byway is a gorgeous 60-mile drive that passes through working farms, historic villages, and iconic Maine wildlife in abundance. The Saco River and Mountain Division Trail run parallel to the byway, which begins in Standish and ends around Gilead.
Stop along the Saco River for canoeing, swimming, and fishing during the warm summer months (Pro Tip: The most popular stretch of the Saco River is the 19-mile stretch between Fryeburg and Hiram).
Steep Falls is a popular swimming hole on Route 11, just past its intersection with Route 113. Travel a bit further and you’ll reach Hiram Falls, a stunning view with a beautiful sandy beach.
Pause in Fryeburg for some delicious ribs and pulled pork at 302 West Smokehouse and Tavern, and then head over to the Hemlock Covered Bridge off Route 302. The bridge is a historical landmark in and of itself, having been built in 1867. The end of your scenic drive takes you through White Mountain National Forest, a caribou-speckled wilderness perfect for hiking and climbing.
When to go: You can travel this scenic route during all four seasons, although the stretch of road from North Chatham to Gilead is not plowed during winter.
- Distance: 40 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours, 1-2 days
An outdoor lover’s paradise, The Acadia Byway has it all. From crystalline lakes trimmed with fir trees to craggy mountain peaks to historic towns like Bar Harbor, there’s no shortage of trails to explore and pictures to take. Begin this coastal Maine road trip by starting on Route 3 and then crossing onto Mount Desert Island via the carriage roads through Acadia National Park.
Drive the park’s Loop Road to take advantage of some of the prettiest places in Maine. Breathe in the refreshing sea air at Frenchman’s Bay before reaching Bar Harbor, a historic seaside village and popular tourist destination.
(Pro Tip: Take advantage of the FREE Island Explorer bus network that connects you to the island’s inns, restaurants, and other popular areas).
Search for seashells on Sand Beach, experience the crashing waves of Thunder Hole, and take in the breathtaking sights of Otter Cliff.
The interconnected carriage roads throughout Acadia National Park are perfect for hiking and bike riding, which is why it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Maine. Take in the sights of Jordan Pond from a seat at the famous Jordan Pond House restaurant, where it’s a summer tradition to enjoy afternoon tea and popovers.
When to go: We recommend making this Maine coastal drive from late spring to early fall, given that many restaurants and shops are seasonal.
See why we think Acadia is one of the most beautiful national parks on the East Coast!
- Distance: 29 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours/1 day
No coastal Maine road trip would be complete without driving the Schoodic National Scenic Byway along the eastern seaboard. If you want to enjoy the best scenery that Maine has to offer without the crowds, the Schoodic Scenic Byway is what many have called “an unspoiled, uncrowded coastal Maine jewel.” The route begins at Hancock, travels along the Schoodic Peninsula, and ends at Prospect Harbor.
Start off by experiencing the reversing falls of Tidal Falls Preserve, where you are likely to see eagles, seals, otters, and other marine wildlife. Then, stop in Winter Harbor, where you can see lobster fishing firsthand, before heading to Schoodic Point. There, you can stand on the granite ledges and look out over the water to try and spot a seal or two
(Pro Tip: Look for “Kids Quest” sites along the Schoodic National Scenic Byway, where children can learn about the region’s history and culture!).
Snap a pic of the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse before you begin your drive and visit Corea. In this remote fishing town, lobster boats float in the working harbor, and you can take in the classic coastal Maine architecture. This scenic drive also passes through the only mainland point of Acadia National Park, where you can see Mount Desert Island and Cadillac Mountain while avoiding the tourist traffic.
When to go: You’ll want to make this Maine coastal drive from late spring to early fall.
- Distance: 89 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours/1 day
This relatively new Maine scenic byway begins at the southern entrance of Baxter State Park, winds its way around the Penobscot River, and ends at Grand Lake Matagamon, Baxter’s northern entrance. This stretch of Maine’s interior is a must-see, with several unforgettable stops along the way.
Start your journey off with a guided moose-watching tour, whitewater rafting, and world-class fishing between Ambejejus and Millinocket lakes. The nearby Katahdin Area trails also offers miles of trails for snowshoeing, hiking, nordic skiing, and mountain biking. You can also see several breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.
Just beyond Medway, the byway’s gateway town, you can experience the beauty of Grand, Stair, and Grindstone Falls. As you travel towards Sherman and Patten, stop at the Ash Hill Scenic Turnout, which offers breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin, especially when surrounded by vivid fall foliage. The Patten Lumberman’s Museum is also an interesting stop on the north end of the drive.
When to go: You can enjoy this scenic drive year-round, although it may be harder to travel between January and March.
Top Tips for a Maine Road Trip
- It’s always wise to check driving conditions in Maine before you travel for potential road closures and accidents.
- The best time to visit Maine for optimal fall foliage views is from late September to mid-October. However, the further north you go, you could see foliage peaking by mid-September.
- During fall weekends especially, roads will be at their busiest (peaking on Columbus weekend) – book any accommodation well in advance if planning a New England fall road trip.
- Maine state parks have entry fees, including day use, or you can purchase an Annual Pass if you’ll be making multiple trips.
- Never forget an important road trip item again! Visit our essential family road trip page where you can download your own family road trip checklist to personalize for your next trip.
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