There’s a debate about where exactly the Downeast Region of Maine begins, but indisputably, everything east of Ellsworth in Maine’s Hancock and Washington County can be described as Downeast. Getting there from Portland is a long three to four-hour drive. Your reward is unspoiled natural beauty and locals ready to give you a big warm welcome!
Here are 12 must-see sites to get the most out of your trip:
1. Wild Blueberry Land: Part bakery, part gift shop, part museum, this Rte. 1 landmark in Columbia Falls, Maine is quite the roadside oddity. Stop in for homemade jams, pies, a picture in a wild blueberry throne and a game of mini-golf. For more information click here.
2. St. Croix Island International Historic Site: Also off Rte. 1 but farther north in Calais, Maine. This national park site commemorates the beginning of uninterrupted French settlement in North America. A walk along a trail tells the story of a 1604-05 expedition to the island and how Passamaquoddy tribe members helped some of the French survive through a brutal winter. Anyone with Acadian ancestry can trace their roots to this site. Click here to find out more.
3. Raye’s Mustard: Raye’s has been an Eastport, Maine institution for more than 100 years. The company’s historic mustard mill is the only one left of its kind in the world. What began in 1900 as a company producing condiments for Maine’s burgeoning sardine industry is now a gourmet mustard maker with 25 different gourmet twists on the original. Visit their mill for a 10:30 a.m. tour or their downtown storefront for mustard to take home. Find out more on their website.
4. Quoddy Bay Lobster: Down the street from Raye’s along Eastport’s waterfront, the operation Quoddy Bay Lobster is another family affair. Brent Griffin, the restaurant’s owner, catches all the lobster sold there himself, where it’s prepped all kinds of ways including in jumbo sized lobster rolls. It doesn’t get more Maine than eating a crustacean crowded sandwich with a Moxie and bag of chips as you look over Passamaquoddy Bay. Visit their site for more details.
5. Quoddy Head State Park: The easternmost point in the continental U.S., Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, Maine is the first place to see the sunrise for much of the year in the lower 48. The park’s highlight is a beautiful red and white candy cane striped lighthouse situated on a high cliff. The park also has hiking trails. Visitors can even climb the lighthouse’s tower on certain days. More info can be found on te park's site.
6. Helen’s Restaurant: A Machias, Maine institution, Helen’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is known Maine-wide for its pie. Some argue Helen’s has the best wild blueberry pie in the entire state. They also serve classic Maine entrees and innovative specials all prepared using fresh local ingredients. Click here for more info on visiting Helen's.
7. Sullivan Harbor Farm: An artisanal smokehouse in Hancock, Maine, Sullivan Harbor Farm offers visitors a glimpse in the art of smoking fish by hand. Visitors to the smokehouse’s storefront can look on through glass as employees prepare the smoked salmon in some delicious ways, including the Wicked Smokin’ Omegas, “double smoked and doused in real maple syrup.” Thinking about visiting? Click here.
8. Acadia Schoodic Area: This part of Acadia National Park in Winter Harbor, Maine is separate from the park’s main area on Mount Desert Island. You can see Mount Desert Island and Cadillac Mountain from Schoodic, which also offers many of the same sweeping ocean views, camping and hiking the more crowded part of Acadia does. For more info click here.
9. Downeast Sunrise Trail: If you like riding snowmobiles or ATVs, the Downeast Sunrise Trail offers 87 miles of uninterrupted, car-free trail to do those and other activities on. It runs from Ellsworth to Pembroke, Maine along an old disused rail bed through scenic woods and marshes. Details on visiting the trail can be found on its website.
10. Old Sow Whirlpool Tour with Downeast Charters: Captain Ralph Dennison takes visitors out on his sturdy craft, the Lorna Doone to see the Old Sow Whirlpool, one of the largest in the world. It forms twice a day in Passamaquoddy Bay between Eastport, Maine and Deer Island, New Brunswick. Before the tide forms, Captain Ralph gives a tour of sites off the coast of Lubec, Maine, Campbello Island, New Brunswick and Eastport, Maine. If you get lucky, you’ll spot lots of whales and eagles too! For more information on the tour click here.
11. Witnessing Sunrise and Sunset in Lubec, Maine: Lubec is known for being the first place to see the sun in the continental U.S. for a good part of the year. In addition to beautiful sunrises, head down to the town dock at sunset to see beautiful hues of pink and orange as the sun sets over Johnson Bay. Visit the Town of Lubec's site for more information on visiting.
12. Water Street Tavern: Lubec, Maine’s Water Street Tavern and Inn is at the center of downtown. Both the restaurant and rooms at the inn offer dramatic views of Lubec’s harbor, and the channel that runs past the tavern to the open ocean. You can see seals out the window while enjoying fresh scallops as part of the tavern’s signature Moqueca, a Brazilian seafood stew. More info can be found here.