US Route 1 winds 2,450 miles along the US East Coast through major cities like Miami, D.C., Boston, and New York City. But in the autumn, especially around early or mid-October, the stretch of highway along the coast of Maine is particularly striking when the landscape turns into a foliage sunset. While the drive itself will expose you to a myriad of colors, stopping and stepping out into this autumn scene will enrich your experience.
There is no “if” about visiting a lighthouse in Maine, so you might as well make it your first stop; a lighthouse set against a background of fiery-colored hills is a quintessential scene. About five miles east of US 1, right before Portland, Maine, lies Cape Elizabeth. You’ll have to veer off onto Highway 77, but it will be well worth your while to visit the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. First lit in 1791, the Portland Head Lighthouse still stands overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, offering a classic, postcard-worthy view.
Alternative Route 1
US 1 intersects and joins with several interstates as you travel up Maine. But sometimes the fast-moving freeway isn’t the best way to see the fall colors because they feel distant as you zoom by. So when you’re nearing the town of Scarborough, Maine, don’t be too quick to follow US 1 as it merges with I-295. Instead, stay to the right and cross the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge to end up on the alternative route of US1(also called Commercial Street). This section of highway lets you leisurely drive within a few meters of the coastline and leads you right through downtown Portland.
This city is one of those quaint New England towns that completes the picturesque autumn landscape. Portland dates back to the 1600s, when colonists first began to settle the continent. Its downtown district reflects the old cobblestone streets and crowded storefronts of the 1800s, when the city was Maine’s capital.
There are dozens of interesting sites to see in downtown Portland, but one you should seek out is the Fore Street restaurant that resides on its namesake street. The restaurant changes up the menu every day to accommodate the fresh foods they receive from local farmers all over Maine—quite the authentic Maine experience. When you’re ready to continue your trip, get back onto Alternative US 1 (Franklin Street) and once again join the main highway.
Many fall leaves are red, and so is the iconic cooked lobster of Maine. After you’ve made your way 45 miles north of Portland, you’ll need to be on the lookout for Red’s Eats. It’s one of the most talked-about roadside stops along Maine’s Highway 1 in the city of Wiscasset. The simple shack along the highway can’t be missed when you near Water Street, and this little food shop almost always has a line of people waiting to get their pound of lobster on a bun.
If it’s warm enough and you want to see the fall colors from a different angle, Maine has several locations to kayak along the coast. One such place is located 33 miles up Highway 1 from Wiscasset on the Rockland Waterfront. There, Breakwater Kayak is one of many companies that gives sea kayaking tours of Rockland Harbor. The vivid trees along the shoreline are breathtaking—and when you add the reflection of the water, you literally double the experience.
Camden Hills State Park
Seeing the wide expanse of fall colors across the landscape is awe-inspiring, but for a contrast, get up close and in the middle of the scenery. Camden State Park, 20 miles up the highway from Rockland, has more than 30 miles of hiking trails that weave in and out of trees and a rocky shoreline. Trails are mostly moderate in difficulty and are more about the view than the cardiovascular workout. So it’s a great stop on a road trip when you’re sick of sitting—or if you’ve just eaten a pound of lobster.
It’s about 76 miles north from Camden to Bar Harbor. But if you make it up that far, it is worth every mile, including the detour onto Highway 3. Bar Harbor is a dynamic city and harbor that offers so much that it might be best to just park the car and wander around to explore all there is to see. There are wildlife observations, boat tours, hiking trails, and shops. Like Portland, it’s all tucked between a rocky shoreline and sunset-colored hillsides.
Acadia National Park
Bumping up against Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park is east of US 1, just off of Highway 3. If you continue your detour off US 1, you can drive along the winding Acadia Park Loop Road or explore any of the 145 miles of hiking trails. If you have time to stay, there are also myriads of other things to do in the park: tide pools, beaches where crushed shells and driftwood mix in among the sand, and even boat rides to go see the puffins—a type of seabird that looks something like a penguin.
—Amy Vanden Brink