Maine’s rugged Atlantic coast, experienced on a bicycle, is a sensory joy like no other. During our July weeklong cycling journey last summer, we breathed in the fragrances of wild roses, ripe berries, salt air and freshly cut hay.
Bike Touring in Maine
On our bike tour in Maine, we heard the cawing of seagulls, waves crashing, melodious songbirds, and breezes rustling the leafy trees and tall grasses.
We saw maritime landscapes calling Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors to mind, endless stands of tiger lilies, wild blueberry bushes, twinkling fireflies in grassy pastures, friendly alpacas and heirloom cattle.
The tasty seafood was so fresh and succulent it was almost a shame to wash them it down with the superb craft beers we sampled everywhere.
This state has been honored as the second most Bike-Friendly by the League of American Bicyclists.
The state website gives plenty of free information and maps on how to navigate and plan. Bike touring in Maine is a fantastic way to see coastal Maine.
Starting Our Bike Tour in Portland
Starting our adventure in Portland, we were traveling with Beer and Bike Tours, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based tour operator. The director and owner, Bob Williams, escorted us and planned our itinerary.
He likes to say, “Beer and bikes are two of the greatest things mankind has ever invented.” His itineraries reflect that passion for good beer.
Designed for like-minded enthusiasts, his tours include craft brewery stops along the way, and each day’s cycling ends with a celebratory beer.
After checking in at the B&B, we cycled off to taste some craft beers at Rising Tide Brewery downtown, where we were charmed by a friendly Australian Shepherd sidling up to the bar next to his owner.
Sniffing the refreshing salt air drifting in from the harbor, we biked a few blocks away for the full tour at Shipyard Brewing Company, founded in 1994.
Here we first heard the New England accent we’d come to regard fondly along the journey. “Come along in heah, deah,” the tour guide beckoned.
The Morrill Mansion is well-situated near Portland’s downtown section, walking distance from Congress Street. This B&B features sophisticated interiors, blissfully free of the fussy doilies and cutesy touches that plague so many others.
The varied and delicious breakfast buffet is a blessing to cyclists and others who crave a full, hearty meal.
8-Day Biking Tour in Maine
The Maine 8-day, 200 or so mile tour ended in Bar Harbor, with evenings spent in cozy B&Bs and small inns. Beer and Bike Tours provides directions, information on local brewpubs, arranges nightly accommodations and transports guests to and from airports.
Williams marked turns on the route, writing “BEER” and arrows in white chalk on the road (probably prompting some to look for non-existent parties!)
“We don’t like to plan too much on our tours,” says Williams. “We like to let things evolve, so our tours are not totally structured, more freeform. The base tour is the idea, but they all become semi-custom.”
About Our Small-Group Bike Tour
Williams accompanied our small group, transporting our luggage each morning to the next accommodation, meeting up with us later at a brewpub, ice creamery, or just for a portion of the ride.
On our first full day, we left Portland on the Back Cove Trail, a beautiful loop around Portland‘s Back Cove with great views of the Portland skyline, and rode about 29 miles to the small city of Brunswick.
This is the home to Bowdoin College and considered the “gateway” to Maine’s mid coastal region, which was settled in the mid-1600s and 1700s.
We continued on to country roads lined with wild pink roses, Queen’s Anne Lace, tiger lilies, raspberry and blueberry bushes, with lush meadows and green hills beyond.
The beautifully kept 100 to 300-year-old New England homes we passed in the villages had me fantasizing of owning them – each one more than the last.
I saw mostly white Cape Cods, Victorians and Colonials, many were adorned with festive bunting and American flags from last week’s Fourth of July. I’m not much of a flag waver, but on these homes, they looked just right.
We continued biking through the upscale village of Falmouth, Yarmouth (famous for its three-day July Clam Festival,) and Freeport (home to the mega-outdoor outfitter, L.L. Bean’s Flagship store – open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day).
We also visited the quaint village of Bath, with its wealth of gorgeous historic homes and a magnificent city hall in its downtown.
Bath’s Saturday farmers’ market gave us a pleasant break from biking – and we enjoyed the live bluegrass music and many tidbits to eat from the various booths set in the waterfront park.
In Yarmouth, we couldn’t resist a stop at too-cute red and white Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster, which claims to have the “best” lobster rolls, but frankly, so does every other seafood shack.
These roadside seafood eateries also offer various forms of clams, shrimp, haddock, crab and non-seafood items as well. They’re informal, messy, fun and delicious.
Arriving hungry and salivating, we spent a few peaceful moments gazing at the water view from Day’s beautiful back patio.
Lobster in Maine
Day’s is one of the countless lobster pounds across Maine, where customers buy live lobsters by weight or order them cooked.
Lobster rolls, sold just about everywhere (even McDonalds in Maine carried them a few years ago,) typically consist of six-inch hot dog buns, split open and heaped with 3 or 4 ounces of lobster meat, served with melted butter or mayonnaise.
Prices fluctuate on lobster and clams daily, but we saw rolls ranging from $7.99 to $25.00.
Bicycle Friendly Brunswick, Maine
Brunswick, incorporated in 1739, calls itself a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” and indeed, its bike paths were well-marked.
We arrived early enough to have lunch at Wild Oats Bakery & Café, one of our dining highlights during the week, with an outstanding prepared salad bar and fair trade coffees.
Wild Oats is a locally-owned, from-scratch bakery, deli and cafe in the heart of the shop-lined college town atmosphere. I’m still savoring the superb chicken salad sandwich I had.
Sea Dog Brewery
After strolling around, we visited Sea Dog Brewery, nicely set right on the water. With a typical lively brewpub atmosphere, we celebrated our first day’s cycling with a Sea Dog beer and fish and chips, followed by a stroll back to our inn in the moonlight.
The next day was our most difficult day, so we set out early. We had 40 miles of hills, with a large part of the day spent on U.S. Route 1 (12 miles at one point,) a busy road with some very narrow shoulders and cars and trucks whizzing by at 60 miles an hour.
At one point, feeling a bit lost, without cell phone coverage and dense forests on both sides, we finally saw a strawberry farm stand on the other side of the highway.
With trepidation, one of our group dashed across the highway and asked the kindly, toothless old codger manning the stand if we were anywhere near our lunch destination, Wiscasset. “’Bout eight miles up,” he mumbled. “You be careful now!”
Red’s Eats in Wiscasset
Out of all the multitude of lobster shacks, Red’s Eats in Wiscasset is, for some reason, the most famous. Its lines and prices attest to its renown, with glowing reviews in publications worldwide.
After watching auto traffic building for some time, (we were passing cars, and a motorcyclist joked to us that it wasn’t fair that we passed him,) we saw that there was no accident, nor train – we were just approaching Red’s Eats.
We waited over an hour to buy our rolls (these were over $20 each – yes, very delicious and stuffed with lobster, but you can judge for yourself whether it’s worth the wait and price.
After all, fresh sweet Maine lobster all comes from the same place, and hot dog buns are hot dog buns! Don’t hate me, Red’s Eats fans!)
Crossing the bridge, we cycled on through Biscay and spent a while tossing tennis balls to a black lab named Remy into the surprisingly warm water of Biscay Pond, where many people were lazily playing and floating.
On to the town of Damariscotta, home of the sublime, legendary Round Top Ice Cream Stand, situated next to the dairy on Main Street.
We LOVED this very unpretentious, old timey place – dishing up, in my memory, the best, creamiest, richest, most flavorful ice cream I’ve ever had, and what could top that after a bike ride on a hot day?
Enormous portions made it even better – just over $2 for two scoops of blueberry and vanilla custard on a sugar cone, dripping delectably down my sweaty cheeks. This is a must-visit!
One of the highlights of the week was spent that evening in a special B&B – SpinnAcres, which doubles as an alpaca farm retreat, in Waldoboro.
This exceedingly well-kept and furnished waterfront inn, owned by a very outgoing husband and wife, offers four rooms, all with beautiful views of the ocean inlet and the meadows in front of it.
Our evening was enhanced by a glorious “supermoon,” as well as by infinite numbers of fireflies flickering in the long grasses outside our room.
In the late afternoon, we walked down the path to the waterfront and heard a strange sound, then observed an older man singing to himself as he dug for clams.
Clam Digging in Maine
“Hullo theah,” he called to us. He was Ernest, an 82-year-old local clam digger who has been doing this work for “oh, ‘bout sixty yeahs now.” Ernest told us how his work is hard, and that he digs daily and sells his clams in the area.
Later, we went to visit SpinnAcres’ alpacas, one of the highlights of the trip. Wyatt, a black and white handsome young lad, considered the “alpha” of the seven alpacas, seemed to take a liking to me and let me hug him and stroke his neck – much to my delight.
Historic Cemeteries in Maine
This area of Maine is dotted with many old, historic cemeteries, attesting to its many years of inhabitation.
I found them fascinating and somehow restful to explore, with many old plaques and U.S. flags marking Civil War veterans, dozens of graves of sea captains (one saying the man died in Bermuda,) ancient tombstones, neglected for countless years, and an appalling amount of graves of babies and young mothers.
There were names that one never sees anymore, such as Jerusha, Enoch and Silais. Some tombstones were illegible; they were so covered in lichen.
I was gaping in wonder at the New England magazine-quality homes in the beautiful town of Thomaston when I noticed a sign for the Maine State Prison Showroom.
Intrigued, we turned back and visited the incredible woodworking showroom of the Maine State Prison system.
This is a fantastic, feel-good shop – well worth a long break, with exquisite artisan wooden furniture, bowls, toys, utensils, lamps and more made by prison inmates who have learned their skills while incarcerated.
Prices are VERY reasonable – the only problem is how to carry purchases home, since they cannot ship across state lines.
They do recommend a shipping store in town that can package and send items to other states.
While I chatted with a prison warden who was manning the cash register, asking him a battery of questions, he nodded almost imperceptibly across to where some men were sitting on wooden rocking chairs.
“Some of our minimum-security inmates work here in the store as well,” he said quietly, with a hint of a smile.
While you are deciding on purchases, take in a meal at the Highlander Coffee Shop – yummy high-quality sandwiches, baked goods and artisanal coffees.
Rockland and Rockport
Later that day, we explored the history-filled towns of Rockland and Rockport, cycling past heritage Belted Galloway cows in the meadow, along the fern and flower-lined hilly country roads.
The Rockland Brewery gave us a good break, with a cold Seadog beer, and a couple of hours later, we reached Camden, and our new B&B, the Victorian mansion of Hawthorn House.
The setting couldn’t be better. Set high up above Camden’s charming downtown area with its scenic harbor, the ten-room Hawthorn House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the High Street Historic District, bedecked by flowers in its large garden.
Waking up to Blueberry Lemon French Toast and a kiwi-strawberry fruit plate with lime cream gave me the motivation to get back “in the saddle” once more.
After a lovely ride around the lovingly maintained older homes of Camden, we biked on to Lincolnville, where we partook of a cup of chowder and a heaping ice cream cone at Mclaughlin’s Lobster Shack, right on Route 1 at Lincolnville Beach.
We dipped our feet into the chilly water and watched families relaxing on the sand. From there, we opted to change our route so that we could visit Cellardoor Winery, about a 45-minute bike ride from the beach (as well as to avoid more travel on busy Route 1.)
On the winding country road we cycled on, we spotted two wild turkeys and two raccoons scooting off in front of us. Cellardoor is set in an exquisite location – reminiscent of the green hills of Tuscany.
Visitors are offered four samples of a wide range of excellent varietals at no charge, as well as vineyard and winery tours.
On to Belfast, Maine
We spent that night in Belfast, on the shore of Penobscot Bay, with many windjammer cruises, ferryboat rides to islands, a maritime museum, and four state parks nearby.
Settled in 1770, Belfast has some unique shops and galleries worth visiting, beautiful historic churches and homes and two lively brewpubs – Three Tides and Marshall Wharf, as well as many other eateries.
We especially enjoyed a shop called, “Yo Mamma’s Home” on Main Street, full of an exceptional array of quirky, fun, don’t-need- but-must-have items.
Bar Harbor, Maine
The grand finale of our adventure, 55 miles from Belfast, was said to be Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park – and we weren’t disappointed.
Bar Harbor is the largest town on the oddly shaped (something like a lobster claw) island of Mount Desert.
With a past including lots of old money (think Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, etc., some of whom still vacation here,) Bar Harbor is gorgeous, quaint, charming – all of those superlatives fit.
We were happy to spend two nights here, and even chose to spend a third on our own.
Bar Harbor Motel
The Bar Harbor Motel, while not right in town, is on the extensive free bus shuttle route (bicycles can load) and just 10 minutes from the Village Green in the center of everything, including the transfer bus into the magnificent Acadia National Park.
Best of all, the motel has a little 30-minute walk (and/or bike) trail which leads into the park.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is on the rocky island of Mount Desert, full of soaring red granite cliffs, spectacular sandy and cobblestone beaches, glacier-carved mountains, deep lakes in valleys, incredibly lush meadowlands, marshes and dense woods.
It is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the U.S. National Parks. With over 49,000 acres, Acadia opened in 1916, as the first eastern national park and the first with land donated entirely by private citizens (the afore-mentioned magnates.)
Acadia holds special joy for bicyclists – its beloved 45 miles of carriage roads were commissioned by John D. Rockefeller, who loathed the idea of automobiles on his lands.
Today, the once-private carriage roads are open all, and bikers and pedestrians alike delight in the wide roads that wind throughout the park, as well as in the 17 beautifully built stone bridges that traverse waterways along the way.
We spent two days cycling through Acadia, visiting such renowned spots as Thunder Hole, Sandy Beach (absolutely one of the prettiest natural sights I’ve ever seen,) Cadillac Mountain.
(NOTE: large throngs make the trip to the top each sunrise to see the sun’s first light on the east coast,) Jordan Pond, Otter Cliffs, and The Beehive, a 520-foot mountain with a honeycombed face carved by glaciers.
Bass Harbor Head Light
Acadia also boasts Bass Harbor Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the East Coast.
Our first day in Acadia was very foggy and cool, and while we were disappointed with that, we soon realized that the views were stunning – peaks and cliffs rising from the mist, everything dappled with dew, and far less human beings to contend with.
Instead of several hundred folks at the top of Cadillac Mountain, we only saw about 15.
Bar Harbor itself is well worth the time to stroll around. It’s a friendly, pretty village, very popular with tourists but not overrun with them.
We spent our last night enjoying a free classical music concert in Village Green Park, licking our big, exotically-flavored ice creams from the extraordinary Mount Desert ice creamery (Mainers seem to serve VERY large ice cream cones everywhere.)
Children ran in circles around the gazebo, dogs lay down by their owners, and it felt like a scene from an old movie – like maybe Bedford Falls?
It was time to return the bicycles, and to head home. Yet, I had a hankering for something – another lobster roll, but I feared there was no time.
Just before the flight, I spied a Shipyard Brewing outlet in the Portland Jetway – and a sign for lobster rolls. “Just” $18, but here, that included a side dish.
I couldn’t resist, and ordered one with coleslaw on the side, and a cold brew. It was sublime, I must say. What a perfect way to end a trip to Maine.
If You Travel to Maine:
Beers and Bike Tours: www.beerandbiketours.com, 970-201-1085.
Bicycle Coalition of Maine: https://www.bikemaine.org/, https://www.bikemaine.org/biking-resources/where-to-ride (provides a wealth of information and free bicycle maps throughout Maine)
Maine has been ranked as high as number two in the nation for bike friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists.