Splashed with waterways, speckled with fir-trimmed islands, scented with brine and pine, and edged with granite, Maine’s Blue Hill Peninsula and bridge-tethered Deer Isle dangle into the Atlantic Ocean east of Camden and west of Mount Desert Island. Spend four days meandering through this eye-candy region via two-lane roads that ebb and flow with the coastline, passing lakes and ponds, weaving through woodlands, and crossing bridges and causeways. Along the way, soak in the abundance of natural beauty, dreamy seascapes, rich history, trail-laced preserves and abundant galleries, and perhaps visit a remote section of Acadia National Park. Don’t worry about crowds; despite all the natural attractions, the region remains largely off the beaten tourist path.
It’s best to make the drive between Memorial Day and mid-October, though some businesses close before autumn’s color show begins in late September. Know that lodging isn’t all that budget-friendly on the Maine coast. Expect to pay more than $100 a night at few-frills motels and more than $200 at cozy country inns.
Accessibility: The terrain (including sidewalks) is often uneven. Many of the country inns, restaurants and buildings with shops predate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law guaranteeing that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. So no accommodations offer full ADA compliance, and entry to most buildings requires at least a few steps. The closest mobility-accessible accommodation is the Comfort Inn Ellsworth-Bar Harbor, 21 miles east of Prospect. With minor modifications to the itinerary, you can use it as a base for day trips.
Day 1: Boston to Castine (230 miles)
From Boston, head to Prospect via Interstate 95, the Maine Turnpike, Maine Route 3 and U.S. Route 1. If the weather’s clear, visit the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory at the Fort Knox Historic Site. A glass-walled observatory caps the bridge and delivers spectacular gull’s-eye coastal views (especially in autumn).
Continue 3 miles north on Route 1, then take State Route 166 into Castine, which juts into Penobscot Bay. This charming town delights history and architecture buffs with its Maine Maritime Academy, handful of shops and galleries, two small but excellent museums, a lighthouse and historic sites. All are within strolling distance of one another.
Dining harborside on the deck at Dennett’s Wharf, enjoy a seaside symphony of waves lapping, seabirds crying and sailboat masts pinging while you sip a Maine craft beer and slurp briny local oysters. You’ll likely save a few bucks; seafood along the Maine coast typically costs less, though prices fluctuate with market conditions.
Where to stay: Nestled on a bluff in Castine, the Pentagöet Inn & Wine Bar has 17 rooms split between an 1894 Queen Anne Victorian-style main inn and the adjacent Perkins House, a 1791 Federal-style home. Book early if you’re mobility impaired; there are no elevators and only two rooms are on the ground floor (in Perkins, with seven steps leading into the building).
Day 2: Castine to Blue Hill (51 miles)
From Castine, the route shadows the Bagaduce River and wraps around tidal Northern Bay. Keep right where the highways intersect, following Route 166 to 166A to State Routes 199 and 175, and turning right following signs for Holbrook Island Sanctuary and State Route 176.
Continue on 176, passing a barn bakery that turns out breads and pastries, blueberry barrens that become scarlet in autumn, and don’t-blink villages. After about 7 miles, at the Cape Rosier sign, turn right for a scenic, counterclockwise 14-mile loop (with two gravel sections passable by cars). On the loop, self-tour Four Seasons Farm, owned by organic guru Eliot Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, of PBS’ Victory Garden. Here you can buy fresh veggies and produce on Saturdays. Beyond that is the Good Life Center, established by simple-living advocates Scott and Helen Nearing. Their book Living the Good Life influenced a generation of back-to-the-landers. You can visit the Nearings’ home and gardens and walk the trails from mid-June to Labor Day, and then weekends through early October.
Back on Route 176, you will soon come upon Buck’s Harbor, the village made famous by the beloved children’s book One Morning in Maine, by Robert McCloskey. The book’s Condon’s Garage still exists, and there’s a gently updated general store, Buck’s Harbor Market, with prepared foods and picnic fixings. About 3 miles down the road, turn left on Route 175 and look for Makers’ Market Shop and Studio, which sells locally crafted textiles, art glass, pottery, jewelry and other irresistible works at mostly affordable prices. Continue for about 4 miles, turning right onto 176 and right again in a mile at the T intersection. In about 2 miles, turn left on State Route 15 and continue for about 4 1/2 miles to Blue Hill, your base for two nights.
For dinner, dine on seared Blue Hill Bay sea scallops and Gulf shrimp or crispy roasted duckling at Arborvine.
Where to stay: The Blue Hill Inn has 11 antiques-filled rooms (including three on the first floor) in the main inn and two contemporary ground-floor suites in the adjacent Cape House. Portable grab bars and shower seats are available, and the innkeepers will assist guests up the four steps into the inn and with luggage.
Day 3: Blue Hill round-trip (34 miles)
Blue Hill takes its name from the small, trail-laced mountain rising over the town. Spend the morning poking around this artsy haven, wandering through impressive galleries such as the Cynthia Winings Gallery, the Handworks Gallery and the Jud Hartmann Gallery. Just west of downtown on Route 15, Mark Bell Pottery crafts richly glazed porcelain works. Yes, prices at these galleries range from splurge-worthy to gasp-inducing, but there’s no charge for looking — and the looking is that good. About a mile away, at the 1814 Jonathan Fisher House museum, guides delight in sharing stories of the talented parson-painter-inventor who built this antiques-filled home.
Head south on Route 175 for 11 miles to Harriman Point in Brooklin. The easy 2 2/3-mile trail around the point delivers serene views, wonderful beachcombing at low tide and excellent birding, especially during spring and fall migration.
Brooklin’s most famous resident is E.B. White, who penned childhood treasures, including Charlotte’s Web. Pop into the Friend Memorial Public Library (opposite the general store) to view two original illustrations from his book Stuart Little. And just a mile down Naskeag Point Road from the library, visit the WoodenBoat School (Brooklin is the self-proclaimed “Boat Building Capital of the World”). Roam its handsome waterfront campus, where you’ll perhaps see students working magic with wood, and browse its store for nautical-related goods.
Return to 175 and continue westward 5 miles to Sedgwick. Go straight for 1 1/2 miles on Christy Hill Road and turn right, climbing a hill. On clear days, the views over the blueberry barren extend to Deer Isle, tomorrow’s destination. Just ahead, stop at the Pushcart Bookstore, the “World’s Smallest Bookstore,” a self-service, 9-foot-by-12-foot one-room shop filled with new and used books. Pick up a good read or two, then head back to Blue Hill via Old County Road and State Route 172.
Day 4: Blue Hill to Stonington (30 miles)
Drive south on Route 15 for 9 miles to Caterpillar Hill for westward views over blueberry barrens, Walker Pond and Penobscot Bay to the Camden Hills. After crossing the suspension bridge spanning Eggemoggin Reach, follow the sinewy causeway to Deer Isle, where you’ll find numerous artists’ studios and galleries.
Follow signs to the Greene Ziner Gallery, where Melissa Greene creates museum-quality painted and incised pottery and Eric Ziner crafts metal sculpture and furniture. Fine Art & Forge showcases the work of master brush painter Frederica Marshall and metal pieces by Herman Kidder. And don’t miss the Devta Doolan Studio for fine gold jewelry. Enjoy the browsing, even if you can’t afford buying.
Mosey out Sunshine Road for 3 miles to Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies and Nellieville, a whimsical outdoor world using “good stuff from the dump” created by artist Peter Beerits. At this interactive fantasy, you can see a western town, a southern juke joint, a vintage New England general store, and woodlands populated by King Arthur’s knights.
Return to 15 and continue south 5 miles to Stonington, at the island’s tip. Maine’s top lobster port embraces its working waterfront vibe. So do artists. Displays and virtual reality experiences at Discovery Wharf bring fisheries and the Gulf of Maine ecosystem to life. And the Deer Isle Granite Museum shares the region’s quarrying heritage. Take a scenic cruise with Isle au Haut Boat Services for a closer look at the spruce-fringed islands protecting Stonington’s harbor. Breathe the sea-scented air, feel the salt spray in your face, and perhaps hear bell buoys clang or a distant foghorn moan. The highest isle, Isle au Haut, is home to Acadia National Park’s most remote and rugged section.
Tonight splurge at Aragosta at Goose Cove, where James Beard Best Chef Northeast semifinalist Devin Finigan crafts a tasting menu from whatever is fresh and locally available. For something far less pricey, dine at Fin & Fern on fresh pastas, seafood and wood-fired pizzas.
Where to stay: Nine of the 11 units at the budget-friendly Boyce’s Motel — a few-frills property — are on the ground floor, and some have walk-in showers and grab bars.