Late September through early November is the perfect time to pile into the car, pick out some good tunes or podcasts to listen to, and hit the road to check out the most colorful display of the year in Maine: fall foliage.
Here are six routes you and your family and/or friends can enjoy from the comfort of your vehicle — alongside our suggestions for places to stop on the way for a bite, a beer (unless you’re the driver) or both.
Route 221 to Route 11 to Milo
The drive: Coming from Bangor, take a right off Route 15 (Broadway) onto Route 221, and follow it for several miles until it becomes Route 11. That takes you through the towns of Glenburn, Hudson and Bradford, before intersecting with Route 6 and depositing you in Milo. From there, you can continue on Route 11 again into Brownville and the more mountainous territory of the Katahdin region, should you wish.
The stop: The buzz is strong about the cool new Bissell Brothers taproom in Milo, the hometown of the eponymous brothers, which opened in July of this year. It’s the first brewery in Piscataquis County, and in just a few short months has already become a destination for beer lovers and casual fans alike. It’s open Fridays-Sundays, with food from Spruce Mill Kitchen on Friday and Saturdays, and from Scotty’s Beam Me Up BBQ on Sundays.
Route 9 to Route 193 to Milbridge
The drive: After zipping out Route 9 from Brewer — where you’ll enjoy views of secluded ponds and sleepy mountains — you’ll turn right in Beddington onto Route 193, which will take you on a quick jaunt through the heavily forested hamlet of Deblois, before spitting you out in Cherryfield. On your way back, take Route 182 from Cherryfield back to Route 1 in Hancock. Legend holds that the road — Black’s Woods Road — is haunted.
The stop: Just 2 miles from where Route 193 meets up with Route 1, in the town of Milbridge, is Vazquez Mexican Food, an anomaly in a Washington County food scene dominated by home cookin’ and seafood. Tortillas made fresh everyday, tacos al pastor, flan, empanadas, mole sauce and tamales are just some of the goodies regularly available here — it’s some of the best Mexican food in Maine. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays, through late October.
Route 15 to Route 176 to Brooksville
The drive: Take Route 15 all the way to Blue Hill, and from there follow Route 176 for its entirety — a winding route that take you through forests, past ponds and rivers, and into the stunning coastal landscape of South Brooksville and beyond. Just off Route 176 is magical, mystical Cape Rosier, home to Holbrook Island Sanctuary and the famed Good Life Center.
The stop: As was stated not too long ago in this very newspaper, the vibe at Strong Brewing Company in Sedgwick — just one town over the Brooksville — is very much “backyard party.” It’s a relaxed place to grab a tasty local brew and sit on a cozy, welcoming patio. The taproom opens at noon daily, and there are food trucks on the weekends through late October.
Route 179 to Route 200 to Hancock
The drive: Once again take Route 9 from Brewer, but this time, take a left onto Route 179 in Aurora, which you’ll follow for about 8 rolling miles until you reach Route 200 in the town of Waltham. Take a left, and follow 200 for 18 miles until you reach the town of Sullivan on Route 1. From there, it’s your call — drive around the Sorrento peninsula? Check out Hancock Point? The coast is your oyster.
The stop: Not far from where you turn onto Route 1 from 200, Ruth & Wimpy’s has for the past 30 seasons offered a combination of classic Maine fried seafood shack yummies, and down home cooking such as pasta dishes, burgers, and an array of pies and other desserts. Kid-friendly, senior-friendly, and there are often classic cars and rods hanging out in the parking lot. It’s open Mondays-Saturdays, through late October.
Route 2 to Route 157 to Millinocket
The drive: Route 2 from Bangor hugs the east bank of the Penobscot River, which is as pretty a drive as there is in the great state of Maine. Follow 2 all the way to Mattawamkeag, where you’ll take a left onto Route 157 — which will take you all the way to Millinocket, within sight of mighty Katahdin and the rest of the region. From there, you can circle back to Bangor via Route 11, or hop on I-95 if time is of the essence.
The stop: Who wouldn’t want to sit on a gorgeous patio, overlooking Millinocket Lake and Katahdin — ideally while sipping a Maine beer, and tucking into a tasty, locally sourced dinner? River Driver’s Restaurant in Millinocket has been offering just that for years now. It’s casual, but it’s gorgeous; kind of like the Katahdin region in a nutshell.
Route 202 to Route 139 in Winterport
The drive: Only have part of the day for a drive? Here’s a shorter one, that can be accomplished in under two hours. From Bangor, take Route 202 all the way out to Unity — a popular road, yes, but an awfully colorful one this time of year. In Unity, take a left onto Route 139, which you’ll follow through the hilly farm country of Thorndike, Knox, Brooks and Monroe before ending up back in Winterport.
The stop: A newcomer on the dining scene, Bantam Cafe opened in downtown Winterport in early 2018, serving up soups, sandwiches, breakfast delicacies and daily pastries, all dreamed up by owner-chef Wesley Osterhout. Open for breakfast and lunch, Thursdays through Mondays.
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Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Strong Brewing Co. closes in October. It is open year-round.