Social distancing may make family gatherings more challenging for a while, but fortunately, Maine has many wonderful outdoor destinations that allow people to stay six feet apart…together! Meet your adult kids and grandchildren for some hiking, swimming, exploration and fun this summer at any of these excellent fresh-air destinations.
Many people cannot even pronounce Piscataquis [pis-cat-a-kwis] County, to say nothing of knowing where it is or what the region has to offer. Yet, Piscataquis is home to Maine’s tallest mountain (Katahdin) and its largest lake (Moosehead). The county spans 3,960 square miles (about the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined), and is home to less than 17,000 people. With a populace of about four people per square mile, Piscataquis is also the least inhabited county in Maine. If peace and quiet and making memories with your loved ones in a natural setting appeal, Piscataquis is the place to see!
There are too many great places to list in one article, or visit during one trip, but here are a few of the don’t-miss-it highlights of the region:
Dover-Foxcroft is the Shiretown (county seat), featuring many historic buildings, including the four-story bank building that now houses Peace, Love & Waffles (both sweet and savory takeout menu items). Other downtown eateries offering takeout options include Pat’s Pizza, and out on North Street, the Nor’easter Restaurant.
The town has an extensive multi-use recreational trail system. Leave the vehicles at the YMCA on Park Street (where there’s also a playground and a kid’s fishing pond) and access the trail system by crossing the footbridge. A left turn allows a stroll on the section of trail crossing North Street, Summer Street and several smaller side streets, past a bog where many birds and the occasional deer can be spotted, up to the primitive campground behind the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds. Or turn right to stroll past another two bogs full of interesting flora and fauna, to come out in the mall area behind McDonald’s on West Main Street.
Situated on the Piscataquis River, the downtown of Maine’s only hyphenated town is scenic in its own right, but is also only a 10-minute drive out on North Street to a public beach on Sebec Lake and the Peaks-Kenny State Park.
Or head toward Guilford on Route 15 to discover the delicious farm-to-table dishes and baked goods available for takeout at Spruce Mill Farm, and the co-located Center Coffee’s curbside beverage service.
Between Dover-Foxcroft and Guilford is Lowe’s Covered Bridge. This historic structure was resurrected by locals after the bridge was swept away during the Flood of 1987. Trail access, a picnic area and interpretive signage make this a nice spot for motorists, snowmobilers and ATVers to stop and take a break. Or turn at the intersection of routes 15 and 23 to find parking for the Guilford Memorial River Walk. This former railroad bed is landscaped, has benches for those who want to stop and enjoy the scenery, and often provides some interesting wildlife watching, including American bald eagles, herons, kingfishers, whitetail deer, groundhogs, and other critters.
Continue along Route 15 through Guilford and Abbot (which both have very nice playgrounds and adjacent recreational facilities) to reach the town of Monson, which has recently been almost totally renovated via Libra Foundation funding. Monson sits on the shores of Lake Hebron, very close to the trailhead for the 100-Mile Wilderness stretch of the Appalachian Trail, and is well known for its strong artisan presence. Just before reaching the downtown, a left turn onto the Blanchard Road leads to the town beach, on the right. Or stop at the Lakeshore House downtown to see what’s on their takeout menu.
Follow wayfinding signage off Route 15 onto the Elliotsville Road to reach parking at the base of Borestone Mountain. About 1.5 miles up the trail is the Moore Nature Center. Hike another three miles to the East Peak for panoramic 360-degree views of Lake Onowa, Barren Mountain, Sebec Lake and more.
About 15 minutes further up Route 15 out of Monson is Greenville, another town featuring historic buildings, great takeout dining options, and lots to see along the shores of Moosehead Lake. At 40 miles long and 20 miles wide, Moosehead is said to be the largest lake within one state’s borders east of the Mississippi River! In downtown Greenville, docked next to the Moosehead Marine Museum, is the SS Katahdin, a 1914 steamship now outfitted with a diesel engine. Follow Route 15 toward Rockwood to view the 800-foot face of Mount Kineo jutting up over Moosehead Lake – and be sure to watch for a colorful winged moose to your right along the way!
Those wanting to explore the more eastern reaches of Piscataquis County will want to follow Route 16 out of Dover-Foxcroft toward Milo. Just after Pleasant River Lumber, on the right, is the Law Farm, a property of the Piscataquis County Soil & Water Conservation District. Open to the public, the farm features picnic tables, a children’s garden, a waterfront boardwalk, and hiking trails.
Milo, the “Three Rivers Community,” is situated along the Piscataquis, Pleasant and Sebec rivers and has a scenic downtown with a charming waterfront park. Elaine’s Bakery, famed statewide for its donuts and other pastries, is definitely worth a visit!
Or continue on up Route 11 to reach downtown Brownville. A left turn onto the Williamsburg Road leads to the PCSWCD Demonstration Forest, which features interpretive signage, hiking trails, a picnic pavilion, and a pit privy. Or turn right across the bridge in Brownville onto Church Street to reach a playground and the Pleasant River Walk, a nature trail following the Pleasant River for about three miles to Davis Field in Brownville Junction. This trail does require careful footing in places, so step carefully while enjoying the views and interpretive signage.
Continue on Route 11 north of Brownville Junction to reach the Katahdin Iron Works Road to the left. Katahdin Iron Works is a historic site featuring the remains of a blast furnace and charcoal kiln built in 1843. Continue down the KIW Road and pass through the North Main Woods, Inc. gate to reach some of the most scenic hiking in the state at Gulf Hagus.
This geographical gem is known as the “Grand Canyon of Maine” due to the four-mile-long gorge carved into steep slate walls. The West Branch Pleasant River flows through the gorge and through scenic falls, chutes and pools. Many visitors take an interest in The Hermitage, a stand of old-growth white pine listed as a national Landmark since 1968. Screw Auger Falls is a favorite stopping point for those who want a less strenuous hike. The Gulf Hagus Rim Trail is more difficult, slippery, and not for the young or inexperienced.
For more information about things to do and places to dine, contact the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce, 564-7533 or piscataquischamber.com; Destination Moosehead Lake, 695-2702 or destinatuionmooseheadlake.com; or the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce, 723-4443 or katahdinmaine.com.
I am not sure captions are really necessary, as the photos could just be scattered at appropriate locations throughout the text, but just in case: