The Pine Tree State is known and loved for its deep forests, rolling mountains, and fierce ocean coast. There’s a lot to do here- from backpacking in the northern woods to sampling tapas in the foodie city of Portland. If you’re doing it all, you’ve got a lot of drive time ahead of you.
Interstate 95 spans Maine south to north from the New Hampshire border near the coast all the way up to the border of New Brunswick. It takes you past coastal towns, state parks, shopping outlets, and some of the best darn lobster rolls in the country. The stretch is 305 miles, about a six-hour trip. If you’re headed north, you might need to stop for some amusement/leg stretching along the way.
Freeport, Maine is host to a huge variety of outlet shopping. LL Bean, Horny Toad, and J. Crew are some of the staples, but there are dozens of options- from home wares to chocolatiers. You could spend days trying on chinos and admiring linens, but that’s an entire vacation itself. Shopping can be quite the adventure- but how about something a little more… shall we say, weird?
Exit 20, the same you would take to bop around in LL Bean, drops you off at Desert Road. Sounds strange, because you probably didn’t guess Maine hosted a desert. You guessed wrong. Desert of Maine is a 40-acre span of sweeping dunes, curiously bordered by pine trees. And it’s natural- kind of. A farm used to sit on the property. Similar to Oklahoma’s dust, the sand was revealed after years of land-clearing, poor crop rotation, and excessive grazing. Geologists believe the sand was left behind by glaciers, and revealed when the soil was eroded through poor land management. Today you can take tours, collect sand, and take pictures with a fiberglass camel. Visitors rates are 10.50 per adult, 7.75 per teen (ages 13-16), and 6.75 per child (ages 4-12).
Also in Freeport, just one exit South, is the Big Indian- known locally as the BFI, where the F officially stands for Freeport, and unofficially for something else. This fella’ is about 50 feet tall, and makes for pretty cool photos. This guy has stood guard over gift shops, auto-repair garages, the famous Levinsky’s clothing store, and now the Conundrum Wine Bistro.
The BFI is not the only giant and rather silly statue in Maine. Bangor hosts a fiberglass likeness of Paul Bunyan, the American Folklore lumberjack. Bangor is reportedly Bunyan’s birthplace. He stands in a park on Maine Street, and you can see him from the highway. This big guy is 31-feet tall and was erected in 1959 in honor of Bangor’s 125th anniversary. He stands on a stone base, which holds a mysterious time capsule- to be opened on the city’s 250th anniversary.
If you take Route 1/3 off of 95 through Belfast, another unusual experience awaits. Perry’s Nut House is a well-known tourist trap, offering home-made fudge, fresh nuts, and souvenirs. The front yard is adorned with bizarre woodcarvings, sculptures, and even a tiny carousel. Perry’s used to house a collection of exotic taxidermied animals, which was sold off after a previous owner vacated. Some of the critters are coming back, including Ape-raham, the gorilla.