Exploring Bangor, Orono, and Old Town
In its heyday as a lumber port, Bangor (pictured above) shipped millions of board feet cut from the woods to the north and floated down the Penobscot River. While much of the town burned in 1911 and has since suffered from ill-considered urban-renewal schemes, visitors can still discern a robust history just below the surface.
While this is a major transportation hub, and the commercial center for much of eastern and northern Maine, Bangor isn’t much of a tourist destination, nor is it as cosmopolitan as Portland. The downtown has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, however, and now hosts things like a juice bar, a hip beer bar, a mess of new restaurants, some new condos, decent shopping, a great wine shop, and more. A huge waterfront concert venue brings national touring acts all summer long, which has given Bangor tourism s shot in the arm.
Despite the city’s rich history and the distinguished architecture of the commercial district, Bangor is probably best known as home to horror novelist and one-man Maine industry Stephen King. King’s sprawling Victorian home seems a fitting place for the Maine native author; it’s got an Addams Family–like creepiness, which is only enhanced by the wrought-iron fence with bats on it. His home isn’t open to the public, but it’s worth a drive by (you’re not a nuisance—King spends little time there these days, and the property is slowly being turned into a writing retreat and archive). To find the house, take the Union Street exit off I-95, head toward town for 6 blocks, then turn right on West Broadway. You’ll quickly figure out which one it is, trust me.
Exploring Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and Environs
Most hikers coming to Baxter State Park are intent on ascending Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak. An ascent up this rugged, glacially scoured mountain is a trip you’ll not soon forget. The raw drama and grandeur of the rocky, windswept summit is equal to anything you’ll find in the White Mountains. Dozens of other peaks are well worth scaling as well, and simply walking through the deep woods here is a sublime experience in stretches; you will hear no chainsaws.
Baxter State Park lies 85 miles north of Bangor. Take I-95 to Medway (exit 244), then head west 11 miles on Route 11/157 to the mill town of Millinocket, the last major stop for supplies. Go through town and follow signs to Baxter State Park. There’s also another, less-used entrance in the park’s northeast corner. Follow I-95 to exit 259, then take Route 11 north through Patten and west on Route 159, which becomes Grand Lake Road, into the park. Speed limit in the park is 20 mph; motorcycles and ATVs are not allowed here. Park entry is free to Maine residents; visitors driving cars with out-of-state license plates are charged a per-day fee of $15 per car. This fee is charged only once per stay if you’re coming to camp; otherwise, you need to repay each day you enter the park. Tip: A season pass costs $40 per car for out-of-staters. If you’ll be in the park more than 3 days during any given year, buy the pass instead.To reach nearby Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, leave I-95 at Sherman (exit 264), 20 miles north of Medway. The south entrance, which leads to the scenic driving loop and some dayhiking trailheads, is 13 miles west along Staceyville Road; the north entrance is along the same Grand Lake Road that accesses Baxter’s north entrance (see above). As of this writing, a fee infrastructure is not yet in place at the new national monument, nor have entrance booths been erected, so the monument is a fee-free area.
Bear Safety Tips
There are a few dozen black bears in Baxter State Park, and while they are not out to eat you, they do get ornery when disturbed, and they do get hungry at night. The park has published these tips to help you keep a safe distance:
*Put all food and anything else with an odor (toothpaste, repellent, soap, deodorant, and perfume) in a sealed bag or container and keep it in the car.
*If you’re camping in the backcountry without a car, put all your food, dinner leftovers, and other “smellable” things in a bag and hang it between two trees (far from your tent) so that a bear can’t reach it easily. Never keep any food in your tent.
*Take all your trash with you from the campsite when you leave.*Do not feed bears or any other animals in the park. They may bite that hand that feeds them! And don’t toss any food on the trail.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.