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Normally, when warm weather really starts to kick into gear, we Mainers are planning our summer activities — where to swim, where to camp, what restaurants to eat at and which landmarks to visit. This year, it’s clear things are going to be a little — scratch that, a lot — different. Almost everything has changed. There’s no denying that.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun, right? Sure, the shopping and festival-going you’ve come to expect is likely going to be on the back burner for most of the summer. But there are still thousands of acres of beautiful wilderness to explore, and plenty of places to eat and drink, all of which will allow you to practice social distancing. We’re in Maine, for Pete’s sake: we’ve got plenty of space to stretch out.
Here are six day trips you can take all over the state that will allow you to scratch that wandering itch, and still be safe and responsible while doing so.
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A Down East beach that rocks, and some wicked pizza
TO DO: Jasper Beach is one of those legendary places in Maine: a beach strewn with perfectly polished rocks, tucked away down a peninsula in the town of Machiasport. There’s no sand to be found at Jasper Beach. Rather, this beach is completely covered in little rocks, which rattle and roll in the incoming tide. Want a more hike-centric excursion? Try Long Point, also in Machiasport, a relatively new preserve operated by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, offering a scenic three-mile hike through salt marshes and along cobble beaches.
TO TRY: Now entering its third season in the town of Milbridge, Fire & Dough is an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven that from May through sometime in the fall does gourmet takeout pies and toasted sandwiches. It’s been extremely popular with locals, so you’d be well-served by ordering online — a safer way to do business these days, anyway.
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Vast trails, tasty meats and frozen treats up north
TO DO: Head north (or south) to Medway, and drive a few miles up Route 11 until you arrive at the Penobscot River Trails near Grindstone — a 5,000-acre preserve with more than 15 miles of trails ranging from easy to strenuous, with lovely views of both Katahdin and the East Branch of the Penobscot River. While right now the visitor center and main parking lot is closed and mountain biking is prohibited, walk-in day use is available. Be sure to check the Penobscot River Trails Facebook page for updates.
TO TRY: Stay on Route 11 and head to Patten, where you can get your fill of tasty smoked meats at Flatlander’s Smokehouse & Cafe, a family-friendly eatery with a huge menu of crowd-pleasing favorites. We recommend calling ahead for takeout and finding a scenic spot to eat it. Still hungry? Drive another 40 minutes to Houlton and top off your meal with a treat at Houlton Farms Dairy, the beloved ice cream stand.
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Lots of creatures to see, and then get your taco fix
TO DO: Hirundo Wildlife Refuge, located in both Old Town and Alton, is a gem in the Bangor region’s network of trails — and it’s also an amazing place to spot all sorts of birds, amphibians and other wildlife. Staff at Hirundo have lots of activities for families to do safely, like a nature scavenger hunt, and lots more educational info on its Facebook page.
TO TRY: Tacos and burritos taste good regardless of where you’re physically eating them. At the Tacorita, located at 2 Mill St. in downtown Orono, their takeout game is strong, with regular deals like 3 tacos and a beer for $10, or a burrito and a margarita for $12.95. Check out their social media for the latest deals available. And yes, they do takeout margaritas. See? Not everything that’s come out of this time is bad!
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A big rock, a little waterfall and some tasty brews in Franklin County
TO DO: There are two unique natural landmarks to see, each within a few miles of one another, in and around Farmington. First, Daggett Rock in Phillips is believed to be Maine’s largest glacial erratic boulder, and is accessible via an easy 0.3 mile long hike to the rock. Then, a few miles down the road in Farmington, Mosher Falls (also known as Cascade Falls) is just off Route 27, and features a short hike to a lovely, little-visited waterfall.
TO TRY: In Farmington, Tumbledown Brewing has since 2014 been the flagship craft brewery of Franklin County, offering up classic American brews like their Tumbledown Red, Clearwater Cream Ale and Dawn Patrol Coffee Porter. It’s open Fridays and Saturdays for takeout beer, and sometimes there’s a food truck on site, so be sure to check their Facebook page.
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A scenic walk and some baked goodies in Central Maine
TO DO: Located in the central Maine town of China, Thurston Park is a nifty hidden gem, with fives miles of trails and lots of both natural and historic points of interest, like a little waterfall, an old cemetery, and a marker showing where the towns of Albion, China and Palermo meet. The park can be used for everything from leisurely walks to ATV and horseback riding, so be aware.
TO TRY: Sometimes, you just want to get a big hunk of cake, cookie or pie, and just go to town. Cast your worries aside with some carbohydrate therapy at Holy Cannoli in Waterville, a Mecca for those with a sweet tooth. Cheesecake! Doughnuts! Brownies! Cupcakes! And, yes, cannoli. Or, toasty sandwiches and stromboli, if sugar isn’t your thing. Check out their website for a full menu and info on how to order.
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Bird watching and flower spotting, followed by a fabulous splurge
TO DO: The beautiful Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson, part of Midcoast Conservancy, is a great place to get some nature therapy, with lots of groomed trails and scenic views of Little Dyer Pond. You can hike, or kayak/canoe, or just amble around and look for pretty flowers or little creatures hidden amid the trees.
TO TRY: You may have heard of Rockland eatery Primo, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Maine, and chef Melissa Kelly, who has twice been named Best Chef Northeast by the James Beard Awards. For most people, a meal at this bucket list restaurant can be a pricey affair. But since the pandemic started, Kelly and crew have been cooking up a new takeout menu, with options like build your own barbecue, pasta and pizza night, date night Saturdays and Sunday supper. Call 207-596-0770 to order between 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and pick up between 3 and 6 p.m., and treat yourself to a world-class meal at a very reasonable price.