Time Out!: 5 Great USA Getaways

Shore to Summit, Maine

Jan 15, 2004
Outside Magazine
maine katahdin state park

Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail

IN THE FEW HUNDRED YEARS since crustacean-weary indentured servants in colonial New England rebelled against being fed too much lobster—stipulating to their bosses that they not be forced to endure more than three meals of it per week—Homarus americanus has gone from being the food of the poor to the salivated-over icon of Maine. But while these tasty sea-bottom scavengers deserve praise, there's more to the Pine Tree State than shellfish and 3,500 miles of island-bespattered coastline.

The perfect four-day tour pairs the spruce-topped granite islands in Penobscot Bay, the hub of the world's most productive lobster fishery, with the rivers, lakes, and peaks of the Great North Woods. You'll sea-kayak around Vinalhaven Island, relax on the shores of Moosehead Lake, and raft the Penobscot River—some of the Northeast's best whitewater—and then end with a bid for the summit of 5,268-foot Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest peak.

In the waters off Vinalhaven Island you can kayak among dozens of granite islets, within sight of lobstermen hauling in the delicacy you'll enjoy that very evening.

Greenville, a former lumberjack crossroads at the south end of Moosehead Lake, is the staging area for your next phase. Mellow out here with a scenic floatplane ride, then thrill yourself on the Class IV-V whitewater of Ripogenus Gorge and the Cribworks rapids on the wild West Branch of the Penobscot River, about an hour north of Greenville. Rapid River Outfitters offers small, personalized raft trips and has the closest base to the river.

For the finale, continue northeast to Baxter State Park, home of more than 40 peaks and 200 miles of hiking trails. Baxter's jewel is Mount Katahdin, the sacred mountain of the Penobscot. Six main trails lead to the summit; several depart from Chimney Pond, in Katahdin's majestic South Basin, and require eight to ten hours (and good weather) for the 11- to 12-mile round-trip. Some of the best views of rolling alpine tablelands and thousand-foot precipices are found by taking Saddle or Cathedral trails.

After leaving the ferry, provision yourself at the Market Basket, on Vinalhaven, a gourmet store with carry-outs, wines, and cinnamon doughnut muffins. In a wood-floored dining room perched over a tidal mill channel, the Harbor Gawker Restaurant serves up steaming lobster dinners.

Vinalhaven Island's 19th-century granite boom left several funky Victorian mansions that have been transformed into B&Bs. The five rooms at the Payne Homestead, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, retain pressed tin ceilings and marble mantels installed by the original owner, granite magnate Moses Webster.

In Greenville, stay at the Blair Hill Inn, built as an estate and farm in 1891. The inn is perched on a hillside above Moosehead Lake, with mountain views and 15 acres of lawns, gardens, and woods. The eight bedrooms are flooded with natural light.

After rafting, plant yourself at one of the 55 campsites or cabins at Allagash Gateway Campsite, on Chesuncook Lake, 25 minutes from Baxter State Park.

Ride the Vinalhaven Ferry ($11 round-trip; 800-491-4883, http://www.state.me.us/mdot/opt/ferry/maine-ferry-service.php) from Rockland. SeaEscape Kayak (207-863-9343, www.seaescapekayak.com) offers a Vinalhaven paddle tour and picnic for $75. The Harbor Gawker Restaurant (207-863-9365) charges market price for lobster. Doubles at the Payne Homestead (888-863-9963, www.paynehomestead.com) start at $90 per night. See Moosehead Lake from a floatplane with Folsom's Air Service (tours from $20; 207-695-2821, www.folsomsairservice.com). Doubles at the Blair Hill Inn (207-695-0224, www.blairhill.com) start at $250. A full-day raft trip with Rapid River Outfitters (877-733-7238, www.rapidrivers.com) is $112 per person and includes two meals. A spot at Allagash Gateway Campsite (207-723-9215, www.allagashgateway.com) costs $12 per night. Jockey your car into position in the Togue Pond Gate lineup before 6 a.m. to get into Baxter State Park ($10 per nonresident vehicle; 207-723-5140, www.baxterstateparkauthority.com) to climb Katahdin. Day use is limited to the number of parking spaces at the trailheads.

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