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Three Trips for Late Summer: Rangeley Scenic Byway, the Town of Bethel and the Schoodic Peninsula

August 25, 2009 - Those busy back-to-school ads. Flecks of red on early turning trees and shrubs. Weather reports that wax on about the "autumnal" late August air. It's all a reminder that summer is on the wane.

This change of season seems bittersweet, but don't fret. There is plenty of time to make the end of summer and start of fall a very sweet time of year. To help you have some outdoor fun before fall is blowing hard toward winter, we've spotlighted three day trips.


With jumbled cliffs, boulders, overhangs and streaked sloping slabs, Coos Canyon on Route 17 north of Mexico is much more than its official designation as a highway rest area. Yes, it's beside the road, but for many this is a destination, not just a brief stop.

On a hot day, the well-shaded gorge is the perfect place to be. Find a swimming hole or lounge on a flat rock as the water tumbles, pools and mists around you. There aren't hiking trails, but paths follow the waterway; a walking bridge brings you to those along the tree-lined slope that rises opposite the road. Come fall, scattered evergreens and a variety of hardwoods form a wall of color above the gray-colored stone.

Coos Canyon is a highlight of the 52-mile Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, which from Mexico continues north on Route 17 to Oquossoc. From there it heads east on Route 4 to the Western Maine mountain resort town of Rangeley and then to tiny Madrid outside Farmington. But the literal pinnacle of the drive, Height of Land, is only 10 miles or so from Coos Canyon. From the overlook, spectacular lake-splashed mountain views stretch toward the horizon in several directions.

The Appalachian Trail crosses near the overlook. Watch for the sign and parking area if you want to day hike. Or, head to Angel Falls, a favorite of locals. It's about seven miles north of the canyon. To get a print out with directions (there is no sign), stop at Coos Canyon Rock & Gift across from the canyon.

Hiking, swimming and leaf-peeping aren't all the area offers. The shallow Swift River, which snakes in and out of view as Route 17 passes through a valley above Mexico, is a gold-panning hot spot.

For less than $20, Coos Canyon Rock & Gift can equip a family of four or five to pan for gold for the day. The store gives -- and encourages -- free demonstrations. It also sells takeout food and ice cream as well as rocks, crystals and related jewelry items, some from Maine and some from away.

IF YOU GO: Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, www.byways.org (click on Maine on the map on the home page, then on the byway link); Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, www.heightofland.org, which has information about the overlook and hiking trail maps; Coos Canyon Rock & Gift, Route 17, www.cooscanyonrockandgift.com, 364-4900.


Visit the Bethel Historical Society Regional History Center by Labor Day so you won't have to wait until next year (or make a special appointment, which can be done off-season) to tour its Dr. Moses Mason House.

Overlooking the town common, the 1813 dwelling is an impressive early example of Federal architecture. Though just one-room deep, it was an upscale residence in its day. There are chair rails in the front parlor, and the center hall is adorned with murals, painted in the 1830s by folk artist Rufus Porter. Many of the furnishings and decorative items are original to the home. The small rooms in the ell where domestic chores were done give visitors a fascinating glimpse into daily life in the 1800s.

If you can't visit by Labor Day, you can still make the society a focal point of a day trip to Bethel. Through October (and then by appointment through May) you can visit "To Improve the Farmer's Lot The Grange in Maine" in the barn exhibit space at the Moses Mason home. The exhibit chronicles the influential rural fraternal organization to which some 10 percent of Maine citizens once belonged.

More exhibits are next door in the society's 1821 O'Neil Robinson House, which has a nice gift shop and is open year-round. "Sunday River, Mt. Abram and More! Celebrating the Skiing Heritage of the Bethel Area" opens Sept. 19 and runs until late May.

It's largely because of these two ski resorts, which are turning 50, that Bethel doesn't shut down come winter. There's a fun mix of shops and eating places in the small downtown; walking tour maps are available at the historical society.

Sunday River, in Newry, offers outdoor activities year-round. From late summer into fall you can hike and mountain bike there. Take in mountain views on the new Chondola lift ride in chairlifts or enclosed gondolas. It's open Friday to Sunday through mid-October.

On an Indian summer day stop at the Artists' Covered Bridge near the resort (follow signs from Route 26). It's a nice place to wade with kids. North of the resort Route 26 winds through Grafton Notch State Park, making for an idyllic foliage drive. There's lots of hiking here, and it's a short walk from the parking area to Screw Auger Falls another cool spot on a warm day.

IF YOU GO: Bethel Historical Society, www.bethelhistorical.org, 824-2908 or 800-824-2910; Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, www.bethelmaine.com, 824-2282 or 800-442-5826; Sunday River, www.sundayriver.com, 824-3000; Grafton Notch State Park, 824-2912 (in season).


Winter Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula are more than three hours from the Portland area, so it may be a bit of a stretch for a day trip for southern Maine residents. But it's worth going if you can get an early start. From the Bangor area, it's an ideal afternoon jaunt just over an hour away.

The town largely folds up in winter (though Elsa's Inn on the Harbor in nearby Prospect Harbor is open year-round, as is J.M. Gerrish Provisions, a hip downtown caf with tables on the porch). But many galleries in the area stay open through mid-October or so (and open off-season by appointment). Downtown, you'll find shops that sell art, wares and crafts made by the area's many skilled artists. More galleries and artisan shops are found at homes along country roads in Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro, the two towns (the latter has several villages) on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Shopping isn't the only reason to come of course. The only mainland section of Acadia National Park is located in Winter Harbor off Route 186 at the end of the peninsula. The scenic six-mile, one-way loop drive through the park's Schoodic section has spectacular views of Mount Desert Island across Frenchman Bay. There's a parking area at the peninsula's tip, where waves thrash the granite slabs. Hike up Schoodic Head for more stunning ocean views.

The biennial Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium runs through Sept. 12 at the park's Schoodic Education and Research Center. It brings in an international group of sculptors to create public sculptures for towns in the region. "Cleat," a work from the inaugural symposium two years ago, is just off the town landing in Winter Harbor, rising from the water (if the tide is in).

IF YOU GO: Schoodic Chamber of Commerce, www.acadia-schoodic.org, which produces a visitor's pamphlet (also online) that includes a list of galleries and shops; Acadia National Park, 288-3338, www.nps.gov/acad; Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium, www.schoodicsculpture.org.

By MARY RUOFF, Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram August 23, 2009
Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer in Belfast and a contributor to Fodor's travel guides.


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