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Welcome to Auburn, Lewiston & Points North

The twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn were once bustling industrial mill towns, thanks to the harnessed energy of the Androscoggin River. Now many of the old mill buildings and historic structures have been repurposed into residential spaces, offices, restaurants, cultural venues and shops. (And breweries, naturally.) Continuing north, check out the state’s capital, Augusta then head up the road to Waterville, where Colby College’s world-class art museum is a major draw. Bangor, Maine’s second largest city, is the last stop before heading north into the heart of Maine’s astonishing wilderness areas, Baxter State Park (exit 244 or 259) and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (exit 244, 264 or 276).

 

1. Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary

Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary. Courtesy photo

The Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary (182 High Spring Road, Lewiston) is a 450-acre wildlife preserve and at an elevation of 510 feet, the highest point in Lewiston. This well-loved Lewiston landmark is used for workshop sites for wildlife biologists as well as arborists, environmental educators and ecology classes from nearby high schools and colleges. (stantonbirdclub.org/thorncrag-sanctuary)

2. Great Falls Balloon Festival

Great Falls Balloon Festival. Photo by Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald

The 27th annual festival, which started in Maine’s twin cities in 1993, is scheduled for Aug. 16–18. There’s a carnival, plenty of the kind of food that goes with it (fried dough for sure), a parade through the streets of Auburn into Lewiston, fireworks and lift-offs of the main event, hot air balloons. Typically the balloons go sailing through the skies on the morning and late afternoon thermals. (greatfallsballoonfestival.org)

3. Old Fort Western

Old Fort Western

The oldest surviving wooden fort in America, Old Fort Western (16 Cony St., Augusta), was built in 1754 along the banks of the Kennebec River by a Boston company that aimed to settle the lands along the powerful river. The fort was used as a staging point by Benedict Arnold as he prepared for his assault on Quebec in 1775 during the Revolutionary War (he brought Aaron Burr—sir!—with him). Visitors can tour the National Historic Landmark fort and a museum on the site, complete with period furnishings. ($10 for adults, $8 for seniors/veterans, $6 for children ages 6–14 or $25 for a family of five; oldfortwestern.org)

4. Viles Arboretum

Viles Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Viles Arboretum

Viles Arboretum (153 Hospital St., Augusta) has a mission to promote Maine’s trees and floras. It features extensive collections, and a 6-mile trail system open to hiking, jogging, biking, horseback riding and bird and butterfly watching. There’s also a Viles Arboretum Art Trail. The land, trails and exhibits are open seven days a week from dawn until dusk, with free admission. (207–626–7989; vilesarboretum.org)

5. The Maine State Museum

One of the nation’s oldest state-funded museums, The Maine State Museum features collections and exhibits from pre-history, history and the natural sciences. Longstanding exhibits include At Home in Maine and Flight to Extinction: The Story of the Passenger Pigeon. An exhibit about Maine’s Jewish communities Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries is up through October 2019. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. ($3 for adults, $2 for seniors and children 6–18, free for children 5 and under; mainestatemuseum.org)

6. The Maine Outdoors Film Festival

This festival of outdoor and adventure films is traveling all over the state starting Aug. 15, hitting coastal destinations like Owl’s Head and Stonington. One of the most idyllic places to catch it is Belgrade Lakes on Aug. 23 from 8–11 p.m. The event will be in the Belgrade Community Center for All Seasons, 1 Center Dr., Belgrade. Bring a blanket and chair (and bug spray)! Proceeds benefit Belgrade’s afterschool program. ($5; maineoutdoorfilmfestival.com)

7. Skowhegan State Fair

In Maine, state fairs are a serious business, and this one, running from Aug. 8–17 in Skowhegan, is a classic. There will be competitions (tractor pull anyone?) livestock shows (this is the heart of Maine’s farm country), crafters and plenty of vendors. Not to mention the ferris wheel and other carnival rides as well. Use 33 Constitution Ave., Skowhegan in your GPS. (207–474–2947; skowheganstatefair.com)

8. Colby College Museum of Art

Good Afternoon, 2007 by Alex Katz; monoprint on canvas (41.75” x 53.75”) at Colby College Museum of Art

Always free, this college museum made headlines in 2017 when it received a gift of $100 million to establish the Lunder Institute for American Art. This summer marks the world premier of a traveling exhibit, Theaster Gates’ Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories, which includes 3,000 images from the archives of the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, said to be one of the most important archives of 20th century black visual culture. There’s also a whole wing featuring the works of Alex Katz. Look for collections of works by Bernard Langlais and John Marin. The museum is open Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

9. Music in the Queen City

They call Bangor the Queen City of Maine. Built on the banks of the Penobscot River, the former lumber capital of the world is both the gateway to the Acadia National Park area and true Northern Maine, from the farms of Aroostook County to the Allagash region. But stop in Bangor for such summer highlights as the concert series at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. August’s concerts include Bryan Adams (Aug. 2), Luke Bryan (Aug. 8) and comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah (Aug. 10). (waterfrontpavillionbangor.org)

10. Baxter State Park

Mount Katahdin. Photo by Taylor Roberge

The crown jewel of Maine’s wilderness and the home of Katahdin, the state’s highest peak. Gov. Percival Baxter had a dream of preserving the wilderness he loved for the people of Maine. He bought 6,000 acres including Katahdin in 1930 and by 1962 had created a 210,000-acre park and a $7 million trust to maintain it. If you like to star gaze, the park is the site of some of the darkest skies on the East Coast. Camp, hike, and if you’ve got the willpower, go to the peak. For camping, you’re likely to be shut out if you don’t book ahead. (207–723–5140; baxterstatepark.org)

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