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
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. The Maine Outdoors Film Festival
This festival of outdoor and adventure films is traveling all over the state in September, hitting destinations like Belfast and Bethel. Catch it in Lewiston on Sept. 21 from 7–10 p.m at Baxter Brewing Company (130 Mill St., Lewiston). (maineoutdoorfilmfestival.com)
3. 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 (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 Dempsey Challenge
The Dempsey Challenge is a two-day, non-competitive run-walk-cycle fundraiser that champions the spirit of celebration and culture of paying it forward, all hosted in actor Patrick Dempsey’s hometown of Lewiston. Every dollar raised by participants benefits the Dempsey Centers, leaders in quality of life care for individuals and families impacted by cancer. This year’s challenge is Sept. 28–29. (dempseycenter.org/dempsey-challenge)
6. 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. Current exhibits include Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry, featuring contemporary art of the First Nations people of what is now Maine and Maritime Canada, centered around ancient means of transportation. There’s also a whole wing featuring the works of Alex Katz. Look for collections of works by Bernard Langlais and John Marin. Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
7. 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)
8. Baxter State Park
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, there might still be some fall openings and the foliage turns early that far north. (207–723–5140; baxterstatepark.org)
9. The Common Ground Country Fair
Don’t miss the biggest event of the year in organic farming circles, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s annual celebration of rural living. The food and setting are spectacular, there’s some major educational opportunities and the farm animals (including border collies with serious herding skills on show) are adorable. Great mood, great time. From Sept. 20–22. Gates open at 9 a.m. every day. Use 294 Crosby Brook Road, Unity to GPS yourself there. (Advance tickets $10 for adults, at the gate $15, under 12 free; mofga.org)
10. Maine Cheese Festival
Maine’s cheesemaking community is one of the most exciting aspects of the state’s local food renaissance. Get a chance to sample and shop as more than 25 members of the Maine Cheese Guild host the guild’s annual fundraising festival at Manson Park in Pittsfield, along the Sebasticook River. Local brewers, wineries and cider makers will also be there. Sunday Sept. 8, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. $20 includes a ticket for one complimentary cheese plate, and off-site parking with a shuttle to the event. Children under 12 are free.