These are the ingredients for a fine Maine picnic: a basket full of your favorite foods, a stunning view in an uncrowded place you can visit without paying a fee and plenty of time to savor the experience with family and friends.
Maine’s Department of Transportation once maintained nice picnic areas along our highways. Growing up in Winthrop, my family would occasionally drive to Berry Pond, in Wayne, where a picnic site on Route 33 offered a shady place to eat and swim.
Alas, budget crunches (and those are most assuredly not picnic items) closed those wonderful places. The picnic tables at Berry Pond are long gone, and those passing by would have no idea how much fun people once had in that very spot.
One of our favorite picnic spots is halfway down Hopkins Stream, between our house and Taylor Pond. A set of huge boulders sits in the stream where a bridge once crossed. Pull your canoe to shore, sit on the rocks, get out your picnic and enjoy the day. Perhaps you have a spot like this near home.
We favor sites that are out of the way, perhaps somewhat isolated. Maine has lots of those.
Several of our favorite picnic places are on Canada’s Campobello Island, just over the bridge from Lubec. Campobello’s Roosevelt International Park has many remote picnic spots that you can drive to, all in ocean-front settings. Our favorites are at Con Robinson’s Point and Liberty Point, where you can dine at picnic tables while enjoying a view of the open ocean. And the trail from Liberty Point to Ragged Point is a great and easy post-meal walk. Be sure to check out the Sunsweep Sculpture.
The Maine coast also offers some out of the way, uncrowded spots for a leisurely and luxurious picnic. Our often-visited West Quoddy Head Light can be a busy place, but the few tables in the ocean-hugging picnic area are rarely full and the spectacular trail along the rocky shore — with benches strategically placed — is a wonderful before- or after-picnic activity. There is one picnic table on the walkway between the larger picnic area and the lighthouse. This is our favorite.
Head inland for two of our other favorite spots, each within a few miles of the other. On Route 4, just south of Oquossoc, are two sites that offer the best mountain/lake views in the state. The Mooselookmeguntic Overlook was completed only last year, in a project led by the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust and partially funded by the Maine Department of Transportation’s byways project. It looks to the south and west over Mooselookmeguntic Lake and all the way to the White Mountains.
The Rangeley Lakes Overlook faces north and east toward Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountains, and is as pretty a spot as you will find in our state or any state. Route 4 is part of the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, and the drive from Mexico to Oquossoc is especially wonderful.
Another picnic ingredient that we look for is a nearby deli or sandwich shop that can supply all or most of our picnic needs. The Oquossoc Grocery Store is one of those. They’ve got everything you need and will package it up to fit in your picnic basket. You can also grab cold drinks there, making it unnecessary to carry along a cooler. You can make it a round trip by driving the entire scenic byway up Route 4 through Rangeley, stopping at the store in Oquossoc and taking the Route 4 portion of the scenic byway through Mexico toward home.
There is another must-see place in Oquossoc, the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum. An astonishing collection ranging from a huge collection of Carrie Stevens flies to Herb Welch’s cabin can be found here. In September, the museum features the work of one of my favorite artists, John Swan. It is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Just a month ago we added a new picnic spot to our favorites list when we discovered the Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde after enjoying a puffin cruise. This is an end-of-the-road place with a beautiful lighthouse, stunning view up the harbor and a few nicely placed picnic tables — quiet, peaceful, a place to linger.
For me, picnics bring up fond memories of when I was younger. It might have been a rock at Pemaquid Point or at a picnic table somewhere along our travels. On our way to a summer visit at Cobscook Bay State Park, we would always stop at a picnic area just on the other side of the Bucksport Bridge for a picnic lunch. When it includes a picnic, the journey can be as good as the destination.
Mom almost always planned ahead for a picnic by making deviled eggs. To this day, I see deviled eggs and still think “picnic.”
I tried to carry on that tradition when my family was young. I often made a pasta salad and packed paper plates. But busier days and less spontaneity haven’t allowed me to keep this up. Nowadays, I am more apt to make sandwiches or wraps or grab some deli meats and cheese along with a nice bread for a quick picnic enroute to someplace.
My choice for the Marshall Point picnic would be from Morse’s Sauerkraut in Waldoboro, just a couple miles off Route 17 on the way to the lighthouse. You can put together a picnic to die for in Morse’s deli and shop.
We never pass through Millinocket without stopping at Orvietto for Maine’s best Italian sandwiches, which we enjoy on a quick stop at Togue Pond’s picnic area before entering Baxter State Park and the road to our camp.
Food always tastes better when you are outside at one of your favorite picnic spots!
Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.