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Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway - Maine State Route 27

One of the great drives in the northwestern mountains of Maine is the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway, which follows ME 27 for roughly 50 miles from Kingfield to Coburn Gore at the border with the Canadian province of Quebec. Those who travel the High Peaks Scenic Byway will be awarded with enchanting views of various rivers, lakes and mountains, passing by Bigelow Range, Appalachian Trail and High Peaks along the way. As you travel the scenic byway, there are interpretive signs at different stops along that help you make sense of what you are seeing, and its place in local history and lore.

In the town of Kingfield, which gained prominence during the 19th Century as a mill town, the byway winds alongside the Carrabassett River with views of Mount Abraham and the Bigelow Range. Between Kingfield and Stratton, the byway passes near Sugarloaf Mountain, which is one of Maine's highest mountains and one of New England's premier destinations for skiers and riders. Just past Stratton, ME 27 passes by the manmade Flagstaff Lake, and there is a parking area alongside the road where you can take in views or photos of Flagstaff Lake and the mountains in the background. Beyond Flagstaff Lake and towards Eustis, the byway goes through Cathedral Pines, the largest stand of old growth forest in the state of Maine. Cathedral Pines boasts majestic red pine trees that date back over 200 years.

North and west of Eustis, the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway, the road takes on a quieter and more rugged feel as the ribbon of pavement marches on to the Canadian border. The byway follows the Dead River at this point. Following the Dear River was part of the journey taken by an expedition of about 1,100 soldiers led by Benedict Arnold in 1775. Under directions of George Washington, Arnold led the troops towards Quebec City, with the hopes of capturing Quebec City and steering what is now the province of Quebec to the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War. His attack on Quebec ultimately ended in defeat, after painstakingly blazing their way through dense wilderness in October of that year. Arnold lost one third of his men on the journey due to illness, disease or desertion, and that was even before the invasion on Quebec City began.

As the landscape around the byway becomes more rugged, the byway passes by Shadagee Falls, Sarampus Falls and the Chain of Ponds. At Sarampus Falls, there is a small rest area, where I found myself wading into the Dead River to get photos of the waterfall just upstream. Among the highlights of my trip along the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway was at the viewpoint of the Chain of Ponds. At the Chain of Ponds, there is a scenic view of the lakes that make up the Chain of Ponds, and it seems perfect for kayaking or fishing. Continuing past the Chain of Ponds, the route climbs through the Boundary Mountains over to Coburn Gore and the Canadian border, ending unceremoniously just beyond a general store at a customs station where ME 27 becomes QC 161 once the road crosses from Maine into Quebec.

I visited the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byways during a vacation, on a rather overcast September day. I started my journey in Kingfield, working my way northwest to Coburn Gore, then doubling back down to Stratton, where I then continued south on ME 16, a state route that runs concurrently with ME 27 and the scenic byway between Stratton and Kingfield. I found peace and quiet, along with a very fun road to drive. With that, let our picture journey begin in Kingfield, and work our way northwest from there.

The Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway begins in Kingfield.

Downtown Kingfield. ME 16 joins after passing through Bingham, Dover-Foxcroft and Milo to the east, whilst ME 142 ends in Kingfield after making its way past Mount Blue and Mount Abraham.

The Herbert Grand Hotel, which first opened in 1918. The hotel was named for its owner, Herbert Wing.

Only 53 miles to Canada. But first, we'll have to pass Sugarloaf and Stratton. It doesn't look like ski season, so it may be easy enough to skip Sugarloaf.

The Carrabassett River is to the right. The river follows the byway between Sugarloaf and downstream past Kingfield to New Portland. Further downstream, the Wire Bridge passes over the Carrabassett River, and then the river flows into the Kennebec River.

Both ME 16 and ME 27 are routed well beyond the mountains of western Maine. In the opposite direction, ME 27 goes through the capital city of Augusta to the way to Wiscasset and Boothbay Harbor on the Maine coast, while ME 16 eventually makes its way to New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, the mountains are hiding behind the clouds this afternoon.

But not all of the mountains. Sugarloaf is peeking out from a veil of clouds.

The entrance to Sugarloaf. Not only is it home to some great skiing or snowboarding, you can also find the Maine Ski & Snowboard Museum there.

ME 27 and ME 16 approach the Appalachian Trail.

Some of the mountains appear in view. I believe the mountain coming into view is part of the Bigelow Range.

Yet some more mountains poking out in the distance. This might be Hedgehog Hill, or something over in Eustis in the background.

Approaching the town of Stratton.

Bidding ME 16 adieu. ME 16 heads south towards Rangeley while ME 27 goes to Eustis.

Just past the village of Stratton, there is a roadside pull-off with some scenic views of the Bigelow Range and Flagstaff Lake. From here, you can see East Nubble and Cranberry Peak quite easily.

At 20,300 -acres, Flagstaff Lake is the 4th largest lake in the State of Maine and captures runoff from 520 square miles of the Upper Dead River watershed.

The completion of the Long Falls Dam in 1950 established Flagstaff Lake’s importance for regulating water flow from the Dead River into the Kennebec River Basin.

Looking back towards Stratton.

Driving into Eustis, which boasts some of Maine's largest old growth forests.

Beyond Eustis, the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway becomes more rugged in nature.

Maine is famous for their signs warning you to look out for moose. There are plenty of deer to watch out for as well.

Only 21 miles to Canada!

The byway is a lot like this between Eustis and Coburn Gore.

Plenty of ups and downs, but it makes for a fun driving experience.

The Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway is a smoother trek than the one that Benedict Arnold and his troops endured back in 1775 on the way to Quebec.

Following the Dead River.

The byway has plenty of twists and curves.

ME 27 is hugging the landscape of this remote part of Maine.

That's the Kibby Range of mountains ahead of us.

Sarampus Falls on the Dead River. The waterfall is a short 4 foot cascade, but it is located next to a rest area, so it was worth a short walk, of which I waded into the river to take some photos.

Sarampus Falls rest area. It's a good idea that the Maine Department of Transportation has some pull-offs and rest areas along this stretch of the byway, since there isn't anything in the way of services between Eustis and Coburn Gore.

Rolling on up to the Chain of Ponds, going northbound.

Southbound shot approaching the Chain of Ponds.

More ups and downs, of course. But I prefer the ups and downs of the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway over other ups and downs I can choose from.

Scenic overlook of the Chain of Ponds. The mountains in view are of the Indian Stream Range. From north to south, the ponds that make up the Chain of Ponds are Natanis Pond, Long Pond, Bag Pond and South Pond.

The byway hugs the shore of Natanis Pond, making for a scenic experience.

Along the shore of Natanis Pond, you'll find a campground, boat launch and a few lakeside homes. In an earlier time, loggers frequented the area, and there is the Megantic Fish and Game Club, which was established in 1887 and is also located in the area.

Back on the byway, there are only a few miles separating Chain of Ponds with Coburn Gore.

Catching a glimpse of some of the Boundary Mountains in the distance.

Coburn Gore sits at the border between Maine and Quebec, and you start to see signs to slow down for the customs station at the the border crossing. Just beyond this sign and before the border, there is a general store and gas station where you can turn around or stock up on provisions. No public washrooms, though.

After turning around, I realized it's a long way back to Stratton and Sugarloaf, and even further away to Farmington (where ME 27 intersects with US 2). I took the byway back to Stratton, before heading down ME 16 to Rangeley. I hope you enjoyed this journey along the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway as much as I did.

Sources and Links:
National Scenic Byway Foundation - High Peaks Scenic Byway
Maine's Northwestern Mountains - Welcome to the Maine High Peaks Scenic Byway
Maine Tourism Association - High Peaks Scenic Byway
Explore Maine - State Route 27
The Forest Society of Maine - American History in Coburn Gore

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