Travel Up the Maine Coast by Car, Bus, or Train

Planning a Maine vacation?

Here are driving directions, travel information, and tips for beating the traffic on the way to Midcoast Maine.

Thousands of vacationers will head up the Maine coast this summer to destinations such as Boothbay Harbor, Rockport, Camden, Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park. Most will begin their trips in southern New England or points further south. Those coming from this direction have three basic options:

  • Drive all the way, usually by taking I-95 to Portland, Maine, and then Coastal Route 1.
  • Fly into a gateway city and rent a car for the drive up the Maine coast. Many people fly into Portland, but these flights can be pricey in summer. It may be cheaper to fly into either Boston or Manchester, which are served by Southwest Airlines, a low-cost carrier. Driving time from Boston or Manchester to Portland is about two hours.
  • Go green: take a train or a bus. Amtrak goes as far as Portland, and Concord Coach Lines travels beyond Portland to towns along the coast.

Driving Directions to Maine from Boston and Manchester

From Boston, take I-95 north into New Hampshire. From Manchester, take Route 101 east and then exit onto I-95 north. Observe posted speed limits: this stretch of I-95 is known for speed traps, and the New Hampshire state troopers lack a sense of humor. Cross over the Piscataqua River Bridge into Maine.

Vacationers heading to Kennebunkport and Old Orchard Beach will end their trip south of Portland. For those continuing up the coast, exit onto I-295 and take it straight through Portland, or circle around the city on I-95.

North of Portland, the town of Freeport is a popular shopping stop. Outlet stores cluster around the flagship store of L. L. Bean, the outdoor outfitter beloved by suburbanites for its rustic backwoods charm.

A few miles beyond Freeport, coastal travelers will take exit 28, marked “Coastal Route 1 to Brunswick and Bath.” Route 1, which originates in Key West, Florida, continues all the way to Fort Kent, Maine, on the Canadian border. Most vacationers stop far short of that, at one of the harbor towns along the rugged peninsulas of the midcoast region.

Tips for Avoiding Traffic on the Trip to Maine

At peak times in summer, motorists can expect backups at the New Hampshire toll booths and the York toll plaza in southern Maine. Then comes the slow crawl up Coastal Route 1. There is a notorious bottleneck at Wiscasset, with traffic sometimes backed up a mile or more north and south of the town.

If possible, travel midweek rather than on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Friday northbound and Sunday southbound are the heaviest travel days. Many vacation cottage rentals begin and end on a Sunday, so traffic congestion is worst then. If you must travel to Maine on a summer weekend, an early morning start is the best bet.

Route 1 hugs the coast as it meanders north, and there are water views at points along the way. But much of Route 1 isn’t particularly scenic. Especially south of Rockland, it’s a narrow, traffic-clogged, and stoplight-ridden roadway, with more views of lobster huts and gift barns than of open water.

If your destination is the Bucksport/Searsport area or Bar Harbor/Acadia National Park, it may make sense to stay on high-speed I-95 all the way to Bangor and then dip south on a secondary road to the coast.

Take the Bus or Train to a Vacation in Maine

Reaching Portland by bus from southern New England is convenient and inexpensive. Concord Coach Lines leaves from two stops in Boston — Logan Airport and South Station — with two departures a day in summer. The bus travels up the Maine coast, stopping at Portland, Bath, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Waldoboro, Rockland, Camden/Rockport, Lincolnville, Belfast, Searsport, and finally Bangor.

Greyhound also runs buses between Boston and Portland and serves some other Maine cities and towns.

Amtrak’s Downeaster train travels daily between Boston’s North Station and Portland. It makes three stops in Maine before Portland: Wells, Saco/Biddeford, and Old Orchard Beach.

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