Hancock County, home of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, has the longest coastline of any county in the state - if you take into account all its nooks and crannies. So it's no surprise that its most important industries are related to the sea - tourism and commercial fishing. Like its eastern neighbor, Washington County, Hancock is also blanketed by forests and blueberry barrens that blaze red in the autumn.
At the mouth of the Penobscot River, Bucksport marks the western boundary of Hancock County. It faces Fort Knox, one of the state's largest old stone and earthworks forts, across the water, and is dominated by an imposing paper plant visible from miles away. On spectacular peninsulas reaching southeast from Bucksport are Castine, with its towering old elms, rich history, picture-perfect downtown, and Maine Maritime Academy; Deer Isle, home to a colony of artisans and crafters; Stonington, a fishing village with a beautiful harbor and terraced downtown; and Blue Hill. Located beneath the small rise that gives the town its name, Blue Hill is a sweet village of venerable homes and artsy boutiques that overlooks a protected ocean inlet. Nearby are the villages of Penobscot, Brooklin, and Surry, each of which is a small town with interesting architecture and fantastic views.
The gateway to Acadia, Ellsworth is Hancock County's shiretown, best known for the plazas and strip malls that stretch for several miles down Route 1 and Route 3. One of the most visited of the nation's parks, Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island, is a breathtaking combination of rounded mountains and crashing surf. Most of these visitors end up in Bar Harbor, with its myriad bed-and-breakfasts, shops, and restaurants. Several of the island's other communities, such as Somesville, Southwest Harbor, and Northeast Harbor, also attract sizable populations of summer residents and shoulder-season visitors.
East of Ellsworth, traffic tails off and a quiet descends, making the Sunrise Coast - as it is called - as different as can be from Acadia. First you’ll come upon lovely Schoodic Peninsula, home of an offshoot of Acadia National Park. From Schoodic, your views looking back west toward Bar Harbor and Acadia are just spectacular! You will find the quintessential villages of Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor and Corea on this peninsula. Driving further east, the little towns that Route 1 passes through on its journey - Milbridge, Cherryfield, Addison, Columbia Falls, and Jonesport - are known for their fishing fleets and blueberry barrens. Petit Manan Lighthouse, McClellan Park and Roque Bluffs State Park celebrate the natural beauty of this area.
Calais is a border town on the St. Croix River and also abuts the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, an important wildlife sanctuary for breeding birds. Machias is home to a University of Maine campus and has an angular old downtown perched above Bad Little Falls. Eastport is the nation's easternmost city (not to be confused with Lubec, which is the easternmost town), and is a hub of the fishing industry and an important deep-water shipping port. The humpbacked island upon which Eastport sits gives most of the homes in the salty little city extraordinary views of Passamaquoddy Bay, and its brick downtown - where entire buildings sell for the price of a new Mercedes - has "potential" written all over it, just waiting to be discovered.
This article has been adapted from the February 2004 issue of Down East Magazine.