Aroostook County: Great Hikes and Fine Craft Brews
Aroostook County is known as the “Crown of Maine” for its vast area of 6,830 square miles across the northern part of the state, an area larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Expansive forestlands, scattered mountains, sparkling lakes, pristine rivers and verdant farmlands of potatoes and broccoli characterize this tranquil, picturesque region.
The scenic Aroostook landscape is home to many miles of pleasant trails suited for hikers of every interest and ability level. The County also features two fine brew pubs for quenching your post-hike thirst in the company of friendly local folks. Pair a couple of fun hikes with some good craft beer (recommendations below) and you’ve got a recipe for great weekend road trip adventure.
Traveling on I-95 north of Bangor, be sure to pull off for the fabulous vista of majestic Katahdin en route (watch for signs). From Houlton, continue on U.S. Route 1 into the heart of the County, following the planets of the solar system, fun, roadside three-dimensional scale models from Pluto to the Sun, for the next 40 miles.
In busy Presque Isle, grab a bite, then continue on to Caribou and Route 163, right to Russell’s Motel, where innkeeper Donna Murchison will take real good care of you. The place is squeaky clean and quiet, with beautiful blue quilts on the beds handmade by Donna’s mom. Before hitting the trail in the morning, head downtown to the popular Reno’s Restaurant for breakfast.
Arookstook National Wildlife Refuge and Northern Maine Brewing Company
Five miles of colored-coded footpaths crisscross the Greenlaw Brook unit of the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, 7,750 acres that were once part of the former Loring Air Force Base. Start at the trailhead (kiosk and map) on West Gate Road in Limestone, which diverges from Route 89 just over the Caribou line. Combine all or portions of the 13 Beaver, Loop, Powerline and Spruce Hill trails and the Swamp Road for a lollipop circuit of about four miles. Chapman Pond, Greenlaw Brook and Lost Pond are the scenic highlights en route.
At the south end of Caribou, near the junction of U.S. Route 1 and Route 163, is Northern Maine Brewing Company. Established in 2016, the brewpub has become a destination, changing beer palates in the region one pint at a time. The brewery uses a semi-automated Austrian brewing system to craft a consistent, quality product line of very drinkable beers. The flagship beer is the Maine Logger, a clean, crisp Pilsen-style lager, while the Farmer’s IPA is a great entry-level IPA. The stylish restaurant features top-notch food, from pub fare to plated specialties.
Fort Kent Trails and First Mile Brewing Company
The pretty village of Fort Kent on the border with New Brunswick, Canada features a sweet four-mile system of trails that wend through some surprisingly wild sections of town. Start at the granite marker denoting the first mile U.S. Route 1 (it extends 2,369 miles to Key West, Florida) and make your way along the scenic St. John and Fish rivers via greenways and parks. En route, pass the historical blockhouse, a remnant of the bloodless 1839 boundary skirmish between Great Britain and the U.S., known as the Aroostook War. Complete the fun loop hike with a stroll along the multi-use St. John Valley Heritage Trail.
Born out of the Old Potato House Brew Gang and a dream of starting a brewery, five friends opened First Mile Brewing Company on U.S. Route 1 in Fort Kent on Thanksgiving weekend in 2017. The tasting room has a rustic-industrial look and feel, with reclaimed hardwood from the basement grain bins, stainless steel fixtures (TIG-welded by the head brewer), and a beautiful granite bar top. Eight taps feature something refreshing for everybody, from Something Wit, a Belgian witbier, to First Snow, a New England-style double IPA, to the Backwoods Amber Ale. Three local restaurants deliver to the pub when the munchies strike.
— Text & Photos: Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island — an avid beer drinker, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, and author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast.