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New England Biking: 3 Scenic Routes That Will Wow You

Biking along Lake Willoughby, Vermont Cyclists ride past Lake Willoughby. | Photo by Kingdom Games

Slow down and enjoy some of Northern New England's best scenery.

The proprietor at my local bike shop thinks of cycling as flying. I know what he means. You skim along, tires humming, scenery streaming by. For me, riding mostly in the williwags of central Maine, that means forest vistas seen from winding ridgetops, deer bounding across the road, and wild turkeys scuttling away as the bike approaches. 

Cycling offers a fresh perspective on places you thought you knew. My 20- to 40-mile cycling routes have revealed people and places, sights and sounds that I’d missed by car. A bike is fast enough to take you many miles but slow enough to allow you to hear birdcalls from roadside woods and cows mooing in dairy barns. I’ve found myself stopping to chat with people and returning waves from others. I even made the acquaintance of some early settlers—retired to a tiny cemetery I noticed only when I cycled past.

So strap on your helmet and climb into the saddle. From takeoff to landing, enjoy the flight on these three bike routes.

Blue Hill, Maine: 40 miles

Author Gerry Boyle and his friend Bruce McDougal on a biking trip around Maine's Blue Hill Peninsula.

Author Gerry Boyle and his friend Bruce McDougal on a biking trip around Maine's Blue Hill Peninsula.

Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park get the press, but the Blue Hill Peninsula on Maine’s beautiful midcoast offers prime cycling on country roads, with ocean views and picturesque villages.

The loop starts south of Blue Hill’s quaint town center, and offers gently rolling hills and the backdrop of glittering Blue Hill Bay. My friend Bruce McDougal and I started on Parker Point Road and headed south. Take care and wear high-visibility clothing because the road doesn’t have a wide shoulder. Blue Hill Harbor is on the left, with pleasure boats swinging on their moorings. A couple of miles out, we crossed the first of three bridges where the tide rushes in beneath the bridge. 

We rode past saltwater farms, oceanfront estates, and lobstermen’s homes with traps stacked high. Nine miles in, Cadillac Mountain, Acadia’s showcase peak, came into view across the bay. I had to remind myself to stop gawking at the view and pay attention to the road. 

Slipping down the peninsula, we dropped off the main road and headed for the sea. On Flye Point Road, we passed a boulder-strewn blueberry barren with the bay sparkling on both sides. At Naskeag Point, lobstermen unloaded their catches on the stone pier. We met a sea-urchin diver stepping off his boat. The wind had stirred up the bottom, he said, causing poor visibility and slim urchin pickings. He shrugged. “We’ll be back out there tomorrow.”

We pedaled down to Brooklin Boat Yard to look at a gleaming, newly launched sailing yacht, then rolled down to the renowned Wooden Boat School, where boat builders were honing their craft. After a stop to gaze on shimmering Eggemoggin Reach, it was back up the road, with crushed seashells crunching under our tires.

Stay

The historic Blue Hill Inn sits among other white-clapboard Federal period buildings in the heart of the village. Rates start at $175. 207-374-2844; bluehillinn.com.

Blue Hill map

Barton and Westmore, Vermont: 30 miles

Mount Pisgah forms a dramatic backdrop to Lake Willoughby, Vermont. | Julie Mowbray / Alamy

Mount Pisgah forms a dramatic backdrop to Lake Willoughby, Vermont. | Julie Mowbray / Alamy

I picked this route because of Lake Willoughby, a glacial lake outside Barton in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. At Barton’s Crystal Lake State Park, the entrance fee was $4 and the park ranger was cheerily helpful. “I’m just here to ride around the lakes,” I said.

“Yeah, lots of people do that,” she responded. “What a great day for it. Enjoy!”

The park is the staging area for this ride, which skirts Crystal Lake (Willoughby’s smaller cousin). Country roads thread between Vermont hills, leading eventually to the public beach at the north end of Lake Willoughby, a bucolic sight that had me thinking I was riding back in time. 

Thousands of years back, in fact, to when a glacier gouged out this long, narrow, 300-foot-deep lake. Sheer stone cliffs mark the shoreline, and Mounts Hor and Pisgah flank the lake. On the 5-mile lakeshore stretch, I mused on geology and the forces that shaped this dramatic landscape. The ride on the paved road is mostly a fast descent, but I found myself coasting, even braking, trying to make this part of the journey last.

The West Burke village awaits beyond the lake. The loop continued on US Route 5, but after a few miles of choppy pavement, I turned around to get a second look at beautiful Lake Willoughby. It was worth the climb, as I had another chance to see the lakeside cliffs and wave to hikers headed for the Mount Pisgah trail. The afternoon ride ended with a downhill coast back to Crystal Lake State Park.

Stay

Willough Vale Inn and Cottages is on Lake Willoughby’s shore. Rates start at $109 for the inn and $219 for a lakefront cottage. 802-525-4123; willoughvale.com.

Barton map

Lancaster, New Hampshire: 35 miles

The Mount Orne covered bridge spans the Connecticut River. | Erin Paul Donovan/ Alamy

The Mount Orne covered bridge spans the Connecticut River. | Erin Paul Donovan/ Alamy

This route crisscrosses the Connecticut River, which drew settlers to this region in northwestern New Hampshire and now forms the border with Vermont.

I began in downtown Lancaster. Starting at the town’s welcome center, two quick rights sent me south on quiet New Hampshire Route 135, a.k.a. Elm Street. The two-lane road winds through woods, but the landscape quickly reveals pasture, cornfields, the river in the distance, and clouds billowing up beyond the Vermont hills to the west.

I pedaled past farm stands and vegetable plots and watched free-range chickens scurry away from the approaching bike. Just 5 miles out, for the fun of it, I coasted through the Mount Orne covered bridge, crossing into Lunenburg, Vermont. The click of the bike wheels turning echoed off the wood walls and roof. Then I turned around and went back through the bridge into New Hampshire, where I rode south to Dalton. There, I crossed the river into Vermont again and headed north.

The route is like a mini-history lesson. Riding north on US Route 2, I passed an idle paper mill, a vestige of better economic times. Then I headed north on Vermont Route 102, past farms and woods, the river off to my right, hills to the left. I was cranking along—until I came upon the village square in Guildhall.

The white-clapboard enclave making up the Guildhall Village Historic District dates to 1761. I got off the bike and explored. Historic buildings include the neo-Georgian Guildhall Public Library and the original 1795 Guild Hall, which is still the town’s center. A stroll and spin around the grassy quadrangle left me feeling like I wasn’t just cycling through the countryside but pedaling back to an earlier century.

Stay

Cabot Inn and Suites is just east of downtown Lancaster on US Route 2. It has a pool and fitness center. Rates start at $99. 603-788-3346; cabotinnandsuites.com.

More info

Organizations and state tourism office websites in Maine (exploremaine.org/bike) Vermont (vermontvacation.com/things-to-do/recreation/biking), and New Hampshire (visitnh.gov/things-to-do/recreation/biking) offer more bike routes.

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