For centuries, the Kennebec River has been a major thoroughfare for goods, people and ideas moving between Canada and the coast. History buffs will savor the struggles, wars, deceptions and invasions that highlight this route, mirroring the relationships between the French, English and Native Americans who traversed it. Adventure seekers will thrill to the whitewater rafting, calm-water canoeing, snowmobiling and hiking possibilities, while nature lovers will appreciate the lakes, streams and forests.
This region has broad appeal for outdoor enthusiasts. The Kennebec and Dead Rivers are two of the finest whitewaters rivers in the East, providing rafting, kayaking and canoeing thrills from May into October. The Appalachian Trail passes through this region before it enters the 100-mile Wilderness for the final push to its terminus at Katahdin. The Belgrade Lakes attract summer rusticators to clusters of lakefront cottages and camps to relax, play golf, boat and fish. When snow blankets the countryside, snowmobiles and snowshoes replace canoes and hiking boots. The border town of Jackman sits at a fork in the Northeast Snowmobile Trail that connects with an international trail system 1.100 miles long, linking Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec.
For a better perspective on the state’s history, visit the Maine State Museum, in Augusta. In the same complex are the State House, designed by renowned architect Charles Bulfinch and built in 1829, and the Blaine House, historic home of Maine’s governors. Just across the bridge is Fort Western, built in 1754 and used as a staging point for Benedict Arnold’s ill-fated journey to capture Quebec in 1775. Also on the east of the Kennebec is the Pine Tree State Arboretum, where you can wander among more than 600 trees and shrubs. On the west side of the river is Hallowell; the downtown is a National Historic District filled with antiques shops, boutiques and historic homes, perfect for an afternoon of browsing.
The campus of Colby College, in Waterville, includes the Colby Museum of Art, which specializes in American art. In Skowhegan, take in a summer production at the Lakewood Theater, bone up on 20th century politics at the Margaret Chase Smith Library Center and admire the Skowhegan Indian. Don’t miss the Skowhegan State Fair, the oldest continuously operated state fair in the country. Nearby Hinckley boasts the L.C. Bates Museum, with an eclectic collection of treasures ranging from rare bird specimens to Native American artifacts. Another offbeat treat is the South Solon Meetinghouse. The exterior promises nothing more than a traditional, 19th century meetinghouse, but artists from the Skowhegan Scholl of Painting and Sculpture have covered every available interior space with colorful frescoes.