3 Days Along the Saco River
Discover local culture and explore pristine natural beauty along a historic river.
Where in Maine
This itinerary starts along the coast in Saco/Biddeford, about 20 miles south of Portland. You'll then head about 50 miles up the Saco River, exploring the Maine Beaches and the Maine's Lakes & Mountains regions.
Best Time to Go
Spring through fall
What You'll See
Beaches, two nationally designated Main Streets, rural villages, rolling hills and farmlands, mountains
The Saco River is a gleaming jewel of New England. Originating in the White Mountains, it winds through Maine to eventually empty into the Atlantic below Saco and Biddeford, which is where you'll start your trip. After spending a day along the coast, you'll explore historic towns upriver while savoring delicious food, finding excellent shopping, and catching some fresh air on the river and hiking nearby mountains.
Morning: On the Water in Camp Ellis
Route: If you're staying in Saco/Biddeford, take Route 9 off Main Street/Route 1 to Camp Ellis.
Spend the morning on the water exploring Camp Ellis and the Saco River. While there are tons of saltwater fishing opportunities here, the jetty in Camp Ellis is a big draw for anglers hoping to hook mackerel and stripers. If you want to drop a line, we recommend talking with Maine Tuna Fishing or Trina Lyn Fishing Charter. If fishing isn't your thing, you can still enjoy the beautiful landscape and shoreline of the Saco River by boat. Book an excursion with Saco River Sailing or Broad Reach Sailing. Both companies offer various excursion options, letting you pick how long you'd like to stay out on the water.
Lunch: Classic Maine Seafood in Camp Ellis
Grab lunch at Huot's Seafood Restaurant and enjoy your meal with a waterfront view. This local favorite has been serving up fresh seafood since 1935.
Afternoon: Head to Saco/Biddeford
Route: Take Route 9 from Camp Ellis to Main Street in Saco/Biddeford.
Spend the afternoon exploring local culture and shopping on two historic Main Streets. Start with a visit to the Biddeford Mills Museum where you can embark on a captivating two-hour walking tour of the Pepperell Mill Campus and learn about the hard-working history and impact of this Saco River icon. Led by former mill workers, you'll explore historic spinning and weaving rooms, and the underground canals and water tunnels that powered them. Reservations are required, so check ahead for current tour schedules and information.
At the Saco Museum, founded in 1866 and the third oldest museum in Maine, you can explore their collection of fine and decorative arts, including local furniture and historic artifacts. While there, make sure to pick up your National Register Historic District Walking Tour map for an overview of the area.
Dinner: Biddeford's Bustling Food Scene
Today, the legendary mills and historic neighborhoods of Biddeford are teeming with inspiration and fresh enterprise. It's a movement you can actually taste and savor at local eateries, brew pubs and distilleries. Biddeford's historic Pepperell Mill on the Saco River is home to a rising tide of fresh places to dine, imbibe and shop. And if you can't settle on just one place, bite into a bit of it all and sign up for the Heart of Biddeford Foodie Tour.
Biddeford is known for its collection of late 19th and early 20th century commercial brick and masonry architecture. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
Spend the Night
End a day spent exploring the historic streets and coastlines of Maine with a stay at the equally historic Cristina's B&B, an 1890′s Maine sea captain's cottage overlooking beautiful Saco Bay. Or put your feet up for the evening at the comfortable Hampton Inn Saco/Biddeford.
Nearby and Noteworthy
Explore a vibrant creative hub
Wander the mills and check out artist studios, unique shops, breweries and more at Pepperell Mill and North Dam Mill Campus
Rent a fishing pole for your morning in Camp Ellis
Chevy's Bait and Saco Bay Tackle can outfit you for the day
Morning: One More Taste of Saco/Biddeford
Before hitting the road, start your day with breakfast and a walk. Head to the James Beard award-winning Palace Diner for fresh takes on diner classics (and don't forget cash). When you're fueled up, make your way to the Saco Heath Preserve for a peaceful two-mile jaunt through a bog in the company of Atlantic white cedar. On your way out of town for the day, make a one last pitstop at the Way Way Store for some treats and a dose of nostalgia.
Fresh Fruit Picked En Route
Route: Take Route 112 from Main Street Saco towards Buxton.
First stop, the Snell Family Farm. In summer you can pick your own berries, in fall you can feast on fresh picked apples, and you can always find something in their quaint country store.
Afternoon: Antiques in Cornish & Brews in the Woods
Route: Head towards Cornish on Route 117.
In Cornish Village, it's time to get going and go antiquing. That is, if you haven't already stopped at a few along the way. Main Street is dotted with antique and vintage shops, so start at one end and finish your shopping spree at the other. Once you've found a treasure or two you can grab a bucolic brew out in the Limerick woods at Gneiss Brewing Company (pronounced "nice").
Dinner: Catch Up at Krista's
Dinner's about the food. But it's also about the vibe, and the people that make it. With a little river running behind it, a cozy casual atmosphere, and a super-friendly staff, Krista's is the place to be. Did we mention the eclectic mouthwatering menu? Favorites include the seared scallops, sweet chili yummlets (not a real word, but a really good app) and the "special hunk of meat"—an always changing, fresh selection from the market. Just be sure to call ahead and make a reservation.
The Saco River Theater hosts live music and professional theater in a spectacularly refurbished chapel. Orignially constructed in 1897 and formerly the Saco River Grange Hall, the theater is known today as greater Portland's "Little Carnegie Hall."
Spend the Night
Take a step, or snooze, back in time. Experience the quintessential New England charm of The Inn at Cornish, which is a whopping 200-years-old (you absolutely read that right, two-oh-oh). Or opt for the extravagance of The Perkins House, a refurbished Victorian mansion.
Nearby and Noteworthy
Hike Sawyer Mountain
The Frances Small Heritage Trust offers hiking and walking trails on Sawyer Mountain
Get outfitted for your bike rides
Local Gear Cycle Shop is a great resource for bike trail information and service
Find toys, puzzles and games from all over the world
Make a stop at At Once All Agog to peruse a one-of-a-kind toy store
Morning: Coffee, Pastries & Plenty of Altitude
Route: Whichever hike you choose, you'll head north on Route 113 for the day.
Day three is all about grabbing a paddle and getting on the river. And you have hiking options from Hiram to Brownfield to Fryeburg. If you're feeling especially ambitious, you could even hit two (or all three!) in one day. (It's about a 9-minute drive from Hiram to Brownfield, and about an 11-minute drive from Brownfield to Fryeburg.) But, before anything, coffee in Cornish. And pastries. And plenty of other treats from The Coffee Joint. Then it's time to lace up the hiking boots.
A Moderate Hike in Hiram
Hike over not one, but two peaks of Mount Cutler, on the 2.7 mile loop of Mount Cutler Trail.
Going Up in Brownfield
You might think meadow means flat, but the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail takes you on a 3.6-mile loop with 1,391 feet in elevation gain. The reward? Sweeping mountain views.
A No-sweat Stroll in Fryeburg
The Jockey Cap Trail in Fryeburg is an easy half-mile out-and-back hike that's fun for the whole family with gorgeous views of Western Maine and the White Mountains.
Lunch: Picnic Perfect
Route: When you're ready to head out, continue on Route 113 for the day.
It's undeniable. A hike pairs perfectly with a picnic. So load up with what you're craving in Cornish, or make a stop at the Sugar Shack Cafe in Brownfield for a sandwich.
Afternoon: Paddle the Saco
Route: Head towards Cornish on Route 117.
We know you're not supposed to swim after lunch, but canoeing or kayaking? Fair game. And there are plenty of outfitters to get you out on the water. At River Run Canoe in Brownfield, you can find guided day trips (or overnights if you're feeling ambitious) with plenty of family-friendly options. If you're looking for something a little more laidback, try tubing rentals from On the Saco Family Campground. In Fryeburg, the folks at Saco River Canoe & Kayak can set you up so you can paddle on.
Evening: Showtime in Brownfield
A country road leading to a restored red barn. An evening leading to lifelong memories. At the Stone Mountain Arts Center, you can soak up some folk or the blues, an opera or a comedy all under the stunning wooden beams of the refurbished barn. The center is truly one of Maine's premier music venues, and they host shows year-round.
Nestled in Fryeburg's Saco River Valley, the Weston's Farm & Market is a seven-generation farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You'll find vegetables, a maple sugar orchard, pumpkins in the fall and two farm markets, featuring products from over 100 Maine makers.
Spend the Night
At The Oxford House Inn, you can kick back for the evening in an atmosphere of historic charm and wake up to warm pastries and fresh brewed organic coffee. Or check in to the Old Saco Inn and check out from the daily grind. Located on 65 acres of wooded and riverfront property in Fryeburg, you'll feel like you're worlds away. Paddlers will appreciate the on-site kayak course. If you're craving time around the campfire, pitch your tent riverside at Fiddlehead Campground in Fryeburg, or check out the eco-friendly Frost Mountain Yurts in Brownfield.
Nearby and Noteworthy
Discover a doll museum
Currier Doll Museum has a unique collection of over 10,000 dolls, and only dolls
Take flight in a vintage biplane
Buckle up for thrilling views from the open cockpit of a 1947 WWII biplane with The Red Baron Adventure
See how many species you can identify in the Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area
Pick your own fruit and discover the work of over 100 Maine makers at Weston's Farm & Market
All together now. Depending on when you visit, your Saco River adventure could (and should) include a stop at one of these great local festivals.
- La Kermesse Festival – June
Celebrate the city's Franco-American culture and heritage.
- Cornish Strawberry Fest – June
A local celebration of all things strawberry plus art, crafts, live music, and fresh farm produce.
- Ossipee Valley Music Festival – July
Groove to music, savor farm-to-table food and camp at this family-friendly roots music festival in rural Hiram.
- Fryeburg Fair – September-October
Maine's largest agricultural fair founded in 1851, and the best place for your kiddos to meet some furry and feathered friends.
As you follow our riverways, be sure to share your photos on social media using @visitmaine and #mainething. Have fun!
River Access Points & Map
Before your trip, familiarize yourself with the locations of and distances between the river's various access points. And consider purchasing the fully updated, always dependable AMC Saco River Map and Guide. The waterproof guide features mile-by-mile descriptions so you know what to expect every step of the way, plus comprehensive lists of swimming holes, campsites, and outfitters.