It is not at all surprising that Route 26 began its life as a Native-American trade route, cutting its way from the sea to the mountains long before it became the winter weekend escape route for the downhill set. But slow down, it’s way more than just a stretch of highway to get to the slopes. Follow us on our quick tour heading north from Gray to Woodstock.
Of course, the outdoor recreation in this part of western Maine is found at every turn. One visit to the primary lakes along 26 will bring you back year after year. Try Crystal and Sabbathday Lake, Range Pond State Park or Norway Lake (Lake Pennseewassee) and Thompson Lake for a splashing good time.
To be guaranteed a sighting of the state’s most beloved animal, the moose, you need not go any farther than The Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. It’s home to dozens of our state’s indigenous species. Plus, park guides offer scheduled tours and talks as well.
Next, encounter a cluster of 18 tidy buildings that make up the last active Shaker Community located in New Gloucester. A visit will share a peek at life as it has been here since 1783. There are tours, workshops, a museum, and a library available for visitors. New Gloucester is also home to Pineland Farms, a pastoral 5,000-acre site that has been transformed into an organic farm, business campus, and a welcoming recreational and event venue set in the low and green rolling hills that make up this part of the region.
Close by in Poland, Poland Spring Preservation Park is home to the Poland Spring Water Museum (see the original spring), the Maine State Building from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and the serene All Souls Chapel. Next door is the Donald Ross-designed course enveloping America’s Oldest Golf Resort, and up the road, stop in at Harvest Hill Farms agricultural-tourism attraction.
Now head from country to town; Oxford offers commerce and action at Maine’s newest casino. The Oxford Casino opened its doors in 2012 and quickly grew in popularity with thrill-seekers. Oxford is also home to the famous Oxford Plains Speedway and its Annual 250 held in July. Talk about action. Vrroooom!
One of the few recognized Main Street Communities in Maine, Norway offers the nicest kinds of diversions. Shop at locally owned stores housed in buildings that date from the early 1900s. Or visit the annual three-day Norway Arts Festival in July featuring more than 120 artists celebrating visual and performing arts with theater, music, crafts, and dance. North of town you’ll find Lake Pennesseewassee (Norway Lake) to paddle the day away or fish for brown trout, pickerel, landlocked salmon, to name a few. So, take advantage of the two marinas and public launch and enjoy this western mountain gem.
The McLaughlin Garden and Homestead just up the road in South Paris crowns the area with its respected horticultural pedigree including Maine’s largest collection of lilacs. While the Celebration Barn Theater showcases its internationally known school for physical theater that attracts touring artists, actors, dancers, mimes, jugglers and storytellers.
Our journey through this part of the region ends at Bryant Pond and Woodstock, a rural town with a pretty pond loved by many native Mainers and a claim to fame as the home of the last crank call ever made, well, the last call with a crank phone ever made.
And lest we forget while winding along route 26, you’ll encounter some of the state’s best rock and gem hunting. The areas surrounding Oxford Hills have been revered for their gemological attractions for more than a few generations. Rock hounds continue to come from all over to spots up and down Route 26 to make discoveries of Maine tourmaline, pegmatite in addition to good-quality feldspar and mica specimens.