St. John Valley Cultural/Fish River Byway

Details

  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesCultural
  • LocationME
  • Length129 miles
Byway Visitor Information
Aroostook County Tourism
Statewide Byway Partners
Maine Department of Transportation
Maine Byways Map - Download
Byway street view of the Musée Culturel du Mont-Carmel
Joseph Don Cyr Photo

Overview

The St. John Valley/Fish River National Scenic Byway is a working Byway, but more importantly, it is a cultural journey. Hewn from many political conflicts, border disputes and treatise resolutions that resulted in deportation, migration, exile, and expansion, the historical and cultural remnants are a well-preserved testimony to past struggles and triumphs. This Cultural Valley is a unique place in America, where communities still celebrate their ancestry, from the Maine Acadians to the Scotch-Irish settlements; from the Native American tribes of the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq to the French-Canadian or Quebecois.

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

The St. John Valley Cultural Byway / Fish River Scenic Byway, sometimes known as the Parcours culturel de la Vallee, is a 134-mile roadway situated in the St. John Valley at the northeastern point of Maine alongside the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Québec. The byway is rich with Maine’s Acadian heritage and culture. Along the St. John Valley Cultural segment of the byway, travelers enjoy a captivating cultural journey in a pastoral river valley as they wind through small towns, fertile fields, and deep forests between Dickey and Hamlin. In this rural corner of the nation, the traveler is welcomed with kindness and a gentle pace of life. They will come to know “chez nous,” which means our home, as a genuine place of simple living and distinct culture, shaped over centuries in one of the last frontiers of wild, undivided forestland in the nation. Home to about 13,000 people mostly of French heritage, the byway’s unifying theme is culture; the international blend of French heritage as shaped by Acadian, French Canadian, and other cultural influences. In most parts of the byway, French is spoken in everyday affairs, in churches, restaurants, and on the street – an evolved blend from sixteenth century France, Acadian and French Canadian, Wabanaki, and English. Located throughout the byway are 29 bilingual wayside exhibits that tell the story about first inhabitants and early settlement; the social fabric of language, family, and faith; the borderland and “land in between”; and of centuries-old traditions that endure. Visitors should be sure to explore the villages that dot the route.

The people in this region have been described as spanning two cultures and two countries. This makes for a distinct and rich byway experience. Travelers are enchanted as they drive the winding roads of this byway at any time of the year. They meet descendants of first settlers, hear Acadian music, see dark skies and nature’s haunting beauty, taste the fusion of old and new French recipes, and touch centuries-old hand-hewn logs and early tools that shaped the land. Immersed in the historically based culture of the St. John Valley, travelers come to know intimately what it means to be of this place.

The Fish River portion of the byway traverses the rolling lands between the lake towns of Fort Kent and Portage. The landscape provides travelers with unparalleled views of wildflower meadows, Eagle Lake and Portage Lake. Much of the route is forested, and wildlife abounds, including eagles, moose, landlocked salmon, brook trout and beaver. Camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, and snowmobiling are popular activities, with wilderness camps lining the shores of the area's lakes. Along both stretches of the National Scenic Byway, visitors can enjoy outdoor recreation activities such as bicycling, boating, camping, fishing, foliage viewing, four-wheeling, hiking, and snowmobiling. Visitors can also enjoy the many historical sites along the way such as the Fort Kent Block House, the Allagash Historical Society Museum, and Acadian Village-Living History Site.

Driving Directions

The byway begins in Dickey, Maine and continues along the St. John River on State Route 161 to Fort Kent. From Fort Kent, visitors can travel south on State Route 11 to Portage Lake to experience the Fish River portion of the byway. Returning to Fort Kent, the byway continues east on US 1 with a quick detour on State Route 162 to Sinclair. The byway reaches its termination point in Hamlin on US 1 after a detour to Cyr Plantation.

Points of Interest

  • Acadian Village

    The Acadian Village is a living history site and one of the largest historical sites in Maine. The Village honors the Acadians who settled in the Saint John Valley after being deported from Nova Scotia.

  • Allagash Historical Society Museum

    The Allagash Historical Society Museum is the best place for visitors to become acquainted with the history of Allagash and its people.

  • Fort Kent State Historic Site

    Located at the confluence of the Fish and Saint John Rivers, it includes Fort Kent, the only surviving American fortification built during border tensions with neighboring New Brunswick known as the Aroostook War.

  • Portage Lake

    Portage Lake, for which the town is named, is a great destination to enjoy nature year round. Visitors will love hunting, fishing, and viewing wildlife such as moose, bears, and deer.

  • Fish River Falls

    The Fish River Falls can be accessed by the Fish River Falls Trail along a short woods trail, 0.8 mi, leading from the grass airstrip at the end of the Airport Road down to the Fish River Falls on the Fish River, a Class IV rapid.

  • Four Corners Park Madawaska Maine

    The Northeasternmost town in the United States, Madawaska Maine is home to the Four Corners Park.

  • Acadian Archives at the University of Maine Fort Kent

    The Archives are the premier center for the study of Acadian peoples in New England. The institution houses over 500 separate archival collections; it assists researchers with their queries, holds cultural events throughout the year, and traces the history of the St. John Valley as a whole. On display are artifacts that represent the material culture, rich craft traditions, and historical experiences of Valley residents.

Itinerary

  • A Day on the St. John River

    Start your day in Keegan at the Acadian Village. a living history village and one of the largest villages in Maine. It contains many authentic and replica buildings to teach visitors about Acadian culture, which you will experience as you travel along the byway. From Keegen, travel north to Lille and Grand Isle where there are two museums worthy of a visit: Musēe culturel du Mont-Carmel and the Grand Isle History Museum. The first offers an experience of French classic architecture and an extensive collection of Acadian and Québecois artifacts, while the latter hosts many events to get people from the local area and beyond engaged with the Acadian culture.

    From Grand Isle, head north to Fort Kent for some authentic Acadian cuisine or cross over the border to Clair, which is just over the Wolastoq/St. John River if you’ve brought your passport. Keep an eye out for the famous poutine! After lunch, stop by the Fort Kent Historical Museum and the Acadian Archives, which contain a trove of information on Acadian history, genealogy, and folklore.

    Drive through St. John and St. Francis to Cross Rock at the Louie’s Antique Chainsaw Museum, Maine’s only chainsaw museum with over 300 chain saws. End your day at the Allagash Historical Society Museum, just a little ways down the river, to conclude your journey learning about the cultural marvels of this unique area.

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