A Road Less Traveled: Your Ultimate Guide to Madawaska, Maine

Are you a collector of “First,” “Biggest,” “Longest” or “Most Extreme” places in the world? Do you love road trips? Interested in French culture? Well, Madawaska, Maine is the most extreme Northeast Corner of the United States, rich in French-Acadian history.

Fort Kent is the northern terminus of US Route 1 that extends all the way to the tip of Florida, 2,200 miles away. But these are not the only reasons to visit the US/Canada border towns that are part of Aroostook County in the St. Johns Valley.

You’ll find laughing Acadians, a great little Boutique Hotel, and some really fun nightlife. Yes, there’s actually nightlife in the area of Maine that exemplifies “You can’t get there from here.”

Where is Madawaska Maine?

Madawaska sits in the northeastern corner of Maine, specifically in Aroostook County, near where the St. John and Madawaska Rivers converge. The town of Madawaska enjoys a close relationship with Edmundston, its adjacent Canadian neighbor in New Brunswick. It is approximately 90 miles from Brunswick, Canada, with the drive typically taking around 2.5 hours, subject to border crossing times.

Madawaska is also about 50 miles northeast of Presque Isle, Maine—a distance that equates to roughly an hour’s drive. In relation to Bangor, Maine, Madawaska is situated approximately 220 miles to the north, a journey that usually takes about 4 hours by car. Finally, it’s around 300 miles from Acadia National Park, a trip that generally requires about 6 hours of driving time. This makes Madawaska a relatively isolated locale, distinct from Maine’s more popular southern destinations.

Things To Do In Madawaska Maine

Maine Back Roads

DRIVE: Up Route 1 to the St. John River Valley

From Presque Isle, it’s 60 miles to Madawaska Maine.  On the way you’ll pass a barrage of potato farm stands. If it’s October, they will be bursting with 20 and 50-lb sacks of the tubers – which you can pick up for a song (on the honor system).

TOUR: Acadian Village – Van Buren

You’ll get to Van Buren first, so plan to stop at the Acadian Village (just past a red house on the left and a roadside cross). The 17 building complex showcases Acadian culture including furnishings from different periods and four homes that were actually lived in. Open only in summer, it’s well worth your while to explore.

Grand Isle General Store ME

VISIT: Grand Isle ME

Next is the relatively swanky town of Grand Isle. The first home you’ll see is a riverfront mansion sporting garden sculptures. Nearby, see the Musee Culturel Du Mont-Carmel in a decommissioned Catholic Church. Stop in at the General Store that caters to rugged hunters and snowmobilers. It’s definitely a culture trip if you’re from “Down East.”

Tante Blanche Museum grounds, Madawaska ME

TOUR: Tante Blanche Museum and Acadian Landing Cross

Tante Blanche, aka Marguerite Blanche Thibodeau, was an Acadian folk hero. According to local lore, she possessed elements of Mother Theresa, Robin Hood and Florence Nightingale.

An “Angel of Mercy” to many, Tante Blanche was a formidable figure during the Great Winter Famine of 1796, after floods and frost destroyed all crops. Seemingly larger than life, Tante Blanche battled driving wind and snow as she trudged door-to-door to collect food and clothing from the rich to give to the poor.

You’ll learn her story, among others, at the museum’s Visitor Center, built in the 1970s, which is filled chock-a-block with artifacts from the area. Be sure to sign up for a tour of all four structures in the museum complex for a comprehensive history of the little known Maine Acadians.

In the 1750’s, after Great Britain conquered what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, the resident Acadians were deported to France and the 13 Colonies. (French Acadians would eventually move to Louisiana – where they are known as Cajuns).

Acadian Cross, Madawaska ME

However, a small band of “refugees” who “missed the boat” came up the St. John River, thanked God for safe passage, planted the Acadian Cross on the embankment, and made their home in Northern Maine. (The cross was rebuilt as a 14 foot white marble Historic Shrine where it purportedly first stood. You can find it behind the Tante Blanche Museum).

Many Acadian men married “French Canadian” women from Quebec. Subsequently, the descendants here still speak both English and French, and have an accent singular to this region.

French and English building techniques differed, too, and are identified by terrific informational signage. For example, the French dovetailed logs at the corners, while the English notched and stacked them like Lincoln Logs.

Tour Madawaska School District #1

Madawaska School District 1, ME

Madawaska’s School District #1 is the only remaining schoolhouse from the 19th century in the community. From 1870-1930, local children were taught in this very room. Your tour drives home the importance of rural education in America at the time.

Portraits of George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Betsy Ross hang on the wall along with a 1904 Map of the USA and a pre-1954 Pledge of Allegiance in its original form. “Under God” was not added until 1954.

The Albert Homestead, occupied until 1970, was the home of Madawaska’s first Town Treasurer, Luc Albert. Paperwork indicates that the building possibly dates back to the late 1700s.

Restored to its original design, you can still see ax strokes in overhead beams and wall logs, and elements of classic nautical Acadia details like “Ships Knees” used as ceiling/wall supports.

Martin Acadian Homestead, Madawaska ME

INFO: Martin Acadian Homestead

This 1823 log and timber structure is still a private home. The original owners, Isaie Regis Martin and his wife, raised 17 children here.

“Isi’s” family was originally from France. His grandfather was the first European (non-indigenous person) to be born in Nova Scotia.

The home features important characteristics of Acadian architecture – tongue and groove joints, shipbuilding workmanship, and bricks under stairs to heat the room. Former owners attempted to restore the home to its 1920s appearance.

The hidden bookshelf at one stair landing was most likely covering a window. “Some kid must have taken a tumble down the steps and crashed through it.”

Acadian Homestead Root Cellar Madawaska ME

Nearly all of the windows are authentic “bubble” glass. There’s a scary root cellar accessed through a trap door in the living room, and hidden cabinets galore. A glimpse inside will give you a good idea of how the “Common Man” in Madawaska lived and worked at the turn of last century.

Americas First Mile, US Route 1 Mile 1, Fort Kent ME

VISIT: Fort Kent Mile 1 of US Route 1

Driving another 19 miles west of Madawaska along the St. Johns River on US Route 1, you’ll keep Canada on your right as you approach the granite sign that marks the Beginning of US Route 1 – “America’s First Mile.”

St. John Vianney Parish Church, Fort Kent ME

Fort Kent Main St. is the starting point for the Can-Am Dog Sled Race every year, and features a substantial border crossing into Canada, just a few steps away.

Check out the magnificent filigreed steeple of the 130 year old St. John Vianney Parish Church (26 East Main St.) and Darren Connor’s Farm Life Murals on the sides of several buildings.

If it’s open, step into the Fort Kent Blockhouse, a small fortification built during the “bloodless” Aroostook War in 1838-1839, and featured in the border dispute between the US and Great Britain (settled between New Brunswick and Maine in 1842). 

Madawaska Maine Restaurants

EAT/DINNER/DANCE: Voyager Lounge at Inn of Acadia

If you come on a weekend, when a live band is performing, you’ll most likely be the only out-of-town guest in the room. Clearly, Acadians love to have a good time.

On a rainy Saturday night in mid-October, the Voyager Lounge, dressed in modern grays and reds, teemed with laughing, yakking locals having the time of their lives. It was enough just to be an observer and absorb the fun and festivity.

The food is good and fresh – unexpectedly good, in fact. Seared Sesame Encrusted Ahi Tuna  over greens is cooked to perfection. And don’t even get me started on the “S’mores Ravioli” dessert. Suffice it to say I ate the whole thing.

Dolly's Restaurant Specialties, Madawaska ME

EAT/LUNCH: Dolly’s Restaurant Between Fort Kent and Madawaska

This diner-like cafe has won awards for its home-cooked comfort food, particularly the regional specialty, Ployes – most buckwheat pancakes – and Chicken Stew (more like dumpling soup). Try a bit of both for $5.99 for a true taste of Acadian cuisine.

Madawaska Maine Hotels

Inn of Acadia, Madawaska ME

STAY: Inn of Acadia

Aroostook County’s only “Boutique Hotel” – the Inn of Acadia, housed in a former convent nursing home – is ultra-friendly, adorable, convenient (with a good on-site restaurant, see above) and comfy.

More contempo-spare than lavish, bedding is delightful, ceilings and windows soar, and bathroom showers, though a bit on the small side (at least in Room 4) are enlivened by glass mosaic tile work.

There’s a tiny lobby, a smile at reception, and relief that you’ve made it here, to the “end of the country” in a way, to such a gracious place.

In the morning, enjoy a continental breakfast in the Voyager Lounge. If available, opt for the delish crepe-like Fruit Ployes – made on a skillet right before your eyes. A great way to start the day.


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine, Shape.com, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

2 thoughts on “A Road Less Traveled: Your Ultimate Guide to Madawaska, Maine”

  1. What a nice review of some of our best places to visit in the St. John Valley. Thanks for the review. Still trying to connect the dots to you. Hope you will visit soon.
    Lois and Paul
    Martin Acadian Homestead
    And Learning Center
    A 501 (c) 3 Public Nonprofit

  2. Martins Motel is also a place to stay..they ve been established for decades, Big Ricks is a great place to eat..

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