48 Hours in Caribou + Saint John Valley

With wide-open landscapes, pristine lakes, and a rich culture and history, the Saint John Valley provides inexhaustible options for weekend trips to Maine’s northern corner.

Cozy accommodations in the heart of Caribou

After a snowy drive, we reach Caribou and find The Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast on High Street. The former home has been a bed-and-breakfast since 1992. Inside are antique irons and other memorabilia that make it look like a museum. Our gracious hosts, Kate and Kevin McCartney, show my two sons and me to our quaint, well-furnished room.

Pub food and arcade games

Ready for dinner after the long ride, we head to The Warehouse and Bar and Grill for dinner. The restaurant is within walking distance, but my two hungry children convince me to drive. The family-friendly pub has an open-air dining area, and my kids spot the free pool table and game room. While they play, I order poutine, chicken wings, and chicken fingers.

Danishes on the border

At Farms Bakery in Caribou, we stock up on fresh cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, and danishes for our road trip. We drive north to the end of Route 1, passing through Van Buren and Madawaska. Near the Canadian border, we notice that the French-speaking Canadian radio stations announce the time for both the Eastern and Atlantic time zones.

History and back roads

We stop in the small town of Grand Isle, located on the Saint John River, and look out across the frozen water to Canada. We visit the Grand Isle General Store for lunch—it’s a popular pit stop for hunters and cyclists. Outside the store, a sign reads, “Famous Bismarks” (a name for jelly doughnuts derived from Otto von Bismarck, a nineteenth-century German chancellor), and I order one for the three of us to share. Our next stop is the Musée Culturel du Mont-Carmel in Lille. The former Roman Catholic church is now a museum and nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and development of Acadian and Quebecois culture in the Saint John Valley. Unfortunately, the center is closed when we arrive, so we walk through two feet of snow to look around the outside.

I decide to take a longer and more scenic way back into Caribou, following along Long Lake and Mud Lake. The route, which passes through Saint Agatha and near the Long Lake Sporting Club, a favorite of snowmobilers, ends up being one of the nicest drives I’ve ever had.

The local hangout

Several locals recommend we eat at Northern Maine Brewing Company. The parking lot at the Caribou brewpub is full when we arrive. Inside, I put our names on the waiting list and order a beer and two lemonades. The vibe is lively and fun. Once we’re at our table, the server informs us that the chef makes everything in-house. We order a large steak and two burgers.

Waffles and souvenirs

We sit at a long table in the inn’s dining room and wait for the innkeeper’s famous waffles. After breakfast, we find Monica’s Scandinavian Imports, a gift shop with all kinds of traditional Scandinavian items. My boys find a Norwegian magnetic poetry kit for our refrigerator at home.

Before leaving Aroostook County, we try Governor’s Restaurant and Bakery in Presque Isle, a family-friendly restaurant with six locations around Maine. There we find all the treats we need for the long drive home.