Like many other northern Maine towns, Farmington (pop. 7,760) was first settled by soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. The rolling hills that surround it still hold a few farms and orchards, but as elsewhere, the economy revolves around trees—both as tourist fodder during the fall color sweeps and as pulp for paper mills (there’s a big pulp mill just south of town on US-201). US-2 bypasses the center, but the downtown area has a few blocks of tidy brick buildings housing barber shops, bookstores, and cafés, supported in large part by the presence of the large Farmington campus of the University of Maine.
On the south edge of downtown, at the US-2/Route 4 junction near where the Farmington Diner used to sit, family-run Gifford’s Ice Cream (293 Main St., 207/778-3617) serves silky-smooth “frappes” and luscious high-fat cones.
In the town of Rangeley, an hour northwest of Farmington via Route 4, the Wilhelm Reich Museum (19 Orgonon Cir., 207/864-3443) preserves the flat-roofed final home and tomb of the iconoclastic psychoanalyst, who died in 1957.
Between Skowhegan and Farmington, US-2 passes through a pair of quietly quaint places. Norridgewock is a historic hamlet, now home to a New Balance shoe factory, and New Sharon has a rusty old bridge spanning the Sandy River. The region’s real draw is south of US-2: the Belgrade Lakes, a chain of seven lakes circled by ageless vacation cabins and summer camps. It was this idyllic location that inspired Ernest Thompson to write the play On Golden Pond, later made into that weepy Fonda-family movie. The movie was filmed at New Hampshire’s Squam Lake off US-3 in the White Mountains, but you can re-enact real-life scenes here in Maine by taking a ride on the Great Pond Mailboat, which departs from the boathouse in the village of Belgrade Lakes, along Route 27.