Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Fort Knox- A tale of new and old in Maine

Maine’s Coastal Route 1 meanders past quaint towns, sleepy seaside fishing villages and more antique shops and lobster shacks than you ever imagined. As we left the postcard perfect town of Camden for the rugged beauty of Acadia National Park our innkeepers gave us advice on some interesting sites along the way. With typical New England modesty and reserve we were directed to go to “that cute little blanket shop”; this happened to be Swan Island Blankets, whose handmade items are given to visiting dignitaries by none other the The White House. No big deal.

“Oh, there’s also a nice bridge along the way. There are some good views from the top.”
Penobscot Narrows Bridge www.casualtravelist.comPenobscot Narrows Bridge

That “nice bridge” turned out to be the Penobscot Narrows Bridge which at 420 feet high is the tallest public bridge-observatory in the world. Built in 2007 the bridge features plenty of granite in a nod to the local quarries throughout Maine. The bridge’s towers may look a bit familiar to you as well. The Washington Monument was built from Maine granite and served as a inspiration in the design of the bridge. Even with the dreary overcast weather the 360 degree views from the observation deck were spectacular. To the east you’ll see the Penobscot River as it meets the Penobscot Bay as well as a few(of the many) islands that dot Maine’s mid-coast region. To the north you’ll spot the crown of Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge www.casualtravelist.comPenobscot River www.casualtravelist.comPenobscot Narrows Bridge

As my gaze shifted west I spotted something I didn’t expect to see- a fort.

A military fort. A historic one at that.

I was intrigued so I descended the 42 stories on the fastest elevator in all of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont (as the elevator operator will proudly tell you) to go have a look.
Fort Knox

Fort Knox ( No, not the one with all of the gold. That’s in Kentucky) is one of the best preserved fortifications on the East Coast. Looking more like something I’d expect to see in Ireland or Scotland, this was the first and largest granite fort to be built in Maine. This timber and granite rich area of Maine (which at the time was still part of Massachusetts) was a prime target for British invasions during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. By 1825 the northern border between Maine and British Canada was still hotly contested and plans for a military installation to protect the Penobscot River were made. While the fort was manned both during The Civil War and Spanish-American War it never saw any military action.

Fort Knox Fort Knox

Guided educational tours of the fort are available but we opted to explore the fort on our own. Visitors are able to access many of the interior areas as well as the ramparts. Function was definitely valued over comfort here, the thick granite walls did little to make Maine’s cold, damp winters more comfortable. In fact, most of the soldiers stationed at Fort Knox chose to live in tents behind the granite structure near what today is the visitor’s center. Wandering around the forts stone enclosures brought me back to my travels through Europe. Whether it was the walled city of Rhodes, Salzburg’s monolithic fortress or the relative newcomer here at Fort Knox it was evident that the technology used to keep people out changed very little for over 1000 years.
Fort Knox www.casualtravelist.comFort Knox

The cannons at Fort Knox were just as impressive as the rest of the site. The 15 inch Rodman canons weighed over 50,000 pounds each and required 12 men to maneuver around. The cannonballs for this behemoth were monsters themselves weighing in at 450 pounds each and used over 100 pounds of gunpowder to shoot. This was enough firepower to propel one of these giants over 5500 yards!

Fort Knox IMG_3348 Fort Knox

I have to admit that I had heard of neither of these attractions prior to my visit. The ability to be completely surprised, especially somewhere you think you know, is one of my favorite aspects of travel. I’m sure you all have a story of something surprising and unexpected you have encountered during your travels. I’d love it if you shared your stories with me in the comments!

Good to Know



Both Fort Knox and The Observatory Tower are open to visitors for May 1- October 31. Be sure to check the website for hours and rates.

75 Comments on “Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Fort Knox- A tale of new and old in Maine

    • Thanks Nate! No helicopter ride this time, just a quick elevator ride 40 stories up.

    • I definitely recommend a stop in Maine, there is so much more than lobster there.

  1. Great photos! That bridge seems a little too high for me, but the views are amazing. I lived in Monmouth, Maine for a summer when I worked at the theater there. I wish I knew about that fort. It would have been a nice place to spend the day I think. Definitely makes me think back to some of the places I visited in Ireland! Hard to believe from your pictures that it is in the US.
    Allison @ A Foodie in Europe recently posted…Spain’s (Secret) Hobbit-inspired MealsMy Profile

    • I was certainly surprised to find this in an otherwise unassuming part of Maine.

  2. Thanks for the info Brianna! I am a civil engineer myself and the only thing I still like about Civil engineering is bridges so it was very interesting for me to read your post 🙂

    • I never would have guessed that Elena! I have a bit of an engineering background myself and I think it gives me a different perspective on architecture

  3. Holy crap those cannons are huge! I’ve toured one military base before but it was years ago, it was interesting but at the same time because I was young when I went, I didn’t quite understand the need for all these massive weapons. I knew there had to be more to Maine than good lobster so I’m glad to be proving correct with your Maine articles 😀
    Samantha recently posted…A Look at the Life of Korean Royalty: Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden in SeoulMy Profile

  4. Beautiful shots, Brianna! I really like how they used granite – makes it feel much more attached to the local economy and heritage. I’ve not visited this on my travels in Maine, but your blog has provided me with quite a bit for my next trip (especially that food tour!).

    • Thanks Dave, I was was quite surprised to find these sites myself. I’m sure its obvious how much I enjoyed Maine’s character.

  5. Our stop at Fort Knox and Penobscot Narrows Bridge was planned as a way to break up the drive from Portland to Acadia National Park. I never thought about the fort being so similar to European forts and castles, but now that you mention it, I can definitely see the resemblance. Going up to the observatory was fun in that usually I’m in an urban area if we’re in a building that high up, but with Penobscot, we were surrounded by nature instead of skyscrapers.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Villa Borghese: Enjoy the Outdoors in RomeMy Profile

    • It was definitely a surprise for us and I the view from the top of the observatory was spectacular.

  6. What a fun find, I just LOVE it when I get surprised by new or unknown adventures. The bridge is just beautiful, I love the cables and the shot that you have from the ground looking up is absolutely beautiful. I thoroughly enjoy going to only military installations, we have a few on the coast of Washington that look similar to Ft. Knox. All in all, I love your post. I usually don’t do a lot of research when I’m visiting a place, I just see what the locals recommend so I’m continually surprised by what I find.
    Adrian of Adrian’s Travel Tales recently posted…What is this CRUNCHY in my mouth?My Profile

    • I on the other hand love researching travel almost as much as the trip itself so it really is a bonus for me when I stumble upon something new.

  7. Love the dramatic shots of the bridge! And yes, the world is full of surprises – even in our own backyard 🙂 The fort looks really cool, but so young! As a native of Southern Europe, I’m used to bumping into historical buildings from the 14th century or even from Roman times… Sometimes History gives us a funny perspective of things. Lovely post, kudos!
    Lunaguava recently posted…The Cool Five (Wildlife Edition)My Profile

    • History does give us a funny perspective. It blows my mind that I can go to Prague and stay in a hotel that was originally built in the 15th century.

  8. I’m a big fan of bridges and of views from high places, so I really enjoyed the bridge part of the post. Great photos! As for the Fort Knox part, I never knew there was more than one fort by that name, that’s really cool! I hate those spiral staircases though; they scare me, due to my fear of heights. 🙂 (I like high places with views, but I often don’t like ascending up to them)

    • That’s a lot like my love of climbing things which is in contrast to my severe dislike of going down.

  9. Are there walking lanes on the bridge..? Btw it looks like if you took the photos from a drone;)
    Beautiful images, I love both the bridge and the fort..!

    • You know, I’m not sure if there are walking lanes. I had a lot of fun taking pictures from the observation deck 🙂

  10. Hi it’s Christa, host of the Sunday Traveler, I just wanted to pop in and say thanks for joining in on the fun! Whenever I travel it is always fun to expect the unexpected. What a perfect hidden gem on your journey, Ft Knox looks like a fun location to visit full of history.

  11. I know what you mean with the fact of being surprised! When we’re warned of how beautiful a place will be before we visit it, our expectations are too high and then we get disappointed.

  12. I lived in the “other” Fort Know and it was quite beautiful. This fort looks like a fun place to spend the day exploring.

    • It was a fun place for an afternoon pit stop, I love finding little gems like this.

  13. Very cool place – this is one that I really need to take my kids too they would really love it! Your photos are great and lots of info – I will save it for when I take the kids they would love to explore this old fort!! Thank you for sharing!

    • I had no idea that it existed either. It was such a cool site, why aren’t people flocking here?

    • It’s all enclosed so its not that bad. Who would pass up an opportunity to ride the fastest elevator in Maine?

    • The viewing platform is enclosed so its not too bad, I loved the views!

  14. It is great to be surprised with a really interesting attraction when you get to an area. Sometimes, I even know ahead, but when I get there I’m blown away by the history of it. I always like touring forts as I’m not a whiz at military history and I always learn so much from the docents. What a great trip!
    Lara Dunning recently posted…A Day at the Skagit Valley Tulip FestivalMy Profile

    • is one really surprised me, I had no idea it was there before hand and the views from the top were amazing.

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