Acadia National Park
The coastal refuge of the robber barons, there are no shortage of sights to inspire you in Acadia. Whether you want the charms of the fishing village Bar Harbor, stunning views atop Cadillac Mountain – one of the first places to see the sunrise in the country – or to see the sea at its most elemental at Thunder Hole, Maine’s national park never fails to impress.
Maine’s tallest peak, set within out of the way Baxter State Park, should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Maine. Arising alone out of the wilderness, Katahdin commands sweeping 360-degree views of middle Maine. The 10-hour trek alone is worth the trip: hikers hug a noisy, beautiful stream, plateau at a clear glacial lake and then scramble over fallen rock before reaching the summit.
Images of Maine most often conjure scenes from Casco Bay, where the state’s biggest city and a host of charming commuter islands call home. Whether you’re island hopping on ferries, surfing, kayaking or cooking on the beach at your first lobster bake, Casco Bay can’t be ignored. Day trippers from Portland usually head to Peaks Island, which makes for a fun bike ride. Or head to Bailey Island, which has one of the prettiest harbors in the state.
Portland’s Old Port
Urban without forgetting its rural roots, Portland’s Old Port is a mix of winding cobblestone streets and brick colonial buildings. The city’s shopping center and creative nerve hub, the Old Port is where you’ll find some of Maine’s best farm-t0-table restaurants, breweries and boutiques. The people-watching alone is worth a trip, whether it’s the tourists out for a night on the town or islanders taking the ferry home from a day at work.
Portland Museum of Art
In short, the museum has everything you’d expect from a major capital, sans the lines and prices. Old-world legends, modern masters and beloved Maine artists all rub shoulders in this intimate museum set in downtown Portland. Whether it’s Picasso, Monet or Maine-favorite Andrew Wyeth, the museum is home to more than 18,000 artworks dating from the 18th-century to the present day, with a specific room featuring works of Maine’s coast by Winslow Homer.
The Grand Canyon of the East is a little-known gorge set amid some of the state’s most rural reaches. Here, the Pleasant River falls dramatically through a series of screw auger falls, into wide pools teaming with trout. A trail rims the gorge, offering stunning, if steep, views of the wild river below.
Wild, inaccessible and absolutely jaw-dropping. If you’re looking to get away, look no further. The Allagash, as it’s known, is a 92-mile stretch of interconnected lakes and rivers winding through some of the most off-limits, rural parts of the state. Best seen by kayak – there’s plenty of camping along the shore – visitors should know that trips start at one day and go to 10, a spiritual getaway as much as a physical feat. The rewards are views of pristine, even virgin woods where the only onlookers are moose.
Asticou Azalea Garden
Elegant, understated and stunning, this small Japanese-inspired garden gives you yet another reason to visit Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. Asticou sometimes slides under the radar, and rarely if ever are there anything in the ways of lines. Which is surprising, because when the flowers are in bloom the garden’s fluid, natural design flows from one section to another, allowing you to meander from color to color.
Sugarloaf and Sunday River
Maine’s premier winter playgrounds offer up some of the best skiing and snowboarding anywhere.
Buttressed by mountains, surrounded by moose and containing some of the state’s best wild trout, Rangeley Lake is a four-season destination for the world-weary. Situated in rural Western Maine, the lake offers boating opportunities in the summer, spectacular leaf peeping for fall hikers, plus miles of groomed trails come winter.
Grafton Notch State Park
The notch between the mountains separates Maine from New Hampshire. The park itself is a hiker’s paradise, featuring 12 challenging miles of the Appalachian Trail, including the tallest mountain in the region, Old Speck. Peregrine falcons frequent the range, which contains secret waterfalls, gorges and scenic drives. Visit the Table Rock, a bald strip of granite that will have you thinking Lion King.
Maine’s second largest lake is a short drive from Portland, its largest city, a coincidence belying its popularity. Sebago is Maine’s water playground, the deepest lake in New England and water source for Portland. Boaters, kayakers and sports fisherman call the huge lake home, which features numerous lakeside cottages and a campground. For summer fun, Sebago is can’t-miss.
The state’s largest lake is a series of coves and sheltered bays perfect for anyone looking for a rustic refuge. Moosehead is famous for its cold water (infamous, if you’re swimming) making it a perfect fishing destination. Located to the north, Moosehead is more than 40 miles long and covers some 75,000 acres. Within are beautiful vistas, magical wildlife (beavers, loons and – you guessed it – moose) plus plenty of shoreline.
Desert of Maine
Glaciers left their mark by depositing a huge sandbox in Freeport, Maine. Uncovered after generations of poor farming practices, the Desert of Maine grew as the vegetation receded, leaving a bare patch of silt behind. This oddity is now a tourist attraction, a unique aberration (Maine receives too much rain to have an actual desert) that draws tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
The garden sprawls over 270 acres of prime coastal shorefront in beautiful Boothbay, about an hour north of Portland. The botanical gardens are stunning, with different sections featuring roses, native plants, greenhouses and lakes. Modern art sculptures from local artists are on display, and come winter the Lights Aglow display, the annual holiday show, attracts visitors eager for color.
Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
Lighthouses dot the coastline anywhere there are ships, but only a few, like Pemaquid, are iconic. Commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1827, the lighthouse is located at the entrance to the Muscongus and John’s Bays in the town of Bristol. The crashing waves and rocky cliffs bring weddings, and the first floor features a museum (visitors can rent out the top apartment.)
You’ve probably seen parts of Vinalhaven, the town on the larger of the Fox Islands, even if you’ve never been there. For a century, granite was quarried here and sent to New York, Philadelphia and Boston, leaving behind a network of rain-filled pits that make popular swimming holes. A noted fishing community, summer retreat and artist colony, Vinalhaven is a small community only accessible by a 75-minute ferry. Don’t expect big crowds or jam-packed activities; instead, come for a slice of slow summer living.
Height of Land
Tucked away in the small town of Roxbury in Western Maine, this lookout is so popular that it’s earned its own name. Views of Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley Lakes impress the wild beauty of the region, which is popular with anglers, hunters and families looking to escape to cabins for a week. The Appalachian Trail passes through, offering plenty of activities for a day trip.
One of the most photographed harbors in Maine, Stonington at night is a painter’s dream. Picturesque, quaint and quiet, the town draws only a certain type of traveler during the busy summer months. Life has remained much the same as it ever was here, with fishing and lobstering the major commercial activities, rendering much of the town locked in time. Stop by for a show at the iconic opera house, which occasionally draws household names for its acts.
Old Sow Whirlpool
If the Bay of Fundy’s legendary tides weren’t enough to bring you to Eastport, the eastern most city in the U.S. and a stones’ throw from Canada, this whirlpool should be enough to suck you in. The largest in the Western hemisphere, Old Sow is formed daily when the rising tide passes either side of Indian Island, turns around Deer Island and squeezes through the Western Passage. It is best seen three hours before high tide, when the churning waters are at their strongest.