With a long history as a vacation hotspot, Maine has lots of places to visit that will please sea-seekers and history buffs alike. The colonial past of the coastal state has left delightful cobblestone and brick towns, while miles of sandy beaches and rocky cliffs are as popular with travelers as the Western Maine Mountains are with skiers seeking the best slopes in the northeast. In town? Here are the must-visit attractions in Maine.
The tallest peak in Maine, set within out-of-the-way Baxter State Park, should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Maine. Arising 5,269ft (1,606m) 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. Whichever route you take to the top, park rangers warn that it’s a “very strenuous climb,” so get there nice and early. The name Katahdin is Native American, meaning The Greatest Mountain.
Images of Maine most often conjure scenes from Casco Bay, where Portland (the biggest city in the state) and a host of picturesque 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 to Bailey Island, which has one of the prettiest harbors in the state.
Urban without forgetting its rural roots, Portland’s Old Port is a mix of winding cobblestone streets and brick colonial buildings. The shopping center and creative hub, the Old Port is where you’ll find the best farm-t0-table restaurants, breweries and boutiques in Maine. 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.
Wild, inaccessible and jaw-dropping. If you’re looking to get away, look no further. The Allagash, as it’s known, is a 92mi (148km) stretch of interconnected lakes and rivers winding through the most off-limits, rural parts of the state. It’s best seen by kayak (there’s plenty of camping along the shore); trips run from one to 10 days, the latter as much a physical feat as it is spiritual getaway. The reward for your hard work are views of pristine woods where the only onlookers are moose.
Elegant, understated and majestic, 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, rarely are there any 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.
When it comes to skiing and snowboarding in Maine, you can’t go far wrong with either Sugarloaf or Sunday River. The former, which sits in the Carrabassett Valley, has 162 trails and glades to explore plus 1,240 acres (502ha) of skiable area to tackle. The latter is a collection of eight connected peaks with 53mi (85km) of trails. If you’re split between the two, you can purchase a season pass that covers entry to both.
Buttressed by mountains, surrounded by moose and containing some of the best wild trout in the state, 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.
The notch between the mountains separates Maine from New Hampshire. The park itself is a hiker’s paradise, featuring 12mi (19km) of the Appalachian Trail, including the tallest mountain in the region, Old Speck. Peregrine falcons frequent the range, which contains secret waterfalls, gorges and picturesque drives. Visit the Table Rock, a bald strip of granite that will have you thinking about The Lion King.
The second-largest lake in Maine is a short drive from Portland. Sebago is Maine’s water playground, the deepest lake in New England and a water source for Portland. The huge lake home is frequented by boaters, kayakers and sports fisherman, and is home to numerous lakeside cottages and a campground.
The largest lake in the state 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); plus it’s an ideal fishing destination. Located to the north, Moosehead is more than 40mi (64km) long and covers some 75,000 acres (30,351ha). Within are incredible vistas, magical wildlife (beavers, loons and – you guessed it – moose) plus plenty of shoreline.
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.
The garden sprawls over 270 acres (109ha) of prime coastal shorefront in beautiful Boothbay, about an hour northeast of Portland. The botanical gardens are fabulous, with different sections featuring roses, native plants, greenhouses and lakes. Modern art sculptures from local artists are on display, and come winter the Gardens Aglow display, the annual holiday show, attracts visitors eager for color.
Lighthouses dot the coastline anywhere there are ships, but only a few, like Pemaquid, are famous. 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 also 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 dramatic foggy harbors and a slice of slow summer living.
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 opera house, which occasionally features household names.
If the Bay of Fundy’s legendary tides weren’t enough to bring you to Eastport, the easternmost city in the US and a stone’s 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.