The Pine Tree State is first and foremost a nature lover’s paradise. Close to 90% of Maine is forest land, including 32 state parks and Acadia National Park, its indisputable crown jewel. On top of that, the weather rarely exceeds 80 degrees in the summer, making it a fabulous escape from areas with hotter climates. Fall brings fantastic foliage across the state, while winter and spring are the perfect times to cozy up in a cabin and enjoy winter sports or seasonal festivals. But beyond hiking, swimming and whale watching, Maine also offers an impressive selection of top-notch restaurants, a bustling art scene and tons of family-friendly activities. Whether you’re looking to ski down Sugarloaf Mountain, admire sculptures at the Farnsworth Art Museum or devour endless lobster rolls along the coast, a getaway to Maine promises a fun-filled trip that you won’t soon forget. Read on for more details on the top things to do in Maine. (Note: Some of the following activities and locations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Acadia National Park
Scenic Acadia National Park is a major draw for many vacationers and Maine residents alike. One of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the country, Acadia draws 3.5 million visitors annually with its secluded beaches, rugged mountains, dense forests and craggy coastal views along the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can get their hearts pumping on close to 160 miles of hiking trails, the most popular of which include the Beehive Loop, the Cadillac Mountain North and South Ridge trails and the Jordan Pond Full Loop. In addition to hiking, visitors can bike, kayak, swim, bird-watch and stargaze in the park. When hunger strikes, head to Acadia’s sole dining venue: the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. According to recent travelers, the eatery’s signature popover bread and tea — permanent menu items since the 1890s — are not to be missed.
Portland has all the offerings of a quintessential Maine destination (lighthouses and lobster rolls abound), but it boasts noteworthy art, food and entertainment scenes as well. Must-dos on a Portland vacation include exploring the shops and restaurants that line the charming cobblestone streets of the Old Port, strolling along the Eastern Promenade waterfront park, perusing the Portland Museum of Art and indulging in local beers on a brewery tour. Traveler-approved hotels include the Portland Harbor Hotel and The Press Hotel, Autograph Collection, and world-class eateries like Duckfat, Central Provisions and DiMillo’s on the Water (a floating restaurant) are sure to impress.
Shop at the flagship L.L.Bean Store
Whether you’ve owned the signature Bean Boots your entire life or simply want to see what this Maine retailer is all about, a visit to L.L.Bean’s flagship location is a must if you’re in the charming town of Freeport (about 20 miles northeast of Portland). Opened in 1917, the multilevel venue attracts 3 million visitors annually. Snap a photo out front with the 16.5-foot all-weather boot replica before perusing the store’s many outdoorsy departments, from apparel to camping to fishing supplies. The flagship location also features a 3,500-gallon aquarium, a cafe, museum-like exhibits throughout the store and free horse-drawn wagon rides outside, all of which impressed previous visitors. The best part? You can visit this L.L.Bean whenever your schedule allows, as it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Considered the gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is an excellent place to unwind and reset. Nature lovers will find endless ways to enjoy the outdoors in this Mount Desert Island town, from coastal walks along Frenchman Bay (a traveler favorite) to bird-watching in multiple parks and preserves. Foodies will be pleased here, too: Fresh seafood is the destination’s specialty, but its artisan ice cream shops, craft breweries and quaint breakfast cafes are also crowd pleasers. This area of Maine also boasts prime conditions for wild blueberries, so consider spending a few hours at a nearby pick-your-own farm, such as Hog Bay Blueberries, if you visit between late July and mid-September. When it’s time to bed down, stay at the idyllic Balance Rock Inn, the luxurious Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina or a local vacation rental.
Take a whale watching cruise
From mid-April through October, animal lovers are in for a special treat. Vacationers can watch in wonder as majestic humpback, pilot, minke and finback whales migrate through the state’s coastal waters. Whale watching hot spots include Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Casco Bay and Kennebunkport. Hop aboard a boat tour with a company like Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. or Cap’n Fish’s Cruises for the best vantage point — and don’t forget to bring your camera, binoculars, sunscreen and layers of clothing, as temperatures can dip as you sail away from the mainland. Recent travelers recommended taking a cruise at sunset for the best views. Summer’s clear skies and lack of fog make it the ideal time of year to spot these gentle giants, but the chances of seeing a whale on tour are fairly high throughout the entire whale watching season.
[Read: The Best Whale Watching in Maine. ]
Cape Elizabeth and the Portland Head Light
The quaint seaside town of Cape Elizabeth is a must-visit spot for anyone traveling to the Portland area. Its postcard-worthy crown jewel is the Portland Head Light — the oldest lighthouse in Maine. Located in scenic Fort Williams Park, the lighthouse dates back to the late 1700s and stands 80 feet tall. When you’re finished photographing the structure, head into the adjacent keeper’s house museum to learn more about the history of the area. Spend the rest of the day in Cape Elizabeth at Crescent Beach State Park or Two Lights State Park before heading back to Portland or bedding down at local accommodations, such as traveler-loved Inn by the Sea.
[See: The Best Maine Lighthouses to Visit. ]
Stroll down the scenic Marginal Way
Stretching just over 1 mile along the rocky coast, the Marginal Way is one of the most beautiful walking paths New England has to offer. The nicely paved trail in the quaint town of Ogunquit (about 10 miles south of Kennebunkport) begins near Ogunquit Beach and ends at Perkins Cove, a charming fishing village with shops and restaurants. Recent travelers highlighted the stunning ocean views and cliffside summer wildflowers as some of the best sights of their trip, and they praised the easy, flat walk and abundance of benches along the way (39, to be exact). At the end of your stroll, grab some clam chowder or a lobster roll at the Lobster Shack, or indulge in American fare at That Place in Ogunquit.
[Read: The Best Weekend Getaways in New England. ]
There are plenty of beach destinations to choose from in Maine, but Kennebunkport should be at the top of your list. Plan to spend your entire vacation on (or at least near) the water, whether you’re fishing, sunbathing or sailing. Traveler-approved spots include Colony and Goose Rocks beaches, the small fishing village of Cape Porpoise and Dock Square. Visitors can dine at acclaimed restaurants like the Clam Shack and the White Barn in Kennebunk, which is the only Forbes Five Star-, AAA Five Diamond-designated eatery in New England. When it comes to lodging, take your pick of luxurious properties like The Captain Lord Mansion, or book one of the area’s quaint inns or cottages.
Make a spooky stop at Stephen King’s House
Although tours inside of the legendary horror novelist’s haunted residence are no longer available, travelers still agree that a quick stop at Stephen King’s house is a must when traveling through Bangor, Maine. From the outside, visitors can see (and take photos of) the red Victorian mansion’s quirky features, from the spider- and dragon-adorned iron fence to the 15-foot-tall wood sculpture in the front yard, which was carved out of a dead tree and features an array of mystical creatures surrounding a bookcase. Recent visitors say that the property is especially eerie in the fall, and many recommend signing up for a three-hour excursion with SK Tours to learn more about locations where King has lived, worked and filmed some of his most iconic movies.
Recent travelers agree that Monhegan Island — which is only accessible by boat — is a lovely place to spend a day. Located 10 miles off the coast and home to just 70 residents, the unspoiled island features wildlands with 9 miles of cliffside hiking trails, a small village with shops and restaurants, a lighthouse and an art museum. A few inns and lodging options dot the island, so you can stay overnight if you wish. Visitors have a few different options to reach the island. One choice is a 50-minute ferry ride from the mainland town of New Harbor between May and mid-October with Hardy Boat Cruises. Or, leave from Boothbay Harbor on a 90-minute sailing with Balmy Day Cruises, which is in service from June until late September or early October.
Stop to smell the flowers at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
As the largest botanical gardens in New England, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are a sight to behold. Vacationers in Boothbay, Maine (about 60 miles northeast of Portland), had endless praise for the well-maintained gardens, noting how beautiful and enjoyable the visit was for family members of all ages. Visitors can explore 300-plus acres of colorful exhibits, including a dahlia garden, a butterfly house, a bee habitat, a meditation garden and several lawns and lush forest grounds. Tickets should be purchased online in advance, and frequent visitors can become members to gain free admission and other perks.
Old Orchard Beach
For a beach vacation in the Pine Tree State that checks all the boxes, head to Old Orchard Beach. The coastal resort town about 20 miles south of Portland boasts 7 miles of sand to stretch out on, as well as a pier with restaurants and shops. Families especially love the Palace Playland amusement park, which features a Ferris wheel, adventure rides and carnival games. Popular lodging options here include beach house rentals, motels and inns directly on the water; try the beachfront, family-owned Edgewater Motor Inn for perks like a heated pool and an electric car charging station.
[Read: The Best Maine Beaches. ]
Baxter State Park
To embrace Maine’s gorgeous natural spaces without the crowds of Acadia National Park, pay a visit to Baxter State Park. The roughly 210,000-acre park sits about 80 miles north of Bangor, Maine, near the town of Millinocket in the center of the state. It is home to Maine’s tallest mountain — Mount Katahdin — which towers 5,268 feet tall. The hike to the top is strenuous (and not recommended for inexperienced climbers), but the fabulous views are worth the effort, according to past visitors. Still, travelers of all skill levels can embrace the outdoors by setting up a tent at one of 337 campsites and hiking through their choice of 215 miles of trails. If you’re lucky, you may see wildlife like moose and deer as you journey through the wilderness (just keep an eye out for bears, too).
Chow down at the Maine Lobster Festival
Every year on the first weekend in August, 30,000 visitors from near and far swarm the town of Rockland (located about 85 miles southwest of Bar Harbor) for the annual five-day Maine Lobster Festival. More than 20,000 pounds of delicious local lobster is brought in to feed the masses, and the festival features seafood-cooking contests, live music, arts and crafts vendors, a parade, wine and beer tastings, a 5K race and more for patrons of all ages. Past visitors reported having plenty of fun at the festival, and they were pleased to find overflow parking at a nearby school with shuttle service to the grounds. Patrons can purchase tickets for admission at the festival gates. Travelers can stay for the weekend (or all five days) at their pick of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts; favorites include the LimeRock Inn and 250 Main Hotel.
Beyond the Marginal Way, Ogunquit has all the makings of a relaxing getaway. Spend your days sunbathing and swimming at the 3-mile-long Ogunquit Beach or more secluded Footbridge Beach, or wander through the Ogunquit Museum of American Art to see more than 3,000 works. Recent travelers recommended exploring the quaint town on the old-fashioned trolley, which typically runs from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. A stay at the luxurious Cliff House Maine just south of town is sure to leave you feeling rejuvenated thanks to its 9,000-square-foot spa, complete with cliff views, saunas, steam rooms and organic botanical treatments. Additional amenities at the modern seaside resort include two outdoor swimming pools, coffee and tea stations on each floor, gardens and oceanfront fine dining venues.
Located in the Carrabassett Valley in western Maine, Sugarloaf Mountain is a year-round getaway for travelers looking to get active. In the warmer months, vacationers can hike, mountain bike, golf, kayak and zip line. But visitors say Sugarloaf truly shines in the winter: It offers the only lift-serviced, above-treeline skiing in the eastern United States and it’s the largest ski area east of the Rocky Mountains. Snow lovers can participate in cold-weather sports like cross-country skiing and cat skiing (a type of guided backcountry skiing that transports groups in snowcat vehicles) on more than 160 ski trails, as well as snowshoeing and ice skating. After a full day of activity, get some rest at the on-site Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, or rent out a condo or private home if you’re traveling with a group.
[Read: The Best Ski Resorts in the U.S.]
Unleash your inner child at Funtown Splashtown USA
Endless family fun awaits at Funtown Splashtown USA. The appropriately named entertainment venue in Saco, Maine (less than 20 miles south of Portland), consists of two sections: a water park and an amusement park. On the thrill ride side, visitors looking to get their hearts pumping can enjoy rides like Maine’s only wooden rollercoaster, the tallest log flume in New England or a drop tower that sends travelers into a 220-foot free fall. Younger patrons will have their pick of tamer attractions as well, including a kiddie train, bumper boats and a classic carousel. Meanwhile, on the wetter side of the park, travelers can zoom down the Poseidon’s Plunge waterslide, splash in the lagoon and load the whole family onto a raft slide. Recent travelers said their children had a blast at the park, but they do warn that costs for food and drinks can quickly add up. After a fun-filled day, retire to The Beachwood in nearby Old Orchard Beach, which has direct beach access and amenities like a full kitchenette in each room and barbecue facilities.
[See: The Best Water Parks in the USA. ]
Peruse the Farnsworth Art Museum
Located in Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum houses 15,000 pieces that highlight Maine’s role in the history of American art. Opened in 1948, the 20,000-square-foot museum features a rotating collection of exhibits highlighting artists like sculptor Louise Nevelson and contemporary American realist painter Jamie Wyeth. Recent travelers praised the curated collection of works, noting that the museum was well worth the trip to Rockland. After touring the museum, grab a meal at a quaint restaurant nearby, such as farm-to-table eatery Primo or family-owned casual joint Hill’s Seafood Co.
You might also be interested in:
More from U.S. News