WHY VISIT MAINE
Moose the size of mammoths, lobster so fresh you could revive them, sweeping sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, verdant pine forests, and mountains as far as the eye can see: welcome to Maine.
Suffice to say natural wonders abound, but the jewel in Maine’s crown has to be Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, where cyclists and horses pootle along historic carriage roads, climbers tackle lofty sea cliffs and hikers follow forest trails tramped by American Indians.
Between October and March, you can snap the sunrise before anyone else in the country from Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the US Atlantic coast. After dark, gaze at the star-speckled sky above Bar Harbor, which resembles an out-of-reception TV set. Extraordinary.
Further south, Maine’s coast delivers the quintessential New England seaside experience, complete with historic lighthouses, hidden coves, lobster shacks, and giant sweeps of sand.
Inland, hardcore hikers complete the 3,510km (2,181 miles) Appalachian Trail at Katahdin. Maine’s section is no walk in the park: the toughest stretch of the entire trail covers 452km (281 miles) of gnarly tree roots, squelchy bogs, treacherous stream crossings, and precipitous climbs.
The activities don’t stop there. Leaf peepers scale the lookout tower on Bald Mountain to gaze at a Jackson Pollock-esque splatter of autumnal colors. Canoeists paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, connecting the waterways of New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine. Rafters bounce through class 4 rapids in the Kennebec Gorge. And golfers tee off at Sugarloaf Mountain, then trade places with skiers in winter.
If you’re craving city life, head to Portland, a neat coastal metropolis buzzing with refreshing microbreweries, alfresco eateries, and terrific arts performances. ‘Life’s good here,’ reads the city slogan. It’s hard to disagree.
WHAT TO SEE IN MAINE
- Portland: Maine’s largest city is a real gem to explore. Located right on the coast, Portland has been an important harbor on Casco Bay for centuries. Its historic Old Port waterfront area is loaded with charm, tasty seafood houses, and cool bars. Wandering its cobbled lanes is a highlight, grab a ferry to one of the little offshore islands, shop in the boutiques, and let the brisk salt air soak into your bones. This neat little city warrants at least a long weekend to truly experience it.
- Acadia National Park: the jewel in the crown of Maine’s many natural attractions has to be Acadia National Park. Covering 47,000 acres along the coast and much of Mount Desert Island, this wild park combines beautiful New England scenery with convenient public access, bike paths, and hiking trails. The historic carriage paths are particularly fun to explore on horseback. Park rangers even lead boat tours for a closer (and informed) look at the coastal side of Acadia. The quaint town of Bar Harbor is on the doorstep for easy lodging, food, and shopping.
- Camden: it really doesn’t get any more picturesque than in the village of Camden. This coastal fishing hamlet epitomizes Maine at its best and has all the amenities needed to host travelers for a few days. Its downtown is just the right size to explore on foot, with plenty of galleries, boutiques, and cafés to pass the time. Besides the historic attractions, Camden is also a superb town for biking thanks to its paved paths. Camden Hills State Park is right outside town for awesome hikes through hardwood forests that climb the flanks of Mount Megunticook.
- Portland Museum of Art: the architecture of this slick museum is courtesy of legend IM Pei. Inside, visitors are treated to an impressive number of works by American artists through the centuries like Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and other rotating collections from around the world that change several times a year. Maine’s premier art venue certainly deserves a couple of hours, especially if it’s a rainy day in Portland.
- Kennebunks: the Kennebunks refer to the twin villages of Kennebunkport and Kennebunk, two of New England’s oldest and most famous resort towns. First colonized in the late 1600s, the area blossomed after the American Revolution as whalers, ship captains, and wealthy merchants built their homes here. The long, beautiful beaches and charming architecture ensure plenty of reasons to stop over for a few days. From Dock Square to Walkers Point, the Kennebunks have top-notch dining, shopping, and lodging for a taste of the good life.
- Fryeburg: although most of Maine’s forests are owned by giant paper companies, the town of Fryeburg is an outpost of inland Maine that provides access to the woodlands of this great state. Some of the prettiest sections of the Appalachian Trail pass right next to town and in winter, several ski resorts like Sunday River keep everyone warm and entertained. The White Mountains run right up to the edge of Fryeburg, which is home to one of Maine’s most stunning lakes, Kezar Pond. The town itself is charming with plenty of history and a nice downtown where visitors can rest, eat, and stock up on goods before venturing back into the wilderness.
- Portland Head Light: built way back in 1794, this lighthouse on the outskirts of Portland is one of America’s oldest and most picturesque. You might even recognize it from a Maine postcard. It is still in operation today, guiding boats into Portland Harbor, so visitors cannot enter the lighthouse itself. The grounds of Fort William Park (where the lighthouse stands guard) are beautiful and the museum and gift shop make this attraction a worthy half-day trip.
WHEN TO GO TO MAINE
The best period to visit Maine is from May to September.
Weather in Maine enjoys four sharply distinct seasons and each one has its merits. Summer comes late this far north in New England, starting around the beginning of July and running until the beginning of September. During this brief warm stretch, expect daytime highs averaging a glorious 80°F with tolerable humidity levels and daylight that lasts until 9:00 p.m. Coastal towns enjoy cooling sea breezes, while the mountains get refreshingly pleasant nights. Rain is never far off, however, but that doesn’t deter most tourists.
Maine winters are a real mixed bag. Some years they are simply magical, with fluffy snow that piles up pretty and white. Other years can be absolutely miserable, with the icy sheet that crusts the whole state over. Either way, daytime highs stay firmly in the low 30’s °F from December until the end of February, and nights see the mercury drop well below freezing. However, many visitors love winter in Maine when ponds freeze into ice-skating rinks, the ski resorts open, and charming sleigh rides and crackling fires are common finds.
Spring is perhaps the one season that is not particularly nice in Maine. They call it the mud season and for good reason all that snow and ice melts. Spring arrives late, around the end of May, and seems to be gone in a flash so it doesn’t deter visitors. In March and April, the temperatures are still in the 40’s and 50s °F with frequent rain so this is when you will find the lowest hotel rates. Visitors are so scarce that rooms can often be half the price they are in July or October.
WHAT TO DO IN MAINE
See America’s first daylight from the top of Cadillac Mountain
If you want to be exact, the stunning vistas from atop this 1,532-foot mountain inside Acadia National Park are only the first sunrise in the contiguous United States from about mid-October to March. Nevertheless, the early morning hike and view out over Frenchman Bay and the islands of coastal Maine make hiking this peak before dawn one of the truly iconic American experiences. The summer offers far better hiking weather, even if there’s a spot near the Canadian border that gets the sunrise first. You’ll still see daylight long before everyone else in the country, and have the rest of the day to explore the park’s signature carriage trails and rocky coastline.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Maine.
- Reggaefest: when the ski season comes to an end at Sugarloaf Mountain each April, the resort throws one big Jamaican-style party. This popular reggae festival is one of New England’s biggest musical events and welcomes summer with a bang. For two days, reggae bands from around the world play both indoors and outdoors at the beautiful resort.
- Fishermen’s Festival: one of the best ways to experience the full scope of the Maine lifestyle is to plan a trip around the annual Fishermen’s Festival, held each April in Boothbay Harbor. Everything about this unique event is centered on fishing, from the lobster crate races to dory bailing and a codfish relay. A highlight is the boat parade that sees dozens of classic fishing boats cruise around Boothbay in formation. Plenty of amazing seafood, friendly people, and seafaring make this event worth checking out.
- Old Port Festival: Portland’s biggest event is this fun festival held at historic Old Port each June. It serves as the kick-off for Maine’s busy summer season and includes an amazing parade, global cuisine, and an incredible array of entertainment. From music to jugglers, theater, and jazz, the 10 stages set up around Old Port keep the crowds pleased for this long weekend.
- Maine Lobster Festival: lobster is a mainstay of the state’s economy, but in reality most residents don’t eat it that often. A four-day event held every August, the big parade along Main Street is a highlight and the charming town of Rockland and its pretty Harbor Park encourage everyone to indulge in this tasty crustacean in a myriad of forms. Eating competitions, food vendors, live music, entertainment, and lots of kids’ activities make this one of Maine’s most popular summer parties.
- Great Falls Balloon Festival: head to the town of Lewiston in August for a weekend of ballooning where the sight of colorful hot air balloons floating en masse over the green woodlands is an incredible thing indeed. Around 50 balloons take part each year, offering visitors the chance to ride in them and learn about the activity. Highlights include the moon glow night burning and the morning mass ascension.
- Fryeburg Fair: Maine’s biggest annual state fair happens at this fun, inland town each October. The weather couldn’t be more perfect or the setting at the Fryeburg Fairground more scenic for a host of classic entertainment. From livestock and produce to music, crafts, and lots of other fun, this is the best fall festival.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH MAINE
Maine is a state where the rules of self-sufficiency apply. With public transport at a bare minimum, having your own car is the only viable way to get around. With only one interstate freeway running from north to south, most car travel is done on two-lane country roads. These highways are in fine condition and well marked, but natural hazards from inclement weather and moose demand vigilant driving.
Car rental firms are readily available in all of the major airports in New England and it’s strongly suggested to get one as soon as you land. There are also car rental offices in the large cities of Maine and some of the more popular tourist towns like Bar Harbor. Due to the relatively small population, it’s advised to book rentals early if you plan to travel during the peak summer and fall seasons.
Taxis are only useful in Portland and the major tourist towns like Bar Harbor. In Portland, a taxi can be helpful if your hotel is located deep inland and you want to spend time in Old Port by the water. Rates are reasonable and can be either set or metered.
The train and bus are viable ways to reach Maine, but impractical for moving around the state. Amtrak trains reach as far as southern Maine, stopping at Portland on the Downeaster Line that starts in Boston, Massachusetts. This route is very scenic along the coast and trains run four or five times every day for a tour of New England. The fares are more than bus rates, but cheaper than flying, and the seats are comfortable.
Long distance buses are the other affordable way to reach Maine, with the best connections going to Portland. Greyhound is the only company that has service from destinations farther than Boston, but within New England there are other regional companies like Concord Coach and Vermont Transit Lines that offer good service. Buses reach more destinations in Maine than trains.
Only Portland has a public bus system known as Metro. It can be useful for travelers staying in Old Port and who don’t have a car, but beyond basic routes, it isn’t of much use for tourists.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON MAINE
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN MAINE
Typical food in Maine
Souvenirs from Maine