Planning Your Trip
Acadia National Park
You'll notice things in Maine more sharply than anywhere. The scent of pristine breezes, infused with pine or sea salt. The texture—plus the taste—of food that's incredibly fresh. Sounds as subtle as snow against a window pane and as distinctive as spring peepers' chorus or a loon's call. "Maine Invites You" is the state's slogan, and Mother Nature—like any good hostess—is determined to impress.
If you've dreamed of a Maine vacation, use this guide to make that a reality. New England's largest state offers alluring possibilities for not just outdoor enthusiasts but foodies, shoppers, history buffs, and lighthouse admirers.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Maine has four distinct seasons: all with fans. The best months to visit are August and September, when ocean waters are warm, mountain hikes are inviting, and lobster is plentiful. Fall foliage season begins up north in late September, and the color progresses southward through the first three weeks of October, adding dazzling vibrance to cherished Maine landscapes like the view from Height of Land.
- Languages: English, French
- Getting Around: Amtrak's Downeaster train makes stops along the Maine coast from Wells to Freeport, and buses, shuttles, and even water taxis operate in major cities like Portland and tourist destinations like Bar Harbor. But you'll need a car if you want to see Maine's nooks and crannies, and most visitors do. Rental cars are easily available at Maine's airports.
- Travel Tip: Lobster bibs exist for a reason: It's sloppy work cracking into a lobster and dunking its luscious meat in drawn butter. So forget about appearances and tie on a plastic bib before you dine on Maine's signature shellfish.
Things to Do
With mountains, whitewater rivers, lakes, and more miles of coastline than California, Maine offers plentiful opportunities for outdoor adventure, from skiing and snowmobiling in the winter to rafting and beach-going in the summer. With more than 540,000 acres of land making up state and national parks, the state serves as an antidote to visitors' hectic lives, with views that calm and enduring resorts where time seemingly stands still. Don't fret for a minute, though, that Maine will bore you. There are plenty of attractions and activities to fill a week or more in this northern paradise.
- Don't miss Acadia National Park's remarkable scenes and distinctive experiences including sunrise-viewing from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, horse-drawn wagon rides on historic carriage roads, and eating popovers on the lawn at Jordan Pond House.
- Score bargains at outlet stores clustered in Kittery and Freeport, which is also home to the state's most famous retailer: L.L. Bean.
- Keep an eye out for moose, the official state animal. If you want to guarantee you'll see one of these impressive creatures, add a stop at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray to your itinerary.
What to Eat and Drink
Maine is the lobster capital of the world, and eating a whole lobster "in the rough"—in an informal yet gorgeous outdoor setting with a plastic bib around your neck and sea air fueling your appetite—is a quintessentially Maine experience. Of course, there are other ways to eat lobster, too: in rolls, stews, soups, tacos, mac and cheese, gourmet dishes, and even on pizza. But save room for some of Maine's other beloved foods including whoopie pies and wild blueberries. Portland and Kennebunkport are the state's best destinations for gourmands. The latter is home to the White Barn Inn, which is consistently named one of the top restaurants in all of New England.
You're going to need a beverage or two to pair with all of the just-caught fish and lobster, poutine, and red snapper hot dogs you consume. Maine's craft beer game is strong, especially in Portland, and some of the state's potato crop finds its way into vodka distilled in-state. Maine has a handful of wineries, too, and if a non-alcoholic potion is your preference, you'll want to try the Maine-born soda: Moxie.
Where to Stay
Imagine a world of unlimited lodging possibilities, where you can sleep in a covered wagon at Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport one night and at a grand hotel reinvigorated with life, like the Cliff House in Ogunquit, the next. Maine has old-time family resorts like Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake, rustic sporting camps like Libby Camps, classic island hideaways like the Chebeague Island Inn, charming lakeside bed-and-breakfasts like Wolf Cove Inn, brand new eco-escapes like the Appalachian Mountain Club's Medawisla Lodge, and oceanside mansion hotels like Kennebunkport's Cape Arundel Inn. There are Airbnbs for all budgets, too. You'll need to book in advance for peak summer weekends in popular destinations like Bar Harbor, Old Orchard Beach, Portland, Kennebunkport, and York Beach.
The majority of Maine visitors arrive by car, but there are alternatives. The Amtrak Downeaster train provides regular, affordable service between Boston's North Station and southern Maine coast destinations including Portland. Two major bus lines, Greyhound and Concord Coach Lines, also connect Portland and other Maine stops with stations in the Northeast and beyond. Air travelers have a choice of two Maine airports:
- Portland International Jetport, located just 5 miles from downtown Portland, is a super-convenient point of arrival, served by nine major airlines. Rental cars are readily available, as are taxis and buses.
- Smaller Bangor International Airport up north in Bangor is served by four airlines and is the best choice for travelers bound for Acadia National Park.
Culture and Customs
Mainers have an accent and vocabulary all their own, and it can be useful to learn a bit of the local lingo before you go. And while you're studying up on the native language, it's also a good idea to familiarize yourself with Maine's fairly ferocious native insects and the precautions you can take to ensure your time outdoors won't be marred by painful bug bites. Black fly season, which typically begins in mid-May and lasts through most of June, can be particularly uncomfortable if you are not prepared.
- Maine is a big state, so consider choosing an alternative destination away from popular tourist spots like Bar Harbor, Camden, Boothbay Harbor, Portland, and Kennebunkport if you want to save money on lodging and dining.
- If you can visit in September—after kids go back to school and before leaf peepers clog Maine's scenic byways—you'll avoid crowds at restaurants and attractions, save on lodging, and enjoy some of the best weather of the year.
- Can't find an affordable place to stay during the peak summer and fall seasons? Consider a condo or hotel room at one of Maine's ski resorts, like Sugarloaf or Sunday River, that tend to get overlooked during their off seasons.
- Maine's best state parks offer diverse recreational opportunities, and admission is inexpensive for adults, even more affordable for seniors, and free for kids under 12.
- If you're looking for something free to do with your kids, take them to see Eartha in Yarmouth. A walk along the Marginal Way in Ogunquit is another memorable, free experience you can enjoy together.
- The best place to buy live Maine lobster cheap is at the Pine Point Fisherman's Co-op in Scarborough. Do yourself a favor and bring a cooler with you to Maine, so you'll have a way of transporting live "bugs" home with you to cook for suppah.
- Pack wisely for your trip to avoid the necessity of purchasing extra warm layers. The weather in Maine can be unpredictable, and even summer nights can be surprisingly chilly. When you're out on the water, it's automatically cooler, too. You will not regret tossing that extra sweatshirt or fleece jacket in your car or carry-on.
- Before your Kittery or Freeport shopping excursion, read our tips on how to be a smart outlet shopper.
- Think an island getaway is out of your price range? Not in Maine! It's just $7.70 round-trip ($3.85 for seniors and children) to take the Casco Bay Lines ferry from Portland to Peaks Island for a day of biking, exploring, and relaxing on the beach.