For millions of years, Maine's ragged coastline has been expanded by vast volcanic explosions, eroded by glaciers and the crashing north Atlantic surf, and fractured by continental drift. What remains today is a dramatic, romantic landscape dotted with postcard-perfect lighthouses, towering evergreens, and fascinating hints at the Pine Tree State's geologic past.
The water may be chilly, but Maine's coast boasts some of the most interesting, dynamic beaches in the country. Whether you're a fan of beach combing, surfing, sea kayaking, sunbathing, or hiking the winding headlands, Maine beaches have a lot to offer. With 3,478 miles of oceanfront, however, it might be hard to know where to begin. That's why we made a list of Maine's 13 best beaches, from popular city hangouts to remote coves where you'll find plenty of elbow room.
Editor's note: during COVID-19, there are restrictions on travel, and some of these free attractions may be temporarily closed or require pre-booking. Always check before departure, and be sure to follow local health guidance.
1. Sand Beach
One of Acadia's most surprising features is this beautiful stretch of sandy shoreline tucked between mountains on the east side of Mount Desert Island. The beach is around 300m long and attracts sunbathers, strollers and a few intrepid souls willing to brave the chilly year round water temperatures for a dip. A beautiful hiking trail starts from here. Sand Beach is well signposted and quite popular. Take the free shuttle bus or go early or late for a parking spot. There are bathrooms and changing areas just above the beach.
2. Popham Beach State Park
This 6-mile-long sandy stretch is one of the prettiest in the state, with views of offshore islands and the Kennebec and Morse Rivers framing either end. Lifeguards are on hand in July and August, but be aware that the surf is strong, with undertows and riptides. It's located off ME 209, about 14 miles south of Bath. A few miles further along ME 209 are the ruins of Fort Popham, a Civil War–era fortification at the mouth of the Kennebec River.
3. Ogunquit Beach
A sublime stretch of family-friendly coastline, Ogunquit Beach is only a five-minute walk along Beach St, east of US 1. Walking to the beach is a good idea in summer as the parking lot fills up early (and it costs $4 per hour to park!). The 3-mile beach fronts Ogunquit Bay to the south; on the west side of the beach are the warmer waters of the tidal Ogunquit River. Footbridge Beach, 2 miles to the north near Wells, is actually the northern extension of Ogunquit Beach. Little Beach, near the small lighthouse on Marginal Way, is best reached on foot.
5. Reid State Park
The highlights of this forested park include the rocky promontory of Griffith Head, and the long, windswept stretch of Mile and Half Mile Beaches – rare examples of sandy Maine coastline that boast a thriving sand dune ecology. The surfing at Reid State Park is considered some of the best in New England, but a heads-up: the water is still freezing! The park is located about 16 miles south of Bath (roughly a 30-minute drive).
6. Old Orchard Beach
Old Orchard Beach is a quintessential beach playground, where fun-loving sun worshippers make the rounds of candy shops, mechanical amusements and neon-lit trinket emporiums. The atmosphere isn't as Americana-esque as you might think – many tourists speak French, as Old Orchard has long been a preferred summer destination for Quebecois families.
7. Isle au Haut
Much of Isle au Haut, a rocky island 6 miles long, is under the auspices of Acadia National Park. Accessed by boat and more remote than the parklands near Bar Harbor, it escapes the big summer crowds. If you're looking for an unspoiled, untouristed, unhyped outpost of Acadia… well, you've found it.
The island's main draw is the superb hiking along the coastal trails near Duck Harbor on the southwest side. Thick forests, wave-battered sea cliffs, trickling brooks and misty ponds are all part of its allure. On the island's northwest side lies the main settlement, also called Isle au Haut, with a tiny year-round population which triples during the warm summer months.
Kennebunk is a modest town largely centered on US 1, with few tourist attractions beyond its lovely beaches. Just across the river, adjacent to Kennebunk's shop-lined Lower Village, is chic Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport proper has only one stretch of sand, the small Colony Beach on Ocean Ave, which is dominated by the Colony Hotel. Fortunately, that's not the only beach in the vicinity.
Beach Ave and Sea Rd (west of Kennebunk River and then south of the Lower Village) lead to three good public beaches: Middle Beach, Mother's Beach and our favorite, Gooch's Beach, known collectively as Kennebunk Beach. Besides boasting an excellent name, Gooch Beach tends to have relatively lighter crowds in summer (relatively) and boasts wide, sandy areas that are perfect for those who are a little tired of the usual 'rocks and cliffs' aesthetic of the Maine coast. Beach parking permits are required here from mid-June to mid-September; for non-residents they cost $25 daily, $100 weekly and $200 seasonally.
9. York Harbor Beach
This small crescent of sandy beach has calm (if cold!) waters and tide pools, and as such it's immensely popular with families with small kids. There's a parking lot here, but it requires a permit – you'll need to find street parking along US 1A, which tends to be plentiful, although you may have to walk a little.
10. Jasper Beach
Jasper Beach is a bizarre, mile-long beach consisting entirely of polished, red-hued jasper stones. As the waves wash in, the rocks slide against one another, creating a rather haunting song. It's one of two such beaches in the world (the other is in Japan).
To reach it, look out for the small sign on the left at the southern end of Machias. You'll follow ME 92 and Port Rd for about 10 miles. (If you reach the turnoff for the Downeast Correctional Facility, you've gone just a bit too far.)
11. Cutler Coast Public Lands
This little-known reserve a few miles northeast of Cutler has hiking trails amid spectacular coastal scenery. If you've visited Acadia National Park and wondered what the shoreline trails would be like without the crowds, this is the place to come. This 12,000-acre expanse encompasses lush forests thick with moss and ferns, blueberry barrens, and jagged headlands overlooking hidden coves and rocky beaches.
The well-marked trail from the starting point is 1.4 miles one-way to the shoreline; from there, the path continues another 3.4 miles before looping inland and returning to the trailhead. Allow seven hours to do the entire 9.2-mile loop or just tackle one stage of it. Parking for the trailhead is 4 miles northeast of Cutler (and about 21 miles from Machias). There are also five first-come, first-served backcountry campsites scattered along the trail (these are 3 to 5 miles from the trailhead, so pack light!).
12. Whistler Cove
This pretty stretch of rocky shoreline backed by pine forest is reached by a short trail (one-mile round-trip) that starts near the Great Cranberry Island Historical Society. Keep an eye out for wildlife – bald eagles sometimes nest in the area.
13. East End Beach
The sand is kind of rocky, and the water is cold enough to chill a bottle of champagne, but we still love this little beach – Portland's only public sand – and the small park that surrounds it. Folks launch kayaks, sunbathe and even take a chilly swim, including in winter (in wetsuits, but still!). On nice days, the on-site parking lot fills quickly.
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