Maine is a popular tourist destination, known for its scenic beauty and picturesque coastal villages. Millions of visitors flock to the northernmost New England state every year for a week by the lake, to drop the kids at summer camp or for a long weekend in Portland, the state’s largest city.
This demand can translate to surging prices for flights, rental cars and lodging during peak season. Lingering effects of pandemic-induced inflation have exacerbated existing problems within Maine’s tourism industry, often resulting in higher costs for meals, rooms and other services.
Fortunately, many of Maine’s attractions are free or low-cost, in particular its forested mountains, rocky beaches, fall foliage and Acadia National Park. Here are some tips for cutting costs when visiting Vacationland.
Plan your trip during shoulder season
Visit Maine in spring and fall, when lodging rates are cheaper. Tourist season has gotten later and later in the year, as leaf-peepers visit New England to scope its fiery foliage. Rates begin to drop after Indigenous Peoples' Day and are lower in May and early June as well.
Popular attractions won’t be crowded, meaning you can spend more time enjoying the sights without lines and crowds. In the spring, many seasonal businesses will be reopening after a restful winter break, translating to friendlier service from innkeepers, servers and shop employees.
Book primetime lodging well in advance
If you’re planning to visit in July and August, the state’s busiest time, book as far ahead as you can to lock in the lowest rate. Portland hotels often sell out on prime weekends, as do short-term rentals in popular destinations. Available hotel rooms can surge up to $800 per night in August, so don’t wait until the last minute to book your accommodations.
Consider the next town over to save
Maine’s most popular towns can charge the highest rates for lodging, as there are often more visitors than rooms. But you can stay in a neighboring town with a similar ambiance at a lower cost.
Instead of Kennebunkport, consider Biddeford (with its new Lincoln Hotel); opt for Southwest Harbor over Bar Harbor; and stay in Wiscasset instead of Boothbay Harbor. Do consider the increased cost of fuel if this means you’ll be driving more, but if you’re already visiting a few locations around the state, this approach will benefit your budget.
Fly to Boston and take a cheap(er) bus north
Flights into Boston Logan International Airport from other US cities are often less expensive than those into Portland. And you can usually fly direct to Logan as well, saving you time, money, and the risk of a costly missed layover. Logan is about two hours south of Portland and is accessible by bus.
Book a seat on Concord Trailways, which runs comfortable charter buses with clean bathrooms and a movie for a $59 round trip to Portland. If you want to travel further afield, you can rent a car in Portland.
Bus service is limited but inexpensive – and one’s even free!
If you’re staying in Portland, you won’t need a car – the city is very walkable. The Portland METRO bus line has $2 fares and several lines run to nearby towns like Old Orchard Beach and Brunswick.
If you visit Acadia National Park, you can ditch the car and enjoy the island via the Island Explorer, the park service’s free shuttle. The bus travels the Park Loop Road, stopping at popular sites like Thunder Hole and Sand Beach, trailheads and campgrounds. You can flag down the bus to hop on it. Spend more time watching the sights and less time watching the road!
Rough it a little and save
Due to Maine’s rustic atmosphere, there are many inexpensive options for camping. Privately-owned campgrounds are dotted around the state, with tent and RV sites. Many also have cabins, which can be relatively luxurious, with electricity, a mini-fridge and mattresses on rough-built bed frames.
Many of Maine’s public lands also have campgrounds, with two in Acadia National Park and several in Baxter State Park. Baxter State Park’s cabins at Daicey Pond are some of the most desired camping reservations in the state, providing adventurous travelers with comfortable access to the state’s pristine wilderness.
Those who love outdoor adventure but still want the day to end with a hot shower and a warm meal should consider Maine Huts and Trails. Three eco-huts, accessible by foot, mountain bike or cross-country ski, offer shared and private accommodations. A lodge, hot showers and heated bunkrooms mean you can more comfortably enjoy your time in the Western Maine mountains.
Set sail for the day
Maine has many islands off its coast that are accessible by the state’s ferry system. Casco Bay alone has several hundred islands (the ferry out of Portland stops at six). Visiting a Maine island is a great, inexpensive day trip – a round-trip ferry ticket is only $20.
While most islands have overnight accommodations, the limited availability means the rates are often high. Instead, ride over for the day and explore Peaks Island from Portland, Vinalhaven from Rockland, or the Cranberry Isles from Southwest Harbor. Intrepid visitors should visit Monhegan, an island known for its community of artists and hiking with views of the island’s waterfront cliffs.
Enjoy lunch at Portland restaurant hot spots
Many of Portland’s best restaurants offer lunch, which makes it possible to enjoy a meal at a James Beard Award-nominated spot without breaking the bank. Lunch reservations are often easier to snag than the nighttime equivalent, and offer the same access to the abundant seafood and local produce that Maine restaurants are known for at a lower price.
Seek out food trucks and diners to save on meals
Maine has a culture of diners and truck-stop restaurants that offer hearty, plentiful meals for an economical price. Try Becky’s Diner in Portland, where you may share the counter with lobstermen enjoying a late breakfast after hauling traps all morning. A1 Diner in Gardiner has imaginative local specials and Palace Diner in Biddeford serves elevated classics.
In Portland, you can opt for a cheap meal al fresco by taking advantage of its fleet of food trucks. These mobile eateries park overlooking the ocean along the Eastern Promenade, one of the city’s largest green spaces. Enjoy lunch for less than $20 from a variety of trucks serving cuisines like Mediterranean, Vietnamese and Mexican food.
If lobster prices make you crabby, opt for a crab roll instead
As with many other industries, rising supply costs have pushed the price of lobster higher and higher over the last few years. In 2022, some of the most popular lobster shacks were charging $40 for a lobster roll. Enter the crab roll. Maine crab is not as well known as its crustacean cousin, but still delicious.
Crab rolls are often less expensive than lobster rolls and deliver the same fresh seafood deliciousness. But if you can’t stand the thought of skipping lobster on your Maine vacation, you can use all the extra funds you’ve saved from following our tips to splurge on this local treat.
Daily costs in Maine
- Hostel room: $55
- Basic room for two: $250
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from $200
- Portland Metro (public regional bus system) ticket: $2-$5
- Coffee: $2-$5
- Lobster roll: $30
- Dinner for two: $80-$100
- Beer/pint at the bar: $8