If you’re planning a trip to Maine, you’re in good company — one of the state’s nicknames is Vacationland.
People flock to New England’s northernmost state for outdoor adventure, scenic coastlines and the cultural attractions of Portland, Maine’s largest city. From speaking the lingo to what to do if you see a moose, these top tips on planning, etiquette and health and safety will help you have the perfect trip to Maine, so you can spend more time enjoying lobster rolls by the sea.
1. Plan for 2–3 days in Portland or take a week to see the state
Maine is a large state, and a lot of it is remote wilderness. Attractions are concentrated in Southern Maine and along the coastline, although there are plenty of adventures to be found inland as well. Plan for a long weekend to explore the dining destinations of Portland or take a week to explore up the coast to Acadia National Park, where you can spend a few days hiking and enjoying nature.
2. Come prepared for any weather
A common expression heard in Maine is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Maine weather can vary greatly, often starting off cool but heating up by midday, then cooling off again in the evening. Expect warm days in the summer and fall with temps dropping at sunset. Always have an extra layer on hand; even on days when it seems impossible it’ll be chilly, a nippy breeze off the water can make you shiver.
3. You'll need a pass to visit Acadia National Park
One of Maine’s biggest attractions is Acadia National Park — nearly 4 million people visited in 2022. A park pass is required to enter the national park; passes are available at the park’s visitor centers and campgrounds. As of 2021, an additional vehicle reservation is required to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Intrepid visitors will want to snag an early reservation to watch the country’s first sunrise from the eastern seaboard’s highest mountain. Make your reservations online beginning in mid-May.
4. Snag those Portland dinner reservations
Portland is known for its number of independently owned restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines, including the abundant local seafood. Many of Portland’s dining hot spots require reservations in the summer, especially in July and August. But don’t despair if you’re shut out of a particularly enticing restaurant. Some dining destinations reserve a number of tables for walk-ins, so arrive early to be placed on the evening’s wait list.
5. Public transportation is limited outside the cities
“You can’t get there from here” – this common Maine saying, is often used to sum up the challenge of traversing the crisscrossing network of backroads across the state. While it is possible to take a charter bus or passenger rail to Portland from Boston, NYC and other cities on the east coast, a car is necessary if you want to venture beyond the city.
If you want to avoid driving, Portland is small and it’s possible to spend a car-free weekend exploring all it has to offer. Cabs and ride shares are available in and around the cities, but options can be sparse during off-hours.
6. Don’t bother trying to hide that you’re “from away”
Mainers are proud of living in the Pine Tree State, and many coastal communities have a complicated relationship with “people from away,” as non-Mainers are called. But tourism is often the primary industry in coastal communities, and Mainers work hard to welcome visitors in the busy summer months. This hospitality can be worn out by rude or entitled behavior. Afford the locals courtesy and respect, and remember that the quaint harbors and coastal towns you visit are many people’s year-round homes. Ask permission before taking pictures of people at work on the water.
7. Learn some local terms so you know your “Bean’s” from your “bubs”
The Maine accent doesn’t receive as much attention as its Massachusetts cousin, but listen carefully in more rural areas and you’ll hear the Yankee dialect. A few basics to understand the lingo: “Down East” is both a region (the easternmost coastal part of the state) and a direction (northeast); an “Italian” is a sub sandwich served in a split-top hot dog bun, and “Bean’s” refers to L.L. Bean, Maine’s most iconic outdoor brand. Get friendly with a Mainer and you may earn the affectionate title of “bub” or “dear” (pronounced dee-ah).
8. Don't leave dinner too late
Maine is not known for its nightlife, and as a reflection, many bars and restaurants close relatively early. Bars are legally allowed to remain open until 1am, and you’ll find a thriving weekend bar scene in the heart of Portland’s Old Port. But outside of the cities, restaurants may stop serving dinner as early as 8pm. Be sure to plan your dining so you’re not left raiding your stash of emergency granola bars.
9. Give moose plenty of space
Maine has the most moose of any state outside of Alaska, and many visitors want to catch a glimpse of these elusive animals. Should you see a moose, as with any wild animal, do not approach it. Moose can become aggressive if they feel threatened and large bulls can weigh as much as 1400 pounds! When driving on country roads (including highways) at night, watch for moose crossing or standing in the road, as hitting one can be deadly.
10. Pack good outdoor footwear and waterproofs
Because Maine is known for its natural beauty, opportunities for hiking, camping, boating and snow sports abound. Plenty of people get into trouble by venturing out on the trail or water without proper attire. If you’re looking to hike a big peak or even spend the afternoon on a lake, be sure you have all the gear you need for any weather conditions. Wear appropriate footwear while hiking, bring warm and waterproof layers, and take plenty of water with you when exploring the Maine woods.
11. Be straight on Maine’s cannabis industry
Maine is one of the 21 US states that currently allow adults 21 years of age or older to purchase and consume cannabis. You’ll find a number of dispensaries throughout the state where you can buy a variety of cannabis products from edibles to vapes. Consumption of cannabis in Maine is only permitted on private property, though, so while it may be easy to purchase, consumption may be a little trickier. If you’re staying at a short-term rental, on-site consumption may be allowed by the owner’s policies. Smoking of any kind is prohibited in all bars, restaurants and public places, including state parks and beaches.
12. Cell service isn't always available
As with elsewhere in the US, dial 911 in case of an emergency. Beware that rural or remote parts of Maine lack consistent cell phone service, so you may go off grid without even realizing it. When engaging in outdoor activities, always take precautions and go prepared.