Maine lures visitors with stunning natural beauty and a wealth of outdoor fun, so it’s no surprise that many of the best things to do here take advantage of the state’s natural resources. Start with 3500 miles of sand and granite shoreline studded with fishing villages, forts, lighthouses, lobster shacks, islands and Acadia National Park.
Now add forested mountains for hiking, biking, alpine skiing and riding. Mix in a splash of clear lakes for boating and swimming, and rivers and streams for rafting and fishing. But Maine is more than a pretty face – here’s a sampling of some of the best Maine experiences to be had, both inside and outdoors.
1. Sip and savor in Portland, Maine’s foodiest city
Despite a population numbering fewer than 70,000, Portland ranks as one of America’s best foodie cities. With farms edging its boundaries and the ocean lapping its shores, it’s no wonder this city produces James Beard Award winners (the eponymous foundation of the renowned US chef has an annual award ceremony for culinary excellence) and regularly earns raves from culinary heavyweights. Get a taste on a Maine Day Ventures culinary walking tour.
Local tip: Get the lowdown on Greater Portland’s impressive beer scene on a Maine Brews Cruise walking or bus tour. Or deep dive on a 1.5-hour immersive tasting experience at Allagash, which earned a James Beard Award of Excellence for its Belgian-inspired brews.
2. Raft the Kennebec River
Wheeee! Maine’s Kennebec River tumbles 12 miles from the Harris Station dam to The Forks, where it flows into the Dead River. In each raft, a Registered Maine Whitewater Guide steers as you paddle through the Kennebec Gorge’s whitewater roller-coaster. After a riverside lunch, you might float in Class II ripples. Maine’s oldest rafting company, Northern Outdoors, pioneered the trip, and its Kennebec River base provides lodging, dining and a brewery.
Detour: Hike to Moxie Falls, one of New England’s tallest waterfalls. A gentle trail threads woodlands and connects to a series of boardwalks. Observation platforms overlook several pools and drops, including a spectacular plunge of almost 90ft.
3. Trek lodge to lodge in Maine’s famed 100-mile wilderness
Maine’s 100-mile wilderness is considered one of the toughest sections of the Appalachian Trail. But you can ease into it at four, off-the-grid, rustic waterside lodges with guest cabins, each a day’s hike, ski or snowshoe apart. The Appalachian Mountain Club manages three: Medawisla, Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback, the fanciest. The fourth, West Branch Pond Camps, is privately owned. All provide meals and hot showers. Come for the quietude, wildlife watching, swimming, paddling, fishing and the best stargazing in the AMC Maine Woods International Dark Sky Park.
4. Sail aboard a Maine windjammer
The best way to explore Maine’s coast is aboard a sailboat. For a unique Maine experience, book a multi-day sail aboard a Maine windjammer on Penobscot Bay, considered among the world’s best sailing waters. Wind and tide set the course, and weather frames the day. You might anchor off an undeveloped island for a beach lobster bake or in a fishing harbor, where you can explore the village. Expect a glamping cabin and three all-you-can-eat meals daily, including a lobster feast.
Local tip: Built on the site of a former shipyard, Rockland’s Sail, Power & Steam Museum exhibits marine and local industrial-related artifacts, photos and models. If Capt. Jim Sharpe is onsite, ask him for a tour. He’s a wonderful storyteller and a classic old salt.
5. Discover Maine’s Indigenous history at the Abbe Museum
Eons before tourists came to Mount Desert Island for Acadia National Park, Maine’s Indigenous People gathered here in summer. Maine’s Wabanaki, comprising the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Nations, trace their history here back 12,000 years. Collectively known as People of the Dawn, this tribal confederation shares its history and heritage in the Abbe Museum, Maine’s only Smithsonian affiliate, in downtown Bar Harbor. But don’t miss the original trailside museum at Sieur du Monts Springs in Acadia.
Local tip: While in Bar Harbor, tour the La Rochelle Mansion and History Museum, situated in a harborfront mansion that survived the Great Fire of 1947. Here, you’ll learn about the glitz and glamour of Bar Harbor’s gilded era, everyday island life, the fire and noteworthy individuals.
6. Catch a lobster
Boarding a working lobster boat, donning oilskins, and helping bait, set, and haul traps might be the most Maine thing to do. And you can do so with Capt. Tom Martin’s Lucky Catch Lobster Tours. You’ll learn all about the tasty crustacean and likely see islands, lighthouses, forts, seals, sailboats, ferries and other vessels cruising Casco Bay. Usually, about 10 traps are hauled on the 80- to 90-minute trip, and passengers are invited to help. When the excursion ends, buy any lobsters caught at boat price and get them cooked nearby for a reasonable fee.
Local tip: Prefer a lobster roll or a full lobster dinner? Choose from two excellent options within walking distance: few frills Portland Lobster Company or the fancier Luke’s Lobster.
7. Tour Stephen King’s Derry
Discover where horror maven Stephen King gets his inspiration on a 2.5- to 3-hour van tour of Bangor, a.k.a. Derry, Maine, with SK Tours of Maine. Among the highlights are filming locations, King’s house, and sites that inspired scenes and characters. The guides bring King to life through stories, anecdotes and fun facts. You’ll also learn about Bangor and gain local recommendations. This tour’s so good that it even wins over non-fans.
8. Museum hop along the Maine Art Museum Trail
Visiting each of the nine museums on the Maine Art Museum Trail provides access to regional to world-class works, European and American Masters, and fine craft. In addition to sharing art, the museum locations provide snapshots of Maine. They include one occupying an island lighthouse complex, another on a bridge-and-causeway-connected island, three on college campuses, three in downtowns and one commanding an oceanfront cliff.
Planning tip: Pair visiting the Portland Museum of Art with touring Winslow Homer’s studio, a National Historic Landmark. The museum spent six years restoring the American Master’s oceanfront studio, where he painted some of his greatest works, to how it appeared in 1910. The only way to visit is with a museum guide on a small-group Winslow Homer Studio Tour.
9. Attain enlightenment at Maine's lighthouses
Maine’s 64 lighthouses salt the coastline from Kittery to Calais. But the best concentrations of easily accessed lighthouses are in the Greater Portland and Rockland areas. Portland Breakwater Lighthouse and Spring Point Ledge Light offer eye-candy views over Portland and Casco Bay. From Portland Head Light, commissioned by George Washington and first lit in 1791, look out to sea to view Ram Island Light.
If you’re surefooted and the weather’s fine, walk the nearly one-mile granite breakwater to Rockland Breakwater Light, which guards the entrance to Rockland’s harbor. Owls Head Light, home to the Keeper’s House Interpretive Center & Gift Shop, winks from across the harbor. Drive down the St. George Peninsula to tour the Marshall Point Lighthouse and Museum.
Local tip: The Maine Lighthouse Museum is another reason why Rockland ranks as one of the best places to see lighthouses in Maine. The downtown museum houses the nation’s most extensive collection of Fresnel lenses and fascinating lighthouse-related artifacts.