Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is where the mountains meet the sea. Miles of rocky coastline and even more miles of hiking and biking trails make this wonderland Maine's most popular destination, and deservedly so. The high point (literally) is Cadillac Mountain, the 1530ft peak that can be accessed by foot, bike or vehicle. Early risers can catch the country's first sunrise from this celebrated summit. Later in the day, cool off with a dip in Echo Lake or take tea and popovers overlooking Jordan Pond.
Maine's largest city has a cobblestone-lined Old Port district dotted with galleries, cafes and creative eateries, along with a buzzing drinking scene spread among its brew bars and craft-cocktail dens. Portland is also the state's cultural capital, with year-round events and a vibrant arts scene. The neighborhood attractions make a fine counterpoint to Portland's natural treasures, including peaceful islands in Casco Bay. Just outside the city is picturesque Cape Elizabeth, while north of the town, LL Bean is a mecca for shoppers.
Nowhere is more closely associated with this crustacean than Maine. The mighty lobster was once so plentiful it was fed to prisoners and used for fertilizer; now the state symbol is deservedly esteemed as a delicacy. Crack the shell of a freshly steamed lobster with drawn butter at one of Maine's many summertime lobster pounds. Or catch (and eat) your own on board a do-it-yourself lobster boat. Either way, don't forget to tie on a plastic bib – Maine's most endearing and enduring fashion statement.
One of the most dramatic times to visit the state is in late September and early October. Every fall the trees fling off that staid woodsy green and deck their boughs with flaming reds, light-bending yellows and ostentatious oranges. This is the changing of the guard from summer to fall, better known as leaf-peeping season. There are numerous places where you can see the action, whether on hikes through state parks, on scenic drives or from the comfort of a B&B well-placed amid the glowing foliage.
Maine's 3400-plus miles of coastline (not including its islands) have countless walks that take in some of the state's most striking scenery. There are panoramic views of rugged cliffs, island-dotted bays and hidden coves on both long and short trails all across the state. York has a memorable Cliff Walk, while Acadia National Park is famed for its headland trails. If you're looking for relatively fewer crowds, head to the dramatic Cutler Coast Trail out near Machias.
Lighthouses have long served to communicate across dangerous waters, guiding ships through dark nights and darker storms. The image of the lonely beacon is borne out by dozens of lighthouses up and down the Maine coastline. Nowadays you can visit lighthouse museums and visitor centers, spend the night in a lighthouse, or hike through thick woods that cling to the shoreline to scenic lighthouses. Keep your camera handy and admire the stoic beauty of one of Maine's iconic symbols.
Most travelers have visions of rugged, cliff-backed coastline, for which the state is famed. Maine also has many miles of captivating beaches, from people-packed sands to isolated coves, all tucked along the southern reaches of the state. Ogunquit lives up to its indigenous name (meaning 'the beautiful place by the sea') with a photogenic shoreline backed by dunes and seagrass. Another jewel is the Popham Beach State Park. At low tide you can walk for miles on this isolated shoreline, some 14 miles south of Bath.
Blue Hill Peninsula
West of Mount Desert Island, the Blue Hill Peninsula encompasses tiny picturesque towns, scenic nature reserves and isolated coastline. Here you can experience Maine's farm-to-table restaurants, artisanal coffee roasters, microbrewers and wood-fired bakeries, some of which are plunked right in the middle of rolling farmland. There are great bookstores (and a literary festival), a celebrated boat-building school, and Castine, one of the most charming small towns anywhere in Maine. The peninsula is also the gateway to Deer Isle, another fantastic region worthy of several days of exploring.
Sailing Penobscot Bay
Explore the rugged coast of Maine the old-fashioned way – on board one of the grand, multimasted windjammers that fill the harbors of Camden and Rockland. These majestic sailing ships offer cruises around the islands and coves of Penobscot Bay, all under the power of the wind. Feel the breeze and the spray on your face as you sail the high seas, then stop for a lunchtime lobster roll, venture a quick dip in the afternoon and dine as the sun sets over the rocky Maine coastline.
Baxter State Park
Spread across more than 300 sq miles in the north of Maine, Baxter State Park is one of the unsung wonders of the northeast. The hiking here is unrivaled, with over 200 miles of trails that range from peaceful ambles by lakes and rushing mountain streams to challenging ascents up craggy peaks. You can base yourself in park campgrounds, lean-tos or old-fashioned cabins, while nearby you'll find comfier lodges with great food and microbrews – served fireside after a day in the wilderness.
Farm to Table
When it comes to dining, Maine has much more going on than just crustaceans. This is a state that was at the forefront of organic farming and the farm-to-table dining movement many years ago. The cuisine is a treat, thanks in part to the abundance of fruit, vegetables and dairy products originating from local farms. And you can find great meals whether you're wandering the streets of Portland or exploring the farm-dotted back roads of the Blue Hill Peninsula.
If you're searching for the real Maine, Rockland is a great place to start. This vibrant waterfront town hasn't sold its soul to summertime vacationers, and has a mix of old-school eating options, vintage shops and creative drinking dens that cater to the city's year-round residents. This former shipbuilding center also boasts some of Maine's best art exhibitions, thanks to the cutting-edge Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), which features works by artists connected with the state of Maine.
Maine's densely forested interior is home to abundant wilderness, with thousands of lakes and ponds. Rangeley Lake is one of the best places in Maine to take in this natural beauty. Fringed by mountains, this is a year-round destination, with kayaking and hiking in summer, scenic drives amid the changing leaves in fall, skiing in winter and moose-spotting in late spring. The charmingly old-fashioned town of Rangeley makes a great base from which to arrange all manner of adventures, including panoramic flights by seaplane.
With a tiny year-round population, Monhegan feels like a world removed from the frenetic pace of modern life. This wild and rugged island has an extraordinary beauty – with towering sea cliffs and flower-filled meadows – that's long made it a draw for artists. In the summertime, a day trip is possible (the ferry ride is about 90 minutes from one of three departure points). However, it's best to overnight in one of Monhegan's B&Bs and enjoy island life after the day-trippers have gone.
The legendary Appalachian Trail runs more than 2100 miles from Georgia to its northern terminus in Maine. Over 280 miles of the hike pass through Maine and are rated among the hardest of the multimonth odyssey – they cover some of the most rugged and wildest sections of the trail. If you're not out to hike the whole thing, Maine has many access points where you can get a taste, including the final section up Mt Katahdin, the state's highest peak.