The United States’ easternmost state appeals to travelers on multiple levels, from quaint cottage stays and adventure resorts to sweeping scenery and culinary treasure. Maine is a jewel in the heart of New England, and it has plenty to offer visitors year-round. If you’re planning your first trip, here are a few things that make The Pine Tree State special.
Follow the LightMaine is home to more than 60 lighthouses, striking structures that date back hundreds of years and dot the landscape along its shore and across its shoals. Many are still at work – they’re automated now – and are accessible by boat or car. In the town of Bristol, $3 admission gets you into Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park, with a museum, an art gallery and picnic grounds; you’ll notice this distinctive edifice featured on the Maine quarter. The West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is the only candy-striped lighthouse in the country; the visitor center here features interactive displays and works by local artists. The state’s oldest lighthouse, Portland Head Light, is in Cape Elizabeth, close to downtown Portland and adjacent to beautiful Fort Williams Park. A good starting point for your lighthouse exploration is the American Lighthouse Foundation’s Interpretive Center, located at Owls Head Light Station, which provides information on which lighthouses you can visit and, in some cases, even spend the night.
Skip the Mainland, Head to the IslandsCasco Bay, just north of Portland, is a threshold to a family of islands that offer breathtaking escapes from the mainland. Use the audio tour to discover Eagle Island, including its many nature trails, which are accessible during the summer. Great Diamond Island is car-free and features former military buildings that have become elegant homes and hotels; spend the night at the Inn at Diamond Cove, open seasonally May through October, which features outstanding local seafood at its Diamond’s Edge restaurant. Peaks Island is home to a flourishing community of artists. Chebeague Island offers great golf, and Cliff Island, the smallest year-round island of them all, is a great spot of off-road biking. For ferry service to the islands, check out Casco Bay Lines.
Skip the Theater, Take the Kids to the MuseumThe Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine is all about interactivity. Located in downtown Portland’s Arts District, its hands-on exhibits tackle everything from science and technology to art and animation. The museum’s Dress-Up Theater features stage productions for kids, by kids. Local budding actors between the ages of 8 and 17 are the stars here, both on stage and behind the scenes, bringing classic children’s stories to life in a way that’ll appeal to audiences of all ages. "Puss in Boots" is on stage this spring, running April 12-28.
Discover the UnknownOpen year-round, the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland may be the only one of its kind in the world. Cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals, so, here, believing in elusive creatures Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster is encouraged and celebrated. Exhibits feature rare specimens, like hair and fecal samples from abominable snowmen, as well as movie props, replicas of one-of-a-kind creatures and artwork that pays homage to the rarest among us. Open year-round.
Rev Your EnginesYou don’t have to be a car aficionado to appreciate the collection of classic rides at the Seal Cove Automobile Museum. Check out dozens of automobiles and motorcycles, along with clothing and accessories, from the car’s early days, 1895 through 1917. Some of the main collection attractions: a 1904 Ford Model A, a 1916 Abbott Detroit and a 1914 Stanley Mountain Wagon. The museum’s location is a destination all its own: a metal building on a back road of Mount Desert Island. Open daily from May through October and by appointment during the slow season.
Skip the Store, Pick Your OwnSummer and fall bring rolling picking seasons to the greater Portland area, which means you can still hone your green thumb during a city visit. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are prime for the picking during the summer months, while the fall brings apple orchards and pumpkin patches to life. There are several farms here that let you pick your own produce – pay a small fee to harvest and take the fruits of your labor home. Visit Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth for fresh berries, lettuces and specialty vegetables (some consider the food at The Well, onsite, among the best in the state), and go to Patten’s Farm in Gorham for strawberries, tomatoes and fresh flowers. Thirsty? Visit Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, a 12th-generation operation that produces and bottles its own milk, buttermilk and cream.
Skip the Hotel, Stay at the FarmSo you visit the farm but don’t feel like leaving? Not a problem at Wolfe’s Neck, a sustainable farm right on the rocky coast in Freeport. There’s a community garden here, where locals with limited backyard space at home can plant their crops, and a livestock education barn with goats, sheep, chickens and goats that’s free and open to the public year-round. The 600-plus acres here also offer free hiking trails, as well as kayak and bike rentals. To really get to know the land, though, consider staying awhile. Wolfe’s Neck is home to more than 130 campsites along the shoreline, featuring sweeping views of the farm and the ocean. Rough it in the tents-only area or pull up in your RV. You can glam it up a bit, too, in one of the three oceanfront cabins that sleep up to six, complete with full kitchens and fire pits surrounded by Adirondack chairs; it’s still camping, though, so plan on using semi-private outhouses and bring your own bedding. Camping ops abound throughout Maine, of course, with private grounds that range from the rustic to the luxurious to more than half a million acres of national and state parks.
Skip the Spa Resort, Go for AdventureThe Northern Outdoor Adventure Resort, located in western Maine, is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. It was founded in 1976 as a rafting resort, and that’s still the crux of the summer action here; guides take visitors on whitewater journeys along the Kennebec, Dead and Penobscot Rivers. In the winter, it’s all about snowmobiling the trails across Moosehead Lake, Coburn Mountains and Grand Falls. ATV adventures prevail in fall, and fishing and hiking happens year-round. Overnight stays are available in the riverside campground, the main lodge or in deluxe private cabins. This is also the only resort of its kind in Maine with its own craft brewery, Kennebec River Brewery; take a growler back to your cabin.
Skip the Car, Take a HikeThe gorgeous natural landscape makes Maine a paradise for hikers and climbers. The Maine portion of the Appalachian Trail, covering more than 200 miles, attracts skilled day hikers with its more strenuous day hikes. Baxter State Park, located inland, features 200,000 acres of wilderness, dozens of peaks and more than 200 miles of hiking trails for all skill levels; on the coast, Acadia National Park’s trails offer tons of wildlife sights, from whales to eagles. Marvel at the old-growth white pine forests when you hike the trails at Eagle Lake in Aroostook County. There are easier, family-friendly hikes, too, including the waterfalls of the White Mountain National Forest, the beaches off Morse Mountain and the shores of Lake Webb at Mount Blue State Park.
Don’t Forget the LobsterYou’re at the source, so don’t leave Maine without experiencing lobster. In fact, you can build a whole vacation around the delicious crustaceans at any of Maine’s historic fishing towns. In Boothbay Harbor, take a summer sail aboard the Sarah Mead, a sailing lobster boat, or take the Bernie Alice ferry to Cabbage Island for an old-fashioned lobster bake; the Maine State Aquarium is a great place to learn all about lobsters. In Kennebunkport, savor lobster at Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant, a favorite with presidents, and Clam Shack; then, experience lobster trapping and hauling at its finest aboard the tour boat, Kylie’s Chance. In Stonington, mingle with lobster fishermen at the Stonington Farmers Market before you feed your lobster craving at Aragosta or The Maine Lobster Lady of Isle au Haut.
Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features exclusive deals in Maine. Got your own favorite Maine experience? Let him know on Twitter or Instagram: @gabesaglie.