Maine is known for its beautiful landscapes, pristine coastline, and iconic lighthouses and beaches, not to mention amazing seafood. Maine is full of state and national parks, outdoor recreation, agriculture, and hunting, but many of the cities within the state are bustling with people and have thriving downtowns and vibrant nightlife.
Maine is only 320 miles long by 210 miles wide which means that no matter where someone is at in the state, they can easily take a day trip to many different places that aren’t too far away since every town is within just a few hours drive of each other.
1.Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park in Maine is 47,000 acres on Mount Desert Island that is covered in forest, rocky beaches, and granite peaks that have been scoured by glacier movement over thousands of years. The park attracts over 3.5 million outdoor adventurers from all over the world who want to climb and hike Cadillac Mountain which is the highest point on the east coast. Over two hundred miles of trails can be explored including motor roads, hiking trails, and carriage roads. Visitors often spot a lot of different wildlife and a variety of birds while on the mountain and can sign up for whale watching tours off the Atlantic coast as well.
Bar Harbor, Maine, Phone: 207-288-3338
One of the best vacation spots in Maine is Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor is surrounded by ocean cliffs, beaches, lakes, and valleys, that were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago and the boreal forest seems to stretch on for dozens of miles. Famous American artists include Thomas Cole, Edwin Church, and Fitz Henry Lane have painted the scenic landscapes of Bar Harbor.
Visitors to Mount Desert Island will find that Bar Harbor is the place to be for shopping, dining, and fun nightlife on the island and the coastal community offers many tourism experiences including Acadia National Park with bridges and roads built by John. D. Rockefeller. Bar Harbor is also the ultimate place for outdoor recreation, including cycling, hiking, water sports, and rock climbing, and features many summer homes and heavy foot traffic from June through August.
Bethel is a place where visitors can go all year round to enjoy thrilling or relaxing, outdoor recreation from skiing and snowshoeing in the winter to fishing, boating, and beaches in the summer. The authentic New England town of Bethel features a walkable downtown area with locally-owned shops and restaurants. Visitors can also explore the Broad Street Historic District where there are two museums and walking tours available of the village.
Bethel is also known for its gems and minerals. Visitors can mine for their gems at several outdoor recreation businesses and learn all about the gems at Maine Mineral & Gem Museum. There are two top-notch golf courses in Bethel as well as a casino, and many events that happen through the year.
Boothbay Harbor was settled in the mid-17th century by fishermen and farmers from England. The area was resettled by the Scottish and Irish farmers in 1729, and eventually the harbor became the known for the excellent fishing as well as shipbuilding, with several naval vessels for both World Wars and the Korean War. Today, Boothbay Harbor is a popular area for summer residents, retired adults, and as a vacation destination.
Visitors to Boothbay Harbor can explore waterfront art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Many special events and festivals happen on the waterfront. Besides boating, there are also tidal pools, coves, hiking, and botanical gardens that can be explored for outdoor fun. The Boothbay Railway Village is another popular attraction where visitors can board an authentic steam engine.
Blue Hill is a small town settled between the Blue Hill Mountain and the Blue Hill Bay. The city was known for shipbuilding and sawmills, as well as granite mining when it was established in the mid 18th century.
Today, Blue Hill is known as a summer destination with amazing seafood, unique art galleries, and great local shops and boutiques. The town offers both a summer and winter farmer’s market as well as concert series, parades, and other special events throughout the year. The Blue Hill Fair over Labor Day Weekend features vendors, exhibits, and great entertainment. The event draws visitors from around the east coast.
There is no shortage of activities in Camden, Maine, especially when it comes to outdoor recreation. The natural scenery is beautiful, the ocean vistas are pristine, and the idyllic location between the hills on the Penobscot Bay make this town the perfect place for a relaxing day away from city life.
Camden Hills State Park is a popular attraction in Camden that includes 5,700 acres of oceanside parks, camping, and hiking to the summit of Mount Battie. Many people spend the day boating, sailing, and fishing in the clear blue harbor waters and ocean. The Fort Knox Historic Site is also nearby in Prospect.
© Town of Carrabassett Valley
Only 500 people live in the Carrabassett Valley all year round, but the winter months see the valley packed with skiers and other winter recreation lovers on Sugarloaf Mountain. Skiers with children can utilize the lodge’s childcare center that offers kid-friendly snow and ski activities. There are several notable restaurants worth checking out in the Carrabassett Valley including Shipyard Bew Haus, Bag & Kettle, Gepetto’s, Double Diamond steakhouse & Wine Bar, and Widowmaker Lounge.
Several hotels and bed and breakfasts are located close to Sugarloaf Mountain including the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel; however, most people visiting the mountain or Carrabassett Valley rent summer houses. Access to the Appalachian Trail isn’t too far from the Carrabassett Valley, and there are many other hiking or snowshoeing trails nearby.
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© Guy Bryant/stock.adobe.com
Some of the most dramatic mountainous trails are found in Cutler, a small fishing village on the east coast of Maine. Thousands of acres of the quiet town are set aside for public land for recreation and wildlife which has left the land and water in pristine condition. There are three nature preserves at Cutler and visitors can also venture over to Machias Seal Island to check out the lighthouse and puffins that call the rock coast home. The lighthouse has seasonal open house days and even overnight stays on select dates. Visitors can also take boat or kayak chartered tours to the Cross Island National Wildlife Refuge. The only stores are in the nearby Cutler Naval Base.
The history of Damariscotta goes back to the early 17th century, but the town was incorporated in 1848. The small town is only twelve square miles but together with Newcastle makes a broader region known for shipbuilding, military and maritime history and culture, and the first automated lighthouse in Maine.
Some notable historic attractions to explore in the Damariscotta Newcastle region include the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site, Fort William Henry, Fort Frederick, Fort Edgecomb Historic High, and the Thompson Icehouse. The area is known for its festivals including the annual ice harvest, Harbor Fest, Oyster Festival, Pumpkin Fest, and Festival of Lights, to name a few.
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10.Deer Isle and Stonington
John Steinbeck’s book, Travels with Charley, put Deer Isle on the map and turned it into a tremendous touristy town since the 1960s. The 1,000-foot Eggemoggin Reach suspense bridge, constructed in 1939 is still the way visitors reach the island by car today. The island is known for their beautiful beaches in the Penobscot Bay and historic farmsteads, many of which remain operational today.
There are also many places on Deer Isle that are perfect for hiking and wildlife viewing including Barred Island Preserve which is only accessible by car or walking during low tide, Crockett Cove Woods in Stonington, and the Edgar M. Tennis Preserve. The village of Deer Isle has many excellent locally-owned restaurants that serve freshly caught seafood, wine bars, and coffee houses.
© Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
People looking for the ultimate shopping destination can head to Freeport, Maine for the day where the Casco Bay offers world-famous shopping opportunities with hundreds of brand-name outlet stores, locally-owned boutiques, and unique retailers, houses within 18th-century brick buildings. Visitors can also explore historic farms or catch a show at one of the many performing arts spaces in Freeport.
Visitors who love the outdoors can explore Bradbury Mountain State Park, Desert of Maine, Leon Gorman Park, Maine Audubon Mast Landing Sanctuary, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, or take a trip with one of the seacoast touring companies by boat. L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Programs are also available and offered all year around.
12.Height of the Land
Visitors looking for the best views in Maine should venture to Height of the Land just beside Route 17 overlooking Rangeley Lakes. The views over the lakes along the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway have been declared some of the best in Maine, and there is plenty of parking available for visitors who want to stop and take a look. There are also conservation lands just adjacent to the viewing point where visitors can take a short hike or walk.
© Enrico Della Pietra/stock.adobe.com
Kennebunkport is a small coastal town that is part of the Kennebunks which includes Kennebunk and Arundel. The beaches offer crashing waves at Goose Rocks Beach, pastoral vistas, and quaint villages. The region is also famously known for being the generational summer home of President George Bush and his family. Visitors can drive through town to see stately mansions and pass into the countryside of Arundel where antique homesteads and farmhouses have been in some families for centuries.
Popular activities to do in the Kennubunks include kayaking, sailing, whale watching, hiking, camping, and spending time on the pristine beaches. The area is great to visit year-round with the New England foliage offering beautiful displays of Autumn color, and the Christmas Prelude holiday celebration event that draws visitors from across the state.
14.Lewiston and Auburn
Lewiston has a downtown area that has bounced back in recent years to become a fabulous place for vintage thrift stores, bookstores, Halal markets, specialty shops, boutiques, and other locally owned businesses. Forage Market is one of the most popular places to visit in Lewiston and is an eat-in grocery store that sells specialty foods, craft beer, wine, and offers a diverse menu with rotating selections. Many restaurants offer a variety of foods from steakhouses and seafood to Italian, French, and Asian flavors.
Auburn is known for the Auburn River Walk, a 1.2-mile path that allows visitors to traverse the banks of the river and under bridges on the way to the Lewiston Railroad Park where the Great Falls Balloon Festival kicks off annually.
© Harry Collins/stock.adobe.com
There are eight wildlife sanctuaries across Maine managed by Maine Audubon. The Maine Audubon Sanctuaries are open to the public during daylight hours and are located in Elliotsville, Holden, Georgetown, West Bath, Freeport, Falmouth, Scarborough, and Biddeford; however, dogs and other pets are not allowed in the sanctuaries. The Maine Audubon’s purpose is to conserve the wildlife and habitats of Maine through education, conservation, and action.
Each of the eight Maine Audubon Sanctuaries offers outdoor recreation including hiking, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and picnicking. Many of the parks offer stunning views of the harbors, ocean, mountains, and famous New England Lighthouses. Some also have lodges, cabins, and camping available.
Maine Audubon Headquarters Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, 20 Gilsland Farm Road, Falmouth, Maine, 04105, Phone: 207-781-2330
16.Maine Maritime Museum
© Maine Maritime Museum
Visitors can learn about the historic maritime past of Maine at the Maine Maritime Museum. The museum is on the Kennebec River in Bath and features exhibits on watercraft, shipbuilding, fishing, lobstering, sea trade, and how Maine’s economy relied on their incredible natural resources and the proximity to the water.
The museum also offers boat tours and cruises of the lighthouses and wildlife of Maine. There are several different boat tour options to choose from, each between one and four hours long, that explore different parts of the coast and lighthouses. Included with admission to the Maine Maritime Museum is admission to the Percy & Small Shipyard Tour, Donnell House, and the 1906 Schooner Mary E.
© Eric BVD/stock.adobe.com
Peaks Island is only seventeen minutes from Portland and was once home to a fabulous Boardwalk and World War II Outpost. Today, the island is a neighborhood that has been incorporated into Portland and is home to artists, retired people, and those who don’t mind commuting from the island. The population increases substantially in the summertime when people rent beach homes and other waterfront properties.
The ferry runs to Peaks Island from Portland fourteen times daily, so getting to and from the island is never really an issue. Most people who live on the island use golf carts rather than cars to get around. Visitors can also explore by foot, bicycle, or kayak. The Fifth Marine Museum provides visitors with a glimpse at the island’s past and the Fifth Maine Regiment that battled in the Civil War.
18.Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
© Paul Lemke/stock.adobe.com
The first land-based lighthouse in Maine was the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. This lighthouse was first built in 1827, but a replacement tower was constructed in 1835 and is the one that remains standing to this day. The lighthouse keeper, Isaac Dunham invented a way to keep lamp oil from becoming congealed when cold. Today, the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse has been restored, and the tower is accessible for visitors and managed by Friends of Pemaquid Lighthouse. The home that the lighthouse keeper would typically live in is now the Fishermen’s Museum, and both are open during summer months.
19.Popham Beach State Park
Popham Beach State Park is open all year from 9 am to sunset, although the park may be closed some days during winter months. There is an entry booth at the front entrance that collects the service fee as well as a self-service station. The landscape of Popham Beach State Park often changes due to erosion of the dunes and beaches. The beaches are sandy and popular for sunbathing and island walking during low tide. The Atlantic surf makes the park an excellent location for surfing and shell collecting. The park is busy during the summer months, and lifeguards are available on the beaches; however, visitors should be aware that there are rip tides and a strong undertow that can be dangerous for even experienced swimmers. Dogs are not allowed from April through September.
Maine Route 209, Phippsburg, Maine, just south of Bath, Phone: 207-389-9125
Visitors looking to experience the best Maine has to offer all in one great city should visit Portland, a city known for artistic expression, outdoor adventure, and culture inspired by technology, fashion, food, and continuity. Portland is also known for its many festivals that happen throughout the year, drawing people from all over the world for excellent food, wine, boating, and other great activities.
There are several historic sites to visit including the International Cryptozoology Museum, Farnsworth Art Museum, Maine Maritime Museum, Portland Museum of Art, Tate House Museum, and the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, amongst many others. There are also many opportunities for shopping, indoor and outdoor recreation, performing arts, music, and cruises.
21.Quoddy Head State Park
The Quoddy Head State Park is found on the easternmost peninsula in the continental United States and encompasses 541 acres of land. Visitors to the state park have five miles of trails to explore and can also venture to the West Quoddy Head Light, the most eastern lighthouse in Maine. From the tower, visitors can see the Quoddy Channel which serves as a border between the United States and Canada and the towering cliffs on Grand Manan Island.
Some of the best wildlife viewing in Maine happens at Quoddy Head State Park, and many people can see whales, ducks, sandpipers, plovers, and other roosting birds, as well as bald eagles and other migrating birds. A one-mile walk leads to Heath, a coastal plateau bog with plants that don’t often grow south of Canada. The Carrying Place Cove Bog is another bog found at the park and is a National Natural Landmark
Sebago Lake in Southern Maine is a touristy town that is busy during the summer months and is the second-largest lake in the state as well as the deepest in all of New England. Nearly one trillion gallons of crystal-clear water fills the lake that doesn’t even need filtration before drinking.
Most visitors to Sebago Lake come for fishing, boating, or the beautiful, clean beaches, but there are other activities near Sebago Lake including the Seacoast Fun Park, several golf courses and country clubs, and the Blacksmith’s Winery. Visitors can also cruise on the Songo River Queen, a replica of the Mississippi River Paddle Wheelers.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are found over the Maine/New Hampshire Border and provide excellent outdoor recreation opportunities on the Northeast coast including ziplining, hiking, camping, mountain biking, aerial trams, Gondola Skyride, and The Loon Mountain Resort. The Conway Scenic Railroad offers train excursions of the mountains for those who want a more leisurely expedition into the White Mountains and wilderness.
Many visitors to the White Mountains love to take moose tours where they can encounter several of them on each three-hour tour. Several different tour companies that take visitors out onto the mountain in search of Moose. The White Mountains can also be explored via The White Mountains Trail, a designated National Scenic Byway that traverses one hundred miles of the mountains and White Mountain National Forest.
23 Best Maine Day Trips
- Acadia National Park, Photo: IRINA/stock.adobe.com
- Bar Harbor, Photo: atlantic_advert/stock.adobe.com
- Bethel, Photo: Richard/stock.adobe.com
- Boothbay Harbor, Photo: Isabel/stock.adobe.com
- Blue Hill, Photo: Foap.com/stock.adobe.com
- Camden, Photo: tristan/stock.adobe.com
- Carrabassett Valley, Photo: Town of Carrabassett Valley
- Cutler, Photo: Guy Bryant/stock.adobe.com
- Damariscotta, Photo: Isabel/stock.adobe.com
- Deer Isle and Stonington, Photo: rylandscott/stock.adobe.com
- Freeport, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Height of the Land, Photo: Marina/stock.adobe.com
- Kennebunkport, Photo: Enrico Della Pietra/stock.adobe.com
- Lewiston and Auburn, Photo: Jennifer/stock.adobe.com
- Maine Audubon, Photo: Harry Collins/stock.adobe.com
- Maine Maritime Museum, Photo: Maine Maritime Museum
- Peaks Island, Photo: Eric BVD/stock.adobe.com
- Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, Photo: Paul Lemke/stock.adobe.com
- Popham Beach State Park, Photo: jpeacockcad/stock.adobe.com
- Portland, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Quoddy Head State Park, Photo: lightningboldt/stock.adobe.com
- Sebago Lake, Photo: Foap.com/stock.adobe.com
- White Mountains, Photo: jiawangkun/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: ablokhin/stock.adobe.com