The essential guide to visiting Maine

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Maine travel guide

FAST FACTS

  • Statehood: Maine became the 23rd state on March 15, 1820.
  • Capital: Augusta
  • Time zone: Eastern United States (GMT-4 Daylight Savings / GMT-5 Standard)
  • Main airports: Portland International Jetport is the largest airport in Maine and is served by major airlines. Bangor International Airport, located about an hour’s drive from Acadia National Park, is the gateway to central, northern, and eastern Maine. Boston’s Logan International Airport, which offers direct flights to Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, is a popular alternative to flying into Portland, especially for those visiting Acadia National Park located just 10 miles away.
  • Fun fact: Maine is home to more moose than any other state, except Alaska.

Why Visit Maine?

Maine offers a wide range of attractions and experiences that make it an ideal destination for travelers. From the breathtaking beauty of Acadia National Park and Mount Katahdin to the famous lobster, lighthouses, and the iconic L.L. Bean, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this charming state. Whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or a fan of coastal towns, Maine has it all.

Best Time to Visit Maine

Spring: Spring in Maine is a great time to visit for late-spring skiing at resorts like Sugarloaf and Sunday River. It’s also a perfect season for a city break or a peaceful seaside escape with fewer crowds and more affordable accommodation. However, keep in mind that spring is known as the “mud” season, so hiking trails can be muddy. Additionally, mid-May to mid-June is when aggressive black flies are most active, so hikers and campers should be cautious.

Summer: The peak tourism season in Maine typically runs from July 4th to Labor Day. This period is filled with fairs, events, and festivals like the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, offering a vibrant atmosphere and plenty of things to see and do.

Autumn: September to October is generally considered the peak leaf-peeping season in Maine. The state’s weekly foliage reports can help you plan your visit. Autumn is also a fantastic time to explore Acadia National Park and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, head to the sparsely populated North Woods, where you can enjoy the fall colors in peace.

Winter: January is the month with the most snow in Maine, making it a prime time for winter sports enthusiasts. Whether you enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or fat-tire biking, the northern and western parts of the state offer fantastic opportunities to indulge in these activities.

Zoom in for More Detail: Map Overview

Maine’s Regions and Highlights

  1. Cities: While Portland is Maine’s largest city, it still maintains a friendly, small-town vibe. You can easily explore the city on foot, visiting indie boutiques, world-class museums, and nationally renowned restaurants. Bangor, located about an hour from Acadia National Park, is another laid-back city popular among fans of author Stephen King. Rockland, on the other hand, is known for its annual lobster festival and its connection to artists like Andrew Wyeth and the Wyeth family.

  2. Southern Coast: This stretch of Maine’s coastline is characterized by sandy beaches and charming New England coastal communities. Places like Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove and Kennebunkport’s Dock Square offer a delightful blend of fish shacks-turned-boutiques and picturesque scenery. Don’t miss the Rachael Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells.

  3. MidCoast and Islands: With its craggy peninsulas, seaside villages, and iconic lighthouses, this section of Maine’s coast exudes a familiar charm thanks to artists like Andrew Wyeth and writers such as E. B. White.

  4. Acadia National Park: The crown jewel of Maine, Acadia National Park is known for its stunning landscapes. While the main area attracts the most attention, be sure to explore the lesser-visited Schoodic Section, famous for its pink granite point.

  5. Down East: If you seek solitude, the remote section of Maine’s coast from Western Bay to Passamaquoddy Bay is the perfect destination. Here, you’ll find untouched natural beauty, devoid of traffic lights, chain hotels, and restaurants.

  6. Maine Highlands: Located in the heart of the state, this region offers an outdoor playground with highlights such as Katahdin, Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Moosehead Lake, and the largely undeveloped North Woods.

  7. Western Lakes and Mountains: This area is beloved by fly-fishers, offering excellent opportunities for casting lines in the Rangeley Lakes. In autumn, the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway showcases vibrant fall colors, making it an ideal spot for foliage hikes and paddles. Carrabassett Valley is also renowned for its mountain biking trails.

Getting in and around Maine

By plane: Major airlines serve Portland International Jetport, the largest airport in Maine. Bangor International Airport is another option, conveniently located near Acadia National Park. Boston’s Logan International Airport provides direct flights to Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, offering an alternative gateway to Acadia.

By bus: Concord Coach Lines offers daily express connections between Portland, Boston Logan, and Boston’s South Station, with fewer trips to inland and coastal communities.

By train: Amtrak’s Downeaster connects Boston’s North Station to Brunswick, with stops in Wells, Old Orchard Beach (summer), Biddeford, Portland, and Freeport.

By car: Maine’s primary highway is I-95, stretching from Kittery to Houlton, and doubling as the Maine Turnpike from York to Augusta. Route 1 runs along the coast from Kittery to Calais before heading north to Fort Kent. Routes 2, 3, and 9 are the primary east-west routes.

By boat: The Cat, a seasonal high-speed car ferry, connects Bar Harbor with Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Casco Bay Lines ferries serve the Portland Casco Bay islands, while state ferries, mailboats, and seasonal passenger ferries cater to large coastal islands with year-round populations.

In town: Portland and Bangor have bus systems, and Portland offers a bike-share program. The seasonal Island Explorer routes cover most of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula.

Know Before You Go

Cultural History: Maine has a rich cultural history, with the Wabanaki tribes (Maliseet, Miq’mak, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot) tracing their roots in the region back 12,000 years. European explorers arrived in the 15th century, leaving a legacy of fortifications from battles over control.

Hours: Keep in mind that outside Greater Portland and during the off-season, many restaurants close early, often by 8 p.m., so plan your meals accordingly.

Wildlife Awareness: When driving in rural and undeveloped areas, be cautious of moose and deer, particularly at dawn and dusk.

LGBTQ+: Maine ranks highly as one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly states in the U.S., offering protections and a welcoming environment. Equality Maine provides a list of gay-friendly businesses worth supporting.

How to Visit Maine Sustainably

Outdoors: Preserve habitats by sticking to main trails, roads, or marked spurs. Consider joining a guided tour led by a Registered Maine Guide to minimize your impact. When visiting Acadia, utilize the Island Explorer shuttle to help reduce emissions.

Shopping: Look for Maine Made products at local shops, farm stands, craft shows, and farmers’ markets. Support regional businesses by purchasing their products.

Dining: Choose coastal restaurants committed to serving only responsibly harvested seafood. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute is a valuable resource for finding such establishments.

Recommended Reading

  • “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel delves into Maine’s rough and rugged history over three centuries, told through the perspectives of immigrants, lumberjacks, Indigenous people, and conservationists.

  • “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey: A beloved children’s picture book from 1948, it follows a curious toddler and her mother as they encounter a mother bear and her cub while hunting for Maine blueberries.

  • “We Took to the Woods” by Louise Dickenson Rich: This humorous memoir, published in 1942, recounts the author’s experiences raising a family in the rustic outdoors of Maine.

Go with Nat Geo

National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps, created in partnership with local land management agencies, highlight the best outdoor activities in North America’s rugged frontiers and urban fringes. Check out their maps for popular parks in Maine.

Hilary Nangle, the author of Moon travel guides to Maine and founder of Maine Travel Maven, provides valuable insights into exploring the state.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Maine travel guide

What are the main airports in Maine?

Main airports in Maine include Portland International Jetport, the largest airport in the state, and Bangor International Airport, which serves central, northern, and eastern Maine. Additionally, Boston’s Logan International Airport offers direct flights to Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, located near Acadia National Park.

When is the best time to visit Maine?

The best time to visit Maine depends on your preferences. Spring offers late-spring skiing and fewer crowds. Summer is the peak tourism season with festivals and events. Autumn showcases stunning fall foliage. Winter is perfect for winter sports enthusiasts. Choose the season that aligns with your interests.

What are the main regions to explore in Maine?

Maine offers various regions to explore, including the cities of Portland and Bangor, the Southern Coast with its sandy beaches, the MidCoast and islands known for their seaside villages, Acadia National Park with its iconic landscapes, the remote Down East section for solitude, the Maine Highlands for outdoor activities, and the Western Lakes and Mountains region, ideal for fishing and foliage hikes.

How can I get around in Maine?

You can travel to Maine by plane, bus, train, car, or boat. Major airports serve the state, and bus and train services provide transportation between cities. Car rentals are available, and Maine has well-connected highways. Ferries operate to and from coastal islands, and local transportation options like buses and shuttles are available in certain areas.

What should I consider for sustainable travel in Maine?

To practice sustainable travel in Maine, stay on designated trails to preserve habitats and consider joining guided tours led by registered guides. Use locally sourced wood for fires and ensure boat propellers are clean to avoid spreading invasives. When visiting Acadia National Park, utilize the Island Explorer shuttle to reduce emissions. Support local businesses and look for responsibly harvested seafood when dining out.

Are there LGBTQ+-friendly establishments in Maine?

Yes, Maine ranks highly as one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly states in the U.S. with strong LGBTQ+ protections. Equality Maine provides a list of gay-friendly businesses that you can support during your visit to the state.

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3 comments

TravelLover87 June 9, 2023 - 4:35 pm

This travel guide to Maine is aweome! So many cool things to see and do. I can’t wait to visit! #Excited

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AdventureSeeker24 June 9, 2023 - 4:35 pm

This is a must-read if you’re planning a trip to Maine! Lots of great info on when to go and what to do. Can’t wait to explore the coast and hike in Acadia! #MaineBound

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NatureExplorer101 June 9, 2023 - 4:35 pm

Wow, Maine looks like a nature lover’s paradise! Can’t wait to hike the trails and spot some moose. Thanks for the tips on sustainable travel too. Let’s protect those habitats! #ExploreResponsibly

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