A woman in a field and fishing boats off the coast of Maine

10 best things to do in Maine

From moose spotting to seaside hikes to craft breweries, here are the top travel experiences in the state nicknamed “Vacationland.”

A woman walks through a field near the sea in Rockland, Maine. The fishing port along the Atlantic Ocean is known for its art museums and Victorian architecture.
Photograph by Mauricio, Nat Geo Image Collection

Car license plates in Maine bear the slogan “Vacationland.” It’s a fitting nickname for the northernmost state in New England, where 3,500 miles of rocky coastline, dozens of historic lighthouses, and bird- and moose-filled wild spaces draw around 15 million visitors a year. Here are 10 of the top ways to experience it.

Hike at Moosehead Lake 

Stretching for 40 miles in the remote highlands of interior Maine, Moosehead is the state’s largest, most majestic lake. Seventy miles north of Bangor amid the unsung beauty of the Longfellow Mountains, the tree-ringed lake resembles the antlered head of a moose from above. To see for yourself, hop a float plane in Greenville or hike up Mount Kineo. At its peak, you’ll be surrounded on three sides by water and dramatic views.

Most overnight visitors to Moosehead Lake will see an actual moose or two ambling around the shallows, since they outnumber humans here three to one. Lodging options include the plush Blair Hill Inn; rustic cabins at the Birches Resort; and tent campsites at Lily Bay State Park.

Stay or play on a farm

Maine is the United States’ top producer of wild blueberries, which you can find at family-run farm stands across the state. Many farms offer hands-on experiences that range from apple picking and cranberry bogging to overnight stays amid the fields. “[It’s] a way for people to connect with the realities of farming that leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation,” says Ellen Sabina of the nonprofit Maine Farmland Trust. To find a farm stay, check Real Maine or the Maine Organic Gardens and Farmers Association

Maine’s multiple farm festivals include Maple Syrup Sunday in March, with sweet-filled events at “sugarhouses” (maple-syrup producers) across the state. In the fall, fairs include the Common Ground Country Fair and the Fryeburg Fair

Explore Acadia National Park

The only national park in Maine, Acadia consists of nearly 50,000 acres of mountains and shorelines. Hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers head to its main section on Mount Desert Island and a smaller, less crowded preserve on the Schoodic Peninsula. For an overview, drive or bike the 27-mile scenic Park Loop Road, which includes a climb to the top of Cadillac Mountain.

Or explore the culture of the Indigenous Wabanaki people, who still harvest shellfish and sweetgrass around Acadia. The latter shows up in their distinctive basketry, which is on display at the Abbe Museum near the park entrance; Wabanaki artists, scholars, and musicians also share knowledge at frequent Cultural Connections programs. 

Find fine art in Rockland

Along Maine’s midcoast, Rockland is a small fishing port with a big rep for art. In the historic downtown, the Farnsworth Art Museum is where to find quintessentially Maine works by members of the Wyeth family and abstract, monochromatic sculptures by Louise Nevelson.

Nearby, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art features cutting-edge exhibits by the likes of photographer Rodrigo Valenzuela and multi-media artist Shinique Smith in a dazzling glass and corrugated metal showplace. 

(See why Maine’s landscapes have inspired painters from Whistler to the Wyeths.)

Sample Damariscotta River oysters

Meaty, briny, served raw and cold, oysters from the Damariscotta River have earned this region the nickname the Napa Valley of Oysters.” Bivalve slurping isn’t new around here: Damien Brady, a professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine, says, “the Wabanaki knew that the Damariscotta was a special place for oysters, since they built towering middens, or shell towers, here between 2,200 and 1,000 years ago.”

Oysters cultivated here—between Boothbay Harbor and Pemaquid Point—grow particularly large thanks to the cold, clean, nutrient-rich waters. Check the Maine Oyster Trail website for sampling opportunities such as tasting flights at Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co. and boat tours of bivalve farms.  

Take a Bold Coast road trip

Traffic is never that bad in Maine, but on the Bold Coast, it’s virtually nonexistent. This 147-mile stretch of scenic highway winds through the blueberry barrens and pine forests of the northern coast, providing unparalleled views of the Atlantic Ocean and Instagram-friendly stops like pie and souvenir shop Wild Blueberry Land and the candy-striped West Quoddy Head Lighthouse.

Birders can follow the byway to Cobscook Shores, a system of 20 waterfront parks full of pelagic species like bald eagles and harlequin ducks.

Enjoy beach life in Ogunquit

Take a throwback shore vacation in Ogunquit with its kitschy souvenir shops, bustling restaurant patios, and overnight stays in historic hotels (The Trellis House, The Cliff House). Located in southern Maine below the busy Kennebunks, it has sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and dazzling sunsets.

Ogunquit’s charming Main Street is home to a happening LGBTQ+ scene with piano bars and craft breweries. From May through October, the Ogunquit Playhouse stages musicals in a historic white clapboard building.

Kayak the Maine Island Trail 

You’ll need a kayak, canoe, or sailboat to access the best parts of the Maine Island Trail, a series of linked nature preserves spanning all 3,500 miles of the state’s Atlantic coast. There’s no set pathway through the water, just a well-mapped collection of 250-plus sites from Fishing Island in the south to Rodgers Island in the north. Many of the islands are privately owned, which means this is the only way to visit them (save a personal invite).

If you don’t own a boat, rent one along the trail with help from the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors. Then plot your trip using Maine Island Trail Association’s MITA mapping app.

Sample craft beers in Portland 

Dozens of craft breweries jostle for space in Maine’s biggest city. Sip suds in converted industrial buildings or bars constructed from shipping containers along Washington Avenue or around the Bayside neighborhood. Amid neon light sculptures, Bellflower Brewing Company pours fragrant pale ales and strong barleywines. Nearby, Rising Tide has a big beer garden for pints and elevated bar chow like panko-crusted chicken sandwiches.

Portland also has meaderies, kombucha brewhouses, and the unusual Urban Farm Fermentory with its sweet, fern-infused jun (a sparkling, mildly alcoholic green tea and honey concoction) and dry-hopped “cidah” made with wild yeast and local apples.

Sleep in a yurt

Yurts were invented in Central Asia, but the circular, tent-like dwellings became popular in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s due to Maine’s William Coperthwaite, an academic who espoused simple living. He taught Mongolian-style yurt building around the country and resided in his own multistory wooden structures in Dickinsons Reach for 55 years. 

In the summer, travelers can overnight at Acadia Yurts on Mount Desert Island or Maine Forest Yurts amid the green mountains of Durham in the south. 

(For more tips on what to do in Maine, see our Maine Explorer’s Guide.)

Katy Kelleher is a Maine-based writer and the author of The Ugly History of Beautiful Things. Follow her on Instagram.

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