Pemaquid Point Lighthouse and its rocky shoreline in Pemaquid, Maine

The essential guide to visiting Maine

Here’s everything you need to know about exploring the Pine Tree State—when to go, where to stay, what to do, and how to get around.

Built in 1827, the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, in Bristol, Maine, was home to to a series of keepers until 1934, when its ship-guiding services were automated. Now, travelers can climb its tower and rent the restored lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Photograph by Greg Dale, Nat Geo Image Collection

Why you should visit Maine

Acadia National Park and Mount Katahdin. Lobster, lighthouses, and L.L. Bean. Woodsy camp culture. 

Best time to visit Maine

Spring: Ski resorts like Sugarloaf and Sunday River stay open well into April for late-spring skiing. It’s also a great time for a city break or a seaside escape with fewer crowds and cheaper rooms. However, spring is also “mud” season, making hiking trails mucky. Hikers and campers, beware: mid-May to mid-June are when aggressive black flies are most active.

Summer: Peak tourism season typically runs from July 4th to Labor Day. Fairs and events like Machias Wild Blueberry Festival fill the calendar.

Autumn: September into October is generally peak leaf-peeping season (check the state’s weekly foliage reports), but there are plenty of places to escape crowds, especially in the sparsely populated North Woods. This is an ideal time to explore Acadia National Park and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Winter: January generally gets the most snow. It’s prime time for winter sports including skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and fat-tire biking across northern and western peaks and trails. 

Lay of the land

Cities: Portland may be Maine’s biggest city, but it maintains a friendly, small-town vibe. You can walk anywhere, from an indie boutique to a world-class museum and a nationally renowned restaurant (Maine was “farm-to-table” before it became cool). Laid-back Bangor is located about an hour from Acadia National Park and less than two hours from Moosehead Lake and Katahdin Woods. Bangor is especially popular with fans of longtime resident Stephen King. Rockland is the MidCoast hub where Maine’s biggest lobster festival is held, windjammers catch the breeze, and three generations of Wyeths rule the art museum.

Southern coast: This stretch of Maine’s coastline is linked by sandy beaches and quintessential New England coastal communities. Browse fish shacks-turned-boutiques in Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove and Kennebunkport’s Dock Square. Meander through the Rachael Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells.

(Discover why so many artists are drawn to Maine.)

MidCoast and islands: Defined by craggy peninsulas and seaside villages, this south-central section—with its cozy harbors and winking lighthouses—feels familiar thanks to artists like Andrew Wyeth and writers such as E. B. White.

Acadia National Park: Bold and beautiful, Maine’s headliner deserves its fame, but don’t miss the park’s less-visited Schoodic Section, famed for its pink granite point.

Down East: With no traffic lights, chain hotels, or restaurants, this remote section of the Maine coast from Western Bay to Passamaquoddy Bay is ideal for those seeking solitude.

Maine Highlands: This outdoor playground, located in the state’s heart, includes Katahdin, Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Moosehead Lake, and the mostly undeveloped North Woods.

Western Lakes and Mountains: Fly-fishers have been casting their lines in the Rangeley Lakes since the late 1800s. In autumn, the 35-mile Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway blazes with color, making it one of the best places for foliage hikes and paddles. Carrabassett Valley earns raves for mountain biking.

Getting in and around Maine

By plane: No international flights land in Maine other than private planes, military, and charter flights, and the occasional emergency landing in Bangor.

By bus: Concord Coach Lines provides daily, almost hourly express connections between Portland, Boston Logan, and Boston’s South Station (where Amtrak’s northeast corridor trains dock), 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, which stretches from Kittery to Houlton and doubles as the Maine Turnpike from York to Augusta. Route 1 hugs the coast from Kittery to Calais and then heads north to Fort Kent. Routes 2, 3, and 9 are the primary east-west routes.

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

(Here’s why scientists are studying Maine’s coastline.)

In town: Portland and Bangor both have bus systems, and Portland has a bike-share program. 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’s Wabanaki, or People of the Dawnland, comprise the Maliseet, Miq’mak, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribes. They trace their Maine history back 12,000 years. European explorers began arriving in the 15th century, and battles over control left a legacy of fortifications.

Hours: Note that outside Greater Portland and in the off seasons, many restaurants shutter by 8 p.m. and often earlier, so plan accordingly.

Wildlife awareness: When driving in rural and undeveloped areas, keep an eye out for moose and deer, especially inland at dawn and dusk.

LGBTQ+: Maine ranked eighth in a 2020 24/7 Wall St. report of the most LGBTQ+-friendly states in the U.S. Maine also ranks high for overall LGBTQ+ protections on Movement Advancement Project’s state profiles. Equality Maine offers a list of gay-friendly businesses that you can support.

How to visit Maine sustainably

Outdoors: Help preserve habitats by staying on the main trail, road, or marked spurs. Consider joining a guided tour led by a Registered Maine Guide to reduce your impact.

Avoid spreading invasives by using only downed or locally sourced wood in fires and ensuring boat propellers are clean before launching. When visiting Acadia, use the Island Explorer shuttle to help reduce emissions.

Shopping: Look for Maine Made products at shops, farm stands, craft shows, and farmers’ markets. You can also search for products and specific stores by region on this site.

Dining: The Gulf of Maine Research Institute is one source that lists coastal restaurants that have committed to serving only responsibly harvested seafood.

What to read 

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist dives into the rough and rugged history of Maine over three centuries through the eyes of immigrants, lumberjacks, Indigenous people, and conservationists.

Blueberries for Salby Robert McCloskey. In this 1948 children’s picture book, a curious toddler and her mother encounter a mama bear and her cub while out hunting for Maine blueberries.

We Took to the Woods, by Louise Dickenson Rich. Published in 1942, Rich’s humorous memoir recounts her time raising a family in the rustic outdoors of Maine.

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

Go with Nat Geo: Created in partnership with local land management agencies, National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated maps highlight the best places for outdoor activities in North America’s rugged frontiers and urban fringes. Click here for maps in Maine’s popular parks.
Hilary Nangle is the author of Moon travel guides to Maine and founder of Maine Travel Maven.

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