The Pine Tree State is first and foremost a nature lover’s paradise. Close to 90% of Maine is forest land, including 32 state parks and Acadia National Park, its indisputable crown jewel. On top of that, the weather rarely exceeds 85 degrees in the summer, making it a fabulous escape from areas with hotter climates. Fall brings fantastic foliage across the state, while winter and spring are the perfect times to cozy up in a cabin and enjoy winter sports or seasonal festivals.
Beyond hiking, swimming and whale watching, Maine also offers an impressive selection of top-notch restaurants, a bustling art scene and tons of other family-friendly activities. Whether you’re looking to ski down Sugarloaf Mountain, admire sculptures at the Farnsworth Art Museum or devour endless lobster rolls along the coast, a getaway to Maine promises a fun-filled trip that you won’t soon forget. Read on for more details on the top things to do in Maine. Note: Some of these Maine attractions close for the winter season, so be sure to check opening hours before planning a visit for the colder months.
Acadia National Park
Scenic Acadia National Park is a major draw for vacationers and Maine residents alike. One of the 10 most visited national parks in the country, Acadia draws 4 million visitors annually with its secluded beaches, rugged mountains, dense forests and craggy coastal views along the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can get their hearts pumping on close to 160 miles of hiking trails, the most popular of which include the Beehive Loop, the Cadillac Mountain North and South Ridge trails, and the Jordan Pond loop. In addition to hiking, visitors can bike, kayak, swim, bird-watch and stargaze in the park. When hunger strikes, head to Acadia’s sole dining venue: the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. According to recent travelers, the eatery’s signature popover bread and tea – permanent menu items since the 1890s – are not to be missed.
Portland has all the offerings of a quintessential Maine destination (lighthouses and lobster rolls abound), but it also boasts noteworthy art, food and entertainment scenes. Must-dos on a Portland vacation include exploring the shops and restaurants that line the charming cobblestone streets of the Old Port district, strolling along the Eastern Promenade waterfront park, perusing the Portland Museum of Art, and indulging in local beers on a brewery tour. Traveler-approved hotels include the Portland Harbor Hotel and The Press Hotel, Autograph Collection, and world-class eateries like Duckfat, Central Provisions and DiMillo’s on the Water (a floating restaurant) are sure to impress.
Shop at the flagship L.L.Bean Store
(Serena Folding/Courtesy of Visit Portland)
Whether you’ve owned the signature Bean Boots your entire life or simply want to see what this Maine-made retailer is all about, a visit to L.L.Bean’s flagship location is a must if you’re in the charming town of Freeport (less than 20 miles northeast of Portland). Opened in 1917, the multilevel venue attracts 3 million visitors annually. Snap a photo out front with the 16-foot all-weather boot replica before perusing the store’s many outdoorsy departments, from apparel to camping to fishing supplies. The flagship location also features a 3,500-gallon aquarium, a cafe and historical displays throughout the store, but what impressed previous visitors most is the huge selection of items. The best part? You can visit this L.L.Bean whenever your schedule allows, as it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Considered the gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is an excellent place to unwind and reset. Nature lovers will find endless ways to enjoy the outdoors in this Mount Desert Island town, from coastal walks along Frenchman Bay (a traveler favorite) to bird-watching in multiple parks and preserves. Foodies will be pleased here, too: Fresh seafood is the destination’s specialty, but its artisan ice cream shops, craft breweries and quaint breakfast cafes are also crowd pleasers. This area of Maine boasts prime conditions for wild blueberries, so stop by a local farm or farmers market between late July and mid-September to pick some up. When it’s time to bed down, stay at the idyllic Balance Rock Inn, the luxurious Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina (a seasonal property) or a local vacation rental.
Take a whale watching cruise
From mid-April through October, animal lovers are in for a special treat. Vacationers can watch in wonder as majestic humpback, pilot, minke and finback whales migrate through the state’s coastal waters. Whale watching hot spots include Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Casco Bay and Kennebunkport. Hop aboard a boat tour with a company like Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. or Cap’n Fish’s Cruises for the best vantage point – and don’t forget to bring your camera, binoculars, sunscreen and layers of clothing, as temperatures can dip as you sail away from the mainland. Recent travelers recommended taking a cruise at sunset for the best views, though early morning tours provide some of the best natural lighting and calmest waters. Summer’s clear skies and lack of fog make it the ideal time of year to spot these gentle giants, but the chances of seeing a whale on tour are fairly high throughout the entire whale watching season.
Cape Elizabeth and the Portland Head Light
The quaint seaside town of Cape Elizabeth is a must-visit spot for anyone traveling to the Portland area. Its postcard-worthy crown jewel is the Portland Head Light – the oldest lighthouse in Maine. Located in scenic Fort Williams Park, the lighthouse dates back to the late 1700s and stands 80 feet tall. When you’re finished photographing the structure, head into the adjacent keepers’ house museum to learn more about the history of the area. Spend the rest of the day in Cape Elizabeth at Crescent Beach State Park or Two Lights State Park before heading back to Portland or bedding down at local accommodations, such as traveler-loved Inn by the Sea.
Stroll down the scenic Marginal Way
Stretching just over a mile along the rocky coast, the Marginal Way is one of the most beautiful walking paths New England has to offer. The nicely paved trail in the quaint town of Ogunquit (about 10 miles south of Kennebunkport) connects Ogunquit Beach to Perkins Cove, a charming fishing village with shops and restaurants. Recent travelers highlighted the stunning ocean views and cliffside summer wildflowers as some of the best sights of their trip; they praised the easy, flat walk and abundance of benches along the way (39, to be exact). At the end of your stroll, grab a lobster roll at Footbridge Lobster or indulge in American fare at That Place in Ogunquit.
There are plenty of beach destinations to choose from in Maine, but Kennebunkport should be at the top of your list. Plan to spend your entire vacation on (or at least near) the water, whether you’re fishing, sunbathing or sailing. Traveler-approved spots include Colony and Goose Rocks beaches, the small fishing village of Cape Porpoise, and Dock Square. Visitors can grab fresh seafood at The Clam Shack or dine at the White Barn Inn Restaurant – a Forbes Five Star- and AAA Five Diamond-designated eatery. When it comes to lodging, take your pick of luxurious properties like Nathaniel Lord Mansion, or book one of the area’s quaint inns and cottages.
Make a spooky stop at Stephen King’s House
(Courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism)
Although tours inside of the legendary horror novelist’s haunted residence are no longer available, travelers still agree that a quick stop at Stephen King’s house is a must when traveling through Bangor, Maine. From the outside, visitors can see (and take photos of) the red Victorian mansion’s quirky features, from the spider- and dragon-adorned iron fence to the front yard’s 15-foot-tall wood sculpture, which was carved out of a dead tree and features an array of mystical creatures surrounding a bookcase. Recent visitors say that the property is especially eerie in the fall, and many recommend signing up for a roughly three-hour excursion with SK Tours to learn more about locations where King has lived, worked and filmed some of his most iconic movies.
Past travelers agree that Monhegan Island – which is only accessible by boat – is a lovely place to spend a day. Located 10 miles off the coast and home to just 70 year-round residents, the unspoiled island features wildlands with 9 miles of cliffside hiking trails, a small village with shops and restaurants, a lighthouse, and an art museum. A few inns and other lodging options dot the island, so you can stay overnight if you wish. Visitors have a few different options to reach the island. One choice is an hourlong ferry ride from the mainland town of New Harbor between May and mid-October with Hardy Boat Cruises. Or, leave from Boothbay Harbor on a 90-minute sailing with Balmy Day Cruises, which is in service from June through September.
Stop to smell the flowers at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
(Courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens)
As the largest botanical gardens in New England, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are a sight to behold. Vacationers in Boothbay (about 60 miles northeast of Portland) had endless praise for the seasonally opened, well-maintained gardens, noting how beautiful and enjoyable the visit was for family members of all ages. You can explore 300-plus acres of colorful exhibits, including a dahlia garden, a butterfly house, a bee habitat, a meditation garden, and several lawns and lush forest grounds. Tickets should be purchased online in advance, and frequent visitors can become members to gain free admission and other perks.
Old Orchard Beach
For a beach vacation in the Pine Tree State that checks all the boxes, head to Old Orchard Beach. The coastal resort town about 20 miles south of Portland boasts 7 miles of sand to stretch out on, as well as a pier with restaurants and shops. Families especially love the Palace Playland amusement park, which features a Ferris wheel, adventure rides and carnival games. Popular lodging options in town include beach house rentals, motels and inns directly on the water; try the beachfront, family-owned Edgewater Motor Inn for perks like a heated pool and an electric car charging station.
Baxter State Park
To embrace Maine’s gorgeous natural spaces without the crowds of Acadia National Park, pay a visit to Baxter State Park. The roughly 210,000-acre park sits in the center of the state near the town of Millinocket, located around 70 miles north of Bangor. It is home to Maine’s tallest mountain, Mount Katahdin, which towers about 5,270 feet tall. The hike to the top is strenuous (and not recommended for inexperienced climbers), but the fabulous views are worth the effort, according to past visitors. Still, travelers of all skill levels can embrace the outdoors by setting up a tent at one of 300-plus campsites and hiking through your choice of 215 miles of trails. If you’re lucky, you may see wildlife like moose and deer as you journey through the wilderness (just keep an eye out for bears, too).
Chow down at the Maine Lobster Festival
(Courtesy of Maine Lobster Festival)
Every year on the first weekend in August, tens of thousands of attendees from near and far swarm the town of Rockland (located about 85 miles southwest of Bar Harbor) for the annual five-day Maine Lobster Festival. More than 20,000 pounds of delicious local lobster is brought in to feed the masses, and the festival features seafood cooking contests, live music, arts and crafts vendors, a parade, wine and beer tastings, a 5K race, and more for patrons of all ages. Past visitors reported having plenty of fun at the festival, and they were pleased to find overflow parking at nearby schools with shuttle service to the grounds. The 2023 festival is set to have free admission. Travelers can stay for the weekend (or all five days) at their pick of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts; favorites include the LimeRock Inn and 250 Main Hotel.
Beyond the Marginal Way, Ogunquit has all the makings of a relaxing getaway. Spend your days sunbathing and swimming at the roughly 3-mile-long Ogunquit Beach or more secluded Footbridge Beach, or wander through the Ogunquit Museum of American Art (open seasonally) to see more than 3,000 works. Recent travelers recommended exploring the quaint town on the old-fashioned trolley, which typically runs between the summer and early fall. A stay at luxurious Cliff House Maine just south of town is sure to leave you feeling rejuvenated thanks to its 9,000-square-foot spa, complete with cliff views, saunas, steam rooms and organic botanical treatments. Additional amenities at the modern seaside resort include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, free coffee and tea stations on each floor, gardens, and oceanfront fine dining venues.
Located in Carrabassett Valley in western Maine, Sugarloaf Mountain is a year-round getaway for travelers looking to get active. In the warmer months, vacationers can hike, mountain bike, golf, kayak and zip line. But visitors say Sugarloaf truly shines in the winter with its cold weather sports: It offers the only lift-serviced, above-treeline skiing in the eastern U.S. and is the largest ski area east of the Rocky Mountains. Snow lovers can participate in cross-country skiing on more than 30 miles of trails, as well as snowshoeing and ice skating. After a full day of activity, get some rest at the on-site Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, or rent out a condo or private home if you’re traveling with a group.
Unleash your inner child at Funtown Splashtown USA
Endless fun awaits at Funtown Splashtown USA. The appropriately named entertainment venue in Saco (less than 20 miles south of Portland) consists of two sections: a water park and an amusement park. Visitors looking to get their hearts pumping can enjoy thrill rides like Maine’s only wooden rollercoaster, the tallest log flume in New England or a drop tower that sends travelers into a 220-foot free fall. Younger patrons will have their pick of tamer amusement park attractions as well, including a kiddie train, bumper boats and a classic carousel. Meanwhile, on the wetter side of the park, travelers can zoom down the Poseidon’s Plunge waterslide, splash in the lagoon and load the whole family onto a raft slide. Recent travelers said their children had a blast at the park, but they do warn that costs for food and drinks can quickly add up. After a fun-filled day, retire to The Beachwood in nearby Old Orchard Beach, which has direct beach access and amenities like barbecue facilities.
Peruse the Farnsworth Art Museum
(Courtesy of Farnsworth Art Museum)
Located in Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum houses 15,000 pieces that highlight Maine’s role in the history of American art. Opened in 1948, the 20,000-square-foot museum features rotating exhibits highlighting artists like sculptor Louise Nevelson and contemporary American realist painter Jamie Wyeth. Recent travelers praised the curated collection of works, noting that the museum was well worth the trip to Rockland. After touring the museum, grab a meal at a quaint restaurant nearby, such as farm-to-table eatery Primo or family-owned casual joint Hill’s Seafood Co.
Unwind at Terramor Outdoor Resort
(Courtesy of Terramor Outdoor Resort)
An idyllic Bar Harbor escape situated just 4 miles north of Acadia National Park, Terramor Outdoor Resort opened in 2020 and offers a blend of nature and luxury, making it one of the top glamping resorts in the U.S. Spend your vacation hiking, fishing, stargazing, enjoying a meal at the Lodge, or soaking in the pool and hot tub. Each stylish, glamping-style tent is outfitted with electricity, ceiling fans and heaters, Wi-Fi access, and screened windows and porches. Some have private bathrooms and additional perks like fire pits. Past guests at the property had tons of praise for the resort, highlighting the comfortable accommodations, lovely views and friendly staff.
(Serena Folding/Courtesy of Visit Portland)
Open seasonally from May 1 to Oct. 31 (and again for the holiday season from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the Sunday after New Year’s Day), Victoria Mansion was constructed between 1858 and 1860 as a private home. Also referred to as the Morse-Libby House, the Portland residence first opened as a museum in 1941. It is the only surviving U.S. structure decorated by interior designer Gustave Herter, and it portrays some of the most well-preserved Italian villa-style architecture in the country. Victoria Mansion offers both guided and self-guided tours that showcase stunning artifacts and one-of-a-kind decor. Recent travelers were thoroughly impressed by the property and found the tours to be informative.
Hop around the Casco Bay Islands
The Casco Bay Islands comprise an assortment of coastal towns near Portland offering plenty of fun things to do. The relaxed, small-town vibe provides the ideal setting to unwind with bike rides, scenic walks and tasty seafood. Peaks Island is the most popular island because of its many amenities and proximity to Portland, but visitors who would like a more comprehensive taste of the area should consider the traveler-approved Mailboat Run day cruise. Operated by Casco Bay Lines, the roughly three-hour tour visits five different islands – Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Cliff Island, Long Island and Chebeague Island – and gives a bit of history on each.
Wander the Wadsworth-Longfellow House
Managed by the Maine Historical Society, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House is a National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1785. It housed three generations of Wadsworth and Longfellow family members, the most well known of whom was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an important literary and cultural figure in 1800s American society. Today, visitors can tour the Portland house from June to October to see many original household artifacts, as well as the lush Longfellow Garden located behind the property. Recent travelers felt the home was well preserved and enjoyed exploring at their leisure.
Maine Maritime Museum
(Courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum)
At the Maine Maritime Museum, vacationers can learn all about the state’s nautical history while taking in views of the Kennebec River. The 20-acre campus in Bath features both indoor exhibits and a large outdoor shipyard for visitors to explore. Traveler favorites include the museum’s short historical films, an impressive collection of ship machinery, and displays of maritime artifacts and artwork. After touring the premises, visitors can finish out the day with an hourlong river cruise to see the shipyard and nearby lighthouses (available seasonally).
Take in the views at Nubble Light
Maine has no shortage of lighthouses to choose from, but Nubble Light is worth a visit if you’re in the town of York. Built in 1879, the structure – which is on the National Register of Historic Places – welcomes visitors throughout the year to paint, take photos, fish or settle in for a picnic. Recent travelers reported the picturesque stop was worth the trip for the views alone, noting the lighthouse and ocean vistas are beautiful no matter the season. When planning your visit, keep in mind that the gift shop and restrooms are only open from early May through mid-October.
Grab a beer at Allagash Brewing Company
(Courtesy of Allagash Brewing Company)
Located in Portland, Allagash Brewing Company is an independent craft brewery that receives rave reviews from travelers and locals alike. Its signature Belgian-style wheat beer – Allagash White – is a must-taste, but just about every palate will find a sour, barrel-aged, wild or spontaneously fermented beer that tickles their fancy. Visitors can enjoy their brews in the family-friendly tasting room or purchase tickets for a more curated, 1.5-hour tasting session of five beers in The Cellars. Past patrons loved the brewery’s relaxed atmosphere both indoors and outdoors, as well as the delicious beers and on-site food truck, which serves up lobster rolls and other Maine specialties.
Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum
(Courtesy of Bowdoin College)
Affiliated with Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – around 25 miles northeast of Portland – the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is a unique attraction showcasing all things Arctic. Founded in honor of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, graduates of the college from the late 1800s who explored the Arctic region, the museum houses expedition equipment, natural history specimens and other objects of interest. Past exhibits have detailed the history of women explorers in the Arctic, dog sledding throughout history and the impact of global warming on the region. Past visitors enjoyed perusing the free attraction, highlighting the exhibits with Arctic clothing, Inuit artwork and more.
Note: The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum was closed at the time of publication. It is slated to reopen in late spring in a brand-new space: the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies.
Maine is an excellent destinations for couples looking for a memorable vacation. Consider some of the following activities:
- Share a flight of beer at a brewery
- Wander down Marginal Way hand-in-hand
- Stay in a glamping-style tent at Terramor Outdoor Resort
- Ski at Sugarloaf Mountain
- Embark on a self-guided tour of Maine’s many lighthouses
- Take a sunset whale-watching cruise
Groups of all ages will find plenty of things to do in Maine. Here are some of the best options:
- Hike and kayak at Acadia National Park
- Ride rollercoasters and waterslides at FunTown SplashTown USA
- Swim, build sandcastles and ride carnival rides at Old Orchard Beach
- Pick blueberries in Bar Harbor
- See fish at L.L.Bean’s 3,500-gallon aquarium
Why Trust U.S. News Travel
Nicola Wood is a senior travel editor who has visited 26 countries (and counting). She researches destinations across the U.S. and abroad both for her job and her own future vacations. Maine is on her travel bucket list, and she’s put in countless hours scouring the internet for the best places to stay, visit and eat – so you don’t have to.