Maine is larger than the other five New England states combined with great outdoor experiences ranging from lazy days at the beach to hiking and mountain biking. While Acadia National Park is well-known, there are 48 Maine State Parks to be explored, include coastal parks such as Cobscook Bay and lakeside parks like Mount Blue and Lily Bay.
The coast is an intriguing blend of pine-clad islands, narrow twisting peninsulas and rocky headlands, stretching and undulating some 3500 miles from Kittery to Eastport. These are some of the most protected waters in the country with countless bays, deep inlets and maze-like estuaries that are ripe for exploration.
Looking for beaches without crowds? Birch Point Beach State Park at Owls Head is a locals’ haven with great views of the Muscle Ridge Islands. The beach at Sandy Point Beach Park near the town of Stockton Springs is rarely busy. Wells sees its shares of visitors, but nearby Laudholm Beach has only a fraction of them.
Roque Bluffs along Englishman’s Bay is a half-mile strand of sand while Lamoine State Park lies across from busy Mt. Desert Island with room to move and picnic tables in the shade. To really get away from the crowds, hike to Seawall Beach in Phippsburg or take the mailboat from Stonington
Maine Trail Finder has details on hundreds of traffic-free trails throughout the state. This free interactive mapping site aims to help Maine residents and visitors find hiking, walking, and mountain biking trails across the state. They include lesser known reserves, parks and preserves – places you won’t find in any guidebook.
Some of these trails are ideal for more casual walks and, at their quietest and most peaceful, they can be ideal spots for a spot of ‘forest bathing’. The Maine Land Trust Network links over 75 land trusts that provide public access, offering more than 1260 miles of walking and hiking trails, 275 miles of mountain biking trails and more than 200 beaches.
People angling for Maine’s fabled brook trout, landlocked salmon, large or smallmouth bass have lots of waters from which to choose. Those who want to elevate the experience can head to one of Maine’s sporting camps, which typically feature lakeside cabin accommodations and home-cooked family-style meals.
Much more than just rustic lodging, Maine sporting camps are part of a century-old tradition that’s still going strong. ‘Sports’ head out for the day, often in the company of a registered Maine guide, by boat, canoe or even floatplane to explore different waters. Check in with the 40-plus members of the Maine Sporting Camp Association who are scattered across the northern half of the state and offering some of the best fishing and old-fashioned accommodation in the Northeast.
Paddling a sea kayak, designed to float in very shallow water, is the best way to explore the coast of Maine as paddlers can get close to seabirds and the life aquatic at the shoreline. The Maine coast is not only stunning but ecologically unique, best seen by bobbing alongside the shore with a good chance of sighting seals, ospreys and even whales.
For experienced paddlers, the coast of Maine is an endless feast of exploration and discovery. Paddling the coast, you might encounter a pack of porpoises gracefully arcing in and out of the water, a curious seal raising its head above the waves or an osprey grabbing a fish with one graceful dip into a bay.
It’s also a birder’s delight of cormorants, guillemots and loons with bald eagle sightings common. On land, the pine trees give way to shingled summer cottages surrounded by fields of purple and white lupines. There are small fishing towns, shrouded in a fog that parts just in time for sunshine to illuminate a cluster of white clapboard houses.
In the company of a seasoned guide, sea kayaking is a sport whose paddling basics can be learned quickly. Donning buoyancy aids and spray skirts, novices can join a guided group for an easy saltwater paddle on quiet, protected coastal waters, getting exercise, fresh air and a sense of discovery. Even a couple of hours on the water provide a taste of what makes sea kayaking a brilliant way to see Maine from the water.
There are easy waterways that are ideal for beginners, like the Scarborough Marsh, the state’s largest salt marsh, which provides an important habitat for herons, egrets and ibis, as well as waterfowl. Or the Damariscotta River, which takes paddlers past islands and oyster farms.
Yet for many kayakers, it’s the thousands of pine-clad islands off the coast that beckon — for a rest stop, lunch or even an overnight or multi-night camping trip. Tour outfitters can arrange such trips while seasoned sea kayakers can head out on their own. Both take advantage of the Maine Island Trail, a 375-mile water route that provides access to 200 islands and mainland sites for day trips and camping from Casco Bay to Machias Bay.
The Maine Island Trail Association, a non-profit conservation group, maintains the sites and publishes a guidebook with details of the islands and navigational charts showing where travellers on the trail can stop to rest or camp. The islands are typically quiet places, with lush pine trees, enormous granite boulders enshrouded in lichen and beaches strewn with sea wrack. Many are just granite outcrops, topped by evergreens, with enough space for a couple of tents.