For me, summer vacation means spending time on a Maine pond where the sound of loons calling is about the most exciting thing that happens all day.
But I do venture occasionally from my little paradise to experience other things the state has to offer, whether it’s the coast, a mountain hike, a white-water adventure or a museum. Here are a few options.
Maine’s scenic coast has so many wonderful towns that you almost can’t go wrong, but every spot has its own personality. Old Orchard Beach just outside Portland has a sandy beach; a busy pier with food, drink and souvenirs; and an old-fashioned amusement park. You could also make a day of visiting Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg in the morning (the wide sandy beach is great for kite-flying) and nearby Reid State Park in Georgetown in the afternoon (rocky outcroppings, tidal pools and a lagoon). In Rockland, the man-made Breakwater jetty lets you walk nearly a mile from the shore into Penobscot Bay, and a ferry runs across to Vinalhaven island, where it’s worth spending the night. Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park is another popular spot.
Acadia National Park and the gateway town of Bar Harbor are beautiful but very busy in summer. About 1.5 million people visited the park in July and August 2016, so be prepared for traffic and crowded trails. For a lovely, doable alternative, consider a day in Camden, with a hike up Mount Battie. A poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Renascence,” engraved on a plaque at the top, describes the stunning view, with references to “three long mountains and a wood” and “three islands in a bay.”
For serious hikers the Appalachian Trail runs through Maine, terminating atop Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Depending on your route and fitness level, a hike up and down Katahdin’s steep, rocky trails could take 10 to 12 hours, which means you’ll run out of daylight if you don’t start early. Parking for Katahdin hikes is also limited and often gone by 8 a.m., so consider driving up the night before.
The new (and controversial) Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument doesn’t offer many visitor services yet, but the National Park Service offers tips online for enjoying the area.
White-water trips are available on several Maine rivers. My favorite outfitter is Moxie Outdoor Adventures, based in West Forks, which offers an all-day Kennebec River trip that’s part paddling like crazy through Class IV rapids and part scenic wilderness float trip. Midday, boats are beached on an island where guides cook steak and chicken over a fire. On one trip we even saw a moose en route to our launch spot. Warning: You will get soaked. Bring a quick-drying fleece to wear over a swimsuit and shoes (not flip-flops) to wear in the water.
You can find moose-watching tours on land and water. I’ve enjoyed sunset boat trips to see moose on Moosehead Lake, but as with any such excursion, there are no guarantees that you’ll see the wildlife you came for. In rural and northern areas, moose present serious driving hazards, especially at dawn, dusk and after dark, so watch out (and be careful what you wish for).
Portland Children’s Museum is fun for a rainy day. Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco offers slides, wave pools and miniature golf. Old-fashioned fairs take place around the state all summer, featuring rides, games, farm animal displays and more. One friend told me his little girl’s favorite Maine outing was chasing butterflies at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
Freeport is home to dozens of outlet stores along with the flagship for L.L. Bean. Take your picture in front of the massive boot by the Bean entrance. Note for insomniacs: Bean’s flagship is open 24/7.
In Portland, visit Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house (he wrote the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”) or take a Stephen King tour of Bangor to see places that inspired his spooky tales. In Cushing, tour the Olson House where Andrew Wyeth painted “Christina’s World” and see Wyeth paintings at Rockland’s Farnsworth Museum. The Portland Museum of Art offers tours of painter Winslow Homer’s waterfront studio and house on Prouts Neck. Music festivals abound as well, from classical to folk.
Everybody has a favorite place for lobster rolls and chowder. Mine include the Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster Co. in South Freeport and The Lobster Shack at the end of Two Lights Road in Cape Elizabeth.