Celebrated as “the way life should be”, MAINE more than lives up to its unofficial motto. Filled with lobster shacks, dense forests, scenic lakes and seaside enclaves, the state offers ample opportunities for exploring, or for just lounging in Adirondack chairs and watching the leaves change colour – there’s a little something for everyone here. As large as the other five New England states combined, Maine has barely the year-round population of Rhode Island. In theory, therefore, there’s plenty of room for all the visitors who flood the state in summer; in practice, though, most people head straight for the extravagantly corrugated coast.
At the southern end of the coastline, the beach towns of Ogunquit and Old Orchard Beach quickly lead up to Maine’s most cosmopolitan city, Portland. The Mid-Coast, between Brunswick and Bucksport, is characterized by its craggy shores, windswept peninsulas and sheltered inlets, though the towns of Boothbay Harbor and Camden are certainly busy enough. Beyond the idyllic Blue Hill Peninsula, Down East Maine is home to Acadia National Park, the state’s most popular outdoor escape, in addition to the bustling summer retreat of Bar Harbor. Farther north, you’ll find foggy weather and exhilarating scenery, capped by the candy-striped lighthouse at Quoddy Head, the easternmost point in the United States.
Inland, you’ll really begin to appreciate the size and space of the state, where vast tracts of mountainous forest are dotted with lakes and barely pierced by roads. This region is ideal territory for hiking and canoeing, particularly in Baxter State Park, site of the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Maine’s climate is famously harsh. In winter, the state is covered in snow, and often ice, while even in what is officially summer temperatures don’t really start to rise until June or even July. This is Maine’s most popular season, its start heralded by sweet corn and the re-opening of lobster shacks, and its end marked by the wild blueberry harvest. Brilliant autumn colours begin to spread from the north in late September, when, unlike elsewhere in New England, off-season prices apply, and the cool weather is great for apple-picking, leaf gaping or simply curling up with a blanket and a book.Read More
The largest city in Maine, PORTLAND was founded in 1632 in a superb position on the Casco Bay Peninsula, and quickly prospered, building ships and exporting great inland pines for use as masts. A long line of wooden wharves stretched along the seafront, with the merchants’ houses on the hillside above.
From its earliest days, Portland was a cosmopolitan city. When the railroads came in the 1840s, the Canada Trunk Line had its terminus right on Portland’s quayside, bringing the produce of Canada and the Great Plains one hundred miles closer to Europe than it would have been at any other major US port. Custom House Wharf remains much as it must have looked when novelist Anthony Trollope passed through in 1861 and said, “I doubt whether I ever saw a town with more evident signs of prosperity”.
As with much of New England, the good times didn’t last through the mid-twentieth century. Grand Trunk Station was torn down in 1966, and downtown Portland appeared to be in terminal decline – until, that is, a group of committed residents undertook the energetic redevelopment of the area now known as the Old Port. Their success has revitalized the city, keeping it at the heart of Maine life – though you shouldn’t expect a hive of energy. Portland is quite simply a pleasant, sophisticated and very attractive town, where you can experience the benefits of a large city at a lesser cost and without the hassle of crowds.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park
Stretched out over most of Mount Desert Island, ACADIA NATIONAL PARK is the most visited natural place in Maine. It’s visually stunning, with all you could want in terms of mountains and lakes for secluded rambling, and wildlife such as seals, beavers and bald eagles. The two main geographical features are the narrow fjord of Somes Sound, which almost splits the island in two, and lovely Cadillac Mountain, 1530ft high, which offers tremendous ocean views. The summit can be reached either by a moderately strenuous climb or by a very leisurely drive up a low-gradient road.
The one and only sizeable beach, five miles south of Bar Harbor, is a stunner: called simply Sand Beach, it’s a gorgeous strand bounded by twin headlands, with restrooms, a car park and a few short hiking trails. The water, unfortunately, is usually arctic.
Inland and western Maine
Inland and western Maine
The vast expanses of the Maine interior, stretching up into the cold far north, consist mostly of evergreen forests of pine, spruce and fir, interspersed with the white birches and maples responsible for the spectacular autumn colours. Distances here are large. Once you get away from the two biggest cities – Augusta and Bangor – it’s roughly two hundred miles by road to the northern border at Fort Kent, while to drive between the two most likely inland bases, Greenville and Rangeley, takes three hours or more. Driving (there’s no public transport) through this mountainous scenery can be a great pleasure – it smells like Christmas trees as you go – but be aware that beyond Millinocket some roads are access routes belonging to the lumber companies: gravel-surfaced and vulnerable to bad weather. This is great territory in which to hike – the Appalachian Trail culminates its two-thousand-mile course up from Georgia at the top of Mount Katahdin – or raft on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.