In the Northeastern region of the United States, Maine is one of six New England States and sits on the very tip of the country. Bordered by Canada, the Gulf of Maine, and New Hampshire, the state is most famous for its rugged outdoor landscapes that shift from mountains and forests to coasts and beaches.
There are more than 500,000 acres of state and federally protected land throughout Maine and it’s often considered to be the most remote state in the Lower 48. Within its landscapes, there are 228 miles of coastline (3,478 miles using NOAA), 4,000 offshore islands, and 12 million acres of forest. Even though much is remote, people are drawn to its wild scenes, coastal lighthouses, and lobster.
A major hub for outdoor and adventure-based tourism, Maine sees all types of travelers pass through its lands. Families love the oceanside, where kids can play at the beach and dip in the waves. For more experienced outdoorsmen, the North Woods will take you deep into the Acadian and Appalachian forests where you can hike, camp, and view wildlife.
Livin’ La Vida Maine
Visit Maine’s Top Towns and Cities
History of “The Pine Tree State”
The Wabanaki people are Maine’s earliest known inhabitants. For the most part, the native tribes were able to live unchanged for thousands of years. Minor changes occurred during the first European contact.
Norwegians are believed to have visited the area that is now Maine in 1200 CE. While still an unconfirmed theory, if true, this would make the state the site of the earliest European contact in the US. While permanent settlement failed, it’s believed that the Norwegians traveled to Maine for various centuries to trade with the natives and collect timber.
Evidence of Norwegian contact is the Maine Penny, which was discovered in 1954 at a Native American dig site. The penny really is a Norwegian silver coin that dates back to the 11th century. The first confirmed European settlement in Maine occurred in 1604 on Saint Croix Island. In 1607, the Plymouth Company established the first permanent settlement called the Popham Colony.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the native tribes changed drastically as both France and England fought for the land. By the 19th century, the American Revolution saw another division when the US broke from Britain. Maine became a territory and ultimately was declared to be the 23rd state in March 1820.
The drive to make Maine a state was the Missouri Compromise, which wanted to limit the spread of slavery by balancing out which states were slave states or free states. Maine was admitted to the Union as a free state, while Missouri became a slave state.
Capital City of Augusta
On the Kennebec River, Augusta is the capital city of Maine. With 18,899 people living in the city in 2020, it’s the third least populous state capital after Montpelier, Vermont, and Pierre, South Dakota. Originally a part of the 1607 Popham Colony, the city would not be permanently settled and incorporated until 1754.
A compact capital, most of Augusta had to be rebuilt and revitalized after multiple fires damaged the city. In 1865 alone, nearly 100 buildings were lost to fires. However, much work has been put forth to preserve what remains of the original structures and since then, the Downtown area has seen an uptick in popularity.
The most popular downtown spot to visit is Water Street. Stretching along the bank of the Kennebec River, it’s both a historic place and a central business district. Construction began in the 19th century, and most of the architecture has escaped damage from fires. Now, the street is not only famous for its architecture, but also the locally owned shops and restaurants.
Other attractions in this cozy capital include the Maine State Museum, Old Fort Western, Viles Arboretum, Capitol Park, and the Kennebec River Rail Trail. From the history to the modern-day amenities, Augusta is a prime spot for tourists looking to explore Maine’s urban areas.
Portland, the Largest City in Maine
Supporting 68,408 residents as of 2020, Portland is Maine’s largest city and when combined with the Greater Portland metropolitan area, the population grows to more than half a million people. Named after “Portlanda”, the Old English word meaning “”and surrounding the harbor”, the city is a major tourist destination in the state of Maine.
Containing a mix of waterfront, beaches, state parks, historic buildings, galleries, shops, and restaurants, many people are drawn to the lively and upbeat nature of this coastal city. Unlike some of the more luxurious destinations, Portland shies away from the glitz and glam. Instead, visitors here can relax as they learn more about the local maritime culture, food, and craftsmanship.
Some of the city’s top sights are the Old Port, Portland Museum of Art, Farmers’ Market, The Art District, Eastern Promenade, Portland Head Light, Munjoy Hill, Portland Freedom Trail, Portland Schooner Co., and Peaks Island.
Lewiston, the Second Largest City in Maine
As of the 2020 US census, the roughly 37,121 people that live in Lewiston make it the state’s second-largest city. With its roots dating back to 1795, the city is historically and culturally significant. It’s situated just inland from the coast.
Tourism is mostly directed to the city’s natural landscapes, museums, architecture, and breweries. Just outside of the city, there is plenty of wide open space for outdoor recreational activities including the Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary, Auburn Riverwalk, and the Fox Ridge Golf Club.
In the city, major attractions are the Bates College Museum of Art, The Public Theatre, Museum L-A, Basilica Saints Peter and Paul, Baxter Brewing Company, Admire Veteran’s Park, and the Lewiston Public Library. Additionally, there are plenty of locally owned shops and restaurants for people to peruse and dine.
Bangor, “The Queen City of the East”
Home to 31,753 people in 2020, Bangor is the third largest city in Maine. Originally established in the 19th century, the city was able to grow its population and economy because of the shipbuilding and lumber industries. Visitors are particularly interested in the city’s arts, culture, and waterfront.
Within the city, tourists will have plenty to do as they explore the local museums, shops, restaurants, breweries, and parks. The top attractions are the Cole Land Transportation Museum, Paul Bunyan statue, Mount Hope Garden Cemetery, Penobscot River Walkway, Cascade Park, Bangor Farmers’ Market, and the house of the famous author, Stephen King.
One place that can be found right in the heart of the city is the Bangor City Forest, which features an easy, one-mile loop walking path and plenty of picnic spots. More famously, Bangor is often considered to be the gateway to Acadia National Park. The national park’s main entrance is just 1 hour away from the city.
Charming Coastal Communities
There are many smaller coastal communities that have become famous for their beaches, harbors, and lighthouses.
One place where you can see some of Maine’s most iconic features including beaches, lighthouses, and lobster is Kennebunkport. Once a small fishing village, Kennebunkport has become a desirable seaside destination. With plenty of luxury accommodations, visitors can also spend time enjoying world-class shopping, dining, and galleries.
Camden is a small community with just over 5,000 residents, but during the summer months, the local population triples as thousands of tourists head to this summer colony for a vacation. Often called the “Jewel of Maine”, Camden’s idyllic scenery is perfect for those who love the ocean, beaches, and seafood. With a little bit of everything, visitors tweak their itinerary to have a leisurely day in town or a more adventurous excursion along the coast.
For cruising and boating, one of the best places to go is Rockland. Located on Penobscot Bay, this city is known for its rocky peninsulas, which are perfect for exploring all of the coastal nooks and crannies. Rockland is also a well-liked destination because of its array of quality restaurants.
Another little community with plenty of traditional shops and restaurants is Freeport. However, not many know that this town holds a secret – the Desert of Maine. Just a few miles outside of town, 20 acres of sand dunes were formed during the Ice Age. Perhaps an unexpected attraction, many people head to the dunes to camp and hike.
Lighthouses in Maine
Lighthouses are an iconic symbol of Maine and there are more than 60 throughout the state. Standing tall over the oceanside, the lighthouses were originally used to guide sailors safely to shore. Now, many of the structures have become tourist attractions.
Maine’s most photographed lighthouse is the Portland Head Light. However, others that are certainly stunning include the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Bass Harbor, Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, the Cape Neddick Light in York, and the Cape Elizabeth Light in Cape Elizabeth.
All of these lighthouses can be enjoyed from afar as most do not allow tourists inside. However, if you happen to be in Maine during their Open Lighthouse Day, which typically occurs in September, many of the state’s lighthouses are open to the public. This is the only day in the entire year when visitors have the chance to go inside and climb to the top.
Another icon of Maine’s coast is its beaches. Going hand in hand with lighthouses, there are plenty of beaches where tourists can go to spend the day. While not all are safe for swimming because of rough waters, many have long stretches of sand that are great for walking and lounging. Some even have tidepools to explore.
One beach that is safe to swim and is famous for its boardwalk is Old Orchard Beach. It stretches for 7 miles along the coast.
In Cape Elizabeth, the Crescent Beach State Park showcases a mile-long stretch of sand where visitors can safely swim and lounge. In addition to the sand, there are a few walking trails that take visitors around the park. Other activities permitted at Crescent Beach include sea kayaking and fishing.
Acadia National Park
Often regarded as Maine’s most stunning feature is Acadia National Park. Covering 49,075 acres of land and islands, the national park is renowned for its mountains, forests, coastline, and biodiversity. Landmarks within Acadia include the Mount Desert island, Isle au Haut, Schoodic Peninsula, and Cadillac Mountain, which is the tallest peak on America’s Atlantic Coast.
Peak visiting times for the national park are summer and fall. Many people are particularly drawn to the fall months because of the beautiful display of tree colors as they change for the season. Others head to the park’s beaches during warmer weather. While the park is open in the winter, overnight camping is not permitted. Camping is only permitted from May to mid-October.
The North Maine Woods
Even more recreation opportunities can be found in Northern Maine in the region’s dense woods. Called the North Maine Woods, this vast geographic area is largely uninhabited. Although used for commercial logging, there are a limited number of areas where visitors are permitted to hike, camp, and backpack.
Most famously, part of the Appalachian Trail does wind its way through the North Maine Woods. Other trails that crisscross the area are the Gulf Hagas, Rim, and Pleasant River Tote. Additionally, the Baxter State Park, Bigelow Preserve, and Lily Bay State Park and a few of the only maintained areas of the woods that are open for public use.
Whether you want the mountains or the ocean, Maine’s diverse array of landscapes has made it one of the East Coast’s most beautiful destinations. Drawn to the rocky coastline, thick woods, and charming communities, visitors will fall in love with this state’s splendid scenery. For those that are contemplating a trip to this New England state, the time is never better.
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