The first thing to know about Calais Maine is that you’re probably pronouncing it wrong. That’s just one of many endearing parts of this small community that’s about as “Downeast” as Downeast gets.
Calais (“Cal-iss”) brings a two-for-one experience with St. Stephen New Brunswick Canada across one of three bridges. The St. Croix River separates the cities (and the international border), with some of the highest tide swings you’ll find in America.
Better yet, both cities have unique vibes that give you the best of everything. Whether you want waterside, wide open spaces, or wining and dining internationally, Calais and St. Stephen are full of surprises. If that doesn’t tempt you to plan a trip, maybe the globally known chocolate will.
Grab your passport, and let’s explore Calais and St. Stephen.
Getting to Know Calais Maine
The Passamaquoddy people were the first known inhabitants along the St. Croix River, a legacy still honored today. They fished the St. Croix, gathered berries, hunted game in the dense forests, and built settlements that thrived for thousands of years.
Founded in 1796, Calais emerged from a lumber boom, its bustling sawmills fueling prosperity and drawing settlers from diverse backgrounds. This mix of cultures, including Acadian, French, and Loyalist, laid the foundation for a town that embraced connection.
Across the water, St. Stephen mirrored Calais’s growth with shipbuilding and trade flourishing. The St. Croix became a highway, not a barrier, with residents crossing for work, social gatherings, and family reunions.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Calais and St. Stephen continued to intertwine. Shared fire departments, libraries, and even a skating rink solidified their interconnectedness. The International Bridge, built in 1909, symbolized their unwavering friendship.
Today, as both cities recuperate from tourism losses over the past two decades, they still celebrate an International Homecoming Festival every August.
Things to Know Before Visiting Calais
It’s important to remember that visiting Calais and/or St. Stephen can be paired with the Quoddy Loop — a larger trip.
If you haven’t been to this region before, you’ll be experiencing the highest tidal surge and drop on the planet. It starts with the Bay of Fundy, which has a size, shape, and depth that moves 100 billion tons of water daily.
That influence ripples through Passamaquoddy Bay and up the St. Croix River, which can make sightseeing on the shore much more interesting. Also, it brings water hazards for those not prepared for the rise or fall of tides.
Calais residents are used to crossing the border several times daily, but you’ll still need the right paperwork to cross between the United States and Canada. Three border crossings are open between the two cities. Check with the Canada Border Services Agency for information about returning to Calais.
NOTE: St. Stephen is in the Atlantic Time Zone, so it’s always one hour ahead of Calais. Both locations adhere to daylight saving time. Plus, Canada measures distances in meters, not miles.
Seasons & Weather
Like most of Maine, Calais gets pleasant summers and long winters. The city experiences distinct spring and fall seasons as well.
Summer & Fall
Summer beckons with mild days in the mid-70 degrees Fahrenheit and cool nights dipping to the mid-50s. Fall paints the landscape in fiery hues, with highs in the mid-50s and lows around the mid-30s.
Winter transforms into a snowy wonderland, averaging highs in the mid-20s and lows that dip into single digits. Between December and March, temperatures are unlikely to get above freezing. Despite that cold, neither Passamaquoddy Bay nor the St. Croix River freeze over due to ongoing extreme tidal movements.
Expect 77 inches of snow each year. January and February claim the crown for snowiest months, blanketing the land with an average of 12 inches each.
Spring slowly gives way to warmer weather with temperatures rising to the mid-40s and nights hovering in the mid-20s. Daytime highs are in the 50s by April, and May brings the 60s back.
RAIN: Calais gets 45 inches of rain each year, with July leading the pack with 4 inches.
Outdoor Things to Do in Calais Maine
Calais covers a large landmass but has a population of just over 3,000. That means there’s one person per 77 miles. Do you know what that means? Excellent outdoor opportunities!
One of the highlights adjacent to Calais Maine is the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, which is 75% larger than the city’s footprint. Access is free, and the refuge is (leashed) dog-friendly.
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge — a sprawling 28,000-acre haven — has two massive sections to explore diverse landscapes. Hike through dense forests, climb Bald Hill for breathtaking panoramic views, paddle serene lakes reflecting the sky, or cycle along winding trails.
Yes, you can see a moose here, along with deer and 225 bird species.
Fishing and hunting are also popular sports, and the stargazing is amazing, especially if the Northern Lights are in the forecast.
Devil’s Head Park sprawls across 318 acres, just 6 miles south of Calais. Its defining feature is the Devil’s Head Trail — a challenging climb to the 340-foot summit for panoramic views of the St. Croix River where it meets Passamaquoddy Bay.
Explore diverse terrain — from wooded trails to scenic outlooks to hidden coves accessible by kayak. You can scuba dive here, but the water is chilly, and the tidal changes make it somewhat treacherous.
St. Croix Island is where French settlers attempted to carve their mark on history in 1604. The wicked winter led to their search for a more naturally hospitable place. Visitors aren’t allowed on the island — there’s nothing left there anyway but protected wilderness.
At the same time, the St. Croix Island International Historic Site Visitor Center sits on the shore with the island in clear view. An interpretive trail and ranger-guided programs are available during daylight hours.
International travelers can go 15 miles across the border to see the Saint Croix Island outdoor exhibit from the Canadian side.
NOTE: The National Park Service oversees this property, but don’t confuse it with the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. That’s in Wisconsin.
A 1.5-mile trail follows the St. Croix River along one of the first railroad paths in Maine. The trail weaves around the main core of Calais and then into more wooded areas, all with river views and helpful history kiosks along the way.
This stroll is particularly stunning during the fall foliage with views on each side of the international boundary. Or, go in spring when bald eagles soar and dive while hunting fish.
Whitelock’s Mill Lighthouse holds a couple of records in Maine lighthouse history. First, it’s the last one to be built in the state, erected in 1909 at a sharp bend in the St. Croix River. Second, it’s the northernmost lighthouse in Maine.
The lighthouse is on private property, but a special road pull-off allows a place for photos and viewing. We can tell you that the owners are known to welcome small groups for tours if they are available, and the tour is scheduled in advance.
Indoor Things to Do in Calais Maine
Usually, small towns in Maine don’t have many things to do indoors. However, a few special places await in Calais.
Calais and the St. Croix region honor the Indigenous people who first lived off this land and still have an important presence. The Wabanaki Culture Center breathes life into the culture of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot people, collectively known as the Wabanaki.
Unlike many museums that show you how things used to be, this cultural center honors the past, present, and future of the Indigenous people with interactive exhibits and scheduled ceremonies to enjoy. The unique crafts and artwork are legendary in the St. Croix River Valley.
If you’ve ever wondered what going to the doctor was like in the 1850s, Calais has the answer at the Holmes Cottage. The home dates back to the 1790s and housed several medical providers until Dr. Holmes moved in.
Then, he built the “Holmestead” next door as his family home — fitting five children and a wife in a cottage was tough, to say the least. Holmes lived here until his passing in 1864, and the cottage has been preserved to exude that 1850s atmosphere. Better yet? The museum is free!
Additional Attractions Near Calais Maine
We want to touch on some places to visit across the border in St. Stephen because the two cities are treated as extensions of each other. In addition, 30 minutes from St. Stephen is the whimsical town of St. Andrews.
Move over Willy Wonka — the Ganong Chocolate Museum is the golden ticket along the St. Croix River. This beloved institution — housed in the historic Ganong candy factory — unveils the delectable tale of Canada’s Chocolate Town.
Since 1873, the Ganong family has been weaving magic with cocoa, crafting iconic treats like heart-shaped boxes and the “Pal-o-mine,” one of the longest-running chocolate treats available in America.
The tour includes history lessons, interactive exhibits, and chocolate-making viewing parties, as well as a special stop at the tasting room. You get plenty of samples in the tasting room and an up-close view of candy making.
TIP: Don’t let the “Chicken Bones” candy dissuade you. It’s an iconic candy for Canadians and has nothing to do with chickens.
Just 10 minutes from St. Stephen, enjoy the Ganong Nature Park’s scenic viewpoints, wooded trails, and shoreline adventures. The park has 11 trails, but at least one of them is inaccessible at high tide. Visit during low tide to explore tidal pools, and you’ll find the Ganong Cottage among the trails.
If there was ever any tension between this international friendship, it was during the War of 1812. This blockhouse stands as a testament to that era. You can also walk the tidal flats at low tide.
If all this “walk at low tide” advice makes you a little nervous, the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews offers expert tours along the tidal flats. You can also visit the aquarium and learn more about the unique Bay of Fundy’s extreme tidal range.
TIP: Several boat tours are available, including research trips and marine life viewing.
With all the expected amenities of a nature preserve, we’ll simply let you know one important thing about this scenic attraction — it has the best view of Passamaquoddy Bay in the region. You can get there through the saltwater marsh or take a trail directly to the beach.
Top Restaurants in Calais Maine
Unlike more frequently visited towns in Maine, you won’t find a ton of restaurant options. Despite that, here are two local classics that are community favorites. Then, we’ll touch on a few hot spots in St. Stephen.
Karen’s Diner and Korner Pub | Calais
Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Karen’s is the place to be for any meal of the day. American food is on the menu with specials daily. Plus, you can enjoy a full bar with plenty of Maine beers.
You’re too picky if you can’t find something you like on Fitzgerald’s menu. Appetizers, sandwiches, pizza, seafood, pasta, steak — it’s all there. Look for daily specials and seasonal treats, like a flight of hot chocolate varieties.
The tavern has a full bar of wine, beer, and spirits. And, it organizes live music and karaoke throughout the week.
The Five Kings | St. Stephen
Less than 1 mile from Calais Maine, you can enjoy pub fare and a slightly more upscale dining experience at The Five Kings. Specials mix in the tastes and treasures found in the Bay of Fundy region. Picaroons Brewhouse is on-site, with beer available by the glass or in growlers to go.
Customs allows people 21 and older to cross the border with beer, but check the limitations before you do so.
Where to Stay in Calais Maine & St. Stephen
Calais is more commonly a place you go through, not to, so don’t let the lack of hotel options concern you. We’ve found some amazing spots on both sides of the border.
International Motel | Calais
Hands down, this is the most popular place to stay in Calais Maine. Choose a standard room or a riverview suite while being close to the heart of downtown. Short and extended stays are welcome, and the hotel is dog-friendly and offers free Wi-Fi.
Calais Crossing River House | Calais
For a more homelike setting, check out Calais Crossing River House. This bed and breakfast offers quintessential New England charm with a porch, backyard, and gardens. You can also sit by the river and enjoy the rising and falling tide. Pets are welcome, parking is free, and a library awaits inside.
Waterfront Farmhouse | Calais
A large group might prefer the space of this three-bedroom waterfront farmhouse. Eight can comfortably sleep here, and you still get a special place along the river. (Call dibs on the hammock now!)
Walls of windows await inside for great views. Also, you can eat breakfast riverside at the family-style table or sit by the firepit at night. You’ll fall in love with this house at first sight.
The Coach House | St. Stephen
If you like your accommodations a little more eccentric, head across the border to The Coach House. It was built in 1840 and has been (seemingly) collecting artifacts and knick-knacks since. Guests can’t stop raving about the “full Canadian gourmet” breakfast.
The Algonquin Resort St. Andrews by-the-Sea | St. Andrews
If you’re willing to go as far as St. Andrews for overnight accommodations, luxury awaits at The Algonquin Resort. The list of former celebrity guests includes Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Roosevelts (Franklin & Elanor), F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Bette Davis.
With an on-site spa, golf course, two pools, and spacious gardens to explore, the outside is as luxurious as the inside, even if the hotel gives off a little of “The Shining” vibe.
FAQs About Calais Maine
How many border crossings are there in Calais Maine?
Technically, three roads cross from Calais into Canada and back, but you should only use the International Bridge near downtown.
What currency do you use in Calais Maine and St. Stephen?
While you might find places on both sides of the border that accept any currency, you should always attempt to use the currency of the country.
Check the USD against the CAD to see if using the one with the better value is advantageous. You can exchange currency in Calais and St. Stephen as needed.
Also, see if your credit card charges a foreign transaction fee before you make a purchase.
What airport is closest to Calais Maine?
Bangor International Airport (BGR) is nearly 2 hours away, and Portland is almost double that. Houlton and Presque Isle have smaller airports, which are about 2 hours and 2.5 hours away respectively. However, Bangor or Portland are the best options.
Saint John Airport (YSJ) has flights to Montreal and Toronto if you’re flying on the Canadian side. That’s about 1.5 hours from Calais Maine.
Exploring Beyond Calais Maine & St. Stephen New Brunswick
Now is the perfect time to visit Calais Maine and its international counterpart in St. Stephen New Brunswick.
Adding in St. Stephen and St. Andrews makes the trip that much more special, and the unique tidal flows here are amazing to see in person.
Have you been to Calais Maine? We’d love to hear your feedback and advice.