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The ULTIMATE Guide to Caribou Maine | Things to Do, See, & Experience

Tucked into the northern reaches of Maine, just 15 miles from the Canadian border, sits the town of Caribou Maine. While many visitors look for Maine lobster and coastal lighthouses, classic Caribou culture should not be overlooked.

It’s not until you scratch the surface (and look under 118 inches of annual snow) that you find the fascination that is Caribou. It’s located in the geographical center of Aroostook County (known as the Crown of Maine), which folks here just call The County.

Caribou Maine is named for an animal that you can’t even find on this land anymore. When lobsters were “poor man’s food,” it was the potato that baked its way into the economic stronghold of Maine. In fact, without potato farms, the city of Beverly Hills California might not be the affluent place we know today.

Many historical timelines lead back to Caribou, but it’s the outdoor adventures that are unparalleled. Add in a dash of Acadian culture and an international trip option with Canada just 15 miles away, and Caribou is an ideal destination you just can’t find on the coast of Maine.

What does Caribou have in store for you? Let’s jump right in.

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Lupines – Caribou Maine | photo via everpine.co

Outdoor Things to Do in Caribou Maine

Caribou is the kind of place where restaurants have snowmobile parking and high schools go on hiatus during potato harvests. It’s designed to accommodate outdoor activities, and there is plenty of nature to experience.

Try Out a County Trail

All trails lead to Caribou, and that’s a four-season promise. The Bangor and Aroostook Trail and Aroostook Valley Trail are groomed more than a prized pup at an AKC dog show. All trails accommodate ATVs, snowmobiles, mountain bikes, and cross-country skiing.

NOTE: These routes lead to more than 14,000 miles of trails across the state.

Ski on Local Trails

Caribou is home to miles of cross-country ski trails and snowmobile trails for winter recreation. Snowmobile tours are available in Caribou, as are Caribou cabin rentals along the trailside.

If you’re not quite ready to head into the Maine woods, you have stellar ski options in town. The Caribou High School Ski Center offers ski paths that are lit at night. Caribou Country Club Trails features miles of trails that welcome Nordic and skate skiers.

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Caribou Country Club Trails | photo via tvteddy2015

Take a Water Trail

Not all trails are on land. The Northern Maine Water Trail helps you navigate the Aroostook River, which runs right alongside Caribou. Entrance points are available for all skill levels — from scenic slow rides to more robust rapids.

Watch for Wildlife

It’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a moose in The County. And, the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge is one of the top options near Caribou to explore more trails — with all but a guarantee that you’ll see a moose or other wildlife.

This land is protected by the U.S. Forest Service and covers more than 4,700 acres of the former Loring Air Force Base.

Experience the Spud Speedway

The Spud Speedway is a 3/8-mile dirt oval racetrack located in Caribou Maine. Fans enjoy thrilling stock car races under the lights on summer weekends. Concessions, souvenirs, and friendly staff add to the fun atmosphere of this classic short track.

Channel Your Inner Farmer

Maine land is rich, making it ideal for potatoes, broccoli, wild blueberries, strawberries, and a slew of other seasonal treats. McElwain’s Strawberry Farm and Goughan’s Farm are two of the closest farms to Caribou.

And, make sure to get your veggies at Emerald Valley Ranches, where 2,700 acres of broccoli are grown each year.

Hunt With a Pack

Hunting around Caribou is an expert-level adventure, so you might want a guide to help you along the way. Places like Backwoods Guide Service can help with everything from a hunting license to the hunting zones to tagging your treasures.

Immerse Yourself in Stargazing

Aroostook County has some of the darkest night skies in America, and the Milky Way views are unmatched at this latitude. You can check the Aroostook County Astronomy Club’s social media for the best nights to stargaze. Also, Caribou is one of the best places to see the stunning Northern Lights.

Caribou Historical Center & Whittier Museum-Caribou
Caribou Historical Center & Whittier Museum | photo via cityofcaribou

Indoor Things to Do in Caribou Maine

Some people in Caribou might wonder where the fun is in staying indoors. However, you can find some unique places to visit while you’re here.

Learn Caribou History

The Caribou Historical Center & Whittier Museum are the premiere stop to learn the legends of this land. That includes the former potato farmer who took $25 and made his way to California.

Mericos Whitter became a millionaire after striking it rich in the oil industry and then developing Beverly Hills California into the upscale city we know today.

“I think he enjoyed bringing his family out from Maine very much. I think anybody would enjoy being successful when you came from a bunch of people living from hand to mouth by what they could raise, potatoes and such.”

Beverley Hills Historycal Videos

Shop Like a Viking & Watch a Show

Caribou has rich Scandinavian and Norwegian roots, and the influence is still strong along Sweden Street — the main shopping district. Monica’s Scandinavian Imports is one of the best shops for authentic treasures from the homeland, or you can spend a rainy day inside Caribou Theater.

During the summer, don’t miss Thursdays on Sweden Street for live music, classic Maine foods, and unique vendors.

Bowl at Evergreen Lanes

One of the newest additions to Caribou is Evergreen Lanes, the first 10-pin bowling alley since 1994. The 35,000-square-foot amusement center also has the largest TV in Maine, a massive 9-by-16-foot screen, along with 90 more screens to view. An arcade spans 2,500 square feet.

NOTE: Caribou is home to the Nylander Museum, which includes “The personal collections of Olof Nylander for geology, archaeology, paleontology, and taxidermy.” 

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Allagash Wilderness Waterway | photo via dr.sam.scarpino

Additional Attractions Near Caribou Maine

Aroostook County is called the “Crown of Maine” because it sits atop the state, covering more than 6,000 square miles. First-time visitors should know that an attraction being “close” takes on a whole new meaning in this wilderness area.

Explore the North Maine Woods

The North Maine Woods is more than just a location. You don’t just have to set out into the great unknown. This organization helps you navigate some of the most rugged and remote landscapes of Maine while still being able to explore the land safely.

The North Maine Woods covers 3.5 million acres, including the Ki-Jo Mary Multiple Use Forest. We highly recommend checking out Gulf Hagas along the A.T., which has wonderful waterfalls and scenic vistas.

Ride an Epic Waterway

This isn’t your weekend float trip on the river. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a bucket-list destination covering 92 miles through some of the toughest rapids possible in Maine.

You’ll ride the waters that Henry David Thoreau explored in 1857. Quite frankly, not much has changed in this region since those days.

Go to Canada, You Betcha

Caribou Maine is close to two Canadian crossings, and most people here have dual citizenship. Crossing the border for a cup of coffee isn’t uncommon.

You can choose to cross at Fort Fairfield to the town of Perth-Andover in New Brunswick, or head north to St. Leonard New Brunswick. Both options are just 30 miles away.

CANADA CROSSING RULES: Here’s everything you need to know about crossing into Canada from the Canada Border Services Agency.

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Burger Boy | photo via hbkid_74

Restaurants in Caribou Maine

Caribou is going through a dining renovation. A sad fact in Caribou was how the town was upended when Loring Air Force Base shut down in the 1990s.

In early 2023, a downtown fire destroyed some of the new developments. Mainers are nothing if not resilient, though, so new restaurants are coming in.

Bechard’s Grille

Bechard’s Grille is a local’s favorite that is under new ownership. The grille serves classic American staples with Acadian specialties like poutine. Get ready for huge portions as the crew members pride themselves on serving big meals at value prices.

DEFINITION: Poutine (poo-TEENE) — A dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.

The Par & Grill

That’s not a typo — The Par & Grill is known as much for its indoor golf machine as it is for its golf-themed food menu. Look for the Sunday brunch special with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Live music is scheduled for several nights of the week too.

Ruska Coffee

Ruska Coffee is one of the businesses that are helping to revitalize Sweden Street. The owners are “from away” (Washington) but moved to Caribou during the pandemic. They brought their smart sense of coffee and developed a comfortable setting. Enjoy a pastry or explore the gift shop at this creative shop.

Greenhouse Restaurant

The Greenhouse Restaurant describes its service as fine dining, but don’t worry about dress codes. Serving breakfast and dinner, the only fancy thing is the food.

The menu spans everything from popular poutine to lobster rolls at insanely low prices compared to the coast. The menu includes the popular Chicken Aroostook, which is chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese and spinach and pan-fried in a potato crust before being topped with roasted red pepper sauce.

Burger Boy

Throughout all of the economic hardships in Caribou, Burger Boy has steadily remained a staple since 1968. Serving big burgers and the quintessential Maine meat — Red’s Hot Dogs — you can still try the pontine or savor an ice cream concoction in a throwback setting.

Rendezvous Restaurant

Rendezvous Restaurant lives up to its name as a local cultural icon that once fed hungry Loring AFB workers. The restaurant moved from Limestone to Caribou and, despite delays, is now serving the community once again.

It’s part of the Evergreen Bowling entertainment center. Pizza is the most popular item on the menu, and you can enjoy it inside or on the patio.

Evergreen Lanes-Caribou
Monica’s Scandinavian Imports | photo via marcy_elly

Where to Stay in Caribou Maine

Most accommodations in Caribou are simple and welcoming, offering daily, weekly, or monthly options to fit any traveler’s schedule. For instance, waterfront cabins serve as the ultimate retreat to escape and truly enjoy nature. You have other lodging options as well, so let’s take a look.

Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast

Staying at the Old Iron Inn Bed and Breakfast is much like staying with family. You’ll sleep in the owner’s home and get your own local experts to help plan your day. Accommodations include rooms and furnished separate rentals. Breakfast is included each day, made to your specific dietary needs.

Why is it called the Old Iron Inn? Because there is, quite literally, an enormous array of old and antique irons — the kinds used to get wrinkles out of clothing.

Caribou Inn & Convention Center

You won’t find a Ritz-Carlton in this part of Maine, but the Caribou Inn & Convention Center is about as upscale as it comes in The County. More than 70 remodeled rooms and executive suites await, with a large indoor pool, one restaurant, and a lounge.

The Caribou Health & Wellness Center offers more than a few weights in a room. More than 8,000 square feet welcome guests with health experts standing by.

Caribou Cabins

Choose from one of three two-bedroom cabins at Caribou Cabins with direct access to snowmobile routes. You’ll have all the accessories you need in the kitchen with internet access and DISH Network included in the costs. Rentals are available for a few days or by the week.

Downtown Caribou Home

If you have a larger group, this four-bedroom newly renovated home in downtown Caribou might be just the place for you. You’ll have the entire house to yourself with a full kitchen and 1.5 bathrooms. River and highway access are close by, and all downtown events are within walking distance.

More About Caribou Maine

The land that is now Caribou was originally inhabited by the Mi’kmaq Tribe. In the early 1800s, European settlers began arriving to farm the fertile land. Caribou was incorporated as a town in 1859 and then a city in 1967.

Economy

Caribou became an important center for the potato farming industry. And in the 1870s, the railroad expanded into Caribou, boosting the local economy.

Air Force Base

Loring Air Force Base was established in 1953 near Limestone and Caribou as a Strategic Air Command base. Its remoteness made it well-suited for long-range bombers and aerial refueling planes. Loring AFB played a major role during the Cold War with its B-36 Peacemaker and B-52 Stratofortress bombers.

DID YOU KNOW? The wreckage of a B-52 still rests in the Maine wilderness.

Over 7,000 military personnel were stationed there during peak times. That’s more than the current population of the city! The end of the Cold War meant the end of Loring, leaving 3,000 jobs lost and a city in economic turmoil.

Redevelopment

After the AFB closure, Caribou worked to redevelop the base and attract new industries. It took time, but the city eventually recovered and diversified its economy. Agriculture is still strong, but tourism has been exploding in recent years with more people seeking wilderness experiences.

Seasons & Weather

Caribou Maine is one of the northeasternmost cities in the United States. Winters can get wind chills down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 inches of snow (the average is 118 inches, but it’s not unheard of to get closer to 170 inches).

Summers (June through August) get into the 70s, but even the warmest nights don’t get much above 56 degrees. Layers are essential when you visit Caribou.

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Caribou Mountain

FAQs About Caribou Maine

What is the best season to visit Caribou Maine?

In The County, every season is celebrated and welcomed. Instead of the off-season being winter as you’ll find in coastal communities, Caribou comes alive with freshly groomed trails and more snowmobiles on roads than cars.

For those planning a summer trip, don’t arrive until June after the snow is gone and the ice is melted. Whether you want mild summer days or deep snow to ski, there’s a season for everyone.

You should know about Mud Season, which is March through mid-to-late April. During this time, the trails are off limits since there’s so much mud. This break keeps the trails from being damaged or destroyed.

What is a caribou?

The words “caribou” and “reindeer” are used interchangeably, which makes sense since they are both the same species (Rangifer tarandus).

Much like a hurricane vs. a typhoon, different regions of the world use different terms that mean the same thing. However, Americans generally refer to caribou as wild animals and reindeer as domesticated animals.

What happened to the caribou in this region?

Caribou once had a thriving population in Maine but were hunted to local extinction in the 1800s.

Factors that led to their disappearance include unregulated hunting, loss of old-growth forest habitat, and migration obstruction from roads and railroads. Attempts to reintroduce caribou to Maine in the 1900s failed.

When is the best time to see a moose around Caribou Maine?

In Caribou Maine, moose activity increases from mid-May through July. They are most active at dawn and dusk, and they are commonly spotted near water or flat land. Bull moose antlers are the largest in fall during mating season.

Experience All That Caribou Maine Has to Offer

Caribou Maine is an outdoor adventure destination that is still enough of a secret that you won’t deal with tourist crowds. Also, you have the bonus of nearby cities like Presque Isle, Mars Hill, and New Sweden to explore by car, snowmobile, or foot.

Convenient airport access at Presque Isle International Airport makes it easier than taking a long road trip from Portland Maine, but the roads are paved year-round if you choose that route.

Locals of The County are also so welcoming that it feels like a home away from home, whether it’s your first time or your 15th time visiting.

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