Maine Regions

Want to Explore the Best of Each Maine Region? We’ve got a Guide for That.

The landscape of Maine reads like a book you can’t put down. Once you look past the cover of coastal landscapes with shiplap homes and lighthouse-capped cliffs, a world of wonder unfolds – mountains, pristine lakes, and waterfall-filled rivers carve distinct regions throughout the Pine Tree State.

Ongoing exploration reveals the wonders of Maine’s soul. It’s home to the Grand Canyon of the East and the largest ski resort east of the Mississippi. The state inspired some of the greatest horror stories ever written while also bringing us the childhood classic Charlotte’s Web.

Even history here bushwhacks its way through days when Benedict Arnold was a hero, and Paul Revere was charged with cowardice.

First-time visitors might be surprised by the landscape diversity while also having an unbalanced sense of Maine’s size. The state feels big, but it’s between Indiana and South Carolina in size, while the population tucks nicely between New Hampshire and Montana.

cape elizabeth-portland

Before You Go: Must-Know Maine Facts

A few notes before we hit the different regions, as the backstory will help history make more sense throughout the article.

Indigenous People of Maine

The first indigenous inhabitants of Maine belonged to various Wabanaki tribes, a collection of culturally related groups encompassing the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot. Their presence in Maine stretches back 12,000 years, long before European colonization began, and still plays a strong role in today’s culture.

Settlers & Statehood of Maine

Settlers arrived in the early 1600s. The area we know as Maine was part of Massachusetts, known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, from the 1650s until 1820. Plenty of Maine towns pre-date the 1650s and were part of the Maine province within Massachusetts.

Maine became a state in 1820 due to two key issues. First, the distance of being governed from Boston left too many issues ignored. Second, the only reason Maine was able to form when it did was due to the Missouri Compromise. That balanced out the slave vs. free states in the Union. However, final state boundaries weren’t established until 1842.

Acadian Culture

Maine neophytes might get Acadia National Park and Acadian culture mixed up. Here’s a simple explanation, though you’ll get plenty of ways to learn more throughout our guide to the Maine regions.

In the 1600s, French colonists arrived in the areas of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, what was then known as New France. Settlers called their colony Acadia. The location near the Bay of Fundy and along the St. Croix River made for bad neighbors. As noted above, this boundary area was in flux until the 1840s.

Long story short, Acadians who wouldn’t pledge alliance to the British throne were forced off the settlement in 1755. In the Great Upheaval–a scattering of Acadians–groups sought refuge in remote areas to find independence. Some were sent back to France, others went on to create the Creole culture of Louisiana, and a fair number ended up in Massachusetts Bay Colony, which is now Maine.

Acadia National Park was first named Lafayette National Park in 1919. To get the Schoodic side of the park, legendary park steward George Dorr negotiated with a British aristocrat’s widow to remove the French celebration from the name and instead honor the Acadian people. In 1929, Acadia National Park’s name was established.

Maine Names & Myths

Also, as we explore the regions, we’ll help with name pronunciations. Even simple names like Calais aren’t always pronounced the way you’d think – wait until you hear St. Agatha. Moreover, some cities were renamed along the way, while names stayed the same, but locations changed.

One last note before exploring Maine’s regions concerns the coastline. A viral misunderstanding stated that Maine has more coastline than California. That’s not true. A coastline is the general outline of a state. California has 840 miles. Maine has 228.

However, when you look at the shoreline – where tidal waters meet land at least 100 feet into a channel and include the thousands of islands – Maine beats California by just 57 miles.

Kennebunk, ME
Kennebunk, ME

Southern Coast

The southern of Maine, also known as the Maine beaches area, stretches a sloppy triangle from Kittery to Cornish to Old Orchard Beach.

Maine’s impressive coastline is at its tamest in this region, mixing rocky ledges and outcroppings with sandy beaches. Few islands offshore give views of wide open seas.

In fact, that was the main appeal that put the southern coast of Maine at Kittery on the map in the first place.

Southern Coast of Maine History

Kittery is the oldest town in Maine, dating back to 1823. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, located partially in Kittery, has played a crucial role in the history of the United States Navy since its establishment in 1800 until the present day.

However, settlers were also in Kennebunkport (then Arundel), York, and Saco, as access to rich fishing waters, ports for shipbuilding, and the rivers to power mills provided a new lifeline in the New World.

Cities of the Southern Maine Coast

Across the New Hampshire border at Portsmouth, Kittery is the Gateway to Maine. It’s known for outlet mall shopping, historic forts on the water, and jagged shoreline.

York started as a colonial Amazon warehouse of sorts. It quickly became the capital of the province while being an important hub for shipping routes to the West Indies.

Today, York Village, York Harbor, and York Beach round out an area collectively known as “The Yorks.” Some of the best surfing in Maine awaits at York Beach, while the iconic Nubble Lighthouse stands just offshore from Cape Neddick. York even has a scenic view atop Mount Agamenticus.

The next stretch of the southern Maine coastline is Wells, which is known for its saltwater marshes, national wildlife refuge, and understated chill vibes.

Just up the coastline, Ogunquit started as a farming community. Later, in the late 19th century, artists flock to Ogunquit’s scenic beauty, transforming it into a renowned art colony. The name means “Beautiful Place by the Sea.” It’s as charming as it is popular, with nearly four miles of perfect beachfront and a cliff walk at Marginal Way.

The “Kennebunks” cover Kennebunkport, Kennebunk, and Aurdel, which first emerged as a trading post, shipbuilding port, and fishing village. Its historic downtown and Dock Square area showcase its prosperous past. Even as a working port, the allure of Kennebunkport, dating back to the 1870s, brought tourists in. Visiting this region feels like a step back in time.

NOTE: Pronounced “Ken-KNEE-bunk-port,” not “Ken-uh-bunk-port.”

The jagged coastline of the Kennbunks gives way to a seven-mile stretch of sand at Old Orchard Beach (“O-O-B”). Unlike other Maine towns, Old Orchard Beach is mostly rooted in tourism. The famous pier and amusement park have drawn thousands of visitors through generations since the late 1800s.

Must-See Spots in Southern Maine

When traveling through Southern Maine, it’s easy to get caught up in so many historic or scenic sites. Here are the top 5 stops you shouldn’t miss on the Maine beaches.

  • Fort Foster (Kittery): A historic coastal defense site dating back to the early 20th century, offering scenic views, beach access, and recreational facilities today.
  • Nubble Lighthouse (York): Stop at Sohier Park to soak in the lighthouse that steals some thunder from the Portland Head Lighthouse. Holiday lights are up for several weeks in winter and summer.
  • Marginal Way (Oguinquit): More than a mile walk along a coastal cliff takes you from the beach to Perkins Cove.
  • Dock Square (Kennebunk/Kennebunkport): The Kennebunk River splits the two in half, but the shared Dock Square is the epitome of coastal grandeur in Maine.
  • Old Orchard Beach: Choose from a seaside Ferris wheel, the newest roller coaster, or a stroll on the long sandy beach. Don’t forget to try the Pier Fries.
Casco Bay-Portland
Casco Bay | photo via maine.sail

Portland/Casco Bay

The next region on the Maine coastline is the Portland/Casco Bay section. This stretches from Scarborough on the south to Brunswick up north, including Maine’s largest town of Portland and the archipelago islands of Casco Bay all the way east to Cundy’s Harbor.

Portland & Casco Bay Maine History

History here plays out more like a game of chess than a direct line. While settlers were here in the early 1600s, Portland went through a half dozen names throughout its development. The city also burned down several times. Amazingly, it’s still here at all, much less the thriving cultural town it is today.

The 19th century saw Portland’s emergence as one of the busiest ports on the East Coast. Railroads further bolstered its economic importance, connecting Portland to inland markets and facilitating the export of goods. Additionally, Casco Bay served as a strategic naval base during the Civil War.

Most of the other cities in the Casco Bay region were connected to or part of what would become Portland at some point in time before eventually falling off into their own distinct locations.

The Cities of Portland & Casco Bay

The main cities of this region include Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Portland, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Freeport, and Harpswell. Suffice it to say they each come with a distinct maritime history following the same timeline from the early 1600s to the present day, with a unique twist for each one.

Scarborough was known for its agricultural and fishing industries. Today, it’s a thriving suburban community with a mix of residential areas, commercial developments, and natural attractions like Scarborough Beach State Park.

Cape Elizabeth’s maritime history shines through iconic landmarks like Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park, one of the oldest lighthouses in the United States. This affluent coastal town is known for its scenic beauty while still offering two state parks on the water.

South Portland bridges the gap between Cape Elizabeth and Portland. While waterfront beauties like the Bug Light House and Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse bring tourists, it’s also a shopping destination with the Mall of Maine and a residential area of 27,000 people.

Portland sits on a peninsula surrounded by Casco Bay, Back Bay, and the Fore River. Within the city limits of Portland, Maine, there are several islands, including Peaks Island, Great Diamond Island, Little Diamond Island, Cliff Island, and Jewel Island. A ferry leaves from Old Port to these destinations. Portland is known for its history, growing food scene, art enthusiasm, and outdoor activities.

Falmouth and Yarmouth are smaller, charming coastal towns with mixed residential and commercial areas, yet natural wonders to explore. They also lead to islands like Cousins, Chebeague, and Long.

Freeport is largely known for the headquarters and flagship store of L.L. Bean. In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean was tired of having wet feet while hunting and invented the Bean Boot that would change outdoor clothing history and create an ionic, global brand. Freeport also offers outdoor recreational opportunities, including hiking trails in the Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and the Desert of Maine.

Harpswell is known for its numerous coves, inlets, and peninsulas, as well as its close proximity to several islands in Casco Bay, which contribute to its scenic beauty and maritime character. This is about as authentic as a Maine fishing coastal community gets.

5 Must-See Spots in Portland & Casco Bay

It’s hard to whittle this down to five, but here goes.

  • Fort Williams Park: See the Portland Head Light, but view all the historic spots at this coastal defense spot that played a role in the two World Wars.
  • Old Port: Walk through the hallmark waterfront community in Portland, and then head over to the East End Promenade for the beach.
  • Desert of Maine: After exploring the L.L. Bean flagship store and nearby outlet mall, head to the overharvested attraction that led to a desert in the middle of a coastal community.
  • Giant’s Stairs: Head to the tip of Harpswell at Bailey Island, where a seaside wonder of giant rocks leads to the chilly Casco Bay waters. Also, consider Devil’s Back or Cliff Trail.
  • Island Visit: Take a ferry from Old Port or Yarmouth to explore the outer reaches of Caso Bay’s footprint.

The plain truth is that any search for Portland will bring up the Oregon location 3,000 miles away. Be sure to add “Maine” to any search for Portland, which has come to be content with its moniker “The Other Portland.”

Midcoast

Midcoast Maine stretches from Bath to Unity to Islesboro and covers many well-known cities and towns as well as sleepy seaside lobster villages. Peninsulas drip off this section of the state, offering respite from summer crowds and some of the top beaches in the state.

Isle au Haut, Vinalhaven, Monhegan and the remote Matinicus are island highlights considered to be part of the Midcoast.

Bath
Bath | photo via the_adrift_cyclist

Midcoast Maine History

Ships and lobsters have defined the Midcoast for centuries. Towns like Bath became renowned shipbuilding hubs, producing famous vessels like the USS Constitution. Bath Iron Works continues its tradition of naval construction. Today, Midcoast Maine remains a vital maritime center, with lobster fishing sustaining local economies and attracting tourists.

The region’s cities double as maritime and fishing industry icons and thrive off tourism, including whale watching and puffin tours. If you want to take a puffin tour while you’re here, Midcoast is where most of the tours depart.

History buffs should read about the Penobscot Expedition, which happened in this region in 1779. It was the worst naval disaster until Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The disastrous military campaign during the American Revolutionary War involved American forces attempting to reclaim Maine’s Penobscot Bay from the British. Paul Revere, serving as a lieutenant colonel, faced charges of cowardice after abandoning his post, leading to the loss of American ships and supplies. He was later cleared. The play-by-play on this historic event is mind-boggling.

Cities of the Midcoast

Dozens of places speckle the landscape here, but here are the top standouts for those planning a trip to Maine’s Midcoast.

  • Bath: Visit Bath for its rich maritime history, seen in attractions like the Maine Maritime Museum and Bath Iron Works, offering insights into shipbuilding and naval heritage.
  • Boothbay Harbor: Explore Boothbay Harbor for its picturesque coastal scenery, vibrant waterfront, and opportunities for sailing, kayaking, and whale watching.
  • Wiscasset (“Wisk-ahh-sit”): Wiscasset beckons with its charming village atmosphere, historic homes, and renowned lobster rolls at Red’s Eats.
  • Damariscotta (“dam-risk-ottuh”): Damariscotta is a destination for its scenic Damariscotta River, famous for its oyster farms, waterfront dining, and the annual Pumpkinfest & Regatta.
  • Owls Head: Discover Owls Head for its scenic lighthouse, Owls Head Transportation Museum, and stunning coastal views from Owls Head State Park.
  • Rockland: Rockland attracts visitors with its vibrant arts scene, including the Farnsworth Art Museum and the annual Maine Lobster Festival, celebrating the region’s culinary heritage.
  • Camden: Visit Camden for its quintessential New England charm, offering picturesque harbor views, sailing excursions, Camden Snow Bowl winter activities, and hiking opportunities in Camden Hills State Park.
  • Rockport: Rockport charms with its quaint coastal village ambiance, scenic harbor, and Andre the Seal, who stole the hearts of Mainers before making it to the big screen.
  • Belfast: Explore Belfast for its thriving arts community, historic architecture, scenic Belfast Harbor, and outdoor recreational opportunities along the Belfast Rail Trail.
  • Phippsburg: Phippsburg invites visitors to explore its pristine beaches, including Popham Beach State Park, renowned for its scenic beauty, birdwatching, and historic Fort Popham, offering a glimpse into Maine’s colonial past.
  • Port Clyde: Explore this fishing village or take the boat to Monhegan Island. Plus, the Marshall Point Lighthouse made even more famous in the movie Forrest Gump is here.

Bucket List Activities in Midcoast Maine

The scenic drives are enough of a reward, but figuring out where to go on all those peninsulas can be challenging for a first-timer. Here are the top five things to do in Midcoast Maine.

Museums help tell the story of the Midcoast, from the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Plus, imagine if a job posting came with the guidance, “You have to go in, but you don’t have to come back.” You’ll learn about lighthouses and life-saving in coastal waters at the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland.

In a place where land and water meet so frequently, this is a lighthouse chaser’s premiere location. Owl’s Head Lighthouse stuns while still honoring a brave lighthouse dog named Spot. Walk the length of five football fields to the Rockland Breakwater lighthouse, or gaze at the beauty of Pemequid Point Lighthouse. Guided boat tours take you past offshore lighthouses, too.

Some of the most beautiful and accessible beaches in Maine are found in the Midcoast. Popham Beach State Park brings the crowds, and it was also used as the movie backdrop for Message in a Bottle, based on the Nicholas Sparks book. Laite Memorial Beach in Camden offers waterfront views of the working port, while Reid State Park’s secluded spot includes rocky cliffs and a sandy beach.

Explore the islands of Midcoast Maine. One of the most iconic islands is Monhegan Island, renowned for its rugged cliffs, scenic hiking trails, and thriving artist community. Matinicus is the most remote island in Maine, offering seclusion from the crowds. Vinalhaven also beckons with its picturesque harbors, rocky coastline, and vibrant fishing community.

Another popular thing to do is eat your way through Midcoast Maine. Damariscotta is renowned for its oysters. Rockland’s lobster feasts are legendary or pick one of the fabulous lobster shacks that line the water. Here, lobster is served “in the rough.” When in Camden, you simply must save room for their famous pies.

Lupine-Lubec
Lupine | photo via sharoncatalano_photos

Downeast

Defining Downeast is almost an additional Maine sport, but for our purposes, we define it as from Bucksport to Lubec on the coast and as far north as Danforth. This includes the northeastern section of the state.

The phrase Downeast comes from the southwestern winds that carry boats “downwind” to go east along the coast.

Downeast includes the easternmost town and city in the United States, Acadia National Park, and the Bold Coast Scenic Byway.

Downeast Maine History

French and British explorers like Samuel de Champlain and Captain John Smith charted the Downeast coast in the early 1600s. The French sought to settle the region and profit from the fur trade. Champlain himself named Mount Desert Island due to the lack of trees on the rocky landscape.

English settlements, like those at Machias and Gouldsboro, began popping up in the mid-1700s. These settlements focused on lumber, fishing, shipbuilding, and granite industries. You’d be surprised how many buildings in this nation were made from Downeast rocks, including a Los Angeles bank in 1923.

Downeast Maine saw fighting during both the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Meanwhile, George Dorr was in a battle to preserve the wilderness of Mount Desert Island and championed his way to Lafayette National Park, which then became Acadia National Park.

Bar Harbor became known for its Millionaire’s Row in the Gilded Age. From aristocrats to Vanderbilts, this was a playground for the wealthy. The heyday came to an end in 1947 when a massive fire wiped out the stunning homes.

Further Downeast, Lubec emerged as the “Herring Capital of the World” in the 19th Century, boasting the largest herring fleet and processing plants worldwide. Eastport played a leading role in the global sardine canning industry.

Both cities border Canada (or Canadian waters) and make great stops on the Quoddy Loop. This area is also known for its large tidal surges, as it’s close to the Bay of Fundy.

Cities of Downeast

We get another long list of cities, but the focal point of downtown is Acadia National Park, which nearly four million people visit each year.

  • Bucksport: Bucksport offers a charming riverfront downtown, scenic views of the Penobscot River, and access to outdoor recreational opportunities like hiking and boating.
  • Stonington: Stonington is a picturesque fishing village known for its lobstering industry, vibrant arts scene, and stunning coastal landscapes.
  • Ellsworth: Ellsworth serves as the gateway to Acadia National Park, offering a bustling downtown, historic architecture, and easy access to outdoor adventures.
  • Bar Harbor: Bar Harbor is a popular tourist destination with its scenic waterfront, vibrant downtown, and the main anchor town of Acadia National Park’s hiking trails and scenic vistas. Cruise ships dock here, so check the schedule to avoid those additional crowds.
  • Southwest Harbor: Southwest Harbor charms visitors with its scenic harbor views, quaint shops, and access to the western side of Acadia. Keep an eye out for Martha Stewart, who lives in nearby Northeast Harbor.
  • Winter Harbor: Winter Harbor boasts a peaceful coastal ambiance, scenic vistas of Frenchman Bay, and access to attractions like the “Quiest Side of Acadia” on the Schoodic Peninsula.
  • Machias/Machiasport: Machiasport appeals to nature lovers with its pristine coastline, wildlife viewing opportunities, and historic sites like Fort O’Brien State Historic Site.
  • Lubec: The easternmost point in the United States enchants visitors with its rugged coastline, historic downtown, and access to attractions like West Quoddy Head Light and Roosevelt Campobello International Park.
  • Eastport: Eastport boasts a rich maritime history, vibrant arts community, and scenic waterfront, with attractions like Quoddy Head State Park and the Tides Institute & Museum of Art.
  • Calais(“kal-ISS”): Calais offers a charming downtown area, historic architecture, and access to outdoor recreational activities along the St. Croix River and nearby Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.

You will need a passport if you plan to cross the Canadian border.

Must-See Spots Downeast

This region offers the most dramatic coastal views and tidal activity. From secluded hikes to the heart of Acadia, you won’t run out of things to do. We’ll narrow it down to the Top 5 Things to Do Downeast.

Get reservations to take your car up to Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park for the sunrise. These are only offered from late April through November. Otherwise, you can hike up it in the winter. While you’re at Acadia, put Jordan Pond, Otter Cliffs, Sand Beach, and Bass Harbor Lighthouse (sunsets are stunning) on your list. If you’re looking for one of the most challenging hikes nationwide, head for the Precipice Trail.

Your Acadia National Park pass will get you into the Schoodic Peninsula side, where Schoodic Point showcases the true power of waves against rocks. You can also hike up Schoodic Head to get a view from the top of the cliffs.

Cutler Coast Public Land might be the most rugged hike and scramble you can take in all of Maine outside of Mt. Katahdin. Plus, late summer brings wild blueberries growing in abundance. Save the money on whale watching tours and see the majestic creatures from the shoreline here.

Take a drive to Quoddy Head State Park, where the lighthouse, gift shop, and more coastline await. As the easternmost point, you can snap a few photos for Instagram and then head to the easternmost city in the U.S., where a buoy in Eastport rivals that of Key West’s southernmost buoy.

Nordic Heritage Center -Presque Isle
Nordic Heritage Center | photo via visitaroostook

Aroostook

The “Crown of Maine” is the largest county. While its proper name is Aroostook (“uh-ROOSE-tik”) County, everyone refers to it as “The County.” I don’t want to mislead anyone – you’ll need to be outdoorsy to enjoy all that this wild landscape has to offer.

It’s home to the infamous Allasash Wilderness Waterway, the heart of Acadian culture, and exponentially more moose than people.

Aroostook Maine History

The county holds historical, ecological, and even anthropological importance. Several iterations of Indigenous people date back as early as 9500 B.C. The Red Paint People and Wabanaki tribes were the two most prominent.

The land along the St. John’s River was long fought over when settlers arrived. The late 1700s brought the surge of Acadians settling into the region, descendants of whom still live there today and carry out the traditions. The land was fertile, trees were abundant, and the fishing was good. After several conflicts, including the “Pork and Beans War,” Aroostook County was created in 1839–its borders were not clearly defined until 1842.

While forts Fairfield and Kent were built to protect against the ongoing border boundary, Aroostook County was thriving with potatoes and logging.

Acadian culture’s footprint is more prominent in the St. John Valley, with many people still speaking French.

Do I need to know French to enjoy Aroostook County?: No. In fact, even if you know traditional French, the Acadia dialect might leave you a little confused anyway. People here also speak English.

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway rose to fame when Henry David Thoreau chronicled his trip from Chamberlain Lake to Allagash in 1853. His book “The Maine Woods” catapulted the preservation effort of the waterway, which is now a Wild & Scenic River.

Cities of Aroostook

Once you understand the agricultural and logging significance of The County, it makes sense why the population is just 67,000 people even though it’s one of the largest counties in the nation.

The county could fit Rhode Island and Connecticut inside its boundaries yet has just two cities and 54 towns, with some plantations and townships scattered throughout. Unlike the Midcoast, which has a dizzying number of options, Aroostook County offers a handful of places.

Bring your passport, as many cities here have a Canadian counterpart, and everyone is friendly now after years of boundary battles.

Fort Fairfield and Fort Kent both were built during the Aroostook War. That led to population centers growing around them. Fort Kent is also the northern terminus of Route 1 that goes to Key West.

Houlton is one of the most visited cities as it sits at the northern end of I-95, which goes all the way south to Miami. The historical downtown is as charming as it is welcoming. Houlton serves as the county seat even though Presque Isle (“press-klye”) is the larger city.

Caribou sits about 10 miles east of Presque Isle. Settled in the 1810s, Caribou became a hub for the potato and lumber industries due to its location on the Aroostook River.

Madawaska easily made our list of Maine Towns to Visit Before You Die for its stronghold and devotion to Acadian culture, both present and past. It sits south of the St. John River and offers easy access to Long Lake of St. Agatha (“san uh-gaht”). This region is popular with fishing and ice fishing.

Allagash is about as far west as you’ll go in the county before the road runs to gravel and eventually nothing but wilderness and thick forests. While the Allagash Wilderness Waterway’s 92-mile length starts in the Maine Highlands, it ends in Allagash. Because of the Wild & Scenic River designation, no roads exist along the river.

Must-See Spots in Aroostook

Plan an Aroostook County itinerary through the Acadian Village and other historical markers, including the spot where expelled Acadians crossed over the river. Sample Acadian food favorites like poutine and ployes while you’re there.

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is as iconic as any lighthouse or mountain Maine, but it’s not for beginners. Guided tours can take you on a two-day or two-week adventure down raging rapids surrounded by raw, primal wilderness.

Winter visitors need to seize the season for the extensive snowmobile trails. This region can get up to 100 inches of snow or more each year, so check out Quoggy Jo and Bigrock for skiing or places like Aroostook State Park, which has 15 groomed miles for cross-country skiing.

A trip to Aroostook County is ideal when paired with one of the big festivals, the annual Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Races, the County Potato Blossom Festival, or the Acadian Festival. Several scenic byways run through The County, with fall foliage peaking around early October.

Baxter State Park-Piscataquis County
Baxter State Park | photo via narrow.road.family

Highlands

The Maine Highlands describes the overall elevated, climatically distinct, geographically isolated and rugged northernmost part of the state.

However, specific regions within the Highlands range from populated places like Bangor to the most remote part of Maine in Baxter State Park in the shadow of the state’s tallest peak.

Highlands Maine History

The Maine Highlands contains some of the oldest mountains on earth, formed up to 400 million years ago. Native peoples like the Penobscot and Maliseet tribes traversed the region’s many rivers and lakes to hunt, fish, and trade for thousands of years.

The area remained untouched by European settlers for longer than coastal parts of Maine due to its rugged wilderness terrain and severe winters. The logging industry started in the 1800s, using the powerful waterways to transport logs.

Adventures documented by people like Thoreau popularized the region, creating an outdoor destination for sporting paradises teeming with fish and game. Tourism slowly grew.

Today, much of the million-acre Maine Highlands is conserved public land with sustainable forestry. It retains its remote, rugged character and boreal habitat while harboring wildlife, rivers, and mountains, making it a uniquely northern biome within Maine.

Subregions of the Maine Highlands

Five distinct subregions round out the Highlands, ranked in order of most urban to most remote.

  1. Greater Bangor: The urban hub of the Highlands, Bangor boasts vibrant arts, culture, and history. Explore museums, catch a concert, or stroll through waterfront parks. Bangor was also home to Stephen King during his rise to horror novel fame.
  2. Sebasticook Valley Region: Rolling hills, farmland, and historic towns like Pittsfield and Waterville define this region. Savor local farm-to-table cuisine and explore heritage sites.
  3. Lincoln Lakes Region: Dotted with charming towns like Lincoln and Topsham with dozens of serene lakes throughout, this is a hunting habitat. Enjoy watersports, wildlife watching, and winter activities like snowmobiling.
  4. Moosehead Lake Region: Centered around the state’s largest lake, Moosehead. This region offers boating, fishing, and scenic drives. The southern end of the lake is home to Greenville, an idyllic mountain community.
  5. Katahdin Region (“kuh-TAH-din”): Home to majestic Mount Katahdin, Baxter State Park, and Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, this is a pristine wilderness with some of the darkest night skies in the country.

Must-See Spots in the Maine Highlands

Bangor is the third-largest population center of Maine and is globally known for its connection to Stephen King. Fans can take a photo in front of his former home, now a writer’s retreat, or hunt down the iconic locations mentioned in books or seen in movies. Beyond that, Bangor blends urban appeal, history, and rugged outdoor appeal as the last big city before hundreds of miles of raw wilderness.

Moosehead Lake makes a perfect lake trip for those who don’t want to go TOO far into the woods. Greenville offers historical inns for housing, and you can take a boat ride over to Mount Kineo Start Park from Rockwood. Trails surround the lake, giving you plenty of ways to explore Maine’s largest lake or head deep into the woods to the B52 Crash Memorial.

Baxter State Park is like no other, and that’s by design. Named after the former governor, Percival C. Baxter, this park is more about protecting wilderness than visitors enjoying it. Experienced hikers can summit Mount Katahdin at 5,270 feet.

Within Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness is Gulf Hagas, the “Grand Canyon of the East.” This challenging hike through dense forests and steep drops rewards adventurers with stunning waterfalls and untouched natural beauty.

Rangeley, ME
Rangeley | photo via johnnyvacay

Lake & Mountains

Head to western Maine for the sensational skiing, scenic vistas, and listening to loons on the lake. You could also consider it the Hallmark region, as every downtown seems to make you want to quit your big city job and fall in love with a Christmas tree farm owner.

This region lays claim to the popular-with-Portlanders Sebago Lake, steepled-sweetened Bethel, and the rugged beauty of Rangeley seen from the Height of Land.

Maine Lakes & Mountains History

History here plays the same as most regions – first the Indigenous tribes of the Abeknaki lived for thousands of years. Settlers came in the 1800s for recreational activities that gave them economic boosts, like fishing, hunting, farming, and logging.

In the 1840s-1860s, stories of abundant fishing circulated, drawing men and women to the sport. Luxurious hotels like the Rangeley Lake Hotel catered to elite urban anglers arriving first by stagecoach, soon followed by the railroads in the 1890s.

Down in Bethel, the late 1800s brought artists seeking inspiration and finding a wealth of it through the Sunday River and mountain scenery of the White Mountains.

The mid-1900s brought locals to carve a spot in the mountains for skiing. This region boasts three of the best in the state – Sunday River, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf.

Cities of Maine’s Lakes & Mountains

An ideal aspect of this region comes with the opportunities to get closer to nature without going full wilderness while still offering those backcountry behemoth trails like the Appalachian Trail through Grafton Notch. Waterfalls are another staple of this four-season designation.

Some of the top cities and towns are:

  • Casco: While just one of several towns that surround Sebago Lake, this is home to the state park. Book your campsites here early. They sell out quickly.
  • Bridgton: Bridgton combines small-town rural character with outstanding four-season recreational opportunities for visitors and residents, including Pleasant Mountain Ski Area.
  • Lewiston: The second-largest city in Maine is largely unknown to newcomers. The Androscoggin River separates the town from Auburn, but easy footpaths allow easy access. A wealth of industrial history is here, too.
  • Rumford: The Swift River meets the Androscoggin here, with another quaint downtown and Black Mountain of Maine ski resort nearby.
  • Bethel/Newry: This area sparkles a little differently, thanks to the gem and mineral-rich lands of the Androscoggin Valley. Swimming holes, Sunday River skiing, waterfalls, and epic hiking trails make Bethel the perfect base camp.
  • Rangeley: This could be a separate region of its own, with several lakes, including the namesake Rangeley Lake and Mooselookmeguntic Lake.

Must-See Spots in Maine’s Lakes & Mountains

When you visit Sebago Lake, make time for a detour to Sabbathday Lake, where the Shaker Village stands as the only active one of its kind left in the country. The communal living of a righteous life free of debt and descendants is showcased through museums and services.

Fall is the best time for a scenic drive, but any time of year brings stunning vistas from Evans Notch, Grafton Notch, and the famous Height of Land in Rangeley–one of the best views across New England. Take the 52 miles of the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway for the best views of land and moose.

Rangeley is also close to Saddleback and Sugarloaf, with an additional option to explore Biglow Preserve above Flagstaff Lake, where the A.T. walks the ridgeline.

Head to Sunday River for four seasons of fun while visiting Bethel, and don’t miss a summer dip at Frenchman’s Hole. If you’re looking for a more secluded spot, track down the trail map to Rattlesnake Pool’s series of waterfalls. Don’t be scared by that name; there are no venomous snakes in Maine.

Mashoosuc Public Preserved Land covers nearly 10,000 acres of gorges, waterfalls, mountains, and trails. It’s as popular on a snowmobile in the dead of winter as it is on a perfect summer day.

Fall visitors should put the Fryeburg Fair on the Maine itinerary. It’s the largest in the state and surrounded by the beauty of the Lakes & Mountains scenery.

Kennebec Valley

Carving a path from Canada to just south of Augusta, the Kennebec Valley follows the Kennebec River. Not to be confused with the Kennebunk River on the Southern Coast. The Kennebec leads to Midcoast Maine waters.

Kennebec Valley fits nicely between the Maine Highlands and Mountains & Lakes regions.

Kennebec Valley - Maine
Kennebec Valley | photo via @maineoutdooradventures

Kennebec Valley Maine History

For millennia, the Kennebec River was used for transportation. When settlers arrived, that led to industrial growth, with mills popping up on its mighty banks, with paper and pulp being the main products.

Ice was another novelty harvested from the frigid region before being shipped from the coast to places that didn’t have the “luxury” of below-freezing temperatures.

However, it was a military expedition during the Revolutionary War that the Kennebec River is most known for. In a feat as daring as me asking 1,000 of you randomly to come into the unknown wilderness to fight Canada, the group traveled through the unchartered landscape, facing rapids, waterfalls, swamps, portages, and winter nights.

While the mission was a massive failure, the knowledge of the Kennebec led to the vital supply line being established.

By the way, the leader of that group was hailed a hero for bravery. Yet jealousy, love, and greed took over during the next four years. History would go on to know him as the epitome of a traitor. It was none other than Benedict Arnold.

Cities of Kennebec Valley

Unlike some other inland regions of Maine, following the cities of this region is as easy as following the river.

The Kennebec flows out of Moosehead Lake, where the “valley” begins. It crosses into Forks, where it meets with the Dead River (which then goes on to the Mountains & Lakes Region). The small town brings BIG recreational opportunities, with some of the best whitewater rafting on much more digestible distances than the remote Allagash.

Eventually, it reaches Bingham, known as being the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole.

Skowhegan and Waterville are also milestones on the river’s run to the coast. Waterville brings a college town with artistic charm without sacrificing the natural beauty of the region. What industry was left behind, these cities are trying to revitalize for a new era of visitors and residents.

The next major stop is the state capital of Augusta, which brings more museums and modern amenities than it might have without the legislative headquarters of the state.

The final length of the river enters the Midcoast, where it runs through Bath before connecting to the ocean near Popham Beach.

Must-See Spots in Kennebeck Valley

Fort Western in Augusta is a gimme for summer visitors. This living museum highlights the life of a soldier during the French & Indian War from the mid-1700s. The Maine State Museum is also a highlight, but check the renovation schedule as it might be into 2025 before it opens again.

Moxie Falls in the Forks is an easy-to-access waterfall that is one of the tallest in New England. Forks is also a base camp for rafting and other outdoor activities across the valley. If you want to raft the challenging Dead River, there are only eight times a year the activity is peak. Plan ahead.

To answer the eternal question, “Where can I see a moose in Maine?” Jackman is one of the best answers. As part of the Moose River Valley, this is a remote and unplugged area where you learn more about the community at the local gas station than any internet research will display. Take a moose safari to enjoy the experience without worrying too much about safety.

Old Orchard Beach Dog
Old Orchard Beach

8 Uniquely Maine Regions

That’s a lot to take in, and it’s likely why so many visitors to Maine are return visitors or end up moving there. On top of that, these communities run generations deep, offering knowledge of the landscapes you can’t get from a plastic map.

Do your best not to stand out as a tourist and learn some of the local lingo to experience as much of Maine life as possible.

Finally, there are a lot of Long Lakes in Maine. We’ve counted at least half a dozen. While the average Mainer won’t speak in terms of tourist regions, they will know the county locations of the best places to visit.

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