Fort Kent Maine brings its own “joie de vivre” (joyful spirit) to its northern nook. As one of the northernmost towns in Maine and home to America’s first mile on Route 1, it piques your interest at first glance.
It’s the idiosyncracies of Fort Kent that lure you in. The first mile of America that runs all the way to Key West? It runs north out of town. The most popular skiing sport with a global audience? Professional athletes bring their guns.
And, fishing fanatics here catch “the big one,” larger than most household pets. Even the “Fort” of Fort Kent was built for a war that never saw any bloodshed, and a wild grizzly bear got the most combat time.
Fort Kent effortlessly blends Canadian culture with French accouterments with a dash of outdoor adventures you just can’t get in your hometown. But, you’ll need to know a few words to acclimate to the culture:
- Muskie — Shortened from the full name Muskellunge, Muskies are an elusive and challenging North American pike (Esox masquinongy) that has dark markings and may weigh over 60 pounds.
- Ploye — This Fort Kent staple food is a “thin buckwheat pancake, similar to a crepe, cooked on one side.” It rhymes with “boys” and can be served with any meal as bread or a pancake-type breakfast.
- Aroostook Bloodless War — Also known as the Pork & Beans War or the Madawaska War, which was a boundary dispute between Canada and Maine in the late 1830s, it was “bloodless” because no combat deaths were reported.
- The County — This phrase is a reference to Aroostook County.
- The Valley — This term is a shortened reference to the St. John’s River Valley.
Now, let’s head north to the top corner of New England to explore what makes Fort Kent so unique.
Outdoor Things to Do in Fort Kent Maine
If you love all four seasons, Fort Kent offers super-sized versions of every option. History, recreation, and competition abound here.
Walk America’s First Mile
A historical marker stands at the beginning of Route 1, which was built in 1926 to be a major north/south route as part of the newly unveiled U.S. Highway System. Walk the 1-mile trail downtown to get familiar with the town.
You could stay on this road for about 2,400 miles and end up in front of the Key West City Marina, but there’s far too much to see in Fort Kent.
Set Your Sights on Skiing
Another bonus of visiting Fort Kent is that the closest Maine ski area is less than 1 mile from downtown. As the northernmost ski area in Maine, the Lonesome Pine Trails offer alpine skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.
Rentals are available. With nearly seven months of snowfall, there’s a great spot waiting for you on the slopes.
Try Even More Trails
When it comes to trails, you can’t beat the Fort Kent Outdoor Center in any season. Some of the premier biathlon athletes train here, but even beginners can explore the trails that suit all fitness levels.
Ski and snowshoe trails are available in winter, while foot trails in the summer will give you a great sample of Northern Maine outdoors. Rollerskating and biking trails have been added with nighttime trail availability too.
Visit During a Biathlon
The biathlon has been an Olympic sport since 1960, and the women’s competition was added in 1992. These events are usually held in late January or February.
Walk Along the Border
The Fort Kent Riverside Trail System spans nearly 4 miles with half a dozen options along the St. John and/or Fish Rivers. Murals, playgrounds, and restrooms are along the path(s). You can walk the levee, circle an island, or visit several parks along the Crocker Beach Trail.
Glide Through on a Canoe
Fort Kent is the end of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail that runs 700 miles. You could start in New York if you wanted to and paddle your way here! Even dogs are welcome on the canoe trail.
See the Sled Dogs
Thinking of visiting Fort Kent Maine in late winter might make you shiver, but dog lovers shouldn’t miss a chance to see the annual Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races headquartered in Fort Kent.
The race goes for 250 miles through Northern Maine. Book early for this early March event because rooms sell out quickly.
TIP: Ask at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center if skijoring is available while you are there. This is a mix of skiing and dogsledding, where a dog pulls you along the snowy path. Even if you don’t have your own dog, you can usually rent one for the trails.
Ride the Backroads
The trails of Aroostook County and St. John’s Valley are made for exploring by ATV or snowmobile. In fact, snowmobiling is so popular that most restaurants offer special parking for recreational vehicles.
Whether you want to ride the deep snow or charge through rugged terrain, the Fort Kent SnoRiders Snowmobile Club or the Valley ATV Riders can help you find the right permits, trails, and techniques in this vast region.
Indoor Things to Do in Fort Kent Maine
In a region dedicated to the outdoors, finding indoor activities isn’t easy. We’ve rounded up a few for you.
See the Blockhouse of the Bloodless War
A fascinating and easy stop where the Fish River and St. John River meet is the Fort Kent Blockhouse. The fort is open in the summer for tours with a museum inside.
Slightly perched above the rest of this land, it would’ve been a great fort had there ever actually been a war. A grizzly bear took the brunt of the “Bloodless War”, as told by the New England Historical Society:
“American woodcutters spotted New Brunswick lumbermen cutting down trees on an American’s estate. The American woodcutters rushed to stand guard, and a shouting match ensued. The lumbermen drew arms and prepared to fire, but a black bear attacked three New Brunswickers. The New Brunswickers shot and killed the bear, but the Americans thought they were being fired at. They fired at the fleeing New Brunswickers – and missed.”
Head Toward More History
The Fort Kent Historical Society has more history with several buildings that you can explore. One of the original Acadian log houses from the 1830s is on display, along with the train station and a visitor’s center.
The buildings are newly remodeled while still being preserved, giving you an opportunity to see the latest historical photos and artifacts of this significant slice of history.
Drive a Scenic Byway
Since you’re technically inside a car, we have to get liberal with the “indoors” definition for this one. However, the St. John Valley/Fish River National Scenic Byway offers a fascinating look at nature and history no matter how you classify the activity. Fort Kent is one of the cities on the 134-mile drive.
More Attractions Near Fort Kent Maine
When visiting The County, it’s important to understand that “nearby” could be anywhere from one to four (or more) hours away. Despite that, there are some fantastic adventures that are well worth the trip!
Canada, You Betcha
Most Fort Kent residents hold dual citizenship to Canada, so crossing the border into New Brunswick is common. The border town of Clair is more rural. However, just 10 miles north, you’re in the village of Lac Baker, which opens the door to more four-season activities.
PASSPORT RULES: You’ll need a passport to get into Canada, and you can check the other requirements on the Canada Border Services Agency website.
Adventures in Allagash
We talked a lot earlier about trails that are near Fort Kent, but when you want to get the quintessential Northern Maine experience, nothing compares to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
This 92-mile trail is the same one Henry David Thorough took in an 1857 exploration. The town of Allagash is just 30 miles east of Fort Kent, with outfitters ready to plan your perfect trip.
Make Your Way to Madawaska
Twenty miles east of Fort Kent is the heartbeat of Acadian culture in Madawaska. It’s also a border town with a more lively Canadian counterpart across the St. John River.
The town of Edmundston (NOT Edmonton, which is a much larger city 2,600 miles away) offers more culture, recreation, and even a casino.
Find a Massive Muskie
Why are muskies so hard to catch? These freshwater apex predators are smart enough to outmaneuver most bait, and what their instincts don’t catch, their sharp, multi-layered and large teeth can take care of on a fishing line. Like most apex predators, they prefer to be alone, making it harder for anglers to spot them.
Restaurants in Fort Kent Maine
Dining in Fort Kent offers hearty portions and an international scope of menu items for every meal.
Sami’s Cuisine & Cocktails
Sami’s Cuisine & Cocktails made a much-anticipated opening in 2022 with Asian flavors mixed with Maine favorites. The restaurant is run by an owner who escaped the communist country of Laos as a child and says she is now living her American dream.
Menu items range from comfort food to pasta to Asian dishes, and there’s a specialty drink menu that covers multi-continental cocktails.
The Swamp Buck
Dive into the diverse menu of The Swamp Buck with burgers, beef cuts, poultry, and seafood teamed up with a robust list of appetizers. Try the poutine, which is a popular dish in the French-Canadian culture of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.
This local favorite is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Ample parking for snowmobilers is available.
Another newer eatery in Fort Kent, 47 North is a blend of sophistication and comfort. The menu changes weekly, and what it lacks in the number of menu items it makes up for in flavor and creativity.
Rock’s Family Diner
Opened in 1945, Rock’s Family Diner has an overwhelming demand for its homemade whoopie pies. The restaurant makes traditional, chocolate chip, chocolate with peanut butter, and pumpkin varieties. Did we mention this is one of the best places to get breakfast in Fort Kent?
Where to Stay in Fort Kent Maine
Whether you want a campsite, cabin, or hotel accommodation, Fort Kent has several options to consider.
Northern Door Inn
Stay where it all started, at the beginning of America’s first mile. The Northern Door Inn is right across from the Canadian crossing. The hotel offers basic accommodations but has flatscreen TVs, air-conditioning, and free breakfast daily.
NOTE: This is the only traditional hotel in Fort Kent.
Whispering Falls Camp & Campground
Find a spot on the Fish River at Whispering Falls Camp and Campground. Tents sites and cabins are available, but it’s the amenities that truly make this place special. You can rent a kayak or canoe to drop into the Fish River or walk downstream to see the stunning Fish River Falls.
Visitors should know that many cabin sites are designed to be in the wild, near hunting areas, or along snowmobile/ATV trails. Such is the case at Crossroad Cabins.
The Pelletier family members are the Rockefellers of this part of Maine, rich in knowledge and landscape. They offer guided tours for hunting and snowmobiling.
TIP: If you want to see a moose near Fort Kent, ask the owner Kevin. He’s known as the “Moose Whisperer” in The County.
Other Cabin Options in Fort Kent include:
Feel Right at Home in Fort Kent
Even home rentals are hard to come by in Fort Kent, but when you have a luxury four-bedroom home option, how many more do you need? This four-bedroom home minutes from Fort Kent gives you a big home instead of a cozy cabin. Recreational trails are just 300 feet from the back door!
More About Fort Kent Maine
Fort Kent’s settlement history dates back to the early 1800s, but Indigenous tribes lived off this land for years before their arrival.
Originally built as a fort to defend against British attacks during the Aroostook War, Fort Kent later became an important stop along the route for logging companies transporting timber down the Saint John River.
As with most towns near the border, it has a strong cultural connection to the Acadian lifestyle because French settlers sought refuge here when they were kicked out of Canada. Today, the culture of Fort Kent is heavily influenced by its proximity to Quebec and its French roots.
Fort Kent Maine Seasons
Winter gets pretty cold in this part of Maine, and the sled dog races and biathlons need the nearly 8 feet of snow that Fort Kent averages in a year. From December through February, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a day that gets above freezing.
What you might consider spring in March and April is actually the Mud Season here thanks to the melting snow that saturates the ground. Springtime can also bring flooding along the river banks. Some parts of Fort Kent habitually flood in the spring.
Average summer highs won’t reach the upper 70s on most days. And, fall foliage is simply stunning here, with the height of colorful explosions among the trees in late September and early October.
FAQs About Fort Kent Maine
What does Acadian culture mean?
The Acadians, exiled from eastern Canada in the 18th century, found refuge in Maine’s Saint John Valley.
Though generations have passed, the Acadian culture still thrives through traditions like gathering for communal meals of ployes and poutine and tight-knit communities.
Another group of Acadians was banished to Louisiana, which developed into the Cajun culture that the state is famous for today.
“There is a sacredness about life that they have, and they hold on to, that it’s beautiful. It’s expressed in a different way than it was in 1919, but there’s that duality that I think it’s very well focused, and that serves the Acadians in the Valley very well. The identity? There’s a pride to being Acadian.”Jacques LaPointe, priest and Acadian history author
Do I need to speak French in Fort Kent?
Visitors speaking English won’t run into a language barrier while visiting Fort Kent.
More than half of the residents speak French, and there might be dialect differences in the French that you learned in high school because of the Acadian form of speech.
Even if someone speaks French as a first language, you will still find that tourism-based locations also speak English. Signs and brochures will usually be in English and French.
What is the closest commercial airport to Fort Kent?
The Presque Isle International Airport is about an hour southeast of Fort Kent with limited commercial flights. Bangor (Bang-OR, not BANG-er) International Airport sits about 2.5 hours south.
If you’re taking the beautiful road trip from the coast to Canada, you can get to and from the Portland International Jetport in five hours.
Discover the Recreation & Culture of Fort Kent Maine
Anyone looking for an authentic experience off the beaten path will find Fort Kent in Maine’s Aroostook County worth the trek. This remote outpost snuggled against the Canadian border has a vibe all its own — the kind that can only come from generations living in tune with the rugged land.
When you truly want to unplug and explore beyond the Canadian boundary, you can make this an international trip with an expanse of trails that roll through rivers and wilderness.
If you long to experience a way of life that hearkens back to a simpler time, make the journey up to Fort Kent Maine. You’ll soon see why its residents are so proud to call this little corner of the world their own.