There are countless reasons why Maine has affectionately become known as “Vacationland.” For some, it’s the long drives up the East Coast to the Lobster Festival. For others, the state is a home away from home and a place to connect with loved ones. Another reason is the Maine national parks.
If you’re planning a trip to the Pine Tree State, curious about national parks in Maine, or just looking for some travel inspiration for your next outdoor getaway, keep on reading to find out more about some of the most beautiful and historic parks in the United States.
Acadia National Park
For the sake of clarity, Acadia is the only congressionally designated national park in Maine. Acadia National Park is the crown jewel of natural beauty in not only Maine but also all of New England.
About Acadia National Park
This pristine 27 miles of forests, hills, and coastline is one of the most iconic spots in the state offering spectacular views and a myriad of recreational opportunities. As such, Acadia National Park attracts an average of 3.5 million visitors every year.
Supposedly named after the mountainous expanses of the Arcadia region in Greece, Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano christened the area during his expedition in the Atlantic Northeast in the early 17th century.
After that, the French kept the name Acadia as they began colonizing the area. The Maine national park wasn’t officially given the name in 1929, though.
Located southwest of Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park includes 47,000 acres along the North Atlantic rocky coastline, most of which are on Mount Desert Island, a section of Schoodac Penninsula, and numerous small islands between them.
Things to Do at Acadia National Park
Adventurers and outdoorsy people will find more than enough to stay entertained between the 158 miles of hiking trails and four amazing campsites. Plus, there’s plenty of wildlife viewing and some beachcombing opportunities.
Nature lovers will rejoice at the sight of foxes, mink, falcons, and even the occasional moose. Of course, another large mammal you always have a very, very small chance of encountering is the black bear.
Every couple of years, guests report black bear sightings at the park. Also, Acadia is known to issue a black bear advisory every now and then. These occurrences are extremely rare, though.
Because black bears are very shy, they do everything they can to avoid human contact. In fact, the animals stay as far away from hiking trails as they can.
Since Acadia is dog-friendly and the bears associate dogs with people, it’s another reason for them to stay away. So, feel free to leave that bear spray at home, and enjoy your bear-free mountain adventure!
Cadillac Mountain Summit
In addition to the amazing selection of wildlife, this massive national park offers some of the most diverse variety of landscapes that you’ll find anywhere in the Northeast. One of Acadia’s most popular spots, which you absolutely cannot afford to miss, is Cadillac Mountain.
Not only is this breathtaking summit the tallest in Acadia, but it’s the tallest on the entire North Atlantic coast. It should go without saying that the views from here are immaculate.
As you plan your trek up Cadillac Mountain, make sure that you take into account that it’s the only site in Acadia that you can reach by car. While it’s tempting to take a leisurely drive up the mountain, keep in mind that this site’s easy accessibility also draws major crowds and congestion.
So, while you could do Cadillac on your own time, it might be better to set an early alarm to drive up first thing in the morning to beat the crowds before seeing the rest of the park.
Getting ahead of the tourists will save you a ton of time and allow you to catch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain — one of the most stunning and picturesque views you’ve ever seen. You can always pack a coffee thermos to help you recover from your early wake-up!
Acadia Sand Beach
After catching the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, the rest of Acadia National Park is your oyster. Speaking of oysters, Acadia’s Sand Beach provides one of the best ocean views in the park, and much of the sand is actually shattered fragments of seashells.
Other than that, Otter Cliff and the nearby Thunder Hole — an unusual natural phenomenon that causes thunderclaps each time the tide crashes against it — are some of the other most popular sites in Acadia.
Beehive Loop Trail
If you’re looking for a more challenging hike than the one to the Cadillac Mountain summit, you should take the journey up the Beehive Loop Trail. While it’s a slightly more difficult hike, it provides an equally beautiful and scenic view.
The walk-up filters out a lot of the tourists who would otherwise be competing with you for the best vantage points for photo ops.
Inns & Campgrounds
While it’s possible to explore much of Acadia National Park on a day trip, a lot of people insist that you need two or three days to truly experience all that the park has to offer.
From romantic getaways, adorable bed and breakfasts, budget hotels, and everything in between, Bar Harbor and Acadia have tons of great places to accommodate the huge number of tourists they receive every year.
The Inn on Mount Desert consistently ranks among the best places to stay in the park. One look at its quaint New England charm should make it obvious why. The Primrose and the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel are two other iconic destinations a stone’s throw away from Acadia.
Of course, if you want to truly become one with nature and embrace your inner adventurer, you can always stay at one of Acadia’s four campgrounds. While all of them provide the amazing outdoor experience you’re craving, most visitors seem to say that the Blackwoods Campground has the best location.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a massive 2,180-mile-long mountain footpath stretching from Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia to Mount Katahdin Maine. Hiking this journey is a seasoned hiker’s dream, but if you don’t have the time (or stamina) for the journey, the Maine portion is fulfilling enough.
About the Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Even if the Appalachian Trail shows up in a Google search for “National parks near me,” it technically isn’t one. It’s a national scenic trail, which means that it’s still managed by the National Park Service.
Although scenic trails and parks are distinctly different, that doesn’t make this spot any less deserving of your visit.
Things to Do Along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,000+ miles, many hikers consider the 281 miles in Maine to be some of the most difficult and treacherous. However, skipping it because of its difficulty is a real shame since you would be missing what is also the wildest and most exciting stretch.
There’s a diverse variety of wildlife that you can observe along the Appalachian Trail. The relative lack of crowds and human presence means that there’s a better chance of an up-close encounter. So, if you didn’t have a moose sighting in Acadia National Park, your odds are better here.
Mahoosuc Notch Trail
If you’re up for the challenge, the Appalachian Trail’s stretch known as the Mahoosuc Notch would be happy to oblige. There are plenty of leisurely walks on this journey, but you definitely won’t find those here. You’ll use every muscle in your body taking on the steep inclines, and you’ll work up much more of a sweat than you ever thought possible on a trail.
Mount Katahdin Summit
Alternatively, the hike up Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park provides a just as rewarding hike without the intense workout. Because of its location at the northern tip of the Appalachian Trail, many people begin their journeys to Georgia here, so you’re likely to come across more than a few fellow hikers.
While it takes about eight to 12 hours to complete the hike up and down the mountain, the climb is relatively consistent (albeit, consistently strenuous). If you have time to spare and aren’t in a rush to finish your hike, you can also stay overnight at one of Mount Katahdin’s campsites.
The Hundred-Mile Wilderness
Another popular journey on Maine’s section of the Appalachian Trail is a 100-mile-long stretch affectionately — although a bit uncreatively — known as the Hundred-Mile Wilderness.
Remember the terrific wildlife on the Appalachian Trail that we mentioned? This is the place to find it. Because the Hundred-Mile Wilderness begins just south of Baxter State Park, it’s the perfect way to continue your journey and bump the difficulty level of your hike.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
After you have finished braving some of Maine’s challenging stretch of the Appalachian Trail, consider visiting the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. This national reserve is an easy 1-hour drive from the visitor center at Baxter State Park by way of Katahdin Loop Road, which is an incredibly beautiful journey in itself.
About the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
The youngest National Park Service site on this list, entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby began purchasing the lands that make up this national monument in 2001 with the intent of them becoming a national park.
Fifteen years later on Aug. 24, 2016 — the eve of the National Park Service’s centennial — President Obama declared the 87,563 acres a national monument, preserving and protecting them and their natural beauty.
Of course, even though the national monument itself isn’t even 10 years old, the areas surrounding Mount Katahdin have attracted the attention of travelers and explorers for centuries.
Even poet Henry David Thoreau immortalized them in his work “The Maine Woods,” in which he famously said:
“The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there.”
Whether or not these claims are true, you may just have to see for yourself!
Things to Do at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
These 137 square miles of secluded brooks, rivers, trees, mountains, and streams promise visitors an intimate and memorable immersion into nature whatever the season.
Whether you’re after winter sports — snowshoeing or skiing — taking advantage of Maine’s hunting season in the fall, or just adding a leisurely hike or bike ride to your family’s spring or summer trip to Maine, few places are better than the Katahdin Woods and Waters.
Highlights & Lodging
How much time you need to spend in this Maine national park is completely up to you. You can spend just a couple of hours quickly moving through the national monument and taking in the highlights. Or, you can spend a few days at a cabin or campsite while taking in nature at your own pace.
Either way, you can’t afford to miss the view and photo opportunity that Mount Katahdin provides. Should you choose to lodge here temporarily, the Mt. Chase Lodge and Big Moose Inn are two of the most popular spots that can accommodate you.
Maine Acadian Culture Area
Not to be confused with Acadia National Park above, the communities nestled in Northern Maine’s St. John Valley make up a unique area of the state known as the Maine Acadian Culture.
The National Park Service plays a large part in preserving and promoting the rural and proud Acadians of Northern Maine’s distinct culture. Thanks to its efforts, there are several ways for travelers like you to enjoy the Acadian lands firsthand.
About the Maine Acadian Culture Area
During much of the Colonial era, the territories that are now Maine were split between British and French settlers. Because of this, remnants of France’s Colonial legacy and cultural heritage can be found in Maine, and most of these are largely present among Maine’s Acadians in Aroostook County on the border of French Canada.
The differences between Maine’s Acadians and their Southern neighbors can be clearly seen in the locals’ culture and food. Most of Aroostook County’s residents are Roman Catholic, have French last names, and speak a North American variety of French.
Many visitors are also quick to note that a lot of Acadia’s culinary staples, such as ployes and cretons, are more similar to foods that you find in Quebec Canada than in Portland Maine.
Things to Do in the Maine Acadian Culture Area
The towns scattered around Aroostook County don’t offer the outdoorsy mountain adventures that you may be expecting from somewhere designated a National Park Service Site. But, the valley hills and winding Saint John River are some of the most beautiful parts of Northern Maine.
If you find yourself here in the summer months, Aroostook County has its own annual Summerfest. Also, the Acadian Festival in August consistently draws big crowds to the area.
Many locals insist that Acadia’s dense forests’ orchestra of colors in the fall is more beautiful than anywhere in the world. So, you don’t miss the chance for colorful photos.
As you might expect from somewhere so far north, winter is always full of fun things to do for those who can brave the cold. Ice skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and skiing are all popular options for tourists and locals alike.
No matter which month you decide to visit, you’re sure to have an incredible time enjoying the nature, cultural museums, and local hospitality. Just remember to eat as many ployes as you can before you leave.
Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
Located just a 1-hour drive from Roosevelt Campobello International Park, Saint Croix Island is a small, uninhabited island and another piece of France’s Colonial legacy in North America.
About the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
First charted by French explorer Pierre Dugua, this little island in the current between Maine and New Brunswick Canada represents one of France’s first attempts at settling the New World. The colony ultimately couldn’t last through the harsh winter.
Dugua’s crew would have met their end if not for the cooperation of Acadia’s natives. While those who survived the failed colony fled in the spring of 1605 for what is now Nova Scotia, the island’s historical significance is still well-remembered as a milestone in Europe’s history in the Americas.
The United States Congress designated the island Saint Croix Island National Monument in 1949. Then on Oct. 15, 1966, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Things to Do at the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
To preserve the island’s historical remains, people aren’t permitted to visit the island itself. Instead, guests are more than welcome to the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, which is on the mainland in Calais Maine.
From the visitor center, you can explore indoor displays that feature exhibits and artifacts from the time of the island’s discovery by Europeans. In addition, the park offers ranger-guided tours and an interpretive trail.
Historic Site Hopping
The Saint Croix historical site’s proximity to Campobello Island makes it very easy to see both on the same day. From there, you can visit some of Northern Maine’s other treasures too.
The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, for instance, offers exposure to some of the state’s most precious wildlife — bobcats, gray foxes, mink, and, of course, the ever-elusive moose.
Roosevelt Campobello International Park
While you may hear the term “national park” and think of Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president, the Roosevelt Campobello International Park is actually the summer home of the late Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the 32nd president and first lady.
About Roosevelt Campobello International Park
The shingle-style cottage on Campobello Island was completed in 1897 by New England architect William T. Sears. It was gifted to the newlywed Roosevelts in 1908 and where Franklin D. Roosevelt first discovered his polio at the age of 39.
After Franklin died in 1945 and then Eleanor in 1962, the house was jointly gifted to the American and Canadian governments. It has been administered as an international park ever since.
Because of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s illness — which paralyzed him from the waist down for the rest of his life — and his new responsibilities as president, he was only able to visit Campobello Island three times between taking office in 1932 and his death in 1945. His longest visit was in 1933.
Things to Do at Roosevelt Campobello International Park
The Roosevelt Cottage at the park still largely reflects exactly how it was in 1933. The former president’s office and bedroom are open to the public. Eleanor Roosevelt’s writing room and several other areas of the house are open as well.
Hiking and Picnicking
While the island is small, it’s very easy to spend a relaxing afternoon or even a full day on this Canadian island. After taking in the house’s rich history, there are 8 miles of hiking trails for you to explore.
Additionally, there are several picnic areas scattered throughout the island for you to enjoy a nice meal before setting sail off the island.
Experience the Pine State Beyond Maine National Parks
Whether you’re looking for your next mountain adventure, a romantic getaway, or the best way to see the Pine State’s famous natural beauty for yourself, Maine national parks are one of the best ways to experience Vacationland.
Of course, Maine has so much more to offer than just its parks (lobster, anyone?). If you need a little more inspiration planning your adventure or ideas on the best spots to hit, check out some of our other content for the best Maine tips out there!