Maine is an amazing state! There are many things to love about Maine, along with a few things to complain about. After living and exploring here for 2 years, I’ve come up with 14 Things to Expect When Visiting Maine.
1. A Million Chances to Explore Nature
Nature should be the number one reason for visiting Maine. The unbounded natural beauty this state holds is peaceful, idyllic, and waiting to be explored. Channel your inner Henry David Thoreau to reflectively admire and contemplate nature in Maine. Here’s a quote from “Maine Woods” to get you started:
“The spruce and cedar on its shores, hung with gray lichens, looked at a distance like the ghosts of trees. Ducks were sailing here and there on its surface, and a solitary loon, like a more living wave — a vital spot on the lake’s surface — laughed and frolicked, and showed its straight leg, for our amusement.”
Maine is the most forested state in the country at 90%! That means there are a TON of places to hike, explore, and enjoy nature. Here are some ideas to get you started.
2. No Moose
You may hear things about some elusive, magical creature referred to as a “moose.” I am here to dispel any rumors that this is a real, living animal. Do not expect to see one. For the love of all things that are good, certainly do not hope or dream to see one, unless you want those hopes and dreams smashed to a million pieces.
You may think I’m being dramatic, but there are over 60,000 moose in Maine. That’s the most in any state in the contiguous US. And it is basically impossible to catch a glimpse of one. Not only this, but to rub salt in a wound, the Maine Department of Transportation puts up millions of warnings and moose crossing signs all over the highways. They’re taunting us! If you come to Maine and see a moose, please contact me immediately with your location, and do not let said moose out of sight until I arrive to witness it in person. Seriously.
3. Hometown Businesses
If you’re a comfortable chain consumer, Maine is not the place for you. To me, the insane amount of local businesses (aka NOT chains) is one reason Maine is such a treat to explore. Every town has its own set of souvenir shops, restaurants, boutiques, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, bookstores, and more. These small businesses are the backbone to the unique charm of small towns littered across the state.
For example, Boothbay Harbor is a huge tourist destination in the summer. It’s impossible to find parking, hotels are super expensive, and the streets are overflowing with people – perfect for big corporations to gain some business. However, out of over 50 hotels/inns in the area, there are absolutely no chain hotels. To get a regular old Hampton or Holiday Inn, you’d have to drive about 40 minutes west to Bath. I love it – support local Maine!
4. Beautiful Scenery
This is a no-brainer. Maine’s scenery is one reason so many people come to vacation here in the summer. We have rocky coastlines, amazing mountains, and of course Acadia National Park helps out a bit. You can find awesome views in every region of the state. I found all of my favorite spots by either chance, or picking a random state or local park on the map and going there. The popular places are cool too, but they’re not everything!
Here’s something to consider when visiting those gorgeous scenes: put your phone away. Enjoy the view with your actual eyes, and not through a screen or lens. It saddens me when I go to awesome places on the coast and everyone is so worried about getting the best picture for Instagram that they end up spending the entire time on their phone.
5. Bad Drivers
Yes, yes, I know there are bad drivers everywhere. But, speaking from personal experience, I can confidently say that Maine has the worst. In my time extensively driving throughout many states in the US, I’ve noticed one fundamental difference between bad drivers in Maine and bad drivers elsewhere.
The majority of bad drivers elsewhere are bad because they’re intentional assholes on the road. They swerve in and out of traffic, tailgate slow-moving vehicles, cut people off – you know the kind. But in Maine, bad drivers are bad because they literally do not know the rules of driving. Merging onto the interstate is an absolute nightmare riddled with cars that completely stop in the acceleration lane before entering traffic. Driving 20 miles below the speed limit is common, and don’t even get me started on winter weather.
6. Lobsters Everywhere
To be honest, when I first moved to Maine, I had no idea how important lobsters were to the state. I was very uninformed. Well, it’s pretty apparent once you step foot across the New Hampshire border. You can order lobster at basically any restaurant in the state. McDonald’s even has lobster rolls in the summertime (pro tip: find a local spot on the coast to get a lobster roll, not McDonald’s. Please, not McDonald’s.)
Did you know lobster used to be a poor-man’s food? There were so many lobsters on shores throughout the Northeast that it was only fed to animals, prisoners, servants, and people who couldn’t afford anything else. This changed in the late 1800s when railroads started marketing lobsters as a delicacy to travelers who didn’t know the stigma they carried. This turned the market around for the now expensive and high-end seafood. Maine is the largest producer of lobster in the US. You won’t find fresher lobsters anywhere else!
7. Unpredictable Weather
Wind, rain, and ice – this is what Maine weather is all about. Obviously the ice is only in the winter months, but wind and rain happen all year long, baby! In all seriousness though, it’s smart to be prepared for changing weather when visiting Maine.
If you’re near the coast at all, I suggest always bringing a sweatshirt along unless it’s 90 degrees. The ocean does weird things. It has weather mood swings that will catch you off-guard if not prepared. Further inland, this isn’t such a concern. But, if you’re traveling from somewhere inland to the coast, expect different weather. It could be colder, windier, hotter, cloudier, sunnier, even raining – you really never know!
This year (2020) Maine is celebrating its Bicentennial, meaning it’s been a state for 200 years! Before it became a state in 1820, it was a district of the state of Massachusetts. There are old farmhouses and buildings all across the state from the 1700s that are still standing. Similar to other states in New England, it’s fascinating to walk around and picture people in the 1600-1700s living their lives with the same structures.
There are many places to learn more about specifics in Maine’s history, such as The Maine Historical Society, and other smaller historical societies and libraries across the state. Additionally, if you’d like to take part in the celebrations of Maine’s 200th birthday, look for events on the official Bicentennial website.
9. Amazing Food
All you have to do is google Portland, Maine restaurants to see how much notoriety the city has gotten for its “foodie” culture in recent years. There are an incredible number of places to eat ranging from high-end culinary to Vietnamese to seafood galore to anything you could ever want. It’s both fun and satisfying to explore the restaurant scene in Portland.
However, Portland is not the only place in Maine with good food! Brunswick, Kennebunk, Bangor, Bar Harbor, Lewiston, Belfast, and more all have some great places to dine. Some of my favorites outside of Portland are: Nautilus Seafood and Grill in Belfast, High Tide Restaurant and Bar in Brewer, Ports of Italy in both Boothbay Harbor and Kennebunk, and Orono Brewing Company in Orono.
10. Ticks and Mosquitoes
Remember #1 on this list? “A Million Chances to Explore Nature”? That lovely, beautiful, peaceful nature comes with a lot of ticks and mosquitoes. Lyme Disease is a serious concern throughout the state, so while visiting Maine you should be cautious both during and after adventuring outside.
Take these precautions to avoid tick bites when spending time in nature: 1. Wear long pants tucked into socks. 2. Use insect repellent with DEET or spray your clothes with Permethrin. 3. Check your entire body and all of your clothes for ticks within an hour of being outdoors. 4. Remove any attached tick with tweezers immediately if you find one. Check out this article from John Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center or more tick and mosquito tips.
11. Perfect Summer Days
All it takes is one perfect summer day in Maine, and you’ll be hooked. My perfect summer day has shining sun, a very slight breeze, low humidity, 77 degrees, and a picnic on the water. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Maine when this heaven-sent weather hits, you better take advantage!
Here are some ideas for that perfect summer day throughout the state:
Portland: take the mail boat to visit an island in Casco Bay, brewery or bar-hop, visit the beach, take a nice hike, rent a kayak, have a picnic, walk around downtown, hang out at Portland Head Light.
Mount Desert Island: Explore Acadia National Park, walk around Bar Harbor, visit the Asticou Azalea Garden or the Thuya Garden, go to the beach, go on a history cruise, walk the Bar Harbor Shore Walk, go to Bar Island when the tide is low, admire all the amazing houses.
Elsewhere: Find a new town to explore (my favorites are Belfast, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, and Rockland), visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, go blueberry and strawberry picking, find a farmer’s market to browse, or just find a park to sit and read. For more ideas, visit here.
12. The Most Visited National Park in the Country
Acadia National Park is the most visited national park in the US. It’s an amazing place, but it’s incredibly crowded. If your visit to Maine is solely to see Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, I would rethink your plans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an absolutely beautiful place with an awesome history. But if you’re visiting between June and November, be prepared to compete with thousands of other inconsiderate tourists in everything you do. It’s absolutely insane.
Parking inside the park is a nightmare. Trying to enjoy the views without having people’s butts and cameras blocking the way is near impossible. And don’t even think about having any kind of peaceful moment to yourself. During the summer, Acadia is complete chaos. I’m not suggesting you don’t go there, because it is still stunning. Just remember to temper your expectations.
13. Bad Cell Reception
There is not a single place in Maine that you are guaranteed to have cell reception. It doesn’t matter what carrier, what phone, what city or town. You could be standing right next to the cell tower and still not get reception. This is important to remember when visiting Maine and exploring new parts of the state.
My tip is to always screenshot addresses, phone numbers, and directions before you leave for the day. Pro tip: enjoy it! Instead of spending so much time on your phone, as many of us like to do now a days, put it away and live in the moment.
Maine is nicknamed “Vacationland” for a reason. Go anywhere in the summer, and you’ll be surrounded by out-of-staters and foreigners. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can complicate logistics sometimes. Popular attractions and locations are just that – popular. To get the best experience possible, try going off the beaten path a little! Explore and find places that don’t show up on Google or Trip Advisor.
Remember to be courteous and considerate. Everyone has to deal with the influx of people, not just you. Kindness goes a long way when traveling.