Travel 9 minutes 04 October 2022

How To Spend A Long Weekend in Maine

The Pine Tree State lives up to its name with lush, dense forests, peaks for days, a glittering coastline, and the freshest seafood.

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You could spend an entire summer exploring Maine—working your way up its rocky coastline, becoming an expert in lobster rolls, slurping oysters and quaffing crisp rosé—and still many of its tiny villages, 65 lighthouses, and 4,600-plus islands would elude you.

Long weekenders staying four days and four nights can reasonably cover Acadia National Park, the state's stunning grande dame, and two other destinations between Acadia and the airport. If you want to focus on the park, consider flying to Bar Harbor or Bangor (see Getting To Maine And Around).

If you arrive in Portland

Portland has just 67,000 residents but packs an outsize punch when it comes to tourist draws, especially in the warmer months. It's best explored on foot.

  • Feel the sugar rush at Holy Donut, which makes its doughnuts with potatoes. Health food this is not, and there's always a queue, but the doughnuts—in flavors like pomegranate, honey lavender, and gluten-free dark chocolate sea salt—are indeed worth the wait.
  • The Portland Freedom Trail is a free, self-guided tour that encompasses 13 sites that were part of 19th-century Black Mainers' fight against slavery, including places along the Underground Railroad used by formerly enslaved people to cross into Canada and freedom.
  • In 15 minutes, the ferry from Portland to Peaks Island (adults $7.70/return Apr.-Oct.) takes you from a buzzing small town to a quiet island where the main draws are cycling or walking the 4-mile circumference or swimming at Sandy beach. Bike rental is through Brad’s Bike Rental & Repair; Kayak rental is through Maine Island Kayak. You can also bring a bike on the ferry ($6.50 Apr.-Oct.).
  • Set sail with Portland Schooner Co. for a 2-hour cruise on an early-20th-century wooden schooner hand-built in Maine. Feel free to bring food and drinks, including alcohol. $50-$60/adult
  • Watch the sun melt into the bay at Portland Observatory, built in 1807 and one of the very few remaining wooden maritime signal towers. Be sure to reserve sunset tickets far in advance ($10/adult).
  • Riverside venue Thompson's Point has a calendar full of summer concerts, an occasional makers' market, and an ice skating rink.
  • To cool down or warm up, avail yourself of Portland Museum of Art, whose rich collection includes 18,000 pieces ranging from a Renoir painting to a video by interdisciplinary artist/activist Eleanor Kipping, plus several by Winslow Homer, who lived for many years in Scarborough.

Lobster buoys on a Maine fisherman's hut © Tashka/iStock
Lobster buoys on a Maine fisherman's hut © Tashka/iStock

Portland to Camden
1h40m drive or 2.5h by bus; bus stop is 1.5mi (2.4km) from Camden and .5mi (.8km) from Rockport 
If you're not in a rush, make a detour to Five Islands Lobster Co. in Georgetown, a low-key lobster shack overlooking a marina and neighboring islands. Sit at one of the well-loved forest green picnic tables that'll soon be covered with paper baskets brimming with lobster rolls and crispy fried clams, or trays with whole steamed lobsters. No beer or wine is served here, but you can buy it next door or at Five Island Farm, which also sells Maine-made products like cheese and jam.

On the drive back from Georgetown, stop in Bath, a pint-size town whose main street has an impressive collection of late-19C/early-20C buildings in Italianate, Greek Revival, and Federal style, including the 1858 Italianate former Custom House and Post Office. Among the wholesome businesses now filling these are bakeries, bookstores, a yarn store, sweet shops, and toy stores.

From Bath, it's 1h15m to Owls Head State Park where a little black and white lighthouse from 1852 still shines. Climb one long flight of stairs to see the lighthouse and a sweeping view of Penobscot Bay. Drive a further 30 minutes to Camden, slip into a swimsuit, and spend the rest of the afternoon at tiny local favorite Lait Memorial Beach, where you can sit in shaded grass or on a stretch of pebbled sand. Dine tonight at Thai-leaning Long Grain from Bangkok expats Paula Palakawong and Ravin “Bas” Nakjaroen. 

Should time allow, putter around Camden in the morning, visiting some of its half-dozen galleries—Page Gallery, Carver Hill, and Camden Falls Gallery among them—and perusing the shelves at Owl & Turtle Bookshop. 

The drive from Camden to Ellsworth is 1h15m or 1h50m to Bar Harbor. There are myriad postcard-perfect places to stop along the way for a picnic, like Sandy Point Beach (45' from Camden). Find picnic fare at Camden Deli, Lincolnville General Store, and Belle the Cat or Belfast Co-op in Belfast. For sit-down (but very casual) lobster in Belfast, try Young's Lobster Pound.

Cycling on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park © Visit Maine
Cycling on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park © Visit Maine
Acadia National Park

Maine's crown jewel is just that. It sparkles everywhere—its 24 lakes and ponds and the Atlantic Ocean shimmer; the sunlight glints through its thick canopies of trees. At golden hour, it falls in soft shafts. Even in winter when the trees are bare and greenery is a distant memory, the sun reflects off the pristine snow that blankets the park.   

The park was the first east of the Mississippi River and is emblematic of the rustic northeastern US, bringing to mind visions of flannel and log cabins. Its peaks are forested with pine, hemlock, fir, and red spruce trees. Along its rocky coastline crash frothy Atlantic waves. For anyone who grew up in an area with coniferous trees, the scent can be deeply nostalgic. Acadia covers 46,856 acres (approx. 19,000 hectares), most of which is on Mount Desert Island; the Schoodic Peninsula is home to 2,266 acres (roughly 5% of the park).

Cycling in Acadia is lovely, but note that only the carriage roads (45mi/72km) are car-free. Island Explorer buses have racks for up to six regular bikes (or occasionally four). For more bike info, see Island Explorer Bicycle Express schedule. Bikes can be rented in Bar Harbor at Acadia Bike, Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, and at Pedego Electric Bikes (e-bikes only). To bike on Schoodic, rent from Sea Schoodic Kayak & Bike.

Getting Around
The free Island Explorer bus runs throughout the entire park, from June 23 to October 10. 

Park Permit
As of this writing, a car pass is $30; a motorcycle pass is $25; if you come  by foot or bike, it's $15. NB: If you want to visit Cadillac Summit (the highest peak in Acadia), you must book a vehicle pass ($6). If you go by foot or bike, you don't need to book anything.

Acadia National Park in Winter
Maine is beautiful but very cold in winter, with temperatures below freezing. For those well-prepared for the cold, there are 45mi (72 km) of carriage roads in the park for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Cadillac Mountain Sports (in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth) and Alpenglow in Bar Harbor both rent gear.

Cross-country skiing along the carriage roads, Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS
Cross-country skiing along the carriage roads, Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS
Acadia To Portland

The drive from Acadia to Portland takes 3h, so if you have an evening flight, you can still enjoy the park in the morning or some beach time en route. The airport is tiny, and returning your rental car will be quick.

Popham Beach State Park ($8) is a bit of a detour—it's 3h from Acadia, and 1h from Portland—but it's one of Maine's longest sandy beaches, with no sharp rocks between you and the ocean. At low tide, you can walk to Fox Island, clambering over dune grass and giant rocks carved by glacial melt. You'll drive through Bath on your way to the beach, so stop at Sisters Gourmet Deli for a beach-picnic sandwich. On 209, the road leading to Popham Beach, you'll pass The Farmers' Cupboard, a farm stand from which Trish's Pie Bakery slings their delectable sweet pies.

Lobster roll © Visit Maine
Lobster roll © Visit Maine

What To Eat in Maine

Maine is so synonymous with lobster, the crustacean is practically the state icon. Last year, Maine's lobsterfishers caught more than 108 million pounds of lobster. And though anything with lobster is oft-considered haute cuisine, in Maine, the best place to tuck into lobster is a lobster shack, a welcoming, casual eatery, sometimes on the water, where the vibe is low-key. Eat your lobster in a classic roll or whole and steamed. To experience the full sea-to-plate arc, try a lobster boat tour.

Few delicious things are actually good for the planet, but oysters are the exception. Oysters drain no resources: they don't require land, fresh water, or any feed. They also benefit aquatic ecosystems: a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, removing nitrogen and phosphorous from the water. Oysters will grow on any hard surface in water—a rock, an old pier, even old shells—and in doing so form an oyster reef, which creates a home for fish and marine plants.
In short, you can feel good about eating oysters, which you'll find along Maine's oyster trail. Learn to shuck, kayak out to see oysters growing in the water, or sit down at a raw bar or oyster farm and start slurping.

Blueberry pie © Sherry Ott/Visit Maine
Blueberry pie © Sherry Ott/Visit Maine

Blueberry everything
The wild blueberry is native to Maine, smaller, more flavorful, and richer in antioxidants than are regular blueberries. Maine's landscape derives from glacial melt, and it's from this rich soil that wild blueberries are born. They can be found in everything in Maine—jam, pie, all manner of baked goods, ice cream, wine, beer, and liquor. Blueberries are so intrinsic to Maine, there's an annual wild blueberry weekend, but don't fret if you miss it: a truly sublime slice of blueberry pie—à la mode or straight-up—is waiting for you at hundreds of bakeries throughout the state. For the kid in your life, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is an absolute classic.

There are 165 breweries in Maine, from Odd By Nature Brewing in York all the way up to First Mile Brewing Company, 368mi (621km) north, near the Canadian border). There are 4 breweries near Acadia. Atlantic Brewing has 2 outposts on Mount Desert Island (one in Bar Harbor); Fogtown Brewing is Bar Harbor and Ellsworth, alongside Airline Brewing in Ellsworth.

Under Canvas Acadia
Under Canvas Acadia

Where To Stay In Maine

NB: Maine is very popular, and accommodations along the coast, especially in Portland and near Acadia, are limited. Be sure to book in advance.

Near Acadia National Park
Under Canvas Acadia
Acadia is Maine’s spectacular coastal national park, and Under Canvas is a Montana-based purveyor of luxury tented camps. Put the two together and you get this: an array of tented accommodations set on raised platforms, all decked out with furniture by the modernist-inspired West Elm brand, from the shared-bathhouse Safari tents to the mid-range options with private en-suite baths and the double-size Suite, which sleeps four. Breakfast and dinner are locally sourced and thoughtfully prepared, and activities, naturally, lean towards the adventurous; the location places guests a half-hour’s drive from Acadia National Park.

In Camden
Camden Harbour Inn
A 19th-century mansion with a view of Camden, Maine’s picturesque harbor might sound like a recipe for a trip back in time. But the Camden Harbour Inn is owned not by the descendants of its original owners, but a pair of Dutchmen who’ve adopted Camden as their second home — and adapted this beautiful old house to its new use as a very modern boutique-style bed and breakfast. There’s more than a bit of European influence in the interiors, and the modernist furniture and hyper-saturated colors are a distinct departure from the classic New England style. The rooms and suites are all named after former Dutch colonial territories, and incorporate subtle design gestures towards their eponyms’ local styles; more immediately important, they range from the comfortable to the truly expansive, and include luxuries like feather beds and Molton Brown bath products.

Blind Tiger Guest House
Blind Tiger Guest House

In Portland
The Blind Tiger Guest House
A Prohibition-era speakeasy once occupied the basement of this lovely 19th-century house in a vibrant and walkable corner of town. Its nine rooms retain period architectural elements, and are updated with contemporary colors and artwork; almost all have wood-burning fireplaces. While the look is residential, the comforts are very much up to boutique-hotel standards—kimono-style robes and bath products by Lather rank among the finer details. That basement speakeasy is now a billiards room, and the social life, a century after Prohibition, is no longer confined to underground; a light breakfast is served in the pantry, and coffee, tea, and light snacks are available all day.

The Press Hotel, Autograph Collection
As the name suggests, the Press Hotel is newspaper-themed—and the place is steeped in real newspaper history. Located in the Old Port neighborhood, the corner building served as the headquarters of Portland’s Press Herald from 1923-2010. Some elements of the hotel's design scheme might have seemed a bit on-the-nose — the accents in black slate and white marble, inspired by newsprint, for instance, or the typefaces that resemble the fonts of an old-fashioned typewriter — but the look is so sleek, and the concept so well-executed, that it works. The 110 guest rooms are modeled after 1920s-era newsroom offices, complete with retro writer’s desks, reeded glass doors, and smooth white Frette linens.

Island Explorer bus in Acadia National Park. Photo by NPS
Island Explorer bus in Acadia National Park. Photo by NPS

Getting To Maine And Around

By Plane
There are year-round flights between petite Portland Jetport and cities like Charlotte, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, and seasonal (summer) flights a few cities like Nashville, Dallas/Ft Worth, and Minneapolis/St Paul.

Bangor: This airport is just an hour's drive from Acadia (Portland is 3h drive), so if you're going to Acadia and north, this may be the best option for you. There are a handful of flights to Bangor from Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Charlotte, plus seasonal routes between Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Bar Harbor: Cape Air and JetBlue fly from Boston to Bar Harbor (1h20m) several times daily, depending on the season. Enterprise and Hertz have counters here (advance booking crucial). But, if you're only visiting Acadia or want to save on costs and gas, use the Island Explorer. This free bus runs June 23rd-October 10, between Bar Harbor Airport and Mount Desert Island, and will drop off and pick up visitors all over the park and in town.

By Train
Amtrak's Downeaster runs between Boston and Brunswick, ME several times daily (3h25m). Boston to Portland takes 2h30m. Note that there is no connection between Portland train station and the airport, so if you're renting a car at the airport, you'll need to take an Uber or Lyft (7m drive).

By Bus
Concord and Greyhound bus lines run up and down Maine. There is no direct bus from Portland to Bar Harbor. To get to Acadia by bus, take the bus from Portland to Bangor (2.5h). There is one bus per day between Bangor and Bar Harbor, Mon-Fri only. Otherwise, you can take the bus from Bangor to Ellsworth (1h20m), then Ellsworth to Bar Harbor (45m). From Bar Harbor, you can take the free Island Explorer bus. Many visitors opt to stay in Ellsworth, which is is less expensive than Bar Harbor. For Bar Harbor/Ellsworth bus info, see DownEast. IslandExplorer has a guide on how to go car-free in Acadia.

Renting A Car
All the big car rental companies have counters at both Portland and Bangor airports; there is also an Enterprise in downtown Portland. There are a limited number of cars, and advance booking is crucial unless you're traveling in deep winter.

From Canada
There are 24 land border crossings, 17 in New Brunswick and 7 in Quebec. More fun is the CAT ferry between Bar Harbor, Maine and Yarmouth Nova Scotia (3.5h; $115/one way; $210 return/ages 14-59; $199/vehicle). The ferry leaves from just outside Acadia.

Bass Harbor Head Light Station, Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS Photo/Kent Miller
Bass Harbor Head Light Station, Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS Photo/Kent Miller

Maine Fast Facts
First people: Tribes Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot (collectively the Wabanaki)
Capital: Augusta
Became a state in: 1820, number 23
Motto: Dirigo (Latin for "I direct” or “I lead")
Lbs of lobster caught in 2021: 108 million (4.9 billion kg)
Flower: White pine cone and tassel
Insect: Honeybee
Fruit: Wild blueberry (it grows only in Maine)
Animal: Moose
Bird: Black-capped chickadee
Famous Mainers: Stephen King; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Anna Kendrick; Andrew Wyeth
Number of breweries: 165, the highest per capita in the US
Lighthouses: 65
Islands: 4,600
Hashtag: #MaineThing
Photo © Nick Cote/Visit Maine

Maine oysters © Visit Maine
Maine oysters © Visit Maine

Hero image: Schooner Head, Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine
© Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld/Visit Maine


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