The northernmost and largest state in New England, Maine accounts for almost half of the region’s entire land area. It’s no surprise then that it’s home to some of the state’s most glorious green spaces, from snow-swept forests to seemingly endless sandy stretches. But which ones to visit? We’ve rounded up seven of the best state and national parks in Maine to help make the decision a little easier.
Best national parks in Maine
Nicknamed ‘the crown jewel on the Atlantic Coast’, Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River. President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national park in 1916 and today an average of 3.5 million people visit the park every year. It stretches across 49,000 acres between mountain and sea, encompassing the soaring Cadillac Mountain (the highest point on the Atlantic coast), miles of golden beaches and dense forest.
Hikers can cover over 158 miles (254 km) of hiking trails while motor enthusiasts can take a turn around 27 miles (43 km) of historic motor roads and 45 miles (72 km) of carriage roads, peppered with pretty bridges built by the likes of John D Rockefeller and other wealthy patrons. Fishing, boating and birding (there are over 300 species to spot) are popular too.
You don’t need to be an outdoorsy type to have heard of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The wild and wooded trail spans 14 states, but not many people know that it starts in Maine. It’s a hikers paradise, home to over 300 miles (482 km) of trails suited to all levels of hiker. More experienced ramblers might want to tackle the eastern section from Monson to Katahdin, aka’The 100-Mile Wilderness”.
Visitors can choose from three ‘themed’ sections focussing on wildlife, trees and mountains. The parklands boast breathtaking wildlife, including moose, black bears, loons and deer. It’s worth visiting the 36,000-acre Bigelow Preserve and White Cap Mountain too.
If off-the-grid wilderness is more your style, Katahdin Woods won’t disappoint. Home to 87,564 acres of remote wilderness, there’s no cell service, services and very few amenities. Hikers can choose from a range of different routes, such as Orin Falls Trail, which follows an old logging road and crosses Wassataquoik Stream. Come winter, visitors can glide across 16 miles (25 km) of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. Other outdoorsy pursuits include ice fishing, fat biking and snowmobiling.
Encompassing a staggering 209,644 acres, Baxter State Park is the largest protected area in Maine. In summer, visitors flock here for more than 215 miles of hiking trails through woods, meadows and across mountains, waterfalls, streams and lakes. In winter, it’s all about the ski scene and snowshoeing. There are eight campgrounds in the park, all accessible by road, plus three backcountry campgrounds. If you’re driving, you’ll need to reserve a parking spot on the park website and it’s worth heading here early since capacity is limited.
Carved by a glacier more than 12,000 years ago, Grafton Notch is brimming with beautiful scenery. Its peaks, waterfalls and gorges against the backdrop of Mahoosuc Range make for some staggering scenery. It’s home to 12 of the Appalachian Trail’s toughest treks, but there are leisurely strolls for less hardcore ramblers too. Between May and October, it’s a paradise for birdwatchers too, thanks to its nesting peregrine falcons. The park has even earned a spot on the Maine Birding Trail. There are plenty of picnicking spots but keep in mind that there aren’t any formal campgrounds in the park.
Opened in 1966, Crescent Beach State Park is located around eight miles south of Portland in Cape Elizabeth. It encompasses spectacular evergreen woodlands and craggy cliffs, but it’s the beach that really makes this park stand apart. The mile-long crescent-shaped beaches is perfect for strolling, sunbathing and swimming – the waters are surprisingly warm in the summer too. Off-season the park closes to drivers but walkers are still welcome to come for sunset strolls and cross-country skiing.
History enthusiasts should hotfoot to Saint Croix Island Historic Site, which sits between Maine and New Brunswick. The French first settled here in 1604, three years before the English arrived in Jamestown and Popham. The French population abandoned the island after a harsh winter and moved to Port Royal (Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) marking the beginning of France’s influence on North America.
To learn more about its history, you can take a trip to the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site in Calais. Visitors are actually strongly discouraged from visiting the island due to its fragile nature, plus there are very few visible traces of the early settlement left.