Maine, US: Travel tips and reasons to visit the state with 4600 islands

"If anyone asks we're part of Canada" a slogan reads. Indeed, America's northernmost state contains 5000 miles of coastline, dotted with 65 historical lighthouses and an incredible 4600 islands, which is why it feels more like neighbouring Canada than part of the US. 

Inclement weather is also part of the deal. Visitors come for its wild, rugged beauty; tiny, picturesque hamlets filled with anything from fishing boats and tall ships to yachts.

As the tide recedes, it leaves a rocky shoreline that's as colourful as its trees during fall, with jetties stretching out over multicoloured, moss-covered rocks. In summer, its, wide, clean sandy beaches are the main attraction, as well as its famous lobster pounds.

Inland, seemingly impermeable forests are filled with trees of purple, red, orange, yellow and green, which are reflected to dramatic effect in still, mirror-like lakes.

Life moves at a different pace here in Maine. Here's 10 reasons you should visit.

1. Bar Harbor

If you were hoping to get here before it was discovered by tourists, you're too late. Tiny port town Bar Harbor throbs with visitors, partly as it's an excellent base for exploring Acadia NP, and partly because it's a hub for cruise ships. But don't let that put you off: the former exclusive resort town is perfect for strolling, with great places to shop, eat fabulous lobster, or sample craft beer – pull up a pew and enjoy views across the sea to the Porcupine Islands. Take a walk along Shore Path, an easy half-mile trail that hugs the coastline. For spectacular sunsets, grab a sundowner at the historic Bar Harbor Inn, which has front-row seats to sunsets. Its rooms also have balconies with the best views over Frenchman Bay, and its restaurant is renowned. 

2. Acadia National Park

As far as US national parks go, this one's a stunner. It's also the only one in the whole of New England. On the island of Mount Desert, follow the park loop to take in the park's greatest hits in one day. These include sweeping views of Bar Harbor and beyond from the top of Cadillac Mountain, or gazing in awe at the waves as they crash against the pine-capped, ochre-coloured rocks of Otter Cliff. 

3. Island hop

A tiny Maine island.

A tiny Maine island. Photo: iStock

Maine's unusual coast was formed from glaciers as they retreated after the last ice age, leaving 4600 islands in their wake – most of them still uninhabited and pristine. A bit like Cape Cod without the tourists, you can visit some of the islands via ferry or tour boat from one of the state's mainland harbours. Hiking, mountain biking and kayaking are all popular activities to undertake here. 

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4. Penobscot Narrows Bridge

The old and new bridges.

The old and new bridges. Photo: iStock

Home to the tallest bridge observatory in the world, and the only one in the US, the bridge whisks visitors up the 420 feet in a lift and gives them 360-degree views of its surrounds (which on a good day extends 40 miles). Opened in 2006, the rather spectacular cable bridge was built as an emergency replacement for the former Waldo–Hancock Bridge, which had become seriously corroded, and crosses the mighty Penobscot River and the tiny island of Verona.

5. Kennebunkport

This seaside town is the summer home of former US president George H. W. Bush, and their compound lies on a spit of land called Walker's Point, which has hosted world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. Don't let that put you off, though; Maine's seaside beauty is vastly incomparable to what you'd find in Australia or even on the western coast of the US. Here you'll see beautiful old Victorian double-storey houses atmospherically perched on rocky outcrops overlooking the ocean. There's also sandy beaches at Kennebunkport, popular for swimming and surfing, many quaint resorts and excellent seafood restaurants.

6. Old Orchard Beach

This "mom and pop" seaside town is particularly atmospheric on the first day of October, when the first chill of winter arrives, and local tourists have long since departed. Alongside a long stretch of road that runs parallel to the beach, hundreds of whitewashed motels lie empty, deserted in fact, and in the drizzly grey weather, it's a spectacle within itself. It's famous old pier juts out across the wide, sandy expanse of beach, and has been in various states of disrepair since it was first erected in 1898. Its turreted, arched entrance is all boarded up for winter, but during summer hosts parties in its bars and restaurants.

7. Camden

Camden, Maine.

Camden, Maine. Photo: Getty

Lush hillside harbour town Camden is a postcard-perfect harbour town built around shipping, and considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in New England. Some of the wealthiest people in Maine live in the mansions you'll find here, a legacy of the rich who built sprawling summer estates in the late 19th century. These whitewashed houses surrounded in luminous gardens centre around its harbour, which is filled, rather magically, with a fleet of windjammers. And if that wasn't enough, it's fringed by the Camden Hills State Park and is also known for its cuisine – particularly fresh seafood, including lobster.

8. Lighthouses

If you've come to New England in search of red-capped lighthouses on craggy outcrops notorious for stormy weather, then you've come to the right state. One of the most photographed and accessible is The Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse. Marking the southern tip of Arcadia National Park, the small but spectacularly located lighthouse was built into a seacliff in 1858. Cape Neddick Light, built in 1879 in York, Maine, is spectacularly perched on the tiny island of Nubble and is every bit as cute as the name. And if you make it to the most northern point of the state, Maine's most distinctive prize goes to the candy cane-striped West Quoddy Head Light.

9. Hike Table Rock

Grafton Notch State Park – right close to the New Hampshire border – hosts part of the scenic, 3500km-long Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only trail in the world. Passing through 14 of the US states in the east and ending in Georgia, it's probably not a hike for those passing through. However, you can sample a piece of the famous hiking trail on the Table Rock loop, which can be an intensive climb clambering over boulders, or a breezy walk along the famous Appalachian Trail. Table Rock has amazing views over the park's mountains, especially during fall.

10. Lobster rolls and blueberries

Dinner is served.

Dinner is served. Photo: Getty

Let's face it: lobster is probably one of the main reasons visitors to the US surge north. With some of the country's best, tiny lobster pounds tempt along Maine's coastal routes. Knuckle and claw meat must be plucked from a fresh lobster and served in a New England hot dog roll, toasted and spread with butter and simply dressed with salt, pepper, and a dollop of mayo. Stop anywhere you see a queue outside the state's myriad lobster pounds. Maine's wild blueberries – its state fruit – are reputedly twice as good as regular blueberries, which are pumped full of water. Maine farmers grow more than 25 per cent of the world's blueberries and blueberry picking is one of the most popular summer activities.

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