Don’t let summer slip away before you’ve had a chance to embrace at least one of these 10 made-for-the-memory-books Maine vacation experiences.
1. Hike in the 100-Mile Wilderness
Using the Appalachian Mountain Club’s new Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins as a base, spend a few days hiking in the 100-Mile Wilderness region, northeast of Greenville. Built as a private camp in 1867, the AMC has completely renovated the lakefront facilities, which comprise a main lodge, where homestyle meals are served, eight rustic cabins, a bunkhouse, and a central bathhouse with hot showers and a sauna. Pack a trail lunch, and head out to explore more than 20 miles of trails, including one to Screw Auger Falls, in Gulf Hagas, called the Grand Canyon of Maine. Other good choices include Third and Fourth Mountains and West Chairback Pond Falls. Guests have free use of canoes and kayaks on Long Pond and stashed on more remote ones, such as Trout Pond, a 6-mile hike.
2. Pedal the Maine Coast
Join Summer Feet on a guided bicycle trip along the coast from Boothbay Harbor to Bar Harbor. The six-night tour includes lodging, most meals, a schooner sail, entrance fees for attractions, van support, and more. Highlights include detours down coastal peninsulas, visits to out-of-the-way towns, and even island excursions. Pedal inn-to-inn or campsite-to-campsite. Bike rental is available. Summer Feet also has shorter excursions and self-guided tours available.
3. Begin or add to your birding life list
Osprey or eagle? Woodpecker or warbler? Spend a few hours or days with Maine Guide Michael Good, of Down East Nature Tours, and beginning birders will gain an understanding of native East Coast species, while avid ornithologists might add a coveted bird to their life list. Programs range from a four-hour introductory session on Mount Desert Island to advanced searches for unique species in Down East Maine. Good provides transportation, with pick-up at local accommodations, as well as a spotting scope.
4. Paddle an ancient Native American route
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail flows through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec, but more than 350 of its 740 miles are in Maine. It enters the state at Lake Umbagog and winds northwestward following lakes, rivers, and streams to Fort Kent. The trail is mapped in 13 sections, with the Maine portion beginning in section 8. Maps detail the waterways, portages, dams, communities, and natural sights along the route, making it easy to dip your paddle in waters that fit your abilities and travel preferences. Purchase a guidebook ($24.95) and maps (Maine set is $59.70) and find trip-planning information on the organization’s website.
5. Climb Katahdin
Mile-high Mount Katahdin, in Baxter State Park, near Millinocket, is Maine’s tallest peak and the end point for those heading north on the Appalachian Trail. Although one single mountain, Katahdin comprises several peaks: Baxter, at 5,267 feet is highest. Climbing it is a belt-notcher for serious hikers. It’s a strenuous, full-day hike that requires being prepared for any type of weather. If summiting this massif isn’t enough, hike the aptly named Knife Edge, a treacherous 1.1-mile-long granite spine, no wider than 3 feet in places, linking Baxter Peak with neighboring Pamola Peak. See website for details on parking, camping, hiking guidelines, nonresident fees, and especially rules for park use.
6. Surf’s up!
Grab your board and head for York Beach. If you don’t have a board, build one. Grain Surfboards, in York, has practically a cult following for its handcrafted wood boards, and it offers classes for those who want to learn how to build their own. By the end of the week, you’ll have built a board that’s ready for glassing. The seven-day classes cost $1,675 per person, which includes materials and supplies, detailed instruction on glassing and finishing, and daily breakfast and lunch. A three-day team-building Board Blitz course includes instruction, but not the board, for $600 per person (boards may be purchased afterward for the cost of materials). Plan to bring or buy tools and a respirator.
7. Explore an uninhabited island
Marshall Island, in Jericho Bay, is the largest undeveloped and uninhabited island on the East Coast. About once a week through early Sept., Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, in Stonington, offers a day-trip aboard the Nigh Duck to the 985-acre island, which is owned and maintained by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. A MCHT steward welcomes and orients visitors, then you’re on your own to explore the seven miles of mostly granite shoreline, two sand beaches, and 10 miles of trails lacing the inner forests. An island map can be downloaded from MCHT. Box lunches are available, but must be ordered a day in advance.
8. Cruise to the woods
Spend a weekend in western Maine’s wilderness at the Maine Huts Flagstaff Lake Hut. Begin with a late-afternoon, pontoon-boat cruise across Flagstaff Lake, departing from Stratton. A guide will explain the lake’s history, tell tales of the lost village of Flagstaff under its waters, and point out local flora and fauna. The weekend package includes the round-trip cruise and two nights accommodations with dinner Friday and Saturday and breakfast and lunch Saturday and Sunday. During the day, hike the Maine Huts Trail, swim in the lake, paddle one of the huts canoes or kayaks, or simply relax in the main lodge.
9. Pan for gold or go rock-hounding
“Gold bought, sold, and lied about here” proclaims the sign outside Coos Canyon Rock and Gift Shop, in Byron. Check out the exhibits of some of the nuggets found in the Swift River. Now try it yourself. right across the street. A rental pan and screen are $2 with a $5 deposit; a trowel is $1; or get fancy with a sluice box, bucket, and shovel for $15, with an $85 deposit. Who knows, maybe you’ll strike it rich! Or, dig for gems, including Maine tourmaline, with Maine Mineral Adventures, which offers field trips to Mt. Mica (the oldest gem mine in the country), The Bennett Quarry, The Orchard Pit, Tamminen Quarry, The Intergalactic Mine on Deer Hill, and other locations in the Oxford Hills.
10. Jam with the wind
Sure, you can take an hour or half-day sail, but nothing beats casting off all ties to real world and saiing on a member vessel of the Maine Windjammer Association. Even better, it’s a budget-controlled situation, because everything is included in the price: cabin, meals, and sail. Now don’t expect fancy accommodations, most are just a few notches above camping, but the experience of being ruled by wind and tide triumphs all. Some boats are even family friendly.