Vacation bucket list: 10 terrific Maine summer adventures


Ready to play? Spice up your life by adding one or more of these 10 made-for-the-memory-books Maine summer adventures to your travel plans. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or prefer your thrills served in low doses, you’ll find at least one activity to add to your vacation plans.

Hike in Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness
The AMC’s Gorman Chairback lodge & cabins is a great base for hiking in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness. Courtesy photo

Hike in the 100-Mile Wilderness

Using the Appalachian Mountain Club’s  Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins as a base, spend a few days off-the-grid in Maine’s famed 100-Mile Wilderness region, northeast of Greenville.

Built as a private camp in 1867, the AMC  completely renovated the lakefront facilities, which comprise a main lodge, where homestyle meals, included in the rate, 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 others stashed on more remote waters, such as Trout Pond, accessible via a 6-mile hike.

Spend a few days or a week pedaling along the Maine coast and soaking up the vistas with Summer Feet, a Maine-based company offering bicycling tours. Courtesy photo.
Spend the better part of a week pedaling in Maine’s Acadia and Mid-coast regions on a guided excursions with Summer Feet. Courtesy photo

Pedal the Maine Coast

Join Summer Feet on a guided bicycle trip along Maine’s Gold Coast. From Portland, guides will transport you to Mount Desert Island. Using that as a base, you’ll explore Acadia National Park, including the Carriage Roads, Park Loop, and Schoodic Peninsula.

Next base is Camden, from which you’ll spend a day kayaking and sailing before pedaling around Islesboro and also Rockport.

The five-night tour includes lodging, most meals, ferries, kayaking and sailing excursions, entrance fees for Acadia National park, hybrid bike rental, transfers, van support, and more. Summer Feet also has shorter excursions and self-guided tours available.

Join Maine Guide Michael Good of Down East Nature Tours, on a birding tour of the Acadia region. ©Hilary Nangle
Go birdwatching with Michael Good of Down East Nature Tours, Acadia National Park, Maine. ©Hilary Nangle

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. Beginning birders will gain an understanding of native East Coast species. Avid ornithologists might add a coveted bird to their life lists.

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.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trails is mapped in sections, detailing a chain of waterways from the New Hampshire border to Fort Kent. Paddle it all or pick and choose. Credit Rebecca Schinas/Northern Forest Canoe Trail. ©Rebecca Schinas/Northern Forest Canoe Trail
Paddle the Maine sections of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. ©Rebecca Schinas/Northern Forest Canoe Trail

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.

The water-based trail enters the state at Lake Umbagog and winds northwestward following lakes, rivers, and streams to Fort Kent.

Mapped in 13 sections, the trail’s Maine portion begins with  section 8. The 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.

Plan ahead if you plan to hike Katahdin, Maine's tallest peak, especially if you plan to add the Knife Edge connecting Baxter with Pamola Peak. ©Hilary Nangle
Mile-high Mount Katahdin, in Baxter State Park, near Millinocket, is Maine’s tallest peak and a belt-notcher for day hikers. ©Hilary Nangle

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 Katahdin 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, traverse 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.

Plan well in advance and see website for details on parking, camping, hiking guidelines, nonresident fees, and especially rules for park use.

Maine summer adventures include whitewater rafting on the Kennebec, Penobscot, and Dead Rivers.
For a real splash party, raft Maine’s Kennebec, Penobscot, or Dead Rivers. Each is dam controlled, which means a roller-coaster of fun, even on the hottest days of the summer. Courtesy Maine Office of Tourism. Courtesy Maine Office of Tourism.

Raft a whitewater roller-coaster

Wheeee! Cool off on a hot day with a guided, whitewater rafting trip down the Kennebec, Penobscot, or Dead Rivers. The Kennebec is a fun family escape. Releases for the Dead River vary: Some appeal to thrill seekers, others are ideal for younger families. The Penobscot, which flows in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin, is a wilderness adventure that combines rollicking waves with glorious views. On any of these rivers, you might see moose, deer, or other wildlife. Since all three rivers are dam controlled, rafting trips are offered from spring well into fall. No previous experience is necessary; all equipment is supplied; age and weight limits might prevail.

If you’re heading to the Kennebec or Dead, plan a trip with Northern Outdoors; if you prefer the Penobscot, check in with New England Outdoor Center. Both companies have decades of experience, comfy base facilities with lodging and camping as well as food, and both also offer other outdoor activities.

Old Quarry Adventures in Stonington, Maine, offers day trips to Marshall Island, which is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Photo courtesy Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
Marshall Island is the largest undeveloped island along the East Coast and it’s accessible via private boat or excursion boat. Photo courtesy Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Explore an uninhabited island

Marshall Island, in Jericho Bay, is the largest undeveloped and uninhabited island on the East Coast. A few times each summer, 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. Charters also can be arranged. 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.

Pair an informative cruise with hiking, paddling, or biking in Western Maine. ©Hilary Nangle
Join Master Maine Guide Jeff Hinman for a guided cruise across Flagstaff Lake to Maine Huts & Trails Flagstaff Hut. En route, you’ll learn about the flooded community underneath the waters, and once you arrive at the hut, you can spend a couple of days hiking, paddling, biking, or simply just enjoying it. ©Hilary Nangle

Cruise to the woods

Spend a weekend in western Maine’s wilderness at the Maine Huts Flagstaff Lake Hut. Sure you can hike or mountainbike in, but for a different experience, consider a cruise aboard a pontoon-boat with Flagstaff Lake Scenic Boat Tours.

En route to the hut, Master Maine Guide Jeff Hinman will explain the lake’s history, tell tales of the lost village of Flagstaff under its waters, and point out local flora and fauna.

Ideally, you’ll spend at least two nights. That allows enough time to hike the Maine Huts Trail, swim in the lake, paddle one of the huts canoes or kayaks, or simply relax in the main lodge.

Rockhounding is a popular Maine adventure. ©Hilary Nangle
Rockhounding is an especially popular adventure in the western part of the state, where you can pan for gold or dig for gems. ©Hilary Nangle

Strike it rich!

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 and ask for a free hands-on demonstration. Now try it yourself right across the street. A rental pan and screen are $2.50 with a $7.50 deposit; a trowel is $1; or get fancy with a sluice box, bucket, and shovel for $15-20, with an $100 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, on Sundays. Expect to pay about $65/adult, $35kids 16 and younger.

Sail aboard a Maine windjammer for an adventuous Maine vacation. ©Hilary Nangle
Sailing aboard a windjammer is classic Maine adventure. ©Hilary Nangle

Jam with the wind

Sure, you can take an hour or half-day sail, but nothing beats casting off all ties to the real world and sailing aboard a Maine Windjammer.  Even better, it’s a budget-controlled situation, because everything is included in the price: cabin, meals, and sail; some windjammers even include beer and wine. 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. The food is always rave worthy and usually includes a lobster feast. Often, crew bring out instruments in the evening for live entertainment. Sail from two days to a week or longer; themed cruises—wine, knitting, music, etc.—are offered. Some schooners are family friendly.




  1. Love windjamming! I have sailed on the Schooner Heritage 20 times and will be sailing again this September. If your idea of a great vacation is spectacular scenery, fun people, relaxation, and wonderful food, this is the vacation for you.

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