With a rocky coastline and granite peaks and everything in between, Maine boasts two stunning federally protected lands. But while Acadia National Park and Katahdin Woods and Waters offer one-of-a-kind experiences, the Pine Cone State is also home to 32 incredibly beautiful state parks, from Presque Isle to Saco.
The mountains here may not reach the same heights as those in the Rockies and on the West Coast, but conquering their rough terrain will certainly earn you bragging rights and a lobster roll.
Each of Maine’s parks are open during the snowy winter months, providing opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and winter camping without the hoards of tourists. Make sure to grab a Maine State Park Pass to cut costs.
Acadia National Park
Best park for hiking, swimming or kayaking
Boasting the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast, miles of historic carriage trails and a rich history dating back more than 10,000 years, Acadia is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, welcoming nearly three million visitors every year.
Located primarily on Mount Desert Island along Maine’s rocky coastline, Acadia encompasses some 49,000 acres of coastline, forests, wetlands, lakes and more.
There are hundreds of miles of hiking and carriage trails and outdoor activities like biking and horseback riding. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, sea kayaking, swimming and sailing are also popular activities. Cadillac Mountain is the park’s biggest draw.
With an elevation of 1530ft, it’s the first place in the US to see the sunrise during certain times of the year. Reach the summit by foot, bike or car. Sand Beach – the island’s only sandy beach – is around 1000ft long and attracts swimmers and beachgoers during the summer months.
The first national park east of the Mississippi River and the only national park in the northeastern United States today, Acadia is open year-round, but the high season is July through October. To avoid the crowds, head to the less-trafficked parts of the park on Schoodic Peninsula, or take the ferry to Isle au Haut.
Nearby Bar Harbor is a charming tourist town with plenty to see and do – including tons of places to grab a lobster roll made with crustaceans caught fresh that day.
Baxter State Park
Best park for hiking
Named after Maine’s beloved governor Percival P Baxter, Baxter State Park is one of the premier parks in the central part of the state, spanning more than 209,000 acres. Approximately 75% of its land is a managed wildlife sanctuary that hosts iconic animals like moose, black bears and loon.
While most visitors come to Baxter to hike Maine’s highest mountain – the 5267ft Mt Katahdin – the park has more than 40 peaks, with 215 miles of trails, 10 campgrounds and lots of ponds and waterways for swimming, canoeing and wildlife spotting. Sandy Stream Pond is a popular place to see moose, and there are plenty of short, easy hiking trails that wind around the ponds.
Open year-round, most visitors choose to visit the park during the summer months, when the chances of summiting Mt Katahdin are much greater. If you plan on camping, make sure to reserve a spot as soon as possible, as campgrounds fill up months in advance.
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Camden Hills State Park
Best park for a day trip from Camden
Camden Hills is one of the most scenic coastal state parks in the Pine Tree State. Located just a few minutes from downtown Camden, this state park is the ideal day trip destination. Visitors can spend the morning hiking to the top of 780ft Mt Battie for stunning panoramic views of Camden village and Penobscot Bay, and the evening dining on fresh seafood from any of the restaurants dotting Main Street.
Camden Hills State Park is a great state park for camping. You can wake up to the birds chirping, surrounded by the forest, but still enjoy modern amenities such as a hot shower.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Best park to avoid the crowds
Located on the eastern border of Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters is one of the newest national monuments in the US. Donated by Burt’s Bees cofounder Roxanne Quimby in 2016, this remote park lacks the facilities of other nearby parks, but it’s perfect for those seeking the peace and quiet of Maine’s wilderness.
The park offers hiking trails off the Katahdin Loop Road and Messer Pond Road but very limited camping. The park is open year-round, and depending on the season, visitors can canoe, fish, cross-country ski or go snowmobiling.
Quoddy Head State Park
Best park to visit West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
Quoddy Head State Park is located on the easternmost point of the continental United States and features Maine’s iconic candy-striped lighthouse. Built in 1808, West Quoddy Head Lighthouse has guided ships away from Quoddy’s rocky and dangerous seas, cliffs and ledges for more than 200 years. While the lighthouse tower is closed to visitors, the grounds and small museums are worth exploring. There are 5 miles of marked hiking trails along the picturesque cliffs, forests and bogs.
Bring your passport and take the quick drive over the Canadian border to Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, to visit Roosevelt Campobello International Park.
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Bradbury Mountain State Park
Best park for mountain biking
Consisting of more than 730 acres along the coast of Maine, Bradbury Mountain State Park is one of the five original state parks established in 1939. Named after Bradbury Mountain – the 500ft peak at the center of the park – it’s located about 30 minutes from downtown Portland.
The several miles of forested hiking trails are groomed during the winter for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. Bradbury is one of Maine’s best mountain biking parks, with miles of single- and double-track trails of varying levels of difficulty. Camping is open during the warmer months of the year.
Crescent Beach State Park
Best park for swimming
A short jaunt away from Portland in Cape Elizabeth, Crescent Beach is the perfect kid-friendly park, especially in summer, when its mile-long sandy beach offers a great escape from the heat – families from all over visit to fish, sea kayak, sunbathe and swim in the cool Atlantic waters. Pack a picnic and spend the day splashing in the waves, playing on the playground, relaxing or grilling. Portland Paddle offers paddleboard and kayak rentals and tours during the summer months.
Kettle Cove State Park is about five minutes from Crescent Beach and offers hiking trails and coastal views.
Aroostook State Park
Best park for cross-country skiing
Maine’s first state park, Aroostook was established in 1938 with a 100-acre donation from the citizens of Presque Isle, and since then, it’s grown to more 800 acres, encompassing Quaggy Jo Mountain and Echo Lake. Echo Lake is popular for ice skating during the winter months, and the hiking trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The strenuous 6-mile trek to the summit of Quaggy Jo will certainly get your heart rate up.
Aroostook also has miles of hiking trails and a swimming beach that attracts children and families from near and far. There’s even a boat launch for boating and fishing. Add to that 30 wooded campsites for tents or camper vans, and you have an ideal spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
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Popham Beach State Park
Best park for playing in the sand
A local summertime favorite, Popham Beach in Phippsburg is one of Maine’s most visited state parks. Situated between the mouths of the Morse and Kennebec Rivers, it covers more than 600 acres and has a huge sandy beach. Currents can be strong – there are lifeguards on duty from mid-June to mid-August.
The park also houses one of the first settlements in Maine, dating back to 1607. Remnants of Fort George are currently being excavated, but you can explore the Civil War–era Fort Popham at the mouth of the Kennebec.
Grafton Notch State Park
Best park for birdwatching
Best for adventurers and those looking to escape off the beaten path, Grafton Notch in western Maine is the best state park to enjoy the wilderness. Aside from the excellent hiking options – it’s home to 12 miles of the Appalachian Trail, among others, including the 4180 ft summit of Old Speck Mountain – the park is also part of the Maine Birding Trail, where you can observe a variety of native songbirds and peregrine falcons.
The park is popular in the winter months for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. For the less adventurous, Grafton Notch Scenic Byway runs throughout the park, offering stops at scenic vistas and natural attractions like Screw Auger Falls, Moose Cave and Spruce Meadow Picnic Area.
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