This story was originally published in May 2019.
People from around the world lace up their hiking boots in Maine each summer to explore the state’s mossy forests, granite mountaintops and rocky shores. With public trails scattered throughout the state, the opportunities for adventure are seemingly limitless. But some outdoor destinations, in particular, see more foot traffic than others, and for good reason.
Certain areas of Maine are hiking hotspots, places where you can easily plan out several days of wilderness walking. In these locations, you can find family-friendly treks to waterfalls and remote ponds, and you can also tackle more challenging climbs over rugged terrain to bald peaks and abandoned fire towers.
When the weather in Maine is idyllic, these places can get a bit crowded as tourists travel by plane, cruise ship and camper to check them out — but don’t let that stop you from enjoying these locations for yourself. A little insider knowledge and extra planning can help you embrace these beautiful and popular hiking destinations with success.
Acadia National Park
Home to more than 120 miles of intersecting trails, Acadia National Park is a hiker’s paradise, attracting millions of people from around the world each year. While the park can be very crowded during the summer, there are a few things you can do to make this less frustrating and enjoy this Maine gem for yourself.
First of all, consider planning your hikes for early in the morning (most vacationers tend to sleep in) or in the afternoon (with a headlamp, just in case the sun sets). Weekdays are also usually quieter than weekends. Also, instead of heading to the most popular spots — Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach and Thunder Hole — consider some of the less-traveled trails, such as the trails on Mansell, Norumbega and Beech mountains. And instead of driving and attempting to park in the crowded parking lots, hop on the Island Explorer bus to travel throughout the park for free.
Dogs are permitted in Acadia but must be leashed (no longer than 6 feet) at all times, and some of the trails — such as the Precipice and Beehive trails — are too steep for dogs. Also, consider purchasing a detailed park trail map to carry with you, and remember that all visitors must purchase a park pass, which is $30 per vehicle and $15 per person (if you take a bus) for a 7-day pass, and $55 for an annual pass. Maps and passes are available at Acadia visitor centers located throughout the island and online. For more information about Acadia National Park, visit nps.gov/acad or call 207-288-3338.
The Moosehead Region
The mountainous region surrounding Moosehead Lake is scattered with scenic trails, from the easy paths of Lily Bay State Park to the more challenging and remote hikes up Big Spencer and Big Moose mountains. The region even has some especially historic treks, including an easy walk into a B-52 crash site on Elephant Mountain and a steep climb up Mount Kineo, a site prized by the region’s indigenous people for its rhyolite rock, used to make tools.
In the middle of all these hikes, on the shore of Moosehead Lake, lies the town of Greenville, where you’ll find restaurants, shops and an outfitter for any last-minute hiking gear. The region is abundant in hotels, motels, rental homes and campgrounds. It’s also a great place for water sports, boasting the largest lake in the state. Moosehead Lake covers more than 74,000 acres.
If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can try to complete the Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit, a challenge to hike six specific mountains in the area. The area is also home to vast network of trails and wilderness lodges owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club, another great opportunity for adventure. For more information, visit destinationmooseheadlake.com or call 207-695-2702.
Baxter State Park
Home to more than 200 miles of hiking trails, Baxter State Park is home to pristine ponds, waterfalls and some of the state’s largest mountains, including Maine’s highest peak, Baxter Peak of Katahdin. The park also features a number of campgrounds, cabins and remote lean-tos, and nearby, in the town of Millinocket, there are additional lodging options.
While most people endeavor to climb Katahdin, there are many other great hikes in the park that will undoubtedly be less crowded. Doubletop Mountain, for example, has two bald peaks, as its name implies, and is nearly as difficult as Katahdin. Some easier mountains (though still challenging) include South Turner, Sentinel and The Owl. The Traveler Loop in the north end of the park is another popular trek.
While many of the hikes in the park are long, steep and rugged, there are a few easier treks, such as the hike to Little and Big Niagara Falls, the Blueberry Ledges Trail and the walk in to Sandy Stream Pond, a prime moose-watching location. Regardless of what trails you choose, any trip to explore the wilderness of Baxter takes some research and planning ahead. Campgrounds within the park often fill up quickly, and certain day use parking areas can also fill up, especially for Katahdin. For more information and to make reservations, visit baxterstatepark.org or call park headquarters at 207-723-9616.