Maine: an American state for all seasons

Tom Breathnach celebrates the all-year appeal of the Pine Tree State
Maine: an American state for all seasons

Portland Head lighthouse in Maine

They may call it Vacationland on their license plates but there is something about the US state of Maine that feels so…understated. 

Vast, wild, yet leaving you never too far away from a cosy cabin or a mouth-watering lobster roll, the Pine Tree State is my favourite of all America’s 50 — yet it remains unheralded by Irish visitors compared to other spots when it comes to the great American getaway. 

Larger than Ireland with just the population of Munster, the state’s infinite expanses of forests flanked by its hallmark coast worthy of its own Wild Atlantic Way status, always seems to dilute the crowds making it the perfect state for a pure, unplugged getaway, whatever the season.

Summer

Okay, Maine may not be Florida but with its ocean temperatures getting up to 20°C degrees and lakes here enjoying almost bathwater conditions, the state can still add a little heat to your summer getaway. There are increasingly popular seaside resorts dotted along the coast from York, a family-friendly resort town with three gorgeous beaches, seafood shacks and arcades to scenic Ogunquit, an increasingly popular destination for New England’s LGBT community.

While enjoying the coast, take in one of Maine’s most synonymous sights: lighthouses. There are no less than 65 lighthouses guarding the state’s craggy shoreline; some popular Instagram hotspots, others more off-the-beaten track. Southern locations such as Nubble Light in Kittery and the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth are some of the most picturesque — and visited — in the state but you’ll discover lesser-visited spots too, not least the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse in MidCoast Maine, reachable via a mile-long granite causeway.

Don’t overlook inland and backcountry Maine in summer, either. Temperatures are warmer, crowds can be a little less and you may even spot one of the state’s most famous residents — a moose — if you mosey around at dawn or dusk. The Kennebec Valley makes an ideal base for a visit. One of my favourite spots is The Forks Adventure Resort where you can enjoy a lodge getaway in the summer swelter while cooling down with a white-water rafting trip down the Kennebec river. If that’s not refreshing enough, a craft beer, brewed on-site should do the trick.

Cabins in Maine
Cabins in Maine

Fall

Perhaps no time feels more quintessentially New England than when that crisp autumnal air zephyrs through the region.

Viewing the fall foliage, as the state's millions of maples, birch and aspen kaleidoscope in colours from rust to magenta is of course the main draw in the season. Leaf-peeping is in fact a billion-dollar industry in the USA and given its northern location, the spectacle typically kicks off in Maine first (Maine.gov even has an official foliage tracker so you find the best areas of the state to view them). For the perfect road-trip, Maine features seven roads which have designated National Scenic Byway status and they range from the dramatic Acadia Byway along the coast to the Rangeley Lakes byway deep in backcountry Maine. 

When you’re not awed by the natural wonders of the state, autumn road-tripping makes the perfect season for antiquing, picking up great produce in local farm stalls or taking a coastal gallery tour. And come Halloween, expect the state that brought you Stephen King to be high on ambient seasonal options from haunted lighthouses and walking ghost tours to what else, but annual pumpkin festivals. Maine is one state where you’re guaranteed to find the perfect patch.

Get there: Maine is easily accessible from Boston lying just a one-hour scoot north along the I-95 highway from Logan International Airport. You’ll transit through the state of New Hampshire en route, so consider making the charming town of Portsmouth a first-night stopover if you’re tight on time. In Maine, cabins at the New England Outdoor Centretarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> start from €260 per night (sleeps six) while you’ll also find options at The Forks Adventure Resort for €110 per night.

Snow-laden cabins in Maine
Snow-laden cabins in Maine

Winter 

Skiing…artisan mulled cider — once the snow settles on the vast forests of the Pine Tree State, Maine’s winter-hugging culture makes it the ultimate hibernal hideaway. My most recent visit there was this past winter, where a New Year’s Eve wilderness escape seemed like the ideal spot to welcome in 2022. Cabin culture is in right now — that demand for unplugged escapes and rubbing shoulders with Mother Nature has never been greater — and Maine is dotted with all ranks of dream lodge hideaways.

For my ultimate forest adventure, I headed inland to the New England Outdoor Center; an all-year woodland retreat sequestered deep in the shadows of Maine’s beloved Baxter State Park, while also overlooking the state’s highest and most revered mountain, the majestic Mount Katahdin. It’s a soul-soothing, remote switch-off here where, even the nearest town of Millinocket, a sleepy lumber industry crossroads 10 miles east, feels like an ion away.

Though there are exceptions, holiday cabins in Maine tend to be fit and functional rather than overly boujee. My lake view lodge (make that frozen lake view) was a bucket-list, rustic retreat affair and featured an open-plan design with alcove beds and bunks, a kitchenette to rustle up those blueberry pancakes in the morning and a wood-burning stove to nestle around come evening. Deep into winter, there’s little to disturb the silence here too but for the boot crunch on fresh snow, the occasional rumble of a snowmobiler short-cutting across the lake or the whoosh of a bald eagle harrying the skies.

I had to brace those frigid temperatures at some point but there’s no better way to stay toasty than with one of Maine’s top winter pursuits, cross-county variety. The state is famed for its 100-mile wilderness route where seasoned skiers can travel lodge to lodge but I cut my teeth along one of the centre’s shorter loops which offer views of Lake Katahdin. Along with fat-tyre biking, the ideal way to whip across the mountains (or lake!) In winter, you’ll find getting from A to B here pretty exhilarating too.

Spring

After New England’s long winter comes to an end, Mainers start to defrost, the state comes to life and spring offers the sweet spot timeline to enjoy some fine weather exploring, just without the crowds.

Mainers are big outdoors fanatics and hiking is a state-wide obsession. And you’ll find few better spots to follow in their North Face footsteps than a visit to Acadia National Park. Further up the seaboard, North-eastern Maine also enjoys the distinction of being the first place in the USA to welcome in the sunrise every morning and the coastal town of Lubec is where you experience it first. To add another quirk to your road-trip there, take the bridge to the tiny island of Campobello, just across from the town, which is famed for being the former summer residence of Franklin D and Eleanor Roosevelt. Their traditional, shingle-style cottage remains a pretty neat heritage centre today but what makes Campobello unique is that it is actually in New Brunswick, Canada and locked off from the rest of the country via its bridge to mainland Maine.

Hungry? Portland, Maine’s largest city, should make an all-year pitstop on the Maine itinerary. However, the beauty of an off-season visit is that you’ll get to experience some of the city’s top restaurants without having to wait in line. Luke’s Lobster on the wharf is one of my favourite spots to hit for seafood (and an iconic lobster roll) — but you’ll find scores of excellent restaurants everywhere from the historic downtown district to Portland’s surrounding neighbourhoods. Try Chaval, a French and Spanish-inspired brasserie, which is a real hit with locals.

Don’t forget to keep tabs on Maine’s quirky events calendar throughout the year too. Maple Sunday, always the fourth weekend in March, is always a fun time to savour some local produce as maple syrup producers celebrate the springtime sap harvest!

  • I was a guest of Discover New England for this trip and travelled through the region courtesy of Hertz. A car rental tip is to sign up for Hertz’ Gold Plus Rewards program, regardless of how often you hire a motor. I find being able to fast-track to a members desk at busy airports nowadays a great reason to join!
  • discovernewengland.org

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