If you’re heading to Maine, it’s no doubt that Maine national parks are on your bucket list!
And for good reason!
Maine national parks are some of the best in the country due to their fascinating history and stunning natural beauty.
Here’s what you need to know about Maine national parks to start your planning and make the most of your visit.
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Maine National Parks Overview
First, let me clarify.
If you’re somewhat familiar with Maine, you know that the plural form of “park” is a little misleading because there’s actually only one official Maine national park: Acadia National Park.
However, the National Park Service manages and therefore lists several additional Maine locations on its website as being in the national park category.
So, for the sake of this article, I’ll be referring to all of these locations as ‘Maine national parks’.
Now, let’s get started!
Located in the New England region of the United States, the Pine Tree State lives up to its nickname with seemingly endless forests of white pine trees filled with moose, black bears, sugar maples, and American elms.
Along with its coastal location along the Atlantic Ocean, more than 90% of the state of Maine is forested!
But did you know that Maine is more just than its forests and rugged coastlines?
As the largest state in New England, Maine consists of three primary land regions: Coastal Lowlands, New England Uplands, and the White Mountains region.
Starting at the Atlantic coast in the southern part of the state, the Coastal Lowlands run inland for up to 40 miles and include a variety of bays, inlets, salt marches, and even sandy beaches.
The biggest draw is its extensive collection of islands, some of which make up Maine’s famous national park (more on that in a minute).
The New England Uplands region lies northwest of the coastal area and features stunning remnants of the last Ice Age: deep water lakes, streams, and fertile soil.
Finally, the northwestern part of the state is the mountainous White Mountains region.
This area was named the Longfellow Mountains in 1959 by the Maine Legislature to honor the famous native Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Here is where you’ll find Baxter State Park, the home of Maine’s highest point, Mt. Katahdin.
*Interested in learning more about our favorite U.S. family vacation destinations and National Parks? Check out our entire U.S. family travel bucket list here!
Maine National Parks You Need to Visit
Tucked into Maine’s miles of rugged coastline and wild forests lie six sites managed by the National Park Service.
These Maine national parks are not only breathtaking, but they are like nothing else you’ll find around the country.
1. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
If you love to hike, there’s no better trail than the famous 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail – the longest hiking-only trail in the world!
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Springer Mountain, Georgia all the way to Katahdin, Maine, passing through 14 states along the way.
Arguably one of the most famous hiking trails globally, The Appalachain Trail welcomes over 3 million visitors each year for its incomparable experiences and scenic views.
Most visitors believe that the 281.4 miles of trail located within Maine are the most difficult.
The western section, in particular, includes a mile-long stretch of boulders at Mahoosuc Notch, often called the trail’s hardest mile.
In addition, the most isolated portion of the Appalachian Trail, known as the “Hundred-Mile Wilderness” is also located in Maine.
Hikers end the Maine portion of the Appalachian Trail by trekking through Baxter State Park before ending their journey at the summit of Mt. Katahdin.
Additional planning tip: Due to the expanse of the Appalachian Trail, it can be almost daunting to know where to begin when planning a visit here.
To start, I highly recommend you check out this interactive map to find campsites, hostels, and much more.
2. Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument
Located near Baxter State Park in Northeastern Maine lies Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument.
Established as a national monument in 2016, Katahdin is one of the newest Maine national park sites and therefore, remains less developed than other sites.
But don’t let that deter you because it’s a haven for outdoor recreation!
Here, you can discover breathtaking views on more than 100 miles of hiking trails, including the Orin Falls Trail.
Also, you can camp under the stars, go snowmobiling, try your luck at fishing and hunting, or thrill in a terrific mountain biking experience, just to name a few activities!
And if that’s not enough, there are many opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing.
The Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument is the perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
Additional planning tip: As you explore, be sure to keep an eye out for logging trucks making their way onto the roads!
Since Maine is still one of the world’s leaders in paper production and you’ll find logging roads aplenty.
3. Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
Saint Croix Island is a small patch of land in the Saint Croix River between Maine and New Brunswick.
French settlers established a small, short-lived settlement of 79 people there three years before the first English settlement of Jamestown.
Although this colony didn’t stay long, it paved the way for the French’s continued exploration of North America, making this area historically significant.
Now remembered as being the oldest permanent settlement in New England, this site is managed by the National Park Service and stands as the smallest site on our list of Maine National Parks.
The Saint Croix Island International Historic Site is home to a short interpretive trail featuring bronze figures of its original inhabitants and displays that discuss the historical events that took place there from 1604-1605.
In addition, the Ranger Station features informational exhibits, a park store, passport stamps, a restroom, and drinking water during the summer season.
4. Maine Acadian Culture
The Maine Acadian culture can be found everywhere in the St. John Valley in Northern Maine’s Aroostook County and across the St. John River in New Brunswick.
These sites celebrate and remember the Acadians, the French descendants who settled in this area in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Learn more about this culture by visiting the several museums and historical sites preserved in this area.
Tour the Acadian village museum, the Fort Kent Blockhouse, Fort Kent Railroad Station, Governor Brann Schoolhouse, and more.
5. Acadia National Park
Did I save the best for last?
Whether or not you agree that Acadia National Park is the best Maine national park, we can definitely agree on one thing: this is one national park that has no equal!
As the first national park to be established east of the Mississippi River, it makes Acadia even more special.
In addition, it is commonly voted as one of the best National Parks to visit in the fall for its vibrant fall colors and variety of activities suitable for autumn.
Located just outside the town of Bar Harbor along the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia National Park spans several islands (including half of Mount Desert Island).
Here, you’ll discover a whole new world of majestic cliffs, granite peaks, rolling green mountains, and famous rocky beaches.
Recreational Opportunities in Acadia National Park
With more than 120 miles of hiking trails, Acadia National Park is a paradise for anyone who loves to hike, bike, or ride horses!
In addition, if you love to stargaze, you definitely need to check out the stars from Jordan pond or Sand Beach to catch some spectacular views.
Experienced hikers should check out the Precipice Trail, a relatively short (but difficult) hike that takes you to the top of a mountain in an unconventional way: by climbing iron rungs attached to the rock.
Other must-try hikes include the Beehive Trail and the Ship Harbor Trail.
Next, campers should check out Backwoods Campground, Seawall Campground, or Duck Harbor Campground.
If you prefer a hotel, there are plenty of options available as well!
Other popular Acadia National Park activities include:
- Checking out the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
- Exploring the historic carriage roads
- Watching the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
- Tide pooling at Wonderland
- Camping outside under the stars
- Swimming on Sand Beach
- Driving Park Loop Road for stunning scenery
And lastly, don’t forget to check out another popular and dramatic site: Thunder Hole.
This spot is a small hole just beneath the water’s surface.
As waves recede, air enters the cave, which then lets out a thunderous roar when the next wave enters!
With so many recreational activities to do, plan to spend at least a couple of days experiencing everything this Maine national park offers.
Honorable Mention: Roosevelt Campobello International Park
I’m including this Maine national park site as an honorable mention because it is technically not in Maine (or the US).
Rich with American history, Roosevelt Campobello International Park sits just over the Canadian border in southwestern New Brunswick.
However, the only bridge that will take you to this island starts in Maine.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, grew up spending summers at this “cottage.”
It was also where (as an adult) he came down with Polio.
Today, you can tour Roosevelt’s restored cottage and enjoy the 1885 Mulholland Point Lighthouse, self-guided natural areas, and stunning hiking trails.
Additional planning tip: Don’t forget your passport so you can enjoy this international park and make it back home, too!
Maine National Parks Planning Tips
Like many national parks, these sites (especially Acadia National Park) can get very busy in the peak summer travel season.
Plan your stay and make camping or hotel reservations at least three months in advance if you want to visit.
Additionally, if you particularly love fall colors, plan your visit to Maine in the early part of October.
That’s when you can see the glorious fall colors that the entire country raves about.
Finally, be aware that these parks may close portions during the winter, so do your research before taking your trip.
Maine National Parks Conclusion
Every national park and monument is unique in its own right, but these Maine national parks need to go on your must-visit list today!
Whether you want to take in the sparkling lakes, marvel at the rocky coastline, or surround yourself with the forest, you can find it in the wild and wonderful Maine.
Don’t forget to visit the area in the fall at least once – the stunning array of colors is something you won’t find anywhere else!
Do you especially love one of these Maine national parks? Let me know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed reading our article on the best Maine national parks, please check out our related national parks posts:
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*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find our exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*