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Maine parks/nature preserves

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Did You Know … ?

  • Acadia National Park was the first U.S. national park east of the Mississippi (1919).
  • Quoddy Head State Park is the country’s easternmost point.
  • Maine has more than 1 million acres of state parks, nature preserves and public lands.
  • In 1607/1608, English settlers built North America’s first ocean-going ship at Popham, site of a state park.
  • Mayall Mills, a state historic site, was the continent’s first water-powered woolen mill (1791).

Parks with special appeal

It’s as clear as the sun and the moon and the ocean spray that Maine is an excellent destination for lovers of the outdoors. One way of taking advantage of this fact is to schedule a vacation around the parks and other public spaces.

Many parks were established to protect the best that nature granted to the state and so, naturally, they have a broad appeal for any lover of beauty, wildlife or natural drama.

However, because of rough terrain or rustic conditions, certain parks are best suited for the active and venturesome vacationer. But, others have beaches, gentle walking trails and options for ranger-led activities, organized fishing or guided wildlife viewing.

Parks are publicly funded and meant to embrace all comers. Maine’s parks and preserves appeal most to the venturesome, but they are successful at attracting many others, too.

Maine offers a lot of park space, but mostly at the state level. Its Bureau of Parks and Lands lists 41 state parks, 16 state historic sites and 29 areas called public reserved lands. These properties are widely scattered, some well into the mountains and forested areas, others very close to coastal population centers or right at the ocean’s edge. A few are lighthouse sites.

The National Park Service lists the Acadia National Park (most of which is on a coastal island), Saint Croix Island International Historic Site and the Appalachian Trail. It also is responsible with Canadian counterparts for the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, just across the border in New Brunswick’s waters.

Throughout the system, there are many opportunities for boating of various kinds, camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking and snowmobiling. A number of camps in the parks have hot showers. Depending on time of year, some trails also are available for cross-country skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking and riding ATVs. Many areas are closed in fall and winter, but visitors still can walk in.

The parks also are crossed by part of the Appalachian Trail, a canoeing trail, a birding trail and a number of designated scenic driving routes. Tourists can just drop in, but planning this trip is part of the fun.

Things to do for Venturers

  • For those who like solitude, participate in a fishing excursion or whitewater rafting trip to the Penobscot River Corridor in the midst of undeveloped forest land.
  • And for the ambitious cross-country skier, break trail in one of Maine’s state parks or on public reserve spaces where the land is open to public access.
  • Hike in Baxter State Park. It has more than 200 miles of trails in its 200,000 acres.
  • Camp in Aroostook State Park or in any of quite a few other state parks, as well as Acadia National Park.
  • Hike a dozen of the most challenging miles of the Appalachian Trail in Grafton Notch State Park and the Mahoosuc Public Lands. It also encompasses part of the Maine Birding Trail, and birders specifically look for peregrine falcons, among others. Anglers come here for brook trout. Watch for bear, deer and grouse, too.
  • Or, try a different national trail, the National Forest Canoe Trail, in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a 92-mile string of lakes, ponds and rivers in the center of northern Maine’s commercial forests. The 740-mile water trail runs through four states and Quebec.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Take a day hike up Mount Blue in Mount Blue State Park. Or, hitch a ride on an ATV — or a horse — and travel the park’s 25 miles of multiuse trails. Cover the same trails in a snowmobile or on cross-country skis in winter.
  • Canoe through peat bogs at Great Heath Public Reserved Land.
  • Come to Popham Beach State Park at the mouth of the Kennebec River (noting that the surf is strong), and walk to Fox Island, only doable at low tide. Be conscious that this was the site of a failed colony dating from 1607, the year of Jamestown’s founding in Virginia.
  • Be first in the nation to see the sunrise, either at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park or Quoddy Head State Park. (The first sunrise is seen at different points during different times of the year.)
  • Ride a horse on the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. Or, in winter, travel these roads on snowshoes. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., contributed 11,000 acres to the park and built the carriage roads.
  • In autumn, drive up the Mount Battie Auto Road in Camden Hills State Park for sweeping views of the colors. The park, which offers hiking trails and camping facilities suitable for the family, is just north of Camden, the picture of a New England town. Complement park time with a harbor cruise or a cruise to see whales and puffins.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Combine time in a state park with outlet shopping in Freeport. Drive to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park a few miles out of town. Watch for and photograph the ospreys, walk the Casco Bay Trail and settle down for a picnic.
  • Take the kids for a hike along a shoreline trail in Lily Bay State Park. The visit provides opportunities for spotting wildlife, too.
  • If a history buff, head for historic sites, such as Mayall Mills in Gray, Maine. Or, make that Colonial Pemaquid in Bristol to see a fort, a 1790 house, 17th century burial ground and foundations of houses in the colonial village, which was settled in the 1620s. Attend a reenactment event in Pemaquid and shop for souvenirs related to the site’s history.
  • Follow the 40-mile Acadia All-American Road, which takes you on a loop through Acadia National Park. You can make this a low-carbon tour by traveling much of the road on free, propane-powered Island Explorer buses.
  • Or, swim in Acadia National Park at beaches with lifeguards. They are at Sand Beach on the ocean and at a warmer beach on Echo Island.
  • Carry your picnic supplies to the grounds of one of the state’s historic forts. Fort Knox has the most expansive grounds, 124 acres. You also can picnic in almost all state parks.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Maine Office of Tourism at www.visitmaine.com