This guide recaps our Maine road trip and shares some of the best hikes, activities, and places to go in Maine!
What to do in Maine
After my husband and I took a nine-day road trip through Maine in the summer, I can't help but share about everything we did there. For a trip that was planned at the last minute by people who had spent limited-to-no time in the state, we came away absolutely loving what we did on our Maine trip.
I've organized this post day by day, with a brief introduction and backstory to fill in a bit of context. I've included information about our favorite spots from our Maine road trip, activities we enjoyed, and places we stayed.
Our Maine Road Trip Plan
To provide a little context for this trip to Maine, I'll recap who we are, where we went, when we did it, and why we set out on this trip in the first place.
Who? This was a two-person travel group consisting of me and my husband Al.
Where? We knew we would road trip to and around the state of Maine.
When? We went to Maine in the summer. Specifically, we targeted the end of June and beginning of July.
Why? Not that there has to be a specific excuse to travel, we traveled to Maine for our sixth wedding anniversary.
How? We put together the details of this trip literally two days before packing up the car and leaving. Once we decided to go to Maine, we knew we wanted to camp around the state.
Two days before leaving our home in St. Louis, Missouri, we found various campsites around the state and made online reservations. We knew we wanted camping, hiking, eating, and enjoying nature. Beyond that, though, we didn't really have a clue exactly what we were getting into!
This post starts off with our itinerary, then gets into our budget breakdown and general tips for planning a Maine road trip.
Day 0: Getting there
The first day of travel saw us driving from St. Louis to stay with some relatives just outside of Philadelphia. While we could have headed straight for Maine, the drive would have been about 23 hours, so we opted to break it up.
We're glad we did! This trip ended up involving a decent amount of driving. It's not too bad once you actually get to Maine, but there was a lot of ground to cover to make it!
If you have the option to fly into the state (say, to the Portland International Jetport) and rent a car, you might consider doing so.
However, flying and renting would be more difficult to do if you plan on doing a camping-intensive trip like the once we describe here. There are some tradeoffs to consider!
The trip from STL to Philly took about 14 hours. We settled in for the night and planned to leave for Maine in the morning.
Day 1: Arriving in Maine
Day 1 of the trip (which was really day 2 of our travels) brought us to Baxter State Park in the north central part of the state. We drove through the town of Millinocket, ME and into what we'd later realize was over 200,000 of parkland.
We stayed at the Roaring Brook campground, which turned out to be a great experience and quite close to the hike we had planned for the next day. Our campground had us in a lean-to, a shelter meant to be slept in without a tent or similar accommodations.
We knew we wanted to hike on Mt. Katahdin, Maine's tallest mountain and home to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. We were unsure about the weather—it had been raining like crazy for a few weeks—but decided to proceed as if we'd be clear to go.
Roaring Brook Campground
The campground was well-maintained, but we were especially thankful that we brought a bug net. At such a popular time of year for campgrounds, there is a reason a lean-to spot was the last available—most people prefer to stay in tents due to the mosquitoes!
Our bug net was successful, and we were able to enjoy our spot right near the flowing water (there really is a roaring brook!). We had to bring our own water into Baxter, as well as everything we might have needed, as the area is fairly remote.
We learned from the beginning that the rangers at the park were very knowledgable and helpful. They were able to give us up-to-date information about trail conditions and weather reports.
After we set up camp and got checked in, we made dinner, packed for our hike the next morning, and went to sleep.
Day 2: Climbing Katahdin
We had an early start the second day, where we immediately went to the ranger shed to check on the weather. Because safety is a concern when dealing with high elevation and exposed ridgelines on the mountain, if the weather is particularly disagreeable they won't let you hike up.
Luckily, we got a break in what had been a streak of crummy weather, so we were able to set off on our destination.
We started around 7 am after a breakfast. The entire hike took us about 9 hours, there and back, with about 7 hours of actual hiking. Given the recent poor conditions, trails were muddy and slippery, which likely slowed us down.
When we reached Chimney Pond, we stopped at the ranger station, used the restroom, and ate a snack. We hadn't reached the more challenging portion of our hike yet, but we already appreciated the beauty of the greenery and natural wonder in the Baxter State Park wildnerness.
Taking Saddle Trail up was a bit more technical than the way up to Chimney Pond, but it was manageable the whole way. There was some scrambling toward the end, but nothing that felt particularly perilous. One defining feature was the scree, lose rocks that can slide underfoot.
Reaching the Top
Our view at Hamlin Peak didn't impress at first—it was fog as far as we could see! When we headed down Hamlin Ridge, however, some of the cloudiness opened up onto a stunning vista.
Hamlin Ridge is more bouldery with some bigger movements in between the rocks. If you're not a fan of heights, though, both Hamlin Ridge and Saddle are going to be a better experience than the infamous Knife's Edge on the way to Baxter Peak, which is probably more frequently visited than Hamlin Peak. We plan to do that next time!
In general, the hiking was pretty tough but gorgeous all the way. The view on the way down Hamlin Ridge was especially awesome, though the way down the hike was at least as hard as the way up, if not harder!
When we finally made it back to the campground, we rinsed off in some frigid water near our campsite. We had an early dinner, made a fire, read books, and went to bed early—easy after a day of hard work!
Day 3: Heading to Cobscook Bay
On the third day, we packed up camp in the morning and drove back out into the town of Millinocket. On our way out, we were able to appreciate the various cool ponds in Baxter State Park, many of which have self-service kayaks and canoes to rent cheaply.
We were able to check out the farmers market in Millinocket, enjoy a local bakery, and eat brunch at Appalachian Trail Cafe. It was easy to tell why this spot was popular for thru hikers—lots of delicious, scratch-made dishes.
After a while of hanging out in Millinocket, we started the 2.5-hour drive to Cobscook Bay State Park. Cobscook Bay is in a part of the state Mainers refer to as downeast (which itself is a term with a lot of regional history). The practical effect is that we were nearly in the easternmost part of the US, quite close the whole time to the Canadian border.
As a state park, Cobscook Bay has able campsites, which are pleasantly secluded while having facilities nearby. Our campsite sat right on the bay, so we could hear seagulls and the pleasant sounds of the water while we were there.
We walked on a nature trail, took advantage of hot showers at the bathhouse, and relaxed with a campfire and s'mores. We also packed our lunch for the next day, as we had more hiking ahead of us!
Day 4: Cutler Coast and Lubec, ME
We woke up, made breakfast, and got ready to set out for our planned day hike. We drove to the Cutler Coast Public Reserve to hike the Fairy Head Loop. Conditions were wet and misty, and fog lingered in the air. We nonetheless knew we wanted to give this loop a try from our online research, which had yet to lead us astray!
The hike in general was well-maintained given the very woody and uncleared nature of the inland portions of the trail. There was some overgrowth and muddy conditions on the trail, but there was also extensive wooden planking and other modifications to improve the hiking experience despite the conditions.
Unfortunately, fog impeded what would have otherwise been some stunning views when the trail opened up to the coast. Despite this (or maybe because of it), we were able to appreciate the variety of native plant life present in the inland and still marvel at the Atlantic waves crashing onto some of the rocky beaches.
If you're going to hike the Fairy Head Loop, be sure to wear hiking boots and prepare for some challenging aspects. While there's no mountain to climb, there's enough elevation change and technical sections to demand care.
Lubec and Morano's
After the hike we were quite hungry, so we headed into Lubec, Maine for some pizza. We ordered a pizza from Morano's Authentic Pizza, which happens to be the easternmost pizzeria in the United States. While it sounds like a gimmick, we're happy to report that the pizza was very high quality—a pleasant and welcome surprise after a hard hike.
Because it was raining, we ate at a park overlooking the bay. After that, we headed back to Cobscook Bay to shower and hunker down in our tent to wait out a rainy night. The next day, we were headed out of the country!
Day 5: Canada's Campobello Island and Heading to Acadia
Okay, so we said this was a Maine road trip, right? Well, that's primarily true. In addition to the several states we passed along the way, we also left the United States altogether and headed to Campobello Island, part of New Brunswick, Canada.
Remember how we ate in the easternmost pizzeria in the US? Well, that building sits right across from the FDR Memorial Bridge connecting Lubec, Maine to Canadian territory. There's a full border crossing and everything!
We had our passports at the ready and drove over the bridge to the island on a foggy morning. Once we passed through the checkpoint and signs switched from miles to kilometers, we knew we really had made it over.
Campobello Island is home to Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which is the only park of its kind, jointly funded, managed, and staffed by two countries (Canada and the US, of course).
The Roosevelt family (yes, the presidential one) has a long history of connection to the island, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent the summers of his youth there in a cottage owned by his family. While the cottage changed hands, it was eventually donated to the international park, and is kept up in a similar to fashion to how the Roosevelt family might have lived in it.
We did a tour through the Roosevelt Cottage provided by the park, and we were both surprised by how entertaining and interesting it was. While history is more of Al's speed, we both appreciated the knowledgable tour guide and the beauty of the island and the cottages there.
After our cottage tour, we had a snack and tea at Prince Cottage before hiking a trail to Friar Point. We'd have normally been able to see Eastport, Maine from our view there, but the lingering fog prevented this.
We decided to do one more drive through the park before heading back Stateside. A word of warning: be careful what you bring over! We had an unopened bag of clementines (purchased in the US) that had to be confiscated at the border checkpoint. If we had known the rules, we probably would have waited to make that purchase!
Going to Ellsworth
After making it back into the US, we headed down the coastal highway to Ellsworth, Maine. Still in the downeast region of the state, Ellsworth is very near to Mt Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and more.
We used our arrival in Ellsworth as an opportunity to do laundry at a laundromat (much needed!), which brought a natural period of rest to the middle of the day. Once we were done with that, we headed to the evening's campsite in Lamoine State Park. For the evening of July 3rd, we felt fortunate to get a spot there, as the whole region becomes crowded in anticipation of Bar Harbor's Fourth of July celebrations.
Our campsite at Lamoine was situated close to some water. The campsites were a bit closer together than some of the other parks we had experienced, but it was still a good experience with a clean bathhouse and showers. That said, we knew we wouldn't be staying long—we set our alarms for 3am and dozed off for the night!
Day 6: Acadia National Park on the Fourth of July
An early alarm woke us up while it was still pitch black outside. We wordlessly packed up our campsite, put everything into the car, and hit the road heading toward Acadia National Park.
With some help from a friend, we had secured permits to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise over Bar Harbor. Being so far east, a sunrise is a very early affair around those parts, so we had to begin our 45-minute drive into the park that much early.
We were certainly not the only ones with the same idea—by the time we got to the summit, we realized we were joined by a couple hundred others. Despite this, it didn't feel overcrowded, and everyone was generally able to find a spot.
With the fog that had been the trend, we didn't know whether we'd see much of a sunrise at all, but it was still worth the anticipation and drive to get into the park. While it was indeed cloudy, the sun did poke through and give us even more than we expected.
Hiking in Acadia
While the sunrise was certainly a gorgeous way to start off the day, perhaps the best part about the Cadillac Mountain adventure was that we were in the park quite early. We headed down the mountain and over to the Sandy Beach parking lot to fit in home hiking before the crowds came in.
We started the Beehive Loop to the Bowl Trail at around 5:30 am. This was a great time to go: we didn't see more than a few other people, the hiking was peaceful, and we enjoyed some beautiful overlooks without feeling pressure from crowds.
When we finished those hikes, we went up and down the Ocean Path Trail, a leisurely stroll with opportunities to peel off and get close to the ocean. This hike is very easy, family friendly, and still full of gorgeous vistas.
After the Ocean Path, we drove over toward Jordan Pond and hiked the Jordan Pond Loop starting at about 7:30 am. Jordan Pond is very popular, and for good reason! The tranquility of the water, abundance of wildlife, and well-maintained path around make the experience almost magical.
Even though it began to drizzle during our trip around, the Jordan Pond experience was a highlight for us—not least because I share a name with it!
Leaving the Park
By the time we stopped at the visitor center, it was only mid morning and we had already spent several hours hiking! Having worked up some hunger, we decided to leave the park and head to Josie's Country Store and Cafe back out in Ellsworth. Josie's was a pleasant surprise: a large and interesting menu with well-executed dishes, an extensive drink menu, and a convenience store with a larger-than-usual selection of pan-Asian snacks and goodies.
While we didn't get to hit other options because of holiday closures, we had repeated recommendations for Thurston's Lobster Pound and the Blue Hill Co-Op. You might consider checking those out if you're in the area!
We swung into Bar Harbor to check out the scene, but the parade was in full swing and we didn't feel like we'd have an easy time getting in on the action. That said, if Fourth of July festivities are your thing, you'd absolutely love everything the town has going on during that day!
With the relative heat of the day, we were interested in finding somewhere to swim. Carters Beach in nearby Hancock fit the bill, but the small area was also relatively crowded for the holiday.
Staying the Night
We headed back onto Mt Desert Island, as our accommodations for the night were at Kimball Terrace Inn, a hotel in Northeast Harbor. Because we knew in advance that the Fourth of July was going to be difficult to find spots anywhere, we looked at hotels instead of campgrounds for the 4th and decided to break up our camping with one night on a real bed.
It was worth it! Kimball Terrace was a good experience, and they even let us check in a bit early when we arrived. The comfy bed and shower was great for resting and recharging before continuing our journey back westward.
Our only qualm about the day was that we didn't get out onto a boat. While we were able to get by on this trip with last-minute reservations everywhere, all of the boat tours, kayak rentals, etc. in the Mt Desert Island region were completely full during the hours we were there. If we had looked further in advance, we would have taken advantage of the Sea Princess nature cruises operating out of Northeast Harbor.
Although we didn't get out on a boat, we still enjoyed time sitting by the harbor and watching the action before going to bed for the night.
Day 7: Down to Freeport and Wolfe's Neck
We woke up at the hotel and had a slow morning as we packed up and got ready to drive some more. We were headed to the Portland/Freeport area of the state, but a recommendation for a killer lobster roll gave us a little detour on the way down.
Let me tell you: if there was ever a lobster roll worth detouring for, it's the one at McLoons Lobster Shack. Located on Spruce Head Island, we headed through Rockport to get there and were met by a very large line. If the place is a hidden gem, then a lot of people must know the secret!
The experience at McLoons was excellent. The lobster rolls (including Al's first!) were superlative, the service (despite the crowd) was great, and there was a great view of the bay as well.
Wolfe's Neck Center
After being completely impressed by our experience at McLoons, we resumed our journey down to the Freeport, Maine area and our campground at Wolfe's Neck Oceanfront Camping.
This was one cool thing to another! More than just a campground, Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & The Environment is an educational institution, farm, land preserve, and more all rolled up into one 600+ acre facility on gorgeous coastal Maine land.
Our campsite was excellent, but the whole Center was lovely to explore. There was a great farm store complete with a cafe, a cattle crossing (with some wonderful cows!), and a whole lot more.
Once we got our tent set up and settled in, we headed into Freeport to Bow Street Market to get some meat for dinner. We enjoyed the local offerings and friendly service and even picked up some locally-roasted coffee to bring home with us.
We went back to the campsite to cook a yummy dinner, but decided we were needing a bit more for our sweet tooth. Then, we left the campsite and headed into Brunswick for Fielder's Choice Ice Cream, a baseball-themed spot with delicious treats.
After ice cream, we drove into Freeport for the famed L.L. Bean Store. This flagship store is open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and features a fully-stocked retail store, outdoor outfitter, and more. You could probably spend a full day in the L.L. Bean store, but we decided we were tired enough to head back into the campground and get some sleep.
Day 8: Portland and Friends
We started the morning by heading into Portland, Freeport's big brother about a half-hour away. We heard great things about the coffee and biscuits at Tandem Coffee + Bakery and we were not disappointed in the slightest!
After breakfast, we wandered around Portland before popping into Longfellow Books. This bookstore has a great selection of new and used titles.
Our stop after Longfellow was a boutique called Soliel, featuring home decor and well-curated gifts. Then, it was back to Wolfe's Neck for some kayaking in Casco Bay.
Kayaking in the bay was a fun time. The waters are very tide-dependent, so you can only go out during certain hours. We enjoyed a relaxing time out on the water before coming back in to rest.
Making New Friends
On our way in to Maine, I had gotten a message from a follower who was n the Freeport area at the same time as us. She was generous enough to offer dinner. When the time came and we were back in Freeport, we took her up on the offer.
We had some new friends that evening! Sally and her family were spending time at their cottage in Freeport overlooking the bay, which they do every summer. They were all so kind and welcomed us in to to feel like part of the family. This was maybe the highlight of our whole trip. There's nothing quite like making new friends and connecting over a shared experience.
After dinner, we headed back into Freeport for some delicious Ben & Jerry's ice cream, then it was time to say goodbye and head back to the campground for one more night in the tent.
Day 9: Philadelphia and Homeward Bound
The next morning, we packed up camp and loaded the car one last time. We grabbed breakfast sandwiches from the farm cafe and started on our way back toward the Philadelphia area. We made good time but were plenty tired upon arrival there. After we made it, we slept for the night. We then spent the next day spending time in the area with family. A bonus highlight: seeing the fountain show at Longwood Gardens.
After one last day of exploration, we hit the hay and prepared for the drive back to St. Louis. Thankfully, the trip was was uneventful.
We had been saving for a general vacation, so we knew we could at least afford to spend a bit, but at the same time we tend to be frugal travelers. Opting for campsites instead of hotels for most nights was definitely going to save money, and we knew we'd buy groceries for at least 2 out of 3 meals on any given day.
The prices below reflect our experience in Summer 2023, but obviously things change. This is just to give you an idea of how the trip shook out for the two of us after driving everywhere, camping out, and doing the things we wanted to do.
Note that this wasn't a budget we broke down into categories beforehand, but the actual expenses (rounded for neatness) we incurred on the Maine road trip.
This was the cost of gas from St. Louis to Philadelphia, all around Maine, back to Philadelphia, and finally home to St. Louis. We drove a 2019 Toyota RAV4 packed fairly full of food and camping supplies.
CAMPSITE RESERVATIONS: $283.00
If you're going to do a similar camping-heavy trip through Maine, we recommend booking as far in advance as you comfortably can. While we were obviously able to get away with it, it was sometimes just barely the case. We often had the last campsite at the campgrounds! Although some spots are first-come first-serve, which is a different situation entirely, we wanted to know that if we were driving all this way we'd have a spot reserved.
In general, the campsites in Maine during the summer (in the state parks, for example) are more expensive than we'd expect in our home state of Missouri. That said, camping provided a far more economical option than hotels would have. At the same time, we also already had a tent, a camp stove, and other things that made camping affordable.
You can accumulate outdoor gear at good prices by shopping sales or buying used gear. That's the way we've acquired many of the high-quality items we own that would otherwise cost a pretty penny new off the shelf.
CAMP FOOD: $130.00
For meals in a day, we typically ate 2 from our cooler of groceries and 1 from a restaurant or other spot. This varied from place to place, but it gives you an idea of how things shook out.
Here's a general idea of what we packed for camp food, some of which we bought mid-trip:
breakfasts: oatmeal & peanut butter, coffee, yogurt parfaits with yogurt, fruit, granola
lunches: sandwiches, pinwheels, fruit, veggies, pretzels, fruit sticks
dinners: chicken pesto tortellini, mac & cheese with chicken sausage, quinoa with chicken sausage and veggies, bbq chicken with rice noodles and snap peas
other: s'mores things, sparkling water, bars, cold brew
DINING OUT: $312.00
We didn't have a strict plan for restaurants we wanted to visit. We sought recommendations from the internet and locals and just felt it out!
Eating good food is a priority, so this was an area where we wanted to splurge a little. We didn't eat anywhere particularly fancy, but we budgeted so that we could take advantage of tasty options when we found them.
This amount includes meals we ate on the way there and back.
Because we couldn't find any campground on the Fourth of July, we stayed in a hotel room at the Kimball Terrace Inn. Given the holiday and high demand, we knew we'd be paying more than we otherwise would. Despite being a bit overpriced, we were happy to have somewhere to stay!
Not too bad for a 9-day trip, all things considered! We are also thankful to our family in the Philadelphia area for putting us up and feeding us on the way there and back, which is obviously a place we saved some cash.
How to plan a Maine road trip
When we were throwing this trip together at the last minute, we found a few places/regions we knew we'd be interested in and then tried to loop everything together based on timing/availability.
We targeted four areas and spent 2-3 days in each part. We progressed from "harder" hiking challenges to a more leisurely trip, which worked out really well.
Here's a recap of the areas we targeted and the thoughts that went into picking them:
Baxter State Park: We knew we wanted to go here for Katahdin and that it would likely represent the most strenuous hiking of the trip. Because we figured we'd have the most energy, we planned to go here right off the bat. We could have easily spent more days here—such a massive park with so many things to see.
Cutler Coast/Cobscook Bay: This was remote, scenic, and absolutely gorgeous through and through. Though we god some of the trip's worst weather, it couldn't suppress all of the natural beauty and we still had a marvelous time.
Acadia National Park: This is definitely a highlight within the state. Acadia and the surrounding areas are an absolute treasure, but everyone realizes that, so it can get very crowded!
Freeport/Portland: This area provides plenty of places to eat, great weather and views of the bay, and places to shop and get a more cosmopolitan feel. It was the perfect last stop in the state.
Camping in Maine
Here's a recap of the places we camped:
- Baxter State Park (Millinocket)
- Cobscook Bay State Park (near Lubec)
- Lamoine State Park (near Ellsworth/Acadia)
- Wolfe's Neck Oceanfront Camping (near Freeport)
We would stay at all of these again and recommend them without hesitation! The first three are especially remote, so be prepared to bring in what you need. Wolfe's Neck has a great camping feel but is also close to Freeport for any in-town needs.
In general, you'll need reservations, and you'll want to make them as soon as possible to make sure you can get in. There were some first-come, first-serve options along the way (such as at the Cutler Coast Public Land), but availability isn't guaranteed, so plan accordingly.
Weather During the Trip
We did our Maine road trip at the end of June and beginning of July. A narrative we heard from locals everywhere we went was how rainy it had been. Given the nonstop rain preceding the trip, we were fortunate to really only deal with it on a couple of days.
The weather was highs in the 70s (Fahrenheit), with one day peaking ambitiously into the 80s. Lows were in the low 50s. It felt absolutely wonderful, especially given that temperatures in our home state of Missouri were soaring past 100.
Mosquitoes were definitely a factor, especially at the more inland regions like Baxter State Park. We'd suggest making a plan with bug nets and spray, wearing long sleeves and pants when possible, and just preparing for the inevitable with bites.
Mosquitoes aside, conditions were great for this trip, especially when things turned around and the sun decided to come out!
We Love Maine
I had been to Acadia once before, and Al had never been to the state at all. After our trip, we're absolutely in love with it. We're already scheming about how we can go back—hopefully we can even see our new friends in Freeport!
We think the trip could be great for a lot of different traveling styles, including families with young children. Obviously, everyone knows their own needs, but we think there was plenty of family-friendly activity the whole way.
We will absolutely be heading back to Maine after doing this Maine road trip. Have you gone? Making plans to go? Definitely let me know—I'll be happy to share even more details and stories!