The largest and the northernmost state in the New England region of the American Northeast, Maine is bordered by the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick in the northwest and northeast; the US state of New Hampshire in the west; and the Gulf of Maine in the south and east respectively. Featuring craggy Atlantic & Bayshore coastlines, snow-covered mountain peaks, thick coniferous forests, and scenic waterways, the wonderful state of Maine proudly upholds its nickname, “The Pine Tree State.” Although Coastal Maine gets a lot of tourist attention for being the location of big cities like Portland and having stunning shorelines flecked with historic lighthouses and miles of crowd-free beaches, the other parts of Maine are often left unnoticed. If you want to discover the Pine Tree State more intimately, look out for the adorable small towns that dot this breathtaking state and enchant vacationers with their exquisite natural beauty, historic structures, outdoor recreations, and fresh, delicious seafood.
An attractive coastal town in Southern Maine’s Hancock County, Bar Harbor is situated on Mount Desert Island’s northeastern shore at the base of the 1,530-foot-tall Cadillac Mountain along Frenchman Bay. Initially incorporated as the ‘’Town of Eden” in 1796, the town was rechristened as “Bar Harbor” in 1918, after the sand and gravel bar visible at the low tide. Bar Harbor draws thousands of vacationers, a favored summer vacation destination, especially from May to October, due to its closeness to the spectacular Acadia National Park. The park boasts hiking trails and carriage roads and offers many outdoor recreational activities like biking, mountain climbing, bird watching, kayaking, hiking, and horse riding. Those interested in witnessing the region’s rich marine life can register at a local marina for nature cruises. Moreover, being the eastern terminal of the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier Bicycle Route and the northern terminal of the Atlantic Coast Bicycle Route, Bar Harbor allures numerous long-distance cyclists throughout the year.
Ogunquit, which in the native Abenaki language means “beautiful place by the sea,” is a picturesque waterfront town in Maine’s York County that forms a part of the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine Metropolitan Area. Ogunquit is best known for its 3.5 miles of pristine sandy beaches, which also rank as one of the country’s prettiest beaches. Aside from offering endless Atlantic views, the beaches are perfect for visitors who can be seen splashing in the waves, creating sand castles, flying a kite, or collecting seashells. Past the beaches and grand hotels along the ocean’s edge, a 1.25-mile-long neatly paved trail named Marginal Way offers panoramic views of Maine’s coast. The Marginal Way also leads to Perkins Cove, which is packed with retail stores, art galleries, and eateries. Do not forget to tour the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit Playhouse – the nation’s foremost summer theater, and the plenty of gift shops, candy shops, ice cream parlors, and bars that line Ogunquit’s Main Street.
A self-described “Jewel of the Maine Coast,” Camden is an idyllic resort town in Knox County that serves as a summer colony for affluent families who come to spend time at the sprawling estates and mansions. Placed at the foot of Camden Hills beside Penobscot Bay, this cute town home to 5,232 inhabitants has been named after Charles Pratt, the First Earl of Camden, for his active support during the American Revolutionary War. Many 19th-century landmark properties, locally-owned shops, boutiques, excellent art galleries, and diners offering traditional New England cuisines fill the town’s walkable downtown and harbor business district. Camden’s attractions include Camden Harbor Park & Amphitheater, Camden Public Library, Camden Opera House, Camden Snow Bowl, and the nearby Camden Hills State Park. The town also hosts several annual events, including the Camden Harbor Arts & Crafts Show, US National Toboggan Championships, Camden Windjammer Festival, Camden Winterfest, and Christmas by the Sea.
Primarily called “Majabigwaduce” by the indigenous Tarrantine Abenaki Indians, Castine is one of New England’s oldest towns on a promontory in Penobscot Bay in Hancock County, about 130 miles north of Portland. With more than 100 historical markers scattered throughout, this lovely seaside town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It exudes a distinctive old-world charm through its meticulously preserved historic sites, parks, deep water harbor, churches, antique-style houses, Castine Post Office, and specialty museums like the Wilson Museum and Castine Historical Society. Castine is also home to the Maine Maritime Academy campus, T/S State of Maine (the 500-foot naval research ship of the Maine Maritime Academy), the 1828 Dyce Head Lighthouse, Castine Golf Club, the Wadsworth Cove & Backshore Beaches, and the 185-acre Witherle Woods Preserve that provides over 4.3 miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.
Old Orchard Beach
Nicknamed “The Garden by the Sea,” this acclaimed seaside resort occupies the inner side of Saco Bay in Southern Maine’s York County. The town’s most prominent attraction is its 7-mile-long spotless beach that encompasses three different towns from north to south: Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach, and Saco, and features uncountable beachside properties, motels, bed & breakfasts, and condominiums. The town’s downtown contains a variety of tourist-oriented businesses, including T-shirt shops, burger joints, ice cream parlors, and restaurants. Old Orchard Beach also houses Palace Playland – a seasonal amusement park consisting of a 24,000-square-foot arcade, a newly built Ferris wheel, and about 25 amusement rides, as well as a wooden Beach Pier lined with souvenir shops, bars, and eating joints.
Knox County’s administrative center, Rockland, is located along Penobscot Bay’s western shores, approximately 81 miles northeast of Portland. Widely known for its fully functioning harbor and rugged shoreline peppered with inlets, Rockland is currently the Midcoast Maine region’s commercial center that receives many summer tourists. The revitalized downtown area has commercial shops, specialty stores, art galleries, boutiques, and many fine dining establishments serving various foods ranging from traditional New England dishes to trendy modern cuisines. Travelers visiting Rockland must check out the Farnsworth Art Museum, Maine Lighthouse Museum, Coastal Children’s Museum, Rockland Historical Society & Museum, Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland Breakwater Light, and the neighboring Owls Head State Park and Lighthouse.
This idyllic mountain village, whose name means “House of God,” is situated on the Oxford Hills’s western edge and the southern margin of the Mahoosuc Range of the White Mountains. Apart from the towering mountains, the town’s proximity to the White Mountain National Forest has made it a premier four-season outdoor haven and an ideal starting point for varied recreational activities. During summer, vacationers can enjoy hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and mountain biking in the adjacent wilderness areas, while in winter, some of the best alpine skiing can be experienced at the Sunday River Ski Resort, the Mt. Abram Maine resort, and Carter’s XC (Cross-Country) Ski. Check out some of the mountain village’s exciting sites like the Museums of the Bethel Historical Society, Maine Mineral & Gem Museum, Table Rocks Arts Center, the Gem Theater, Hastings Homestead Museum, Middle Intervale Meeting House & Common, Gibson’s Apple Orchard, and Grafton Notch State Park. All year round, Bethel’s charming walkable downtown offers the best lodging and dining options with Good Food Sore, Sud’s Pub at The Sudbury Inn, and Butcher Burger – Bethel serves delectable meals.
Initially referred to as “Green’s Landing,” this picture-perfect coastal Maine fishing town in Hancock County is located on the southern extremity of Deer Isle Island in eastern Penobscot Bay. Considered one of the nation’s top lobster ports and the state’s largest lobster port, Stonington is acclaimed for its pleasant working waterfront and 19th-century buildings lining its downtown’s narrow, winding streets. Spend your day by watching concerts at the Stonington Opera House, hiking the forest-covered trails of the adjacent Barred Island Preserve, perusing the local art galleries like Geoffrey Warner Studio (OWL Furniture), and tasting delicious cuisines offered by the town’s finest restaurants such as Fin & Ferm, Stonington Ice Cream Company, Harbor Café, 44 North Coffee – Stonington Café, etc.
Occupying the heart of the Rangeley Lakes Region in Maine’s Franklin County, Rangeley is located centrally between the headwaters of Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers on Rangeley Lake’s eastern shores in the Western Maine Lakes and Mountains region. Named in honor of Squire James Rangeley, the town is a renowned four-season destination and offers plenty of recreational activities for all ages. During the warmer months, thrill-seekers can participate in the abundant water sports and hike the trails that offer unparalleled views of the surroundings. The 35.6-mile-long Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway provides the perfect opportunity to witness the stunning fall colors. At the same time, in the cold season, the Rangeley area transforms into an idyllic winter wonderland where visitors can explore the well-groomed ski and snowmobile trails at the Saddleback Ski Area. The end of winter kicks off the most awaited fishing season when hordes of anglers visit to catch trophy-sized salmon and brook trout. Throughout all the seasons, one can marvel at the night sky, learn about the logging process at the Maine Forestry Museum, visit the Outdoor Heritage Museum and the Wilhelm Reich Museum, watch performances at the Rangeley Friends of the Arts, get a sight of the bountiful wildlife especially moose, go birding along the Rangeley Lakes Birds Trail, or soak in the natural beauty of the entire Rangeley region.
Dubbed “The Oyster Capital of New England,” Damariscotta is located close to the head of navigation on the Damariscotta River, about 12 miles from the Atlantic coast. Home to 2,297 inhabitants, this Lincoln County vacation destination has been a favorite among travelers and Mid-Coast Maine residents over decades, owing to its distinct small-town charm and fresh Pemaquid oysters. Initially a shipping and shipbuilding hub, Damariscotta contains several landmark properties in Federal, Italianate, and Greek Revival architectural styles, including the town’s oldest Chapman-Hall House, constructed in 1754. Tourists are attracted to the town’s many family-friendly attractions, such as the Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site, Lincoln Theater, Skidompha Secondhand Book Shop, Frances Perkins Center, Kefauver Studio & Gallery, and the Damariscotta Farmer’s Market. The town also hosts an annual Pemaquid Oyster Festival, Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, and the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder “Alewives” Festival.
Bounded by the tidal Sheepscot River in the west and the Linekin Bay in the east, this Lincoln County town is situated on the southern end of a peninsula in the Gulf of Maine. Affectionately called “The Boating Capital of New England,” Boothbay Harbor lures thousands of tourists during the summer months, who glimpse the region’s abundant marine life, gorge on some mouthwatering seafood, and relax by the waters. Walk down the town’s waterfront area and browse the countless shops like Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop, Orne’s Candy Store, and Gimbel & Sons Country Store, besides multiple eateries like Shannon’s Unshelled, Ports of Italy, Boothbay Lobster Wharf, Boathouse Bistro Tapas Lounge & Restaurant, and Downeast Ice Cream Factory. Also, stroll across the famed footbridge and visit the town’s other prominent attractions, including the Maine State Aquarium, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay Railway Village, Abacus Gallery, Burnt Island Lighthouse, Carousel Music Theater, Boothbay Craft Brewery, and Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, in addition to whale watching and puffin tours on a Cap’n Fish’s Cruise.
A charming seaside resort town, Kennebunkport is situated in Southwestern Maine’s York County at the mouth of Kennebunk River, about 29 miles southwest of Portland. Originally a shipbuilding and fishing village, the town’s fame as a summer haven for the affluent class has made Kennebunkport one of the state’s wealthiest communities. Tourists visiting Kennebunkport can browse various souvenir shops, art galleries, boutiques, bed & breakfasts, seafood restaurants, and schooner attractions that fill the Dock Square area. Some must-see attractions in Kennebunkport include Cape Porpoise - placed to the northeast of Dock Square and southwest of the pristine Goose Rocks Beach, the Walker’s Point Estate – the Bush Family’s summer retreat, and St. Ann’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Those who wish to explore the outdoors can head to the nearby Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, which is ideal for wildlife and migratory bird-watching. Merrymakers can partake in Kennebunkport’s many annual events, such as the Memorial Day parade, Kennebunkport Festival, and Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude in late November or early December that kicks off the town’s Christmas season.
Lincoln County’s seat, Wiscasset, is a thriving waterfront community in the state’s Mid Coast region along the western banks of the tidal Sheepscot River that is often dubbed as “Maine’s Prettiest Village.” Situated only an hour from Portland, this early fishing, shipbuilding, and lumber trading hub was the busiest seaport north of Boston until 1807. A significant portion of Wiscasset is encompassed by the 101-acre Wiscasset Historic District, which includes several notable architectural landmarks like the Nickels-Sortwell House, Capt. George Scott House (Octagon House), Wiscasset Public Library, Wiscasset Jail & Museum, Castle Tucker, Lincoln County Courthouse, etc. The town’s other must-visit attractions include the Wiscasset Antiques Mall, Marston House Wiscasset, Rendall Fine Art Gallery, 1790 Tiny House, Maine Heritage Village, and Monkey C Monkey Do – Maine’s sole zipline and adventure park. Also, savor some lip-smacking dishes offered at the town’s many eateries like Red’s Eats, Sea Basket, Marketplace Café, Sea Basket, and Sprague’s Lobster.
A Journey Through Maine's Small Towns
From the historic streets of Camden to the coastal resort town of Kennebunkport, the nation’s 12th-smallest state by area and the 9th-least populous, boats a plethora of quaint small towns, all waiting to be explored by holidaymakers. Whether you are visiting Maine for a short trip or an extended vacation with your dear ones, those uniquely notable small towns will surely leave you with some unforgettable experiences.