Aerial view of the footbridge in Ogunquit, Maine.

7 Most Charming River Towns in Maine to Visit in 2024

Maine, the northeasternmost state in the United States, encompasses an area of approximately 35,385 square miles, with a geography that includes over 5,000 miles of coastline and a vast interior of forests and waterways. Among its notable geographical features are its numerous rivers, such as the Kennebec, Penobscot, and Androscoggin. With a population of around 1.3 million people, Maine's charming river towns are integral to the state's identity. But which ones are most attractive to visit in 2024? Keep reading to find out. 


View of the downtown and harbor of Bucksport, Maine and the Penobscot River
View of the downtown and harbor of Bucksport, Maine and the Penobscot River

Bucksport is a town in Hancock County, Maine, with a population of approximately 4,924 residents. Situated on the banks of the Penobscot River, the town is located at the head of Penobscot Bay, bridging the gap between inland Maine and its rugged coastline. 

Key attractions in Bucksport include the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, one of the town's modern marvels. It shows off the Penobscot River and surrounding areas from one of the tallest public bridge observatories in the world. For history buffs, the Fort Knox State Historic Site, located nearby, provides a glimpse into mid-19th-century military architecture and history. In July 2024, Bucksport will host the Bucksport Bay Festival, celebrating the town's culture and community with a parade, a 5km race, and waterfront vendors.


Fishing boats docked in Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, on coast of Maine south of Portland, USA
Fishing boats docked in Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, on the coast of Maine south of Portland.

Ogunquit, located in York County, Maine, is a small town home to just over 1,200 residents, though this number swells significantly during the tourist season. The name "Ogunquit," which means "beautiful place by the sea" in the Abenaki language, aptly describes its setting along Maine's coast. However, Ogunquit is also influenced by the Ogunquit River, which meanders through the town, contributing to its charm.

Among Ogunquit's key attractions is the Ogunquit Playhouse, a historic theater that offers Broadway-quality productions. Scheduled for 2024, the Playhouse will feature a series of performances, including Frozen: The Broadway Musical. The Ogunquit River, with its accessible riverwalk, provides opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and exploring the local aquatic ecosystem. Additionally, the Marginal Way, a coastal walkway with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and Maine's shoreline, remains one of Ogunquit's most beloved landmarks.


View from Mount Battie overlooking Camden harbor, Maine
View from Mount Battie overlooking Camden Harbor, Maine.

Camden, Maine (pop. 5,254) is located on the Penobscot Bay banks, part of the larger Gulf of Maine and Atlantic Ocean, rather than being situated along one of Maine's inland rivers. Established in the late 18th century, Camden has evolved from its roots in shipbuilding and milling to become a favored destination for tourists and sailors alike, known for its well-preserved New England architecture.

The Camden Windjammer Festival, an annual event celebrating the town's maritime heritage, is set to take place in 2024, featuring dozens of classic sailing ships and maritime games and crafts. Camden Hills State Park has views of the bay and surrounding landscapes from the summit of Mount Battie. Additionally, the Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre, designed by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., is a scenic spot for relaxation overlooking the town's waterfront. 


Damariscotta, Maine harbor Mid Coast Maine. Image credit Anthony F Battista via Shutterstock
Damariscotta, Maine harbor Mid Coast Maine. Image credit Anthony F Battista via Shutterstock.

Damariscotta, Maine, with about 2,218 residents, is situated in Lincoln County along the Damariscotta River. The town's history is deeply rooted in the oyster farming industry that dates back thousands of years, evidenced by ancient oyster shell middens along the riverbanks. Damariscotta's downtown area combines historic 19th-century architecture with contemporary cafés, such as Barn Door Breakfast, and boutiques, like Citizen Maine Home. 

Visitors should check out the Damariscotta River Cruises, which offers scenic tours showcasing the river's marine life and oyster farms. The town is also known for the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, an October event that features pumpkin boat races, giant pumpkin contests, and parades—a must-see in 2024. Meanwhile, the Maine Coastal Botanical Gardens, located a short drive from Damariscotta, has extensive gardens, nature trails, and art exhibits that reflect Maine's botanical diversity.


Doubling Point Lighthouse near Bath, Maine
Doubling Point Lighthouse near Bath, Maine.

Bath, Maine, with a population of approximately 8,329, is located in Sagadahoc County along the Kennebec River. Known as the "City of Ships," Bath has a storied history in shipbuilding, a tradition that dates back to the early 17th century and continues today. Bath's architecture reflects this, with well-preserved 19th-century buildings lining its streets.

One of Bath's top attractions is the Maine Maritime Museum, located on the banks of the Kennebec River. This museum features extensive exhibits on Maine's maritime history, shipbuilding, and the lobster fishing industry, including a historic shipyard site. Another significant landmark is the Bath Iron Works, one of the oldest and most famous shipyards in the United States, where guided tours are available. In 2024, Bath will host the annual Bath Heritage Days, a festival celebrating the town's history and community with a parade, live music, crafts, and food vendors. 


The beautiful harbor in Kennebunkport, Maine.
The beautiful harbor in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Kennebunkport, Maine, is home to about 3,474 residents and is situated along the Kennebunk River, roughly 90 miles north of Boston. Established in the 1600s as a fishing village, the town has evolved into a well-known summer destination. Kennebunkport's architecture, from historic ship captains' homes to modern waterfront properties, contributes to its charm.

The Dock Square, located in the heart of the town, is a popular attraction in Kennebunkport and has a variety of shops, galleries, and eateries set against the backdrop of historic buildings. The Seashore Trolley Museum, the world's oldest and largest museum of its type, further provides insight into the history of public transportation with a significant collection of streetcars and trolleys. Further, the Bush Compound at Walker's Point, a prominent landmark with increased historical relevance in 2024, continues attracting visitors interested in presidential history. The compound, a summer retreat for the Bush family, underscores the town’s connection to American political history. 


Ellsworth, Maine, during autumn leaves.
Ellsworth, Maine, during autumn leaves.

Ellsworth, Maine has about 8,075 residents and was founded in 1800. It has grown from a lumbering and shipbuilding town into a commercial center for the region, mainly due to it being a gateway to Acadia National Park and the Downeast region—the Union River, running through Ellsworth, once powered local mills and factories.

Among Ellsworth's key attractions, the Woodlawn Museum stands out. Tours of its historic house, gardens, and a collection of fine and decorative arts on its 180-acre estate are available. The Ellsworth Harbor Park and Marina, located along the Union River, has public access for boating and kayaking, as well as walking trails and picnic areas. In 2024, Ellsworth will host the annual Autumn Gold Festival, a celebration of the season with parades, car shows, free wine and beer, and train rides. 

Maine's river towns, from Bucksport's Penobscot Narrows Bridge to the maritime heritage of Bath, each offer a distinct look into the Pine Tree State. The annual festivals, like the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Bath Heritage Days, alongside attractions such as the Maine Maritime Museum and the scenic cruises on the Damariscotta River, highlight the character of each town. As we look towards 2024, these charming river towns invite visitors to explore their historic streets, enjoy their local festivals, and experience the river beauty and community spirit that define Maine.

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