No other northern New England state offers as much outdoor recreational diversity as Maine. Bring your mountain bike, hiking boots, sea kayak, canoe, fishing rod, and snowmobile -- there'll be plenty for you to do here.
Even if your outdoor skills are rusty or nonexistent, you can brush up at L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools (tel. 888/552-3261), which offers a comprehensive series of lectures and workshops that run anywhere from 2 hours to 3 days. Classes are held at various locations around the coast (and inland), covering a range of subjects from orienteering, fly-tying, cycle maintenance, and canoeing to kayaking, cross-country and telemark skiing. L.L.Bean also hosts popular canoeing, sea kayaking, and cross-country skiing festivals that bring together instructors, lecturers, and equipment vendors for 2 or 3 days of learning and outdoor diversion. Call for a brochure or check the website (www.llbean.com, then click on "Outdoor Discovery Schools") for a schedule.
Swimming at Maine's ocean beaches is for the hardy. The Gulf Stream, which prods plenty of warm water toward Cape Cod, cruelly veers east just short of Maine and leaves the state's 5,500-mile coastline washed by brisk Nova Scotia currents that originate in frigid Labrador. During summer, water temperatures along the southern Maine coast may top 60°F (16°C) during an especially warm spell where water is shallow, but it's usually colder than that; the average ocean temperature at Bar Harbor in summer is 54°F (12°C). Expect an electriclike shock of cold when you first touch bare feet to water.
Maine's beaches are mostly confined to the 60-mile southernmost stretch of coast between Portland and the New Hampshire border. Beyond Portland, a handful of fine sand beaches are worth visiting -- including Reid State Park and Popham Beach State Park -- but these are exceptions; rocky coastline defines almost all of the rest of Maine. These southern beaches are beautiful but popular. Summer homes occupy the low dunes in most areas, and mid-rise condos give Old Orchard Beach an unwelcome Florida-condo-country look. Perhaps the best swimming beach is Long Sands, in York (in a part of town known as York Beach). The long sandy strip is worth coming miles for -- but check tide tables, as it mostly disappears at high tide. Another important beach is in Ogunquit, a 3-mile-long sandy strand with a mildly remote character -- except on a hot muggy summer weekend, when it's more discovered than undiscovered. Finally, there are a handful of scenic beaches just south of Portland.
Mount Desert Island and its Acadia National Park are the premier destinations on the Maine coast for cyclists, especially mountain bikers who prefer easy riding -- the cycling here might be some of the most pleasant in America. About 60 miles of well-maintained carriage roads in the national park allow for superb cruising through thick forests and to rocky knolls with ocean views -- and no cars are allowed on the grass and gravel lanes. It's easy to rent mountain bikes in Bar Harbor (see the "Bar Harbor" section, below, for details). The island's Park Loop Road, though often crowded with slow-moving cars, provides one of the most memorable road-biking experiences in Maine. (The rest of the island is also good for highway biking, especially the quieter western half of the island, where traffic is much thinner.)
And don't overlook the islands as destinations for relaxed biking. In Casco Bay, Chebeague Island offers a pleasant wooded excursion; Peaks Island is circled by a single paved road, with good views on the island's back side; and Vinalhaven and North Haven in Penobscot Bay and Swan's Island in Blue Hill Bay are also popular and scenic.
The Maine Department of Transportation publishes a booklet, Explore Maine by Bike, describing 25 popular bike trips around the state; log onto www.exploremaine.org/bike to get it (or to read it online). Maine DOT also publishes a map marked up with state biking information, including traffic volumes and road shoulder conditions along popular routes. You can order it by e-mailing the DOT, or call them at tel. 207/624-3250.
Birders from southern and inland states enjoy expanding their life lists on trips to the Maine coast, because this region attracts migrating birds cruising the Atlantic flyway -- and supports healthy populations of native shorebirds such as plovers (including the threatened piping plover), terns, whimbrels, sandpipers, and dunlins. Without any great effort, you'll see or hear herring, great black-backed gulls, common terns, common eiders, and loons. Get lucky, and you might also spy Bonaparte's gull, laughing gulls, jaegers, and the Arctic tern. Downeast, near Lubec, look for members of the Alcidae family such as razorbills and guillemot. Puffins nest on several offshore islands; tour boats to view puffins depart from Boothbay Harbor, Bar Harbor, and Jonesport.
For recent sightings of rare birds on the coast, check the Maine Audubon Society's constantly updated website: www.maineaudubon.org/nature/birdalert.shtml. Maine Audubon (tel. 207/781-2330) is also the state's best source for bird news, bird trips, and education about birds in the state.
Acadia National Park has wonderful day hiking, though its trails can be crowded during the peak summer season. There are other hikes, too. 50 Hikes in Southern and Coastal Maine, by John Gibson (Backcountry Publications), is a reliable directory to trails in Acadia and the Camden Hills area. It's available at local bookstores or online.
Paddlers nationwide migrate to Maine for world-class sea kayaking. Thousands of miles of deeply indented coastline and thousands of offshore islands have created a wondrous kayaker's playground. The sport can be extremely dangerous (when weather shifts, the seas can turn on you in a matter of minutes), but can yield plenty of returns with the proper equipment and skills.
The nation's first long-distance water trail, the Maine Island Trail, was created here in 1987. This 350-mile waterway winds along the coast from Portland to Machias, incorporating about more than 150 state-owned and privately owned islands on its route. The Maine Island Trail Association, 58 Fore St., Ste. 30-3 (tel. 207/761-8225; www.mita.org), helps maintain and monitor the islands, and its members are granted permission to visit and camp on them for free so long as they follow the restrictions (no visiting certain islands during seabird nesting season, for example). Contact the association about becoming a member; it's not expensive.
For novices, a number of kayak outfitters take guided excursions ranging from an afternoon to a week. Outfitters include Maine Island Kayak Co., 70 Luther St., Peaks Island, ME 04108 (tel. 207/766-2373; www.maineislandkayak.com), in the Portland area and Maine Sport Outfitters, P.O. Box 956, Rockport, ME 04856 (tel. 800/722-0826 or 207/236-8797; www.mainesport.com), in the Midcoast of Maine.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.