For many outdoor enthusiasts in the Northeast, Maine means canoeing. From thousands of acres of lakes and ponds to the tumbling white water of mountain rivers, Maine is very alluring to serious paddlers. The Saco River is one prime destination. But don't forget about the upper west branch of the Penobscot River, either, which winds through moose country and connects to one of Maine's more pristine lakes.
In fact, you can't travel very far in Maine without stumbling upon a great canoe trip. Two excellent sources of information are the AMC River Guide: Maine and Quiet Water Canoe Guide: Maine, both published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, 5 Joy St., Boston, MA 02108.
Anglers from all over the Northeast indulge their grand obsession on Maine's 6,000 lakes and ponds and its countless rivers and streams.
For options on rustic fishing camps statewide, request one of the attractive brochures that describe more than 50 sporting camps between the Rangeley Lakes and Eagle Lake near Fort Kent from Maine Sporting Camp Association, HC 76 Box 20, Greenville, ME 04441 (www.mainesportingcamps.com).
Licenses for nonresidents of Maine cost $52 for the season, or $23 for 3 days. (You can also buy 1-, 7-, and 15-day licenses.) Purchase the licenses at outdoor shops or general stores. Remember that there are catch limits on some species of fish, and at this writing fishing for Atlantic salmon or sturgeon in Maine is forbidden. For a booklet of other fishing regulations, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State St., State House Station #41, Augusta, ME 04333 (tel. 207/287-8000; www.state.me.us/ifw).
Good hiking is abundant throughout western, central, and northern Maine. In western Maine, 50,000 acres of the White Mountains spill over New Hampshire's border and boast an excellent network of trails. Pathways in and around Evans Notch and Grafton Notch (both easily reached from Bethel) are for hikers of all levels. Finally, the Bigelow Range, near the Sugarloaf/USA ski resort, has challenging trails and stunning vistas from high, blustery ridges. The Appalachian Trail traverses the range on its way from Grafton Notch to the trail's terminus at Mount Katahdin; a good source of trail info is the Appalachian Trail guide. Also consult 50 Hikes in the Maine Mountains, by Chloe Chunn (Backcountry Publications), one of the best guides to hikes in the Bigelow Range and Baxter State Park.
Maine has only two major destination downhill-ski resorts, plus 10 smaller areas. The big resorts, Sugarloaf and Sunday River, are under the same ownership but have distinct characteristics. Sugarloaf (www.sugarloaf.com), in the lovely spare Carrabassett Valley, is compactly arrayed on a single high peak and has the second-highest vertical drop in New England. The resort's base area is self-contained, like an established campus, and is a big hit with families. Sunday River near Bethel has grown lengthwise along an undulating ridge -- the local nickname for it used to be "Someday Bigger." A less-established resort, it's catching up fast even if it's base area is still a bit rough around the edges. This hill offers diverse terrain and state-of-the-art snowmaking and grooming, plus an array of decent hotels and restaurants.
For more information about downhill skiing, contact the trade group Ski Maine Association (tel. 207/773-7669; www.skimaine.com). The association's website also has up-to-date reports on ski conditions during the winter.
Cross-country skiers have a glorious mix of terrain to choose from, too, though groomed cross-country ski areas aren't as extensive here as in New Hampshire or Vermont.
Maine's three northern rivers are dam-controlled, so good rafting is available through the season. The Dead River has limited releases of water from the dam, and is open only a half-dozen times a year for rafting in early summer and fall. Paddling in inflatable kayaks can be enjoyed during the summer. The Kennebec River has monstrous waves just below its dam, then tapers off into a gentle afternoon paddle as you float out of a scenic gorge. The West Branch of the Penobscot River has a challenging, technical section called the "cribworks" at the outset, several serious drops and falls after that, and dramatic views of Mount Katahdin en route.
Raft Maine (tel. 800/723-8633; www.raftmaine.com) is a trade association of white-water outfitters in Maine. Call its toll-free line, and you'll be connected to one of its member outfitters.
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.