Planning a coast vacation in Maine? Some of the best activities for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts in Down East are not found by map or guidebooks.
Downeast Maine has been described as "unspoiled," and one of this area's greatest resources is surely its amazing natural beauty. Unfortunately, this lovely part of Maine is also generally unsung; and the usual travel websites, guidebooks, and maps give scant information to those who wish to explore beyond the popular destinations of Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.
Where is Down East Maine? The term has been used in reference to all of the Maine coast, specific parts of the coast, and even the entire state of Maine. Although some disagreements exist about exactly where "Down East" begins and ends, the most common usage (and the usage in this article) refers to the coastline between Ellsworth and Calais, stretching to the easternmost point of land in the United States.
Nature lovers come in all shapes and sizes, ages and degrees of fitness. Outdoor activities for a downeast Maine vacation can be adapted to suit many interests. The suggestions here are attractions that are either overlooked or not well known. They also offer outdoor adventures for all energy levels, whether leisurely strolls and quiet birding on a bench by the bay or strenuous hikes and long days of biking.
Vacations in Maine
Things to do in Maine:
The Rails to Trails Down East Sunrise Trail
The transformation of 85 miles of railway corridor through some of Down East's most characteristic scenery resulted in a multi-purpose trail that is accessible and functional for nearly everyone. Stretching from Washington Junction in Ellsworth to Ayers Junction in Pembroke, the Downeast Sunrise Trail is well-kept, clearly marked, and easily accessed.
Open for less than two years and at the head of the East Coast Greenway, the trail is becoming very popular with both locals and travelers who have discovered this path through the Down East landscape. Whether you want a 20-mile bike ride or a quarter-mile stroll, the path puts you up close to everything that is Down East--rivers and ponds, bogs and blueberry fields, small towns and friendly people.
The multi-purpose trail is a boon to walkers, bikers, snowmobilers, ATVers, birdwatchers, photographers, and even travelers who simply need to get out of the car, stretch legs, and breathe fresh air. If you're driving through and need such a break, one easy access point is across from Dunkin Donuts at the Machias causeway, where the trail winds along the river.
Quoddy Head and Roque Bluffs: Two Overlooked State Parks
Most travelers Down East will find the red-and-white striped lighthouse at Quoddy Head State Park; the distinctive tower is one of Down East's most recognizable attractions. What many will ignore, though, is the 541 acres of state park land, crisscrossed by easy to moderate trails. Do not miss walking at least a portion of the trails. One trail leads through an unusual arctic bog, one along dramatic cliffs and crashing waves. The forest is fragrant and mystical; the cliffs overlook the powerful surf of the Lubec channel, the boundary between the U.S. and Canada.
This state park is a prime area for bird watching, and whales, dolphins, and seals have been sighted in the channel. Even for those who are not walkers or hikers, a short stroll along the cliff-side path is worth the time. Benches are placed at intervals along the trail. Take a book, sit, watch, listen, smell. Enjoy.
Take care with small children on the trails; there are few protective rails on the cliff walks. If wet or muddy, the trails can be treacherous for everyone.
A safer place for young children to play is at Roque Bluffs State Park. Often missed because of its out-of-the-way location, this is a family-friendly park with a sand beach, picnic area, playground, gorgeous saltwater views, a freshwater pond, hiking trails, a picnic area, and a playground. For those who want to hike, five trails wind through a variety of terrain.
The beach here is unusual in several ways; most downeast beaches are rocky and abrupt, but this beautiful crescent of sand slopes gently to the water, an ideal spot for children to play. This beach is as close to "white sand" as you will find in Down East, and in the summer the beach is lined with fragrant banks of Rose Rugosa, the pink and white beach roses. Swimming is permitted in both the chilly saltwater and the warmer pond. The pond is also a fishing and bird watching spot.
Despite its beauty and activities, Roque Bluffs State Park is never crowded. There's plenty of open space to enjoy the beauty of this spot. While you're there, drive to the end of Schoppee Point Road to the town marina and take in one of Down East's most spectacular seascapes.
An Observatory and a Walking Group: Locals Share With Visitors
Not only is downeast Maine unspoiled, it is uncluttered, and that includes the night sky. If you're accustomed to seeing only glimpses of the heavens beyond streetlights and the glare of cities and traffic, you will be amazed at the brilliance of the stars, the clarity of the Milky Way, and the occasional appearance of the northern lights. If you find yourself gazing at that sky and wondering what else might be in the heavens that you've never seen before, find the Downeast Observatory in Pembroke and take a closer look at the wonders overhead.
The observatory is also used by astronomy students at the University of Maine and by the local astronomy club. Occasionally, special events are held that are open to the public.
Your visit to the observatory can be scheduled by calling Charlie Sawyer at 207-214-5706. All ages are welcome. The visit is free, but donations will help to maintain America's most easterly observatory.
On the ground, discover Down East with a local resident as a guide. Join the Pathfinders for a hike. This walking group meets every Sunday afternoon for a 2-3 hour hike and welcomes visitors. The walking route varies every week, as does the difficulty of the course. Information on each week's walk can be found in the local papers like The Quoddy Tides, or check the Pathfinders' forum board at the website of the Cobscook Community Learning Center. If you want to join the group for a hike, call the person in charge of that walk and ask about the difficulty of the planned route.
If you're looking for a vacation filled with natural beauty, clean air, peaceful settings, and outdoor activities, then downeast Maine may be the perfect destination for your next getaway.
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