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What Are The Best Maine National Parks?

What Are The Best Maine National Parks?

With its dense forests, a lengthy, rocky coastline, and fascinating history, Maine is captivating in many ways. The state’s incredible scenery and unique heritage are worth preserving, and Maine’s national parks help to do just that.

Having so many national parks shows just how much Maine can offer in terms of natural beauty. In fact, many states are much bigger or have more people but can’t claim as many national parks worth visiting. Let’s dive deeper into the well-preserved beauty of this state. 

Acadia National Park

How Many National Parks Are in Maine? 

According to the National Parks Service (NPS), Maine has four national parks. 

With around 1.3 million residents, Maine would qualify as sparsely populated, especially in relation to other Eastern states. But in terms of national parks, the numbers rank pretty high. 

We do have a caveat, though. Technically speaking, we’re talking about sites that are official National Park Service units. They’re not all parks, strictly speaking, but all are properties affiliated with or managed by the NPS.

What Was The First National Park in Maine? 

Acadia National Park was the first national park in Maine. 

Visitors to the area known as Acadia National Park have always known it’s a special place. It’s the oldest national park in Maine and the oldest one east of the Mississippi River. President Woodrow Wilson established it as a national park back in 1916. At that time, it was known as Sieur de Monts National Monument, named in honor of a French nobleman.

Three years later, its name changed to Lafayette National Park and then to Acadia National Park in 1929. It encompasses over 49,000 acres on and near Mount Desert Island along the Atlantic coastline.

Acadia National Park one of Maine's best national parks
Acadia National Park, one of Maine’s best national parks, boasts stunning views and peaceful nature

What’s the Most Famous National Park in Maine? 

Of all of Maine’s national parks, Acadia is the best-known, too. Its notoriety increases all the time as more than 3.5 million people visit it every year. Numbers like these put Acadia National Park in the top 10 of the most-visited national parks in the United States.

About the 4 Maine National Parks 

Starting with the grandparent of them all, here are some details about some unique places in our nation’s northeast corner. We’ll give you some ideas on what to do there – and the best time to do them.

Acadia National Park 

Acadia Nation Park, one of Maine's best national parks
Acadia National Park is a must-see when exploring Maine’s national parks

Location: In Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island, about 40 miles southeast of Bangor.

About: This one comes up first on all of the alphabetical lists, and it ranks first in other areas, too. It’s the most popular Maine national park and lays claim to the highest point on the Atlantic coast. That would be Cadillac Mountain, which stands at 1,530 feet. It’s a molehill compared to other peaks in Maine, but it offers fantastic views of surrounding shores and countryside.  

Best Time to Visit: The weather is best in the middle of summer, but that’s when it sees the largest crowds. Late spring or early fall may be the best time to visit if you don’t like the congestion in the park. 

What to Do: Besides the mountain, another top attraction at Acadia National Park is the 27-mile scenic drive called Park Loop Road. Preserved carriage roads offer a drive into yesteryear, and hikers can cover 158 miles of scenic trails.

You can also learn about the French settlements of the area and their connection with contemporary Cajun culture. Enjoy biking or hiking the trails and swimming, boating, or fishing on the waters. Many people take advantage of the dark skies at night for stargazing.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.7/10

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

The end of the Appalachian Trail can be found in Maine's best national parks
Explore Maine’s best national parks on St. Croix Island

Location: It’s near the tiny town of Calais, about as far east as you can go, and still be in the U.S. The town is on the banks of the St. Croix River, and Canada lies on the other side.   

About: This historical site is not technically a national park like Acadia, but it is an official NPS unit. Part of its mission is to honor one of the earliest successful French expeditions of the area. Though nearly half of the explorers died during a brutal winter, it marked the beginnings of successful French colonization.  

Best Time to Visit: Late spring or early fall. Temperatures will be chilly, but you’re less likely to experience rain. 

What to Do: The historic site is just 6.5 acres, so your visit here won’t stretch out too long. You sure can learn a lot, though. A .2-mile interpretive trail has bronze plaques and wide, smooth pavement. There’s a nice visitors center and clean bathrooms as well as a tidy picnic area. Enjoy a nice view of the river while you’re here before taking a side trip through the picturesque river town.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.1/10

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Location: Central Maine from the New Hampshire line to Baxter State Park

About: The wild and wooded Appalachian Trail ends here in Maine after starting in Georgia. Covering 2,180 miles through its namesake mountain range, it’s a scenic paradise for hikers of all skill levels. Nearly 300 of the footpath’s miles are in Maine, and some might be the trail’s most challenging. The A.T., which covers 14 states in all, is celebrating its first century of existence. The NPS, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and a few other government agencies service the trail. 

Appalachian foot trail sign
Covering 14 states, Maine is the last stop on the Appalachian Trail

Best Time to Visit: Late spring or early fall when the weather is cool for biking and hiking. 

What to Do: Start walking! Take a day hike or an overnight with backcountry camping.  There are three different sections where you can explore wildlife, trees, and mountains. The westernmost part of the trail borders New Hampshire and traverses the Mahoosucs Range.

The 36,000-acre Bigelow Preserve is the centerpiece of the middle section, summits over 4,000 feet. There’s White Cap Mountain and the taller Mount Katahdin, a must-see attraction that marks the end of the trail to the east. 

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.6/10

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Location: On the edge of Baxter State Park and north of Bangor in north-central Maine.

About: The best way to see Mount Katahdin is from a distance, and this may just be the best place. Standing 5,269 feet, the mountain has a name that means “the greatest” in the language of the native Penobscot tribe.

The surrounding forest and mountain landscape is part of the 87,543 acres that make up this unique national monument. While not a national park by strict definition, the NPS manages it, so they count it among the country’s national parks. It gets the second half of its name from the abundant rivers and streams that flow through this incredible wilderness area.

Best Time to Visit: Late spring or early fall.

What to Do: Besides sightseeing, there are many opportunities for camping or hiking and biking on old logging roads. Though the winters can be harsh and unforgiving, many people enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling at that time.

Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.4/10

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Interested in camping? Read more about the 10 Most Beautiful Oceanfront Campgrounds in Maine.

Which Maine National Park Will You Visit First? 

With this handful of great attractions, it may be hard to decide which one to visit first. Since you’re probably heading into Maine from the south, consider starting from the southernmost park. Alternatively, you could head up the coastline first before venturing inland. Leave time to see as much of the Appalachian Trail as you want on your way out.

As a rule of thumb, from Portland to Bar Harbor is about a three-hour trip. Take your time heading along the shore for a leisurely tour of Maine’s Midcoast and its string of quaint seaside communities. This seems to be an enjoyable route for you to enjoy all of Maine’s national parks.

What Maine national park is at the top of your travel list? Let us know in the comments.

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
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