Our annual guide to the best of the best.
Where to kayak, hear the best music, take a top secret tour, and master the art of chair making
Maine Island Trail
Truly great ideas have a way of spreading, which is why it’s no surprise that twenty-three years after Dave Getchell, Sr., and a small group of Mainers created the Maine Island Trail, the concept has spread to Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. Who wouldn’t want to copy a model that allows kayakers, sailors, and weekend warriors access to 180 public and private islands, beaches, and coves in places as stunning and precious as Penobscot and Casco bays?
Bar Harbor Campground
409 Highway 3, Bar Harbor, 207-288-5185;
The key to camping in Maine is seizing a fair-weather window whenever it appears on the forecast, which makes the no-reservations policy at Bar Harbor Campground so perfect for Mainers and other New England travelers. Just roll into this wooded preserve outside Bar Harbor, select one of the three hundred tent, RV, or group sites, and start relaxing under the sun and stars. And after a day spent exploring Acadia, nothing beats soaking in the ocean-view swimming pool.
Best Working Vacation
Thos. Moser Customer
In Residence Program
72 Wright’s Landing, Auburn
If calling your Maine trip a working vacation makes it easier to justify in these economic times, enrolling in Thos. Moser’s Customer In Residence program should fit the bill. You and no more than four other students will spend a week at the hand of a master cabinetmaker, meet Moser himself, and at the end you’ll even have a bed or an end table to show for your efforts. (Don’t worry, each night you can wash off the sawdust in your gorgeous room at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.) Plan early — these residencies have proven so popular, even at up to ten thousand dollars apiece, that they can sell out a year in advance.
Best History Lesson
Maine Historical Society
489 Congress St., Portland
History has a funny way of hiding in plain sight, which is why a trip through the Maine Historical Society’s museum and research library is so important to understanding what’s going on around you. Historic photographs, architectural drawings, and other exhibits explore the way life in Portland and the rest of Maine has evolved over the past few centuries. If you’re looking to delve even deeper into the past, the $9.5-million renovation and expansion of the museum’s research library has resulted in a state-of-the-art (read: climate-controlled and white-gloved) home for what is perhaps the most extensive historical collection in the state. Do yourself a favor and shell out a few extra bucks for admission to the museum's Wadsworth-Longfellow House to see how this great Maine literary family lived during the nineteenth century.
Best Top Secret Tour
Bath Iron Works and Maine Maritime Museum
243 Washington St., Bath
Especially since 9/11, there have been few places where you can witness the military in the making. But in the City of Ships, the men and women at Bath Iron Works and the Maine Maritime Museum have teamed up to offer one-hour narrated tours that tell you everything you might want to know about how 1,500-ton Aegis destroyers and the new Zumwalt-class destroyers are assembled right here alongside the Kennebec. Most of the tour guides are themselves retired navy sailors or BIW workers (often both!) who keep the tours (passengers are confined to trolleys for security reasons) lively and fun. The $30 per person tour fee includes two days of admission to the maritime museum.
Best Rainy Day Hideaway
Maine Discovery Museum
74 Main St., Bangor
A passing cold front can put a damper on any family vacation, but a visit to the Maine Discovery Museum is a proven way to get everyone in the family smiling again. The largest children’s museum in Maine, the museum features seven galleries of interactive exhibits on three floors. Maine children’s literature comes alive in one area, with everything from a life-size Wilbur of Charlotte’s Web to Miss Rumphius’ cohorts, while in another room even the tiniest tykes enjoy climbing a two-story treehouse.
Best Outdoor Venue
8 Sixth St., Old Orchard Beach
Long before Old Orchard Beach became famous for its honky-tonk, it had the Grove. Methodist ministers first chose the natural amphitheater with its tall pines for their camp meetings in 1873. In 1997 the Salvation Army, which bought the location for a dollar in the 1950s, erected a new 1,400-seat, three-season pavilion in precisely the same spot as the original Grove. Today secular and religious groups put on low-key, affordable performances all summerlong as ocean breezes cool cellos and violas. This July look for Tim Sample, Dave Mallet, and the Shaw Brothers; the August lineup includes the New York Staff Band and Denver and the Mile High Orchestra — both absolutely free!
A glass of Prosecco at check-in. A four-star dinner of seared porcini-dusted diver scallops. Three nights in one of the most lavish inns on the midcoast. Classes in winemaking and French cooking. A schooner trip on Penobscot Bay. Wine camp, an annual three-day collaboration between the Camden Harbour Inn and Cellardoor Winery, is a Maine gourmand’s dream. This year’s camp is scheduled for October 5-8 and starts at $1,375 per person.
Best Dinner Music
Stone Mountain Arts Center
695 Dug Way Rd., Brownfield
Most of us like a little melody with our meals, but Carol Noonan takes it to a whole new level at her Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield. Two hundred seats are clustered around tables within Noonan’s timber-frame barn, putting the audience literally at arm’s reach of performers like blues guitarist Robert Cray, the Smothers Brothers, and Celtic fiddle master Natalie MacMaster. Wine, beer, and comfort foods such as lasagna, gourmet pizza, and salads are served before the performances.
Best Place to Feel Good About Yourself
Mount Desert Island Marathon
7,980: Runners who responded to a year-long Runner’s World survey ranking 316 marathons in the U.S.
1: Ranking of MDI Marathon in “most scenic” category
2: Ranking of MDI Marathon in “best overall” category
17: Date in October 2010 when this year's MDI Marathon will be held between Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor
26:Number of pages in MDI Marathon’s handbook (with tips for more than just runners!)
243:Peak elevation in MDI course, at a heart- and lung-breaking Mile 25
2,978:Number of calories a 150-pound runner burns in the MDI Marathon
27,000:Number of strides needed to complete the 26.2-mile course
Best Golf Hole
So many golf courses, so little time. To choose the best golf holes in Maine, we turned to Alexa Rancourt, the South Portland
native who has dominated the past two Maine Amateur Golf Championships. Here are her five favorite tees:
1. Hole 13 at Sable Oaks, South Portland. “Not a very long par 3, but one of the trickiest I know. You don’t want to be long or short, and even if you manage to hit the green, you’re often faced with the possibility of a 3 putt or worse.”
2. Hole 7 at the Woodlands, Falmouth. “Not only is this a visually daunting hole, but it takes a skilled tee shot and a well-hit mid- to long-iron into the green.”
3. Hole 4 at the Samoset, Rockport. “A gorgeous par 5 that wraps around the ocean rockline and demands three precise shots to get to the green.”
4. Hole 9 at Belgrade Lakes. “This is a tough driving hole, with trouble on the right and left, but the beauty of it comes from the green. A double green with number 18, it is set into an amphitheatre that is both breathtaking and intimidating on the approach shot.”
5. Hole 4 at Sunday River, Newry. “This par 3 is definitely not the most challenging hole on the course, but the downhill tee shot and beautiful mountain backdrop make it easily one of the most scenic.”