Here are the best things to do in southern Maine for active and outdoor adventurers.
It was my first time visiting the state of Maine and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was in town for the Women in Travel Summit conference (WITS), and it was a great excuse to check a new state off my bucket list. After spending some time in Portland, it was time to venture away from the city. As I had my own car, I had the freedom to go wherever I wanted. Yes, this crazy road trip warrior drove solo on a 10 hour trip from Toronto to Portland. After making this journey, I feel like I can own the term “road trip warrior” and also the “crazy” part of the title, too (though I did break up the drive into manageable chunks).
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Anyway, after my time at WITS, I headed south to check out the southern Maine coast on a trip with The Maine Beaches. There are lots of things to do in southern Maine for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. I had the opportunity to check out several exciting places for those wanting to get outside, explore nature, or try a new activity. While there are many attractions in York County, I’ll break up this Maine itinerary by city, starting from south in Kittery to north in Kennebunkport. While you won’t see any beaches on this itinerary, this listing of things to do in southern Maine can be enjoyed from spring right through to the fall.
Let’s start just about as far south as we can go in the state of Maine: Kittery. The town of Kittery is just across a bridge from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While Kittery might be known for its outlet shopping, I headed straight to one of the most unique things to do on the coast of Maine.
Take Flight Aerial Adventure Park
The aerial adventures and ziplines at Take Flight are one of the most thrilling things to do in southern Maine. Strap on your harness and helmet, we’re going on an adventure! I experienced the Aerial Adventure Challenge Course and it was exhilarating, demanding, and even a little bit scary at times. With that said, you can choose how much or little to challenge yourself. It’s an epic journey for kids and adults alike.
The adventure course at Take Flight a place to climb, swing, and hang around, quite literally. It’s perfect for all abilities, even if you’ve never done a ropes course before. You’ll need to visit with a partner as the course operates on a buddy system where you’ll be responsible for the safety of your partner (and vice versa). There are over 65 elements on the adventure course, including cargo nets, bridges, swinging tires, various platforms, ropes, and all sorts of inventive materials to swing around on.
Some of these are easier to figure out than others. It’s quite simple to realize that you need to climb through a cargo net. But, you might encounter a set of buoys suspended in the air and wonder, “how the heck am I going to get across this?” It’s all a part of the fun. I found myself laughing over and over again with the antics I seemed to get myself into on this course.
There are three levels of apparatus and swinging platforms that you’ll encounter. You can choose just how high you want to go and which bridges to cross. When my travel buddy, Retha and I got to a certain spot that was a little too intimidating, we’d exclaim something like, “Oh hell, no!” and choose an alternate route. And then there were other moments where a set of swings looked rather daring and we’d give it a shot. In the end, I felt quite pleased and accomplished that I’d attempted the adventure course. Take Flight is one of the best southern Maine attractions, and I urge you to check it out with one of your friends.
When you visit the Take Flight adventure course, you’ll be able to climb around for a maximum of 2 hours. You’ll receive a “pre-flight” training to prepare you for the excursion. Wear sneakers, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Don’t bring your camera, phone, or anything else with you. Take Flight staff members will take photos of you, so you don’t need to worry about damaging your gear on the course. Thank you so much to the staff at Take Flight for taking these photos of us!
Next, we drive a little bit up the road to York where you can find an excellent place to hit the trails. Some of the best hiking in southern Maine is at Mount Agamenticus. My second stop in York isn’t really an outdoor adventure per se, but a beautiful scenic location to view the Nubble Lighthouse.
If there’s one place where you need to go hiking in southern Maine, it’s Mount Agamenticus. Known as “Mount A” for short, the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region sprawls across 10,000 acres within a 30,000 acre section of conservation land in southern Maine. In fact, the region surrounding Mount A makes up one of the largest unfragmented forests in coastal New England. Within this unique coastal forest, you’ll find the highest diversity of plant and animal species in the whole state. You might spot whitetail deer, moose, spotted turtles, black racer snakes, or even a black bear. I didn’t manage to see any wildlife this time around, but you never know what you might see on the trail.
Mount A also happens to be one of Maine’s best sites to watch migrating raptors, including peregrine falcons, bald eagles, osprey, and hawks. In the fall, you can see hundreds of birds migrating within a few hours from the summit. On average, 4000 raptors migrate through this location annually. Make sure you visit Mount Agamenticus in late September through mid October on a clear day with a strong northwest wind.
The trails surrounding Mount A are perfect for hikers, bikers, and even winter activities like snowshoeing. Along with a local guide, we started at the bottom of Mount A and hiked up to the top. It’s a very gradual incline, so it’s not terribly challenging. However, it’s a great location for sightseeing and spending a few hours in nature. There are numerous informative plaques along the way about the history of the region, as well as the kinds of trees you’ll come across on your journey.
Eventually, you’ll reach the summit of Mount A, which is also directly accessible by car. At the summit, there are several interesting features and lookouts. You can soak up views of the mountains in one direction, including Mount Washington on a clear day. From another vantage point, you can see right out to the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a circular deck at the middle of the summit with miniatures of various nearby attractions like Nubble Light and Goose Rocks Beach. Be sure to wander around this vast expanse of land to the various lookout decks and rocky ledges.
Even though this isn’t technically an outdoor adventure, you really should go to see Nubble Light when you’re in York. You can actually see Nubble Light from Mount A, too! It’s a quick drive down to the ocean to view this beautiful southern Maine lighthouse. Officially named Cape Neddick Light, the lighthouse sits on Nubble Island, about 100 meters off Cape Neddick Point. While the lighthouse itself is inaccessible to the general public, you can easily view it from the edge of Cape Neddick Point. There’s a big parking lot, so you can pull right up and take a look. Going to see Nubble Light is one of the most iconic things to do on the coast of Maine.
Built in 1879, the lighthouse is 41 feet tall but is positioned 88 feet above sea level. It sits up on top of a high, rocky island. Nubble Light is still in use today. It’s a classic example of an American lighthouse. A picture of the Nubble Light is included on the Voyager spacecraft, along with examples of other famous man made structures like the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.
Ogunquit has some of the most stunning views that I’ve seen throughout my time in Maine. I recommend that you take a drive down to Perkins Cove and explore the adorable village, including the beautiful coastline. Park your car at Perkins Cove and take a walk on the Marginal Way.
The Marginal Way is one of the prettiest coastal footpaths in New England. The term “margin” refers to the space between the land and the sea. Take a stroll down this 1.25 mile pathway to get right up close to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Even on a cloudy and somewhat dreary day, it’s so magical. The water is seemingly drawn towards the shore, violently crashing into the rocks and cliffs. There are 39 benchs along this relatively short stretch, inviting visitors to take a break. Sit back and enjoy the view.
Perkins Cove is a cute village at one end of the Marginal Way. There are many boutiques, cafes, and restaurants in town, although many of them are seasonal. While only a handful of them were open when I visited in early May, I didn’t mind that at all. There weren’t many people around, and I felt at times like I had many southern Maine attractions all to myself.
The Perkins Cove Drawbridge is the most iconic sight in Perkins Cove. It overlooks a lovely little harbor, and it might be the only double leaf draw footbridge left in the USA. I didn’t happen to see any boats sailing through, but the drawbridge can be raised to allow tall ships to enter the harbor. The harbormaster typically operates the drawbridge. However, if he isn’t available, it’s up to the average citizen or visitor to help out. There’s a button right on the bridge itself that you can push to raise the bridge. I didn’t have the unique opportunity to push that button, but fingers crossed that you get the chance!
Did you know that Kennebunk is the only village with that name in the entire world? With such a unique name, I wouldn’t expect that any other town would be called ‘Kennebunk.’ All of the residents want you to know that. At the entrance to the town, there’s a sign stating: “Welcome to Kennebunk, The Only Village in the World So Named.” So, there you have it. Definitely wander around town here. You’ll discover a river with a small waterfall, a charming little park, and a main street with lots of little boutiques.
Garden Street Bowl
Now, a bowling alley wouldn’t generally be on my list of outdoor adventures. But, it’s a fantastic place to head in the evening after a long day of activities. Grab your travel gang and head straight to Garden Street Bowl. It’s a newly renovated bowling alley that’s inside an old repurposed grocery store. There’s a massive bar, restaurant, and a games room located in a long room where the shopping carts used to be stored. I’ll write a little bit more about what I ordered at the restaurant, but this food is not your average bowling alley grub. Garden Street Bowl is the perfect rainy day activity, and it’s open super late (until 11pm most days, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday).
Wandering around Kennebunkport may very well be one of the best things to do on the coast of Maine. While I didn’t participate in any particular activities or adventures, it’s a quaint village to go for a walk. I loved the colorful buildings and the views of the docked boats. Sometimes the best adventures are the ones that you don’t overly plan. Go for a stroll in Kennebunkport and admire the scenery around you.
Scenic Flight of the Coast
Now that you’ve visited all of the towns on the southern Maine coast, why not take a look at them from up above? Taking a scenic flight with Southern Maine Aviation was one of the most memorable aspects of the entire trip. There’s nothing quite like witnessing the natural beauty of the sand dunes from up above. You can see the crashing waves along the coast from high in the sky. Soar above the treetops and marvel at the landscapes of coastal Maine.
Our aircraft was a small, four seat plane (including the pilot). You can embark on a flight with two of your friends, and you’ll each have your own window for the amazing views. The plans are modern, well equipped, and incredibly safe. Our pilot, Paul, had over 25 years of experience flying with American Airlines. You’re in good hands!
While you can choose your flight path, we decided to leave it up to the expert. He took us on a journey to see so many southern Maine attractions, like Nubble Light, York Harbor, Kennebunkport, Ogunquit (we even spotted our hotel from the air), and even Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Flights start and end at the Sanford Airport, which is just 14 miles west of Kennebunk. You can take flights lasting anywhere from a half hour to two hours. Taking a scenic flight with Southern Maine Aviation is incredibly affordable at a rate of $195 per hour (it’s a great price, especially if you split it between 3 people).
Curious about learning how to fly an airplane? This first “discovery flight” counts as your first lesson towards earning your pilot license. If you’re a local or live nearby and would like to take flying lessons, Southern Maine Aviation can hook you up. If you’re like me and you want to leave the flying up to the experts, it’s easy to hop on board for a short flight to soak up the stunning views.
Where to Eat
While it was relatively easy to find vegan food in the city of Portland, it was a little more challenging in southern Maine. There were a few plant-based and very vegan-friendly establishments, but they are only open seasonally during the summer months. You might be thinking that visiting Maine as a vegan could be next to impossible, especially since the state is most known for its lobster. Don’t worry, I always find a way to make it work! I discovered several restaurants with vegan dishes that were very delicious.
The Maine Squeeze is a local chain of smoothie shops. Their location in Kittery resembles a small juice shack. It’s actually a juice bar inside a repurposed drive through bank location. I love when companies are able to find new uses for old buildings. At The Maine Squeeze, you can find all sorts of smoothies and smoothie bowls in every flavor. I couldn’t resist ordering a Bananarama (without the yogurt) because it had espresso in it. The smoothie was super refreshing and definitely hit the spot.
Heckman’s Pub at Nonantum Resort
Heckman’s Pub is a small bar inside the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. You don’t need to stay overnight at the hotel to take advantage of the dining options. Heckman’s Pub has several local beers on tap, as well as a small menu of yummy eats. The vegan offering on the menu is the cauliflower tacos. I love the little round taco shells that look more like little taco bowls. Not only is there roasted cauliflower in them, but there’s also grilled pineapple salsa. You’ve gotta try this tasty take on a taco.
Garden Street Bowl
The Crotux Kitchen and Taphouse is the restaurant inside Garden Street Bowl. While it might seem rather casual (you can choose to dine at a table, the bar, or right at your bowling alley!), there’s an extensive menu of food and drink options. There are dozens of local beers on tap, including kombucha (I sampled a pint of the ginger kombucha). For my meal, I was in a snacking kind of mood, so I ordered the roasted chili hummus and the fries with truffle ketchup. If you plan to go bowling at Garden Street Bowl, be sure to stay for a meal as it goes well above and beyond what you’d typically expect to eat at a bowling alley.
Mike’s Clam Shack
This is most likely the last place you’d expect a vegan to dine. Mike’s Clam Shack in Wells, Maine has a very tasty vegan veggie burger on their menu. I verified with the restaurant staff that the burger is vegan. It might be the only option on the menu, but it’s a good one. If you happen to be traveling with some seafood loving friends, you won’t go hungry.
Norma’s Restaurant is a bit of a greasy spoon, but it’s a favorite among the locals. The veggie folks in the crowd will find fried potatoes and toast with jam as a breakfast offering.
Cafes & Coffee
If you know me, you’ll know that I like to stay caffeinated! I’m always seeking the best cafes and coffee shops while I travel, and I managed to find a few excellent ones in southern Maine. Here’s where you’ll find some of the best coffee in York County.
Lil’s Cafe in Kittery serves up delicious coffee and espresso beverages. They also make all of their own baked goods and pastries right on site. Unfortunately, they don’t have any vegan pastries at the moment, but they do have lots of freshly baked bread. I ordered an Americano and it was exactly what I needed as a pick me up. As an added bonus, check out Lil’s Vinyl Vault, a vintage record shop connected directly to the cafe. Searching for a particular LP? You might find that retro gem at Lil’s Vinyl Vault. Coffee and records is a pretty sweet combination.
Dock Square Coffee House
The Dock Square Coffee House is right in the main tourist area of Kennebunkport. I stopped by for a morning coffee and sat at the front window, sipping my drink and watching the people stroll by. Many visitors stopped by for their morning brew, and I even managed to see a couple of dogs on their morning walks. Be sure to stop by this charming little coffee shop for a break in your sightseeing activities in the Maine Beaches region.
Christian’s Cafe and Eatery
Christian’s Cafe and Eatery is right along the main street of Kennebunk. I stopped by as I was wandering around town because I felt a little bit hungry and definitely in need of some caffeine. While they didn’t have any vegan items on the menu, the staff members were so helpful and kind. They offered to prepare a bagel with vegetable toppings in place of the cream cheese (cucumber, lettuce, and onion). I also ordered a soy milk cappuccino, which was very yummy.
Where to Stay in Southern Maine
My choice for the best place to stay in Southern Maine is The Dunes on the Waterfront. It’s a collection of cozy cottages right on the Ogunquit River. It’s like having your own home away from home, right on the edge of the water. This Maine accommodation is a little slice of paradise in a very tranquil setting. The cottages are spaced apart just the right amount for a secluded atmosphere.
The cottage itself has everything you could need for a comfortable stay: a large bed, a full kitchen, a flat screen TV with satellite channels, complimentary Wi-Fi, and even a wood burning fireplace. My cottage had a covered and screened in front porch, which is such a lovely place to unwind in peace. You can also explore the sand dunes and Ogunquit beach from Dunes on the Waterfront. The hotel staff will provide you with a time table for the tides where you’ll learn when you can easily walk across the river or take a rowboat. You can book out the rowboats through the front desk.
I highly recommend waking up to watch the sunrise over the Ogunquit River and the Atlantic Ocean. While it means getting up as early as 5:00am and a great sunrise isn’t a guarantee, it’s so completely worth it for those vibrant skies. On my first morning at The Dunes, it was very overcast. While my surroundings still looked beautiful, it wasn’t quite as brilliant as I had hoped. However, on my second morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as the sun seemingly came up from beyond the river itself. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Ogunquit is a central location for your holiday to southern Maine. You’re right in the middle of it all. Plus, The Dunes on the Waterfront is one of the most unique properties at which I’ve had the pleasure of staying. It’s a peaceful sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You can kick back and relax here, whether you’re enjoying a crackling fire in your fireplace, reading a book on your front porch, or taking in one of nature’s best performances as the sun comes up. Be sure to book your stay at The Dunes on the Waterfront. You can also read more reviews by fellow travelers by clicking here.
Thank you so much to The Maine Beaches for hosting my trip.