Maine in the fall is nothing short of magical. While the northern New England state is picturesque all year long, when the leaves begin to turn in late September, the effect is enchanting. Whole forests of birch erupt into saffron, while maple trees bloom scarlet, crimson, and gold.
Join the other leaf-peepers that flock to Maine each year for warm mugs of apple cider on cool, crisp afternoons. As the summer season winds down, the vibe here grows increasingly laid-back. Fall in Maine is both supremely cozy and astonishingly lovely.
Here are 12 unmissable experiences to enjoy in Maine during the autumn months.
See the Fall Colors in Acadia National Park
Even before John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated Acadia National Park to the National Park Service, he gifted the area with something else: 57 miles of carriage roads and 17 stone bridges around Mount Desert Island. Today, visitors can walk or cycle along the well-maintained paths, which go through some of the most scenic areas of the park.
While the national park is beautiful all year long, it truly comes alive in the fall months. Pack your camera and spend an afternoon soaking in all that autumnal splendor.
The scenery at this time of year is breathtaking just about everywhere in the park. Since the carriage roads are generally flat, they’re suitable for families with small children.
Admire the Views from Schooner Head
The rugged coastline of Mount Desert Island is one of the most captivating aspects of Acadia National Park.
While Otter Cliffs and Great Head, two of the island’s other rocky promontories, reside within the park boundaries, Schooner Head is the only one that is still under private ownership. Nevertheless, it has remained wild and largely undeveloped, despite being easily accessible by road from downtown Bar Harbor by Schooner Head Road.
Schooner Head has quite a bit of history and local lore attached to it. Supposedly, the promontory earned its name one foggy night during the Revolutionary War, when the poor visibility caused a British warship to mistake the rocks for an enemy vessel.
They demanded that the “ship” state its identity and, when greeted with silence, fired several warning cannonballs in the direction of the rocks.
Since then, all sorts of famous individuals have visited or lived along this area, the most notable being Joseph Pulitzer. The rather eccentric media mogul bought a mansion by Schooner Head Road in 1894 and tricked it out with everything from a sound-proof “Tower of Silence” to the area’s first heated swimming pool.
Hike to the Top of Cadillac Mountain
Standing at over 1,500 feet tall, Cadillac Mountain is an essential stop for anyone visiting Acadia National Park.
One of the best hikes in New England, the climb to the top requires no technical climbing skills. However, it does take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on your stamina and speed. Take water and snacks for the route.
The panoramic views at the top down over forests and rocks to the island-specked sea are well worth the trek, all the more so in the golden light of fall.
Have Tea & Popovers at Jordan Pond House
Jordan Pond House is one of the more iconic places to visit in Acadia National Park, with a history dating back more than 150 years. By the tail end of the 19th century, Jordan Pond and the surrounding area had become a popular holiday spot for well-heeled New Englanders.
In 1895, Thomas and Nellie McIntire, the owners at the time, began serving popovers with tea in the high-ceilinged dining room decked out in birch bark and hardwoods.
Today, Jordan Pond House retains its charm and historic character. Stop by in the afternoon after walking the surrounding carriage paths for tea on the lawn overlooking the lake.
The popovers come out piping hot, with a crisp exterior and a custardy interior. They’re served with homemade jam made with local Maine fruit and are the perfect indulgence on a crisp fall day.
Should you find yourself longing to recreate a part of the experience later on, the gift shop sells both popover mix and special popover pans, which feature deep cups evenly spaced apart to allow air circulation.
Discover Fort Williams Park
Situated a 15-minute drive from downtown Portland, Fort Williams State Park feels like a world apart from the bustling city center. The park itself encompasses 90 acres around Casco Bay, all of it anchored around the Portland Head Light and Museum.
Given its proximity to Portland, the park makes for a perfect afternoon trip. You can easily spend a few hours roaming the well-groomed walking trails, then head back into town for a craft beer at Allagash Brewery or one of its neighbors.
There’s plenty to do within the park boundaries, but the clear highlight is The Portland Head Light, a historic lighthouse on Cape Elizabeth that bears the unusual distinction of being the most photographed lighthouse in the United States.
It’s not hard to see why—for more than a century, the lighthouse has overlooked the crashing waves of the sea from a rocky vantage point. There are actually four lighthouses visible from this area, making this a real treat for shutterbugs. A clear fall day brings with it the perfect light conditions for capturing that iconic shot.
Explore Portland’s Historic Old Port
With its handsome red-brick buildings and cobblestoned streets, Portland’s Old Port district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has a flair all of its own.
In the 19th century, this may have been a slightly rough-around-the-edges fishing harbor, but today, it consists of all sorts of shops, cafés, bars, and eateries.
For a glimpse of what once put the Old Port on the map, visit Harbor Fish Market, a raucous spot that sells some of the freshest fish in town, along with plenty of condiments and other accompaniments.
Even if you’re not planning to take home a live lobster, it’s worth poking your nose in just to take a look.
Walk Along the Rockland Harbor Trail
If you only have a few hours in Rockland but want to pack in a hike with serious views, it’s hard to beat the Rockland Harbor Trail.
You’ll start at The Coastal Children’s Museum then make your way along the coastline to the Maine Lighthouse Museum. Both are worth stopping to take a look if you have the time.
The entire route is a photographer’s dream, with plenty of evocative views of the slate-gray waves of the Atlantic Ocean, all the more enchanting on a sunny fall day. At the end, you’ll walk along the top of a granite breakwater point all the way to a historic lighthouse.
Kayak Around Frenchman Bay
One of the best ways to appreciate the diversity of wildlife that inhabits Acadia National Park and the surrounding area is from the water, so hop in a sea kayak for a paddle around Frenchman Bay.
Along the way, you’ll see the forested, rocky coastline of Mount Desert Island and the blazing colors of Acadia National Park, not to mention the peak of Cadillac Mountain.
Experienced guides and the moderately sheltered waters of the bay make these journeys suitable even for novice kayakers.
As one of the best things to do in Maine with kids, expect to see plenty of playful harbor seals and gray seals sunning themselves on the rocks or poking their heads just above the waters. There’s also a host of avian life including cormorants and ospreys—plus the occasional swooping bald eagle.
Keep an eye—and an ear—out for loons. With its large spotted body and distinctive warbling cry, Maine’s state bird is truly a sight to see. Thanks to decades of conservation efforts, the population of these charismatic waterfowl is stable.
Experience Portland’s Dining Scene
When chef and restaurateur Sam Hayward opened Fore Street restaurant about a block from the waterfront in 1996, Portland still resembled many other cities and towns in Maine hit by deindustrialization.
With its open kitchen anchored around a roaring wood fire and focus on impeccably sourced local ingredients, Fore Street quickly became a dining destination. Travelers would come to town just to sample Hayward’s food in the evening and then pick up a loaf of sourdough and a few morning buns at Standard Baking Co, the restaurant’s attached bakery.
Before long, the restaurant had helped launch an entire culinary ecosystem with a string of James Beard awards to match. Young, ambitious chefs and patissiers, drawn by attractive rents and Maine’s farm-fresh produce, started opening up some of the best restaurants, bars, and bakeries in the country.
For breakfast, stock up on tender-crumbed potato doughnuts at Holy Donut, or pick up sweets like buttery biscuits or grilled banana bread at Dutch’s.
Stop for lunch or a late afternoon drink at Eventide Oyster Co., which serves more than a dozen types of oysters at any given time, as well as Maine lobster.
The essential order is the twist on a Connecticut-style lobster roll, served warm with browned butter. Wash it down with a Dirty Dirty Martini, served with both olive and oyster brine.
Alternatively, head to Duckfat, which specializes in hand-cut, Belgian-style fries double-fried until shatteringly crisp in, of course, duck fat.
Order your fries with any of the mayonnaise-based dipping sauces, all of which are made from scratch using locally sourced eggs. For something truly indulgent, order the signature poutine with duck gravy.
Hike Around Mackworth Island
This diminutive island on Casco Bay is a mere one-and-a-half miles long, meaning you can walk around the entire place in an hour or two. There’s just one main walking trail, which is framed by pine and spruce forests for much of the route.
At points, the trail comes across a sandy or pebble-strewn New England beach, complete with stunning views of the bay and Portland.
Since the whole island is both a protected state park and a bird sanctuary, birding enthusiasts would do well to keep their binoculars handy. Doing the hike on a sunny fall day is all the more enjoyable, taking in the colors of the trees.
Explore the Town of Kennebunkport
If you close your eyes and attempt to picture a quaint, New England coastal town, the chances are high that it will look a lot like Kennebunkport.
The town itself dates back to the 17th century, when schooners making their way from the river to the sea needed a friendly port in which to dock along the way. As time went by, more and more captains and well-to-do sailors opted to settle down in the area.
By the late 18th and 19th centuries, Kennebunkport had become a popular retreat for wealthy mariners and Bostonians. To this day, the town retains much of its grand architecture. Admiring the lavish Victorian and Federal-style mansions of a bygone era is part of the charm here.
In the fall, the brilliantly colored leaves frame the historic architecture in a particularly picturesque fashion. Stroll around the harbor area and soak in the ambiance.
Go Apple Picking
There is no more quintessential activity during fall in Maine than apple picking. For most families growing up in Maine and the surrounding states, this annual tradition is as synonymous with the change of seasons as cozy sweaters and crunchy leaves.
Even if you’re not looking to stock up on a barrel’s worth of apples—and, let’s face it, most travelers with limited luggage room are not—it’s worth it for the experience.
At Pie Tree Orchard, more than 50 varieties of apples ranging from Cortlands to Macintosh are available for picking. Hop on a traditional hayride accompanied by a guide, who will regale you and your fellow passengers with stories about the area.
At the end, swing by the farm stand for wood-fired pizzas straight from the brick oven, plus plenty of delicious baked goods to take with you.
A warm, fragrant cup of fresh-pressed apple cider is a must, as is a sugar-dusted cider doughnut. And if you can’t be bothered to bake your own freshly picked apples into a pie, you could always pick up their flaky-crusted, cinnamon-scented versions.
The best way to experience fall in Maine is by a luxury cruise, which can whisk you from Portland to Bar Harbor. Browse our Maine cruises and book your fall getaway today.