Yankee’s long-time Editor, Mel Allen, shares his picks for some of the most beautiful places in Maine — from Ogunquit Beach to Acadia National Park.
By Mel Allen
Jun 13 2022
The Most Beautiful Places in MainePhoto Credit : Pixabay
Not long ago, a reader wrote to me, “Where are the most beautiful places in Maine?”
That got me thinking. From the day I first moved to Maine in the winter of 1970, the state has kept a special hold on me. Few places compare to the wild beauty seen along the coast and in the mountains, in its villages and wilderness outposts. It’s never easy, or simple, to take stock and say, “these are the most beautiful places in Maine.” There is a reason that we always counsel that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
For four decades, I have traveled throughout New England as a writer and editor at Yankee, and it seems I always come back from Maine with one more beautiful place to add to my ever-growing list. So, behold. These are my most beautiful places in Maine, which would make them among the most beautiful places in the country. I start with two views that everyone with a camera will want to capture during their travels, and then invite you on my personal memory tour of my most beautiful places in Maine.
The beauty of Two Lights goes beyond the classic setting of the Atlantic Ocean crashing on rocks, spray spewing beneath the blue sky. The 40-plus-acre state park lies only eight miles south of Portland, but it gives a feeling of the wild Maine coast—without the several hours’ drive Downeast. Best of all — and this is why it holds a special, beautiful place for thousands of visitors over the decades — the picnic tables at the Lobster Shack at Two Lights let the salt air wash over you while you savor the lobster that may have enticed you to Maine. Ocean, rocks, lobster in the rough. A beautiful place in any book.
From Portland, Peaks Island is the most accessible of the Casco Bay island chain. Just three miles offshore, Peaks is one of the most popular trips from the city. After a day of biking, hiking, strolling, eating, or just sunning on stretches of beach, the night ferry’s return into Portland Harbor, with the lights of the city drawing you closer, is a beautiful cap on an island day.
SEE MORE: A Visit to Peaks Island, Maine
The three miles of sand that stretch from Ogunquit’s main beach parking lot and pavilion — with the usual snacks, sundries and shaded benches — to neighboring Wells, has long been my favorite ocean walk. Off-season, jubilant dogs race into the surf (they are supposed to be leashed, but locals tend to feel that, having come through winter, their dogs deserve some freedom) and the beach is wide and smooth. You can lose yourself in thought, listening to surf. But what makes this one of the most beautiful places in Maine for me is the sunset walk, when all is seemingly quiet, evening beckons, and the shifting color on the water holds you in place.
SEE MORE: The 25 Best Beach Towns in New England
Here is a winter beauty spot not to miss. The drive from Farmington to Sugarloaf Mountain on Route 27 North is about 40 miles. You cut through the forest and pass through the snug village of Kingfield along the Carrabassett River and then, without warning, you navigate a curve and there, spreading across the landscape, is the 4,237-foot summit of Maine’s premier ski mountain, looking as if you could drive right into its heart. The location owes its name to the thousands of people whose breath catches when they turn that corner, prompting them to utter, “Oh my gosh.” The view impresses in all seasons, but the ribbons of snow slicing down Sugarloaf in the winter will stay with you.
This may once have been you. For the first time you are driving for a weekend in Rangeley (pop. 1,122), one of the best winter towns in New England. You are cresting Spruce Mountain on Route 17 and see cars pulled over into a tidy parking area. You join them, look west, and stop cold. What you see spreading before you is one of the most beautiful single sights in Maine. Toothaker Island pokes out of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, and sweeping all around is the merging of water, mountains, forest. It is called “Height of Land,” and it has spoiled many a traveler who will look a long time before finding another such unexpected and dramatic view.
Of course, there must be a lighthouse on my most beautiful places in Maine list, and this historic, red-and-white-striped classic in Quoddy Head State Park is worth waking up early for. Stand here, at the easternmost point in the country, and take in the sun rising over the bay. You’ll be one of the first in the country to enjoy the morning sun, and better still, you now have the rest of the day to explore Passamaquoddy Bay, and to cross the bridge to Campobello Park, where FDR spent so many relaxing days
Over the years, I have hiked countless trails in Maine, but for the reward of sheer stunning beauty, it is hard to beat coming upon Chimney Pond. The hike from Roaring Brook Campground in the heart of the 209,000-acre-plus Baxter State Park to the mountain pond in the valley of Katahdin’s great basin will take a little over two hours. Plan for a few additional hours if your goal is the summit of Maine’s highest peak. Or, as so many do, take off the backpack, stretch out by the water, and enjoy a picnic, knowing your feet have brought you to one of the most beautiful places in Maine.
I once spent four days on a windjammer, and ever since, Penobscot Bay has a place on my most beautiful places in Maine list. Taken in from a sailboat, few waterways inspire more dreamlike awe than this one. Studded with evergreen-lined islands, the bay is home to the largest fleet of historic schooners that have made the name “windjammer” synonymous with beauty and carefree vacations. Whether you take a day sail or a lengthier cruise, the windjammers dock in beautiful island harbors where the only distractions will be ocean, seabirds, and paths leading to sunny seclusion.
SEE MORE: Maine Windjammer | Sailing the Penobscot Bay
Where to begin? Where to end. One of America’s most-loved national parks combines enduring natural beauty, adventure (some of the hikes require nerve), a mountain summit road where hundreds gather at dawn to welcome the sunrise, and carriage roads for walkers and bicyclists. And all this just a short drive from the very civilized comforts of Bar Harbor. You’ll have to find your own special spot in the roughly 50,000-acre park. But if you choose Somes Sound, you may find me there beside you.
SEE MORE: Acadia National Park | Things to Do & See
When I first started writing about Maine, it seemed that many of my stories took me to the North Woods. For a number of them, in fact, I needed to climb into the bush planes which for decades have brought sportsmen deep into the wilds. Today, many roads have opened the wilderness, but letting a skilled bush pilot swoop you over the 40-mile-long lake, rimmed by mountains and pines, will be an experience that stays with you forever. You’ll fly over islands, Kineo’s cliffs, and chances are good you’ll see deer and moose clambering through the woods and streams.
What are your picks for the most beautiful places in Maine?
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.
Mel Allen is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. We think Mel is as New England as they come.