One of my very first moves upon relocating to Maine—before I registered my car, before I got my mail forwarded—was to pick up a $70 state parks annual pass. Maine has a lot of variation among its parks, from backcountry paradises like Baxter, where man’s footprint is minimal, to populated playgrounds like Sebago Lake, with hundreds of campsites, a snack bar, and whole flotillas of motorboats. With 33 state parks representing a wide variety of terrain, from mountains to beaches to historic forts to bluffs, there is truly something for everybody.
That same deep roster means that, on the face of it, picking the best of the best is a daunting task. But these five parks collectively contain some of Maine’s most frequented trails and most photographed vistas—a handful of peaks, lighthouses, and waterfronts so iconic, leaving them unmentioned would be unthinkable. Pack a tent and picnic basket and head out.
Baxter State Park
With mile-high and gorgeously chiseled Mount Katahdin at its heart, Baxter is Maine’s wilderness showpiece, 200,000+ acres donated by a far-sighted former governor to be kept “forever wild.” Challenging routes up Katahdin attract most visitors, but Baxter contains dozens of peaks, 215 miles of trails, an abundance of camping opportunities, and several stunning backcountry lakes. This is a Shangri-La for hikers, climbers, paddlers, and moose lovers.
Camden Hills State Park
The coastal mountains outside the harbor town of Camden attract legions of hikers. Many come to summit 1,385-foot Mount Megunticook, the Atlantic’s second highest coastal mountain, or to drive up neighboring Mount Battie for killer views of the islands. Looming above Lake Megunticook, meanwhile, the dramatic precipice of Maiden Cliff is like a transplanted scene from some Rockies canyon.
Reid State Park
At low tide in Reid State Park, a whole alien universe thrives in the park’s shallow tidal pools. Bright green algae clings to boulders, along with barnacles, sponges, and the occasional starfish. Tiny crabs skitter among the rocks, and the intricate spiraling shells of the sea snails are like found art objects buried in mats of rockweed.
Quoddy Head State Park
One of Maine’s most photographed sites is a candy-striped lighthouse called West Quoddy Head, looking out from the easternmost point in the continental United States. The tower itself is closed, but park visitors can hike through a wildlife-rich coastal bog and watch for whales offshore when they’re done Instagramming the lighthouse.
Two Lights State Park
Art lovers might recognize the classic Two Lights skyline from Edward Hopper’s famous painting of the eastern lighthouse, gleaming white and rising romantically from a grassy hill. But the park’s pebbly beach and rocky shelves hold equal appeal, luring families and beachcombers, and you can’t feel the ocean spray from a gallery at the Met.