Four Seasons in Maine
Maine is a true four season destination. Head to world class ski resorts and back-country campgrounds reached by snowshoes and skis in the winter or learn the art of ice fishing. As the snow gives way to the warmth of spring and then summer, break out the canoes, kayaks and hiking boots to discover the wildflowers that pop up just about everywhere. Fall brings the dynamic changes in the leaves, where the reds and golds contrast with the deep blues of the mountain lakes and coastal waters. In all seasons, there is the Atlantic Ocean, its swells constantly fronting the coast, sometimes delivering a delicate butterfly kiss, at others an impressive tempest of water and foam. The lighthouses, sentinels of the sea, bear witness to it all. Your Maine adventure awaits.
It starts with a single white flake. That straggler is joined by hundreds, then thousands, then millions of tiny bits of sculptured, frozen water. Soon a blanket of white covers the Maine landscape and temperatures dip below the freezing mark, turning rivers into lazy ribbons of ice. Fish filled ponds and lakes become natural ice sheets, inviting skaters to pirouette in style or slap a hockey puck into a hastily made net. The fish are still there, it just takes a bit more work to get to them. Tracks in the snow show evidence of land animals wandering about, including the iconic Mr. Moose.
This is winter in back-country Maine, where the average snowfall ranges from 100 to 120 inches annually, depending on the region. The Aroostook County Region, the farthest north and bordering Canada, tends to be the coldest, with average winter temperatures below the zero mark in Caribou, one of the largest towns. This makes Fort Kent the perfect venue for the Annual Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races in March, drawing competitors from around the globe. The longest of the three races is 250 miles and a qualifier for the Iditarod in Alaska. Other winter celebrations in Aroostook include the Winter Carnival in Caribou, Mardi Gras in Fort Kent, and Madawaska’s International Snowmobile Festival, all held in February.
Directly to the south is the Maine Highlands Region. Baxter State Park and its signature Mount Katahdin welcome visitors to snowshoe or cross-country ski to remote winter campgrounds or to do a bit of ice-climbing. The town of Millinocket hosts the annual Katahdin Area Winterfest each February. This is also a base for those wanting to do some snowmobiling or ice fishing. Bangor, the region’s largest city, is decked out in all its Christmas finery. Christmas tree farms give you the chance to cut down your own bit of holiday greenery.
A bit farther east is the Kennebec & Moose River Valleys, most of it remote and quiet under its blanket of white. Each February the Radar Run Snowmobile Race out of Jackman does put a roar of excitement into the region. Bordering New Hampshire is the ski-friendly Maine Lakes & Mountains Region, home to Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Saddleback ski resorts. January brings Ski Fest, held in both Bethel and Rangeley. February is a winter festival delight, with the Polar Blast in Eustis, the Winter Carnival in Oxford, the Winter Festival in Bethel and the chance to see the sled dogs compete in the Musher’s Bowl in Bridgton. This is also the region that gets the highest average snowfall, 120 inches.
Coastal Maine winters tend to be milder due to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. As an example, the city of Portland averages a high of 31 F and a low of 12 F during January, the coldest month. Though lakes, ponds and most rivers do freeze, the major coastal ports remain open year round. Sea water freezes at a much lower temperature than fresh due to its salinity. Snowfall is roughly half to three-quarters that of interior Maine, but there is still plenty of winter fun to go around.
Downeast & Acadia, home to Acadia National Park, is the farthest north of the coastal regions. The hike up to Cadillac Mountain will take you crunching through the snow, rewarding you with a panoramic view of the coast. The winter visitor’s center is open Monday-Friday and the Blackwoods Campground offers primitive winter camping. Bucksport, on the southern end of the region, offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and December’s annual Spirit of the Holidays event.
As we travel down the coast we find the MidCoast Maine Region and Booth Bay Harbor, hosting its December Harbor Lights Festival. In February Camden hosts the U.S. Toboggan Championships, and in March that same city celebrates Maine Maple Sugar Sunday, dedicated to that legendary sweet treat. The MidCoast gets the most snowfall of the coastal regions, averaging 74 inches annually. Greater Portland & Casco Bay is home to Christmas shopping in cosmopolitan Portland and at the iconic L.L. Bean in Freeport. Visit Freeport in December and take in the Sparkle Main Street Parade, then head to Brunswick in February for the annual President’s Boat Show.
The Maine Beaches Region is on the very southern tip and has the mildest climate in the state and the least amount of snow, averaging 55 inches annually. Hearty souls take to the coastal beaches to surf year-round. Kennebunk hosts its Winter Carnival in February. Celebrate the holiday season with the lighting of the Nubble Lighthouse in York, held late in November to welcome the Holiday Season.
Spring & Summer Seasons
Spring brings renewal. The first twigs appear on trees, and even more green appears in meadows, soon to give way to colorful flowers. Animal babies take their first breath and then protected by their mothers, begin to explore their world. This far north spring blends into summer so it is sometimes considered one season, activity-wise.
It’s still on the chilly side in the Aroostook County Region when April comes around. In Caribou, Maine, the average high is just over 46 F, and the low 29 F. By mid-July, average daily temperatures are 76.5 F and the lows 54.5 F. Even so the region’s 2,000 plus lakes, streams and rivers start to defrost and the snowpack on the higher elevations begins to melt. The rivers and streams are at their fullest during this time, enticing kayakers to indulge in whitewater challenges or to get out on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in search of the first moose calves of the season. Fishing, camping and back-country hiking are all in full swing by summer’s end. June brings the Acadian Festival in Madawaska and Sommarfest in New Sweden. Fort Fairfield hosts the annual Northern Maine Fair and Woodland puts on the Potato Feast Days, both in August. The Crown of Maine Fest on Presque Isle, also in August, brings hot air balloon enthusiasts from around the globe.
Baxter State Park, in the Maine Highlands Region, welcomes spring with the opening of its hiking trails and campgrounds. Fishing season in the park begins April 1st and continues until summer’s end. Geocaching, climbing Mount Katahdin, biking and water-sports are for the taking. Greenville hosts its Moose Mania Celebration from May into June. The Maine Forest & Logging Museum Living History Days is held in Bradley each July, and Millinocket hosts the annual Wooden Canoe Festival in that same month. The northern end of the Appalachian Trail becomes easier to navigate. Average temperatures in July are in the high 70s F to low 80s F during the day and around the 58 F mark at night.
The Kennebec & Moose River Valleys Region and the Maine Lakes & Mountains Region both have considerable runoff flowing into countless lakes and streams. Purple lupine blankets high-mountain meadows, accompanied by song-birds and colorful butterflies. Temperatures are similar to the Maine Highlands Region. In the former region Belgrade Lakes and China Lake welcome boaters and fishermen. The Kennebec and Dead Rivers offer plenty of paddling adventures, including challenging whitewater rapids. Belgrade Lakes hosts its annual Art Festival each June and Skowhegan its Log Days Festival in July. One month later it is Jackman’s Logging Events and the Skowhegan State Fair.
Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Saddleback Ski Resorts in the Maine Lakes & Mountains Region become summer playgrounds, offer golfing, mountain biking, zip-lines and even a spa or two. The Bigelow and Mahoosuc Mountain Ranges give you the chance to “go climb a rock” and the Rangeley Lakes area offers more fishing, wildlife watching, boating and Appalachian Trail hiking. The Great Falls Canoe Race from Lewiston to Auburn is held in June, as is Rumford’s Moontide Water Festival. July and August bring a host of festivals, including the Maine State Triathlon Classic in Bethel and Rangeley’s Logging Museum Festival, both in July. Among August’s treats are the Sidewalk Art Show and Blueberry Festival, both in Rangeley and the SCCA Maine Forest Pro Rally in Rumford.
The Downeast & Acadia Region welcomes spring with a burst of color from lupine filled meadows and fiddlehead ferns peaking out of boggy clay in some of the low-lying areas. At this time of year, Cadillac Mountain, the highpoint of Acadian National Park is the first part of the United States to welcome the sun. Migratory birds start to arrive and form breeding colonies, including the comical red-beaked puffins. In May, Bar Harbor hosts a Warblers and Wildflowers Festival. In June that same city holds the Blessing of the Fleet Ceremony, the Maine Ragtime Festival and the Legacy of the Arts. A steady stream of festivals and events entertains visitors until summer’s end. Some of the highlights include the July 4th Festival in Eastport and the World’s Fastest Lobster Boat Race in Jonesport, both in July.
The warmer seasons in the MidCoast Maine Region are a signal for the vintage windjammers to hoist sails and begin their journeys out of Camden. The forested coastlines and scattered islands contrast with the deep blues of the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean. Boothbay Harbor hosts the Fisherman’s Festival in April and Windjammer Days in June. Whale watching and lighthouse tours are in full swing. Reid State Park and Popham Beach are open for business. Eat your fill at the Maine Lobster Festival and energize your soul at the North Atlantic Folk Festival, both August events in coastal Rockland. Kayaks and other watercraft are available for day or overnight trips to offshore islands.
The Greater Portland & Casco Bay Region is quite busy during the spring/summer season. Cruise ships bring passengers eager to shop for authentic Maine goods and dine in high-end restaurants offering fresh lobster and other seafood. The City of Portland offers antique shops and tours of the old harbor section, some of the more ghostly variety. Brunswick hosts the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival each July and Bailey Island holds its Tuna Tournament during the same month. August brings the Maine Highland Games and the Maine Bluegrass Festival, both in Brunswick. Visit the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray or take in Portland Pirates minor league baseball game in Portland. This is the best time of year to see the lighthouses, either by land or water. The Maine Audubon Society in Cape Elizabeth offers bird-watching opportunities.
The population of the Maine Beaches Region swells as the calendar edges towards June and July. Families flock to the area’s 30 miles of white sand beaches, some renting beachfront cottages or vacation homes for the duration of the summer. Though much of coastal Maine hovers around the 80 F mark during the day and the 60 F mark during the height of summer, the Maine Beaches Region is the warmest, with an average daily high of 83 F. Surfing, sailing, sea kayaking and fishing are all favored summer activities. For those wanting to keep dry, antique shops and quaint seaside cafes are plentiful. Many festivals celebrate the sun and sand. Old Orchard Beach, an old-time beach amusement area, hosts Beachfest in July and the Beach Olympics in August. The Acton Fair is also an August event. Ferry Beach State Park in Saco and Vaughan Woods State Park in South Berwick are open for business.
No matter what part of Maine you visit in the fall, it’s all about the trees. Hardwood varieties exchange the green leaves of summer for a kaleidoscope of brilliant orange, gold and reds. Sugar maples tend to turn bright orange and yellow, mountain maples a bold red, while white ash leans towards purples. With a backdrop of green evergreens and the blues of mountain lakes or the ocean, Mother Nature’s canvas is a visual delight.
The leaves first start to turn in the Aroostook County Region, sometimes as early as mid-September in the Fort Kent area. Kittery, Maine, on the South Coast is the last to see color, sometimes not until the end of October. The Maine Office of Tourism offers a “fall foliage hotline” that lets you know where to find the best photo ops. Drive along the Interstate or any of the state’s local roadways and you’ll have a hard time deciding what to shoot next.
Temperatures throughout Maine average from highs in the mid 50s and lows in the 30s in the remote interior, to highs in the mid 60s and lows in the upper 40s along the coast. The shortening days and cooler temperatures also trigger another annual event, the moose mating, or rutting season. Both male and female moose are in peak condition during the fall, sleek and fat from gorging on underwater plants and other greenery. Though the bulls are at their grumpiest, this is also the time to take a guided moose safari for the best photo ops. Deer share the same rutting season and while the males can be more aggressive than usual, they don’t come close to a bull moose in the crankiness department.
Fall also signals the start of hunting season for moose, deer, bear and several species of birds. Moose, deer and bear hunting are most popular in the more remote parts of Maine, including the Aroostook County Region, the Kennebec & Moose River Valleys Region, Maine’s Lakes & Mountains Region and the Maine Highlands. Bird hunting, particularly for migratory ducks and Canada geese, is also found along the coastal wetlands. Pheasant hunting is limited to the southern tip of Maine, in York and Cumberland counties.
This colorful time of year is also harvest time and in Maine that means having festivals and fairs to celebrate this bounty. The Aroostook County Region holds its Northern Maine Fair in August because its harvest season is the earliest in the state. In the Kennebec & Moose River Valleys Region, Jackman hosts its Fall Fest in September and Belgrade Lakes celebrates Oktoberfest. Oxford and Farmington both hold county fairs in September and Rangeley hosts its Apple Festival in October, all in the Maine Lakes & Mountains Region.
Eastport, in the Downeast & Acadia Region celebrates the bounty of the sea in September with its Salmon Festival. Boothbay hosts its Fall Foliage Festival and Camden its Fall Festival in October, both in the MidCoast Maine Region. Cumberland in the Greater Portland & Casco Region holds its annual fair in September. The Maine Beaches Region bids summer good-bye with September’s Tri-State Fishing Tournament in Old Orchard Beach and the Autumn Fest in Wells. And of course there is Oktoberfest in Kittery and Harvestfest in York where you may sip and munch till your heart’s content. Along the South Coast the water is still warm enough, with a wetsuit, and just wild enough to make surfing a memorable, challenging, white-knuckle ride.