Maine for Families

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Maine for Families
Maine is a great state for families to visit. The safe, low-stress environment means kids are free to play and parents are free to relax. As an added bonus, most outdoor activities are free or low cost.
By Sam Barns, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Raymond Forbes/age fotostock
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    Cabin Rentals
    Maine, on a lake, in the summer: The best way to fully appreciate this is to rent a cabin—known locally as a “camp”—for a few days. The well-populated and developed lakes of southern Maine, especially Sebago Lake, are great for active families who want rentals for waterskiing, tubing, and jet skiing, as well as restaurants that can be reached by boat. Moosehead Lake is also a great spot for families to enjoy opportunities to hike, swim, fish, and golf. And Rangeley has a mix of big and small lakes with varying degrees of development.
    Photo by Raymond Forbes/age fotostock
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    Family-Friendly Beach Days
    Maine’s beaches are a wonderful place for a family to spend a day. Higgins Beach, Scarborough Beach, and Old Orchard Beach are popular summer spots that offer sandy beaches and gentle surf ideal for kids. Maine’s varying tides and rocky shoreline create the perfect opportunity for tidal pools to form. These little pools become biological micro-systems and children can spend a fascinating afternoon poking around and observing the marine life up close. Inside the ankle-deep pools, children will find sea grasses, crabs, mussels, barnacles, and other sea life. One of the best places to experience this is at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights State Park. While you’re waiting for your food, the kids can be exploring the rocks below.
    Photo by Ron Buskirk/age fotostock
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    Fall Colors
    Seeing the leaves change color in the fall is an awe-inspiring experience. The bright yellows, oranges, and reds mix with Maine’s famous evergreens to form a canvas so big that you won't be able to fit it all into your camera lens. Baxter State Park is perhaps at its most remarkable during this season, as are the rolling hills of western Maine and Acadia National Park. In southern Maine, the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport is a great place to start your adventure. Leaf seekers should bring a big book so the kids can collect and press the best leaves they find so they will last for years.
    Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism
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    Maine's Farms
    Maine’s small farms provide ample opportunities for kids to harvest their own foods. It's an educational as well as an exciting opportunity to run around outside picking (and eating) healthy fresh produce. Summer is good for picking strawberries and also for finding wild blueberries and wild raspberries. In the fall, kids will enjoy searching the fields for the perfect pumpkin or climbing trees to pick apples. Check out Terison Apple Orchard in Cumberland (apples and pumpkins), Crabtree’s Blueberries in Sebago, and Alewives Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth (strawberries).
    Photo by Tara Donne
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    Man-Made Maine
    If the kids are getting tired of the wilderness treat them to a day at one of Maine's amusement parks. They aren’t the biggest in the country but they are safe and affordable and the kids will love them. Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach is a pay-per-ride park right on the beach; it's open late and is a great place to go after a day of playing in the water. Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco is the state’s biggest amusement park and boasts one of the fastest wooden roller coasters in the world. Right next door is Aquaboggan Water Park, the state’s largest water park, where visitors can relax by the pool with a cold drink and let the kids run free.
    Photo by Joseph Sohm/age fotostock
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    Maine Wildlife
    Once you get out of southern Maine the roads are littered with “Moose Crossing” signs. The best places to see moose are around Baxter State Park and the Rangeley Lakes regions: Head out to marshy areas in the early morning. In these areas you will also find loons (Maine’s iconic waterbirds), owls, bald eagles, and chickadees (the state bird). Deer, hare, foxes, and coyotes are also commonly seen or heard. On the coast you can hop on a tour boat at Bar Harbor, Booth Bay Harbor, or Kittery and go whale watching. Maine’s islands also provide the only Atlantic nesting program for puffins. Eastern Egg Rock, Seal Island, Matinicus Rock, Machias Seal Island, and Petit Manan Island host thousands of puffins each summer.
    Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism
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    Acadia Park and Bar Harbor
    Acadia Park is Maine’s only national park and offers activities like hiking up Cadillac Mountain, biking along old carriage trails, enjoying fresh popovers and jam at the Jordan Pond Teahouse, and hearing the boom of Thunder Hole—an ocean inlet where, during the right tides, a thunderous sound emanates with each crashing wave. For a special treat, head up Cadillac Mountain on a foggy day and watch the fingers of fog drift in and out of the islands. Outside the park, in beautiful Bar Harbor, visitors can go mini-golfing, whale watching, bike riding, shopping, or swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.
    Photo by Dave Campbell
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    Portland is on the sea and is a very manageable city to visit with a family. Downtown Portland, known as the Old Port, is a lovely place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. Head to the ferry terminal pier to watch locals fishing and playing with harbor seals, or go into the city and enjoy outdoor cafes and sea food restaurants. At the Maine Children’s Museum kids can explore a model fire truck, milk a fake cow, and explore other seasonal exhibits. Silly’s Restaurant has goofy decorations and a kid-friendly menu and is a great lunch spot. Portland’s sports teams—the Sea Dogs (baseball) and the Red Claws (basketball)—are affordable and put on lots of entertainment that caters to families.
    Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism
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    Fresh Maine Lobster
    If your children are fascinated by lobsters try getting a tour with a local lobsterman. Kids will learn how to set and pull traps and can even take home the lobsters they’ve caught. Lobster bakes are also a classic Maine experience. The lobsters are steamed using a natural sand and seaweed oven and eaten fresh from the ground. Kids either love it or hate it when a whole lobster is plopped down in front of them, antennas and claws and all. Some of the best places to eat lobster are The Lobster Shack at Two Lights and Five Islands Lobster Company in Georgetown, Maine. Old Quarry Ocean Adventures is a great place to arrange any ocean-centered activities like lobster bakes.
    Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism
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    See Maine by Ferry
    Both Casco Bay and Bar Harbor have ferry systems; they are the best way to see Maine’s rocky, island-spotted coast from the water. Some ferries are strictly for tourists—they simply cruise for a few hours before returning to port—and others also serve island residents who need to make trips back and forth to the mainland. For a bigger experience, try to book tickets on the Nova Star. This cruise boat makes regular trips all summer from Portland Harbor to Nova Scotia in Canada. Kids will love the adventure of a night on the ocean and seeing the coast of Maine slide slowly by. On-board activities include fine dining, a casino, live entertainment, an art gallery, a spa, a kids' zone, and a theater.
    Photo by Jesse Fisher