Best Things to Do Beyond Portland Proper

10 Best By Land And Sea, Beyond Portland's Pleasures

Our 10 Best choice for this list takes into account a variety of activities and places of interest. For museum and art lovers, there are several opportunities. The Bowdoin College Museum of Art ( features some of the best collections of premier American and European art to be found anywhere within the region. Meanwhile, the Stanley Museum provides insights into New England's industrial past by tracing the history of the Stanley Brothers, inventors of the classic Stanley Steamer Automobile. Also of note is the Joshua Chamberlain Museum which provides insight into one of the Civil War's most heroic military strategists – as well as his post-war career as a progressive governor of Maine. At the same time, the Maine Maritime Museum offers intriguing exhibits and displays which highlight the Pine Tree State's rich shipbuilding and oceanic trade heritage. Water sports enthusiasts can take in northern New England's legendary rugged seascape with kayaking or canoeing journeys at Portsmouth Harbor in Portsmouth, New Hampshire or along the Upper Salmon Falls River in South Berwick, Maine. And for hikers and mountain bikers alike, a journey along the Mt. Agamenticus trails offers much in the way of deep woods beauty. And for the ultimate in rugged hiking adventures, few excursions compare to an ascent up Mount Washington, New England's premier peak. 


Maine Maritime Museum
Photo courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum

The Maine Maritime Museum, which also now includes the Portland Harbor Museum, provides visitors with a comprehensive and compelling chronicle of Maine's rich ship building legacy. It's fitting that this museum is located in Bath, home of the Bath Iron Works which is famous for producing mighty destroyer vessels for the U.S. Navy. One feature of the museum actually allows visitors to take a one-hour behind the scenes trolley tour of the iconic Bath ship building manufacturer. Other museum highlights allow visitors to explore an historic shipyard that has five of the original 19th century buildings intact; a shipyard owners' mansion from the 1800s; exhibits depicting Maine's overseas trade and lobstering; and the opportunity to watch master craftsman build wooden ships. Children will enjoy the museum's Pirate Play Ship and a play tugboat bridge complete with a horn and whistle. The museum's expansiveness will easily fill a complete afternoon of fascinating exploration for both children and adults.

Local Expert tip: This museum's trolley tour of Bath Iron Works is well worth experiencing.

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Sunday River Outdoor Center

It's hard to believe that Sunday River, one of Maine's premier downhill skiing destinations, is a relative newcomer to the sport of Nordic skiing. It's Outdoor Center features more than 20 trails that criss cross the breathtaking beauty of the scenic Maine highlands. The trails are consistently groomed to a smooth, almost glassy finish. Most of the trails feature deep, grooved tracks that are ideal for skate skiing or building fast glides on more traditional Nordic skis. The trails also feature a welcome diversity of terrain from flat and level (located close to the Outdoor Center lodge) to slightly rolling and curving and even several minor downhill-type slopes (on the more advanced trails). All of the trails are clearly marked with signs identifying them as easy, intermediate or advanced to match skiers' skills. Trail fees are reasonable (under $20 per person) and ski rentals are available. Check out the Outdoor Center lodge for refreshing hot chocolate and other snacks.

Local Expert tip: Considering a Nordic skis purchase? Try out the rentals at Sunday River to sample available packages.

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Portsmouth Harbor Kayaking
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

For scenic beauty, Portsmouth Harbor is especially compelling for kayakers. Located a little more than an hour south of Portland, this expansive water destination has something for everyone. During the summer and fall seasons, especially, Portsmouth Harbor is a busy place. Everyone from pleasure boaters to working fishing vessels ply its waters. A number of small islands dot its waters, perfect for exploring with their thick growths of trees and rocky outcroppings. Major landmarks include the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and Prescott Park. Kayakers enjoy the rush of gentle, swirling currents, the deep blue color of the water, and occasional low swells that carry you along. Kayak rentals are available at Portsmouth Kayak (185 Wentworth Road, Portsmouth NH, 603-559-1000, Access to the harbor is available beside BG's Boathouse Restaurant (191 Wentworth Road, Portsmouth, NH), which graciously invites paddlers to stop in for a beer after an afternoon of kayaking fun!

Local Expert tip: Late afternoons are best for scenic sunset kayaking here.

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Stanley Museum
Photo courtesy of Stanley Museum

With recent attention on alternative energy fuels, a spotlight has been focused on an almost forgotten era of automotive technology: the Stanley Steamer automobile. With their origins in Kingfield, Maine, Stanley Steamers were steam-powered automobiles that that, for the first 25 years of the 20th century, were in direct competition with gasoline vehicles. The Stanley Museum preserves the legacy of these cars through photographs, records, collector's items, press clippings and even mechanical schematic drawings. The museum's highlight, however, are several immaculately preserved Stanley automobiles complete with dashboard controls that offer insight into the stark differences between gas powered and steam engines. The museum also details the lives of Stanley Steamer's inventors, twins Freelan Oscar and Francis Edgar, who also created advances in photographic plate technology. Examples of handmade Stanley violins � yet another passion of the talented inventor brothers � are also on display. The museum is a great way to experience a little known � but important � era of Maine's industrial past.

Local Expert tip: Visit the museum website for special events such as periodic meetings of Stanley Steamer Motor Car clubs.

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Joshua Chamberlain Museum
Photo courtesy of Joshua Chamberlain Museum

Nearly lost in the annals of history, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain gained public with publication of the highly popular novel, "The Killer Angels" in the early 1990s. This celebrated work recounts the Battle of Gettysburg, a major turning point in the American Civil War, and Chamberlain's historic defense of Little Round Top � a critical skirmish that key to the Northern victory at Gettysburg. Since publication of the book � and the movie "Gettysburg" which followed � Chamberlain's home has become a "must visit" among Maine's historical properties and museums. The home, which is large but fairly modest in scope, is located directly across the street from Bowdoin College. Chamberlain served as president of Bowdoin and, later, governor of Maine following his Civil War exploits. Rooms contain, where possible, original furnishings. Also on view are artifacts and trophies including Chamberlain's uniform and sword from the Gettysburg encounter, diaries, etc. House tour guides do an exemplary job of relating Chamberlain's exciting story, including insights not usually found in the history books.

Local Expert tip: The museum frequently hosts special programs focusing on 19th century art and life in Maine – check their website for details.

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Acadia National Park
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

Acadia National Park started out as the dream of John D. Rockefeller. This legendary industrialist, who made his fortunes in the oil industry, worked with local improvement societies to finance the purchase of large tracts of land on Mt. Desert Island to create a nature refuge for the public. He subsequently had gracious, paved pathways built throughout the park to provide access to walkers, hikers and cyclists (but, ironically, no automobiles). Eventually, this refuge was turned over to the federal government to become Acadia National Park. In the fall, the park takes on an almost other worldly splendor as the paths course through majestic stands of trees ablaze with the colors of the season. These trails enables walkers to reach gorgeous landmarks throughout the park including Eagle Lake and Sand Beach for added enjoyment. Better yet, fall is a great time of year to visit Acadia. With the throngs of summer visitors to the park having long departed, there are times when you may almost feel like you have the park to yourself.

Local Expert tip: Fall is a great time of year to enjoy Acadia with its spectacular autumnal foliage.

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Mt. Agamenticus Mountain Biking
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

The Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Area comprises a very respectable 15-plus miles of prime mountain biking trails. You can access these trails via the Norman Mill Trail, located near 72 Bennett Lot Road in South Berwick (note: this is a private residence) or at Mt. Agamenticus itself, easily accessible from U.S. Route 1 in York via Mountain Road. Norman Mill connects to several superior mountain biking trails including the Notch, Great Marsh, and Cedar trails. While these trails are accessible for even beginner cyclists, several sections are strewn with rocks and exposed tree roots. Nevertheless, these trails offer a singular cycling experience as riders pedal through deep woods thick with trees, greenery, wildlife, and stone walls. The terrain ranges from level to gradual upland and fun downhill for a varied, enjoyable ride. Apply plenty of bug repellant. Most of these trails pass by marshy areas where insects are plentiful.

Local Expert tip: Wearing of bike helmets are strongly advised for riding these trails.

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Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Located approximately 30 minutes north of Portland, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is a major destination for art lovers in Maine. The museum is part of Bowdoin College, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the United States. The college is especially known as the alma mater of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin, one of the most effective Union generals during the Civil War who initially came to fame for his leadership during the Battle of Gettysburg. The Bowdoin College Museum of Art features more than 18,500 objects in its collection which spans the entire course of history, from ancient Greek sculptures to 21st century modernist paintings. The museum's holdings include virtually every type of media including paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts. It's Works on Paper collection (print and ink drawings) is one of the largest in the world. Similarly, it's collection of Maine artist Winslow Homer's paintings is equally extensive. The museum has developed a strong reputation for staging highly creative special exhibits. For instance, it's Edward Hopper show gained national acclaim for its presentation of rarely viewed Maine landscape works by the famous artist. The museum is open to the public, free of charge.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to visit the museum's website for up dates on its choice special exhibitions.

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Upper Salmon Falls River Kayaking
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

Located just over the state border near South Berwick, Maine, the Bicentennial Park boat launch in Rollinsford, NH provides easy entry onto the Upper Salmon Falls River for a classic New England river kayaking outing. The Salmon Falls was once a working river, providing water power for dozens of mills and factories located in both New Hampshire and Maine. Today, with the few remaining mills subject to vigorous clean water regulations, kayakers can enjoy a river featuring nature at its best. Paddlers glide along a lush, almost primeval shoreline with towering pine, oak and hemlock trees, bushes, and flowers. Birds, especially hawks, languidly soar above and it is not uncommon to spot otters, beavers and other wildlife along the banks. Signs of civilization (an occasional house or mill) are rare. Instead, kayakers can immerse themselves in a truly enchanting, almost pristine wilderness experience.

Local Expert tip: Consider a multi-day journey on this river – it spans more than 15 miles!

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Mt. Washington
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

Aside from its rugged seascape, perhaps there is nothing more iconic in New England than its interior mountain ranges. Fortunately, the most spectacular of these peaks – Mount Washington – is situated less than an hour and a half from Portland. At 6,289 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New England and, on clear days, offers spectacular views clear to the Atlantic Ocean. Hiking to this peak is one of the best ways to enjoy Mt. Washington as the ascent offers increasingly breathtaking scenery within glorious deep woods beauty. Among the most accessible trails to the summit is Tuckerman's Ravine, located behind the Appalachian Mountain Club's Pinkham Notch Center on Route 16 near Gorham, NH, to the Lion's Head Trail and then back to the Tuckerman's Ravine Trail. This route offers an extra treat of walking along the mountain's ridge with even greater, expansive views to enjoy.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to allow enough time for this hike – at a moderate pace, it will take 6 to 7 hours ( round trip) tom complete.

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