Best Sightseeing in Portland

Portland's Land, Backwoods and Seascapes Offer Opportunities for Extensive Picture Perfect Viewing

Portland offers a bit of something for everyone when it comes to sightseeing. Casco Bay, which adjoins the city, features broad coastline viewing. One of the best locations for viewing the bay is nearby Fort Williams Park with plenty of open shoreline to take in ocean scenes. This park also features abandoned defensive fortifications and even a former mansion for truly unusual seaside strolling and viewing. To enjoy the region's deep woods beauty, a quick drive up to the summit of Mt. Agamenticus in York takes in the majestic trees and pristine peaks with views as far as the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. This is a much beloved activity to take in summer's splendor as well as the changing autumnal colors that so captivate visitors to Mt. A, as it is called. Meanwhile, Vaughan Woods State Park in South Berwick introduces visitors to the confluence of sea and land that made the area so attractive to Native Americans and colonists alike. Walking along upland ridges, the flowing waters of the adjoining Salmon Falls River captivate and delight sightseers. No matter what your preference – sea, land or even a simply back country road drive – the Portland area offers a great deal to sightseers of all ages.


Mt. Agamenticus Trails
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

Mt. Agamenticus is a major landmark in the York region of south coastal Maine. This mountain (a hill, really, with a summit of about 1100 feet) is a popular destination with vacationers and locals alike seeking a serene, deep woods respite from the hustle and bustle of the seacoast. Several well marked and maintained trails criss cross along the mountain and nearly all offer wonderful sightseeing scenery, especially from the summit of the mountain. The Ring Trail is probably the most popular of these trails as it circles the entire mountain. Meanwhile, such pathways as Blueberry Bluff (and, yes, there are wild blueberry bushes along this trail ripe for picking when they are in season!), Witch Hazel, and Sweet Fern offer spectacular views from the summit. None of these trails are longer than 2 miles in length and require easy to moderate effort. In recent years, an outlying network of trails have also been developed amounting to more than 40 miles worth of hiking in the area. To reach the Mt. Agamenticus Trails (from the south), travel north on Route 1 and then turn left on Mountain Road. At the stop sign, turn right onto Summit Road and watch for the parking lots to the trails.

Local Expert tip: Motorists will enjoy the auto road that will take you to the summit of Mt. Agamenticus.

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Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
Photo courtesy of Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve

This destination has become a favorite with visitors seeking sightseeing opportunities along the scenic southern Maine coast. Seeking to preserve the much loved Laudholm Farm in Wells from residential development, open space advocates proposed a research center dedicated to the study of Maine's coastal environment. Their efforts succeeded in establishing the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. Upon first entering the preserve, visitors come upon a welcome center which feature engaging exhibits that offer insight into this research facility's efforts to better understand and protect Maine's coastal habitat. Afterwards, it is possible to travel the reserve's extensive trail network which meanders through picturesque forest and marshes. An lengthy boardwalk allows for up close and personal viewing of wetlands habitat without damage to the environment. Be sure to check out the trail that leads to the shore for spectacular ocean views.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to bring along a camera for taking great shoreline photos. The reserve's science museum does a wonderful job of introducting children to Maine's aquatic treasures.

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Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

Conveniently located only five minutes from the shopping mecca of Freeport, Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park is one of the most popular destinations in the Maine state parks system. The park affords a great sightseeing experience of coastal Maine north of Portland. The park was given as a gift to the state by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith of Freeport in 1969. While a relatively modest 200 acres, the park contains a surprisingly diverse collection of ecosystems. Those who venture out on the park's many well-marked trails will witness hemlock and white pine forests, the rocky shoreline of Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River, and a salt marsh estuary. In the fall, the park becomes alive with the vibrant colors of autumn as trees full of multi-colored leaves provide a dazzling backdrop for visitors. Also of note are the park's distinctive residents which include Osprey birds and even Eagles. It makes for a refreshing stroll at the height of fall splendor.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to bring a camera to take photos of birds and wildlife that call the park home.

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Eastern Promenade
Photo courtesy of Portland Trails

The Eastern Promenade is a favorite with locals and visitors alike who are seeking a relaxing, sightseeing walk along the Portland shoreline. The 2.1 mile paved, generally level trail follows an old train line. Walking, biking or jogging along this trail, you'll enjoy expansive views of Casco Bay with its boats, birds and even seals that occupy its waters. Benches and picnic tables enable visitors to spend time lingering over the wonderful scenery. The trail connects to East End Beach for swimming (changing rooms are available and public toilets, as well). There is also a public boat launch which affords easy access to the bay for boaters, canoeists and kayakers.

Local Expert tip: Keep this wonderful destination in mind for romantic walks.

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Vaughan Woods State Park
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

Tucked away in the small, quiet hamlet of South Berwick, located about 40 minutes south of Portland, is Vaughan Woods State Park. This expansive park has long been a source of serenity and solitude for locals in the area and offers unique sightseeing of interior waterways in southern Maine. Its towering trees, rolling terrain, and pine needle-covered pathways invite reflection and composure for walkers and hikers alike. Several trails course through the park with many of them bringing you to spectacular views of the Salmon Falls River. In the fall, autumn's exciting color display add even greater wonder and surprise for those who venture into this state park gem. During the early part of the season, it is still possible to enjoy tours of the Hamilton House, a post-American Revolution mansion built by shipping tycoon Jonathan Hamilton, which adjoins the park.

Local Expert tip: To access the entire park, wear a solid pair of trail or hiking shoes to travel along narrow upland paths.

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Kennebunk Bridle Path
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

While the Kennebunk Bridle Path doesn't necessarily afford a long trek, it has special features well worth experiencing for outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking exceptional sightseeing of Maine wetlands. In particular, a section of this 5.6 mile path crosses into the Rachel Carson Wildlife Preserve. Here, it is possible to experience expansive views of the coastal wetlands that naturalist Rachel Carson fought so hard to safeguard from development. Because the trail courses through a narrow section of uplands, the fragile ecology is not disturbed by cyclists, walkers, runners and others who take this path. At the same time, it is possible to pause and appreciate the marsh grasses waving in the ocean breeze, seafaring birds resting along natural canals, and the meandering travels of wetlands waterways. The path, which begins near the Sea Road School in Kennebunk (71 Kennebunk Beach Road), borders private homes at times but there are also sections that are enclosed within thick forest, giving travelers a soothing deep woods feeling. When school is in session, the path can be accessed near the Mousam River Bridge on Route 9 in Kennebunk. Be sure to bring your camera � you don't want miss the opportunity to have a visual record of the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you.

Local Expert tip: Fall is a great time of year to travel this path with native trees ablaze with color.

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Route 91
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

For those who enjoy sightseeing drives along back country roads, it doesn't get much more scenic than Route 91 in York, Maine. This nearly eight-mile byway is accessed from U.S. Route 1 in York and ends at the intersection of Route 236 in South Berwick. Along the way, Route 91 offers a series of delightful, winding twists and curves as it traverses the rolling countryside between York and South Berwick. Motorists will enjoy passing quaint farm stands, wetlands and tributaries of the nearby York River, and appealing craft shops. If you're so inclined, you can even stop at the Highland Farm Preserve, one of the newest properties of the Great Works Regional Land Trust. This destination offers several miles of gentle walking along paths that criss cross the backwoods of York. It's yet another great way to experience the charming character of southern Maine.

Local Expert tip: A sunset drive is truly special along this road.

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Casco Bay Lines
Photo courtesy of Casco Bay Lines

Perhaps there is no better way to get up close and personal with Portland's timeless ties to the sea than a Casco Bay ferry ride. For decades, Casco Bay Lines has made such cherished excursions possible, both for visitors and locals alike, offering memorable sightseeing opportunities of Portland's main waterway. Casco Bay Lines serves as the transit ferry service for residents of six Casco Bay islands: Peaks, Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Cliff Island, Long Island and Chebeague islands. Many of these residents take the daily ferry commute to and from jobs in Portland. Thanks to this ferry service, visitors can also visit these scenic locations with their wind swept shorelines, quaint streets and shops. In addition, Casco Bay offers rides to many of the neighboring uninhabited islands which feature prime hiking and bird watching opportunities. Families often take advantage of such trips to explore tidal pools, wildlife and even biking on these rugged, primitive bay isles.

Local Expert tip: Visit their website for a full listing of cruise times and schedules.

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Portland Observatory
Photo courtesy of Portland Observatory

First conceived as a signal station to guide ocean sailing vessels safely into Portland Harbor, the Portland Observatory has become one of the city's – and Maine's – most cherished landmarks. Visitors are immediately immersed in Portland's rich maritime history as they ascend the aged but solid wooden steps within the observatory. Upon reaching the top floor, you are treated to a spectacular 360-degree view of Maine's largest city and adjoining Casco Bay through the observatory's windows. Tours also include a brief history of Captain Lemuel Moody and his efforts to have the observatory built. This structure truly offers one of the best sightseeing opportunities to be found in Portland. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006, the Portland Observatory is the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States.

Local Expert tip: The observatory's sunset viewing offers even more dramatic vistas of Portland.

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Fort Williams Park
Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik

For generations, the Portland area's Casco Bay has represented one of the best regional sightseeing opportunities. And one of the best locations for viewing the bay is Fort Williams Park in nearby Cape Elizabeth. This destination offers spectacular, wide sweeping vistas of Casco Bay and its surrounding islands. Visitors enjoy casually walking gravel paths that adjoin a classic Maine rocky shoreline, the steady crash of waves enhancing this seaside strolling experience. As a former coastal fortification, Fort Williams also offers a glimpse into Portland's history. The remains of officer's quarters, cannon emplacements, and even a Gilded Age mansion can be found in the park. This location also features Portland Headlight, one of the most famous lighthouses in the region, and its adjoining museum celebrating the area's rich lifesaving heritage. It's well worth a visit for those who curious about Portland's ties to the sea.

Local Expert tip: Be sure to bring a camera or your smart phone for great picture-taking opportunities!

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