Midcoast Maine Region
The Midcoast of Maine takes in Belfast, Camden/Rockport/Rockland, Thomaston, Newcastle/Damariscotta, Wiscasset, Bath, Brunswick.
Imagine a rugged coast of granite boulders, pine trees and lighthouses, a sparkling sea dotted with fishing boats and islands, and in the distance the magnificent sails of a historic windjammer. This is Midcoast Maine. Discover the region’s rich history of logging, limestone and granite quarrying, ice harvesting, barrel making, and tourism. Yet always there’s been a close connection to the sea as a fishing and shipbuilding capital of New England. Over time, each Midcoast Maine village has maintained its rich maritime history, preserved its environment for outdoor adventure, and transformed into cultural arts centers, foodie meccas, and a treasure trove of quaint shops filled with local artisans’ products.
Travelers will find Inns Along the Coast members in Camden, Rockland and Newcastle. Each of these wonderful Maine towns and villages are a perfect place to make your home base and explore the Midcoast region. Discover what makes each community different – pick your favorite or try them all with an inn-to-inn tour between them.
The first permanent settlers to Camden and Rockport were recorded in 1769. Shipbuilding quickly became an important part of both harbors. By the 1900s, two great shipyards in each harbor had perfected the construction of the three and four-masted schooners. These schooners were primarily used to carry ice, lime, granite, coal and lumber as far as New York, to support the rapid expansion taking place there and throughout New England.
At the head of Camden Harbor, the Megunticook River flows down to the sea from Lake Megunticook over a series of seven rapids. No other harbor in this part of Maine has such an exceptional source of water power at sea level. Each was eventually harnessed for its water power to be used in various mills.
There are only two places along the Atlantic coast where the mountains meet the sea, both are in Maine. One of the two is the area from Rockport up through Camden to Lincolnville, where the Camden Hills seem to rise out of the sea on the skyline, as seen from the harbors.
Fifty years ago, film crews transformed the small mill and summer resort town of Camden into a movie set for a story about adultery, sexual abuse, murder and lies when the Peyton Place was filmed in the 1950s.
Once among the largest harbor cities on the East Coast, Rockland developed rapidly in the 1850s around shipbuilding and lime production. The opening of the Knox and Lincoln Railroad in 1871 brought an influx of tourists, yet lime production and later fish processing dominated the economy here. The railroad prompted the establishment of inns and hotels to accommodate the initial wave of tourism. Yet, it was only after the Farnsworth Art Museum opened in the early 1990s, that Rockland began to flourish as a tourist destination. This world-renowned art museum brought with it galleries, upscale restaurants and inns to accommodate the new tourists. Today, Rockland’s downtown is the home of unique shops, boutiques, fine dining and art galleries, outstanding museums in addition to the Farnsworth, festivals, the largest windjammer fleet (with Camden) in the US, and fun year-round outdoor activities.
Although they are separate towns, Newcastle incorporated in 1775 and Damariscotta in 1848, there is a long-shared history between the two communities. Some say that if the Damariscotta River didn’t run between them, there would only be one town!
Bordered on the west by the Sheepscot River and on the east by the Damariscotta River, it was a natural outcome that boatyards flourished in Newcastle from the late 1700s until the 1920s. Today, the only remaining boatyard, Riverside Boat Company, can be seen from the backyard of Newcastle Inn.
An important part of the history of this area includes the oyster shell heaps, or middens, found in Newcastle on the banks of the Damariscotta River. Some consider the middens a refuse pile, they still hold an important place on the National Register of Historic Places. Although there is not consensus on how old they are, there is general agreement that they date back to at least 2400 B.C. and possibly earlier.
Today, Newcastle is a thriving year round community. Whether you like to shop, kayak, visit art galleries, hunt for a special antique, hike, watch a play or go sailing, there is something for everyone in Newcastle, the town between two rivers.
MIDCOAST MAINE OUTDOOR FUN
The Midcoast offers a myriad of opportunities for outdoor adventure, year-round.
The lure of the Atlantic dominates the outdoor adventure here. The Midcoast includes Penobscot Bay, Maine’s largest bay at roughly 40 miles long and 30 miles wide, dotted with hundreds of small Maine islands. Among its better-known islands, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, Deer Isle, and Isle au Haut offer up great day trips and plenty of opportunity for seaside exploring. These five large islands and hundreds of smaller ones provide protection from the open sea, making Penobscot Bay a very popular sailing, pleasure boating, paddleboarding and sea kayaking destination. The bay’s numerous harbors, coves, estuaries, and islands offer solitude plus hundreds of miles of coast to explore. They also serve as a photographer’s and a birder’s paradise, particularly the Hog Island Audubon Camp, located in Muscongus Bay, just off the Maine coast. Many visitors are drawn to make a day of visiting some of the more lively islands. Board your choice of ferries, charter boats, windjammers or even private airplanes for a scenic tour. Special excursions are also available. Spend a couple of hours on a lobster boat and haul your own dinner while learning the lore of the lobster. Or, enjoy a whale or a puffin watch – they’re all options for Midcoast Maine adventure seekers.
For multi-day cruises, participate in the living history of the windjammer fleet, and consider a Maine Windjammer cruise. Consult Maine Windjammer Association to learn about opportunities for sailing Maine’s coast, windjammer-style. Then, combine a land and sea package with one of the Inns Along the Coast for a few days and a Maine Windjammer cruise.
On land, hiking and biking opportunities abound throughout the region. Camden Hills State Park is open year-round and its signature location atop Mt. Battie offers a sweeping view of Camden Harbor and the lower end of Penobscot Bay. And nearby Camden Snow Bowl offers great mountain biking and hiking trails in the spring, summer and fall too. In the Pemaquid Region you will find Dodge Point and the LaVerna Preserve, both popular areas for hiking. Not to be missed are the historic Glidden Middens on the banks of the Damariscotta River. Trails offer hiking and biking opportunities in the summer and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Your Inns Along the Coast innkeeper can provide advice on trails that fit your experience level near each of the inns.
It would not be the Maine coast without the iconic lighthouses. Explore more than 40 lighthouses from Bath to Belfast. Schedule your visit during Maine Lighthouse Week during the third week in June and get in on even more lighthouse-themed events. Combine your self-guided lighthouse tour with a visit to the Maine Lighthouse Museum and you’ll soon become a lighthouse aficionado. Ask your Inns Along the Coast innkeeper for a map or directions to nearby lighthouses.
The beauty of nature is all around, celebrated by Maine’s many conservation organizations, for example: The Maine Audubon’s Project Puffin, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Merryspring Nature Center, Friends of Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Hidden Valley Nature Center are just a few. Check their calendars for special events. All offer exciting , inspiring, and educational experiences.
MIDCOAST MAINE MUSEUMS, ART, & ARTISANS
In fair or foul weather, snow sleet or sunshine, there’s always something of interest indoors in Maine’s Midcoast. If you’re entering the region from the south, don’t go through Bath without visiting the Maine Maritime Museum offering exhibits about Maine's maritime heritage, culture, and the Maine’s important role in regional and global maritime activities.
Explore the Rockland-Thomaston-Owls Head area’s outstanding museums. The Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center is at the center of Rockland’s lively art community. It celebrates Maine’s role in American art. With more than 15,000 works displayed in 20,00 square feet of gallery space, this museum is a nationally recognized collection of works from many of America’s greatest artists, including Louise Nevelson, a Rockland native, and three generations of Wyeths. A block from the Farnsworth is the new Center for Maine Contemporary Art with changing exhibits and many workshop opportunities for residents and visitors. Bowdoin and Colby Colleges also have excellent art collections.
The Maine Lighthouse Museum houses the largest collection of Fresnel lighthouse lenses in the United States along with a landmark collection of lighthouse artifacts and Coast Guard memorabilia. The Owls Head Transportation Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting and demonstrating pre-1920 pioneering aircraft, ground vehicles, engines and related technologies significant to the evolution of transportation in Maine. The museum is open year-round. In the summer, it hosts antique car, motorcycle, and plane rallies of all kinds. Visitors can also book a ride in an antique car or a scenic biplane ride.
Next, explore the story of the extensive schooner fleet that sailed out of Rockland in the 19th century at the Sail Power and Steam Museum. In the summer, the museum hosts many special events both historic and musical. Need a place to entertain the kids? Next door is the Coastal Maine Children’s Museum.
Lastly, The Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston invites visitors to explore the people and purpose behind the American Revolution. Touch, feel, smell, and even taste life as it was more than 220 years ago and imagine what it was like to participate in creating monumental, historic change.
Maine has a thriving and diverse community of artists and craftsmen, including glass blowers, potters, woodworkers and fiber artists, (Maine Fiberarts.org). Art of all types by local and regional artists is available in the many galleries throughout the Midcoast. Additionally, many communities host art walks monthly. Visit artwalkmaine.org to view participating communities and schedules.
If you’re looking for music, dance, or drama, you will find it in Midcoast Maine at Bowdoin College, the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, Salt Bay Chamberfest in Damariscotta, the Strand Theater in Rockland, Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, and the Camden Opera House.
MICOAST MAINE DINING & SHOPPING
When you think Maine, most people think “lobster.” The Midcoast is the home of the largest fleet of lobster boats in the world and fresh lobster is available year-round. You can eat lobster in a restaurant setting or right off the boat at several sea-side lobster pounds. One of our favorite lobster pounds, located in a quintessentially Maine harbor setting is McLoon’s Lobster Shack in South Thomaston. Come in June and you’ll pass beautiful lupine fields overlooking the harbor. Be sure to bring the camera. Try several lobster pounds located throughout the Midcoast, and let us know which lobster roll you think is the best. Oyster lovers everywhere are sure to enjoy the world-renowned oysters harvested from the Damariscotta River, near Newcastle and Damariscotta. And while you’re there, be sure to check out Maine’s other unique foods – the famous whoopie pie, Maine’s wild blueberries, fiddle-head ferns, along with fresh produce from strawberries to pumpkins.
From internationally-famous, award-winning dining to the popular local diner, the Midcoast offers dining experiences to fit every taste. Did you know that Midcoast Maine has the highest per capita density of fine restaurants in the country? Many of the restaurants are chef-owned and follow a buy-fresh, buy-local, field-to-table philosophy. This is foodie heaven!
Artisan breads, olive oil and vinegar tasting, fresh-off-the-farm produce and cheeses (www.eatmainecheese.com) unusual pizzas and much more will please any foodie’s palate. Take your own “foodie tour” or follow one recommended by your Inns Along the Coast innkeeper. The Rock Coast Food Guide offers a comprehensive listing of Midcoast restaurants and food sources.
The Midcoast is also the home of a burgeoning wine industry. There are more than 14 wineries in Midcoast Maine alone. And Maine has recently been recognized for its burgeoning craft beer industry Wine, craft beer and spirits tours are available to sample an ever-increasing variety of potables. Follow the Maine Brewers Guild Maine Beer Trail or the Maine Wine Trail Map for the ideal self-guided tour.
Many of the region’s towns have farmer’s markets, some open year-round. Sample fresh produce, local cheeses, home-made canned goods. Farm stands also dot the Midcoast region. One fabulous Midcoast Farm Stand is Beth’s Farm Market, located in Union, ME and offering up a colorful array of just about any freshly grown produce you might want.
MIDCOAST MAINE FESTIVALS
Be sure to make your reservations at our Midcoast Inns Along the Coast early for these festivals to insure you get the room you want.
The North Atlantic Blues Festival is held every year, the second weekend in July, bringing world-class musicians to Rockland for two days of soulful music making.
The Maine Lobster Festival, held at the end of July/beginning of August annually, is when Rockland hosts a five-day festival celebrating your favorite crustacean. With carnival rides, parades, beauty contests, live music and vendors of all kinds, the festival has the atmosphere of an old-fashioned county fair and attracts upward of 100,000 people each year.
Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors Show is held the weekend after the Lobster Festival, when Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors Magazine fills up Rockland Harbor with the biggest in-the-water boat show in Maine. Boat designers and outfitters as well as cabinet furniture makers and plenty of nautical vendors display their finest products.
The Windjammer Festival, held every Labor Day weekend, is a community-led celebration of Camden’s maritime heritage. Festivities throughout the weekend include live music, nautical activities, demonstrations, boat parade and fireworks.
Camden Harbor Juried Arts and Crafts Show – July and October, celebrates the work of more than 100 artists and artisans.
Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) was founded in 2005 by a local and is recognized as one of the top documentary film festivals in the world. Each year, CIFF brings the finest documentary feature and short films from around the globe to Camden in September. Nearly all films are followed by Q&A sessions with filmmakers.
Camden Conference was founded in 1988. For one weekend in February, eight hundred or so participants from high school age through advanced aged senior citizens listen, learn, and question. They have a keen interest in foreign policy, a desire to participate in public debate, and to learn more about the world they live in.
On every fourth Friday, May through September, the streets of Belfast are transformed into a whimsical wonderland to celebrate the warm summer evenings. You may follow the sound of music, where on any corner a fiddler, crooner, or cool jazz soloist will entertain, or across the way a lively dancer will leap and whirl, a persuasive poet will wax eloquent, and perhaps a mime can charm you with silent illusion.
The Damariscotta Region Pumpkinfest and Regatta takes place each October over Columbus Day weekend. There is something for everyone at this fun, light hearted celebration of the giant pumpkin, including the world-famous pumpkin race on the river.
Rockland’s Festival of Lights is held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as the town kicks off the holiday season with a parade and the lighting of the world famous lobster pot Christmas tree (constructed entirely from lobster pots and decorated with colorful pot buoys). Take a holiday tour of the three Historic Inns of Rockland along with some private homes too on the Saturday of Festival of Lights weekend.
For a spectacular display of holiday lights, visit the Coastal Botanical Gardens’ Gardens Aglow in Boothbay, not far from the Newcastle Inn.
The first weekend in December brings Christmas By the Sea in Camden, Rockport, and Lincolnville. Community businesses and organizations sponsor free festivities all weekend that worm the spirit even if the air turns cold. It’s a great time to celebrate as a family and socialize with friends and visitors.
Rockport’s Holiday on the Harbor provides family fun activities on the second Saturday in December at and around the harbor, including a concert, caroling, tree lighting, luminaries, and fireworks.
In Rockland, Pies on Parade is New England’s largest pie celebration. Held each year a Sunday after National Pie Day (always Jan 23rd), more than 25 businesses from Rockland and Camden serve up over 55 different kinds of pies to benefit the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry and energy fund. From sweet, fruit and chocolate pies to pizza pie, Shepherd’s Pie, pot pies and whoopie pies, tour goers travel from one end of Rockland to the other to get fill of pie.
Camden’s Winterfest, the week preceding the U.S. National Toboggan Championships at the Camden Snowbowl, hosts the only officially sanctioned snow sculpting competition in Maine. Enjoy movies, concerts, and other family fun activities all week.
The Toboggan Festival in Camden Hills State Park brings 2, 3, and 4-person teams to shoot down the iced-over, 400-foot, wooden chute with a vertical incline of over 70 feet. Toboggan riders can go as fast as 45 mph and they zip down the hillside onto Hosmer Pond. With more than 400 teams and a crowd upwards of 5,000 cheering spectators, the festival draws participants from all over the country, but many locals compete too. You can even sigh up at the Apprentice Shop in Rockland to make your own sled.