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Here’s What You Need to Pack for a Maine Summer Vacation (Advice from a Mainah)

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” ― Mark Twain

Packing for a trip to Maine in the summer can be tricky. I grew up there and have been packing for week-long trips “home” for the past 15 years…and yet I still have to remind myself (and ummm, my husband) of things every time. Like, “YES you need a sweatshirt even though it’s August.”

Despite the sometimes crazy fluctuations in weather that can happen during a Maine summer, it’s absolutely my favorite time of year there. Living in the mid-Atlantic now, some summers here keep me holed up in the AC and out of unbearable heat (yes, you southerners can feel free to laugh).

But in Maine….ahhhhh. The mild summer temperatures beg me to spend my days outside, and the heat of the campfire is always welcome in the crisp evening air.

So if you’re getting ready to head off on a Maine adventure, keep reading for my tips on what to pack for a Maine summer vacation!

Islands in Merchant's Row off the coast of Stonington, Maine

Maine Summer Essentials

Maps

They’re really still a thing, I promise. There are a lot of areas of Maine where cell reception is practically nonexistent, and there’s no map that does it better than the DeLorme Maine Atlas & Gazetteer. You probably don’t need it if you’re just visiting Portland or the southern Maine region, but I recommend it if you’re venturing very far north of there. You definitely need it if you’re heading into western or northern Maine.

And I’d personally still pack the atlas for Acadia National Park, especially if you want to venture out and explore less crowded areas nearby.

You may also want to pick up more detailed maps for areas like Acadia National Park (you can also stop into the visitor’s center for a lot of books and maps, but a waterproof map like this one will be useful), Baxter State Park, or Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Protection from bugs

If you’re traveling to Maine in late spring or early summer, you’ll have to contend with black flies, which are little gnats that pack a powerful bite. Once summer is in full swing, mosquitoes (affectionately dubbed “the state bird”) will be your sworn enemy. And of course, ticks (and the Lyme disease they carry) are a serious concern in warm months for both you and your pets.

This is most important if you’ll be hiking in the woods (especially near fresh water and on days without a breeze) or camping. There’s good news for all you ocean lovers: you won’t have to deal with as many bugs on the coast as you do inland, but I still recommend some protection.

Be prepared with a bug trifecta: the right clothes, bug repellent, and something to treat bites.

1. Simply covering up with as much clothing as possible is a great start for not getting bit–long pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt (dressing in layers for hiking in Maine is best anyway). Black flies and mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, so go with light-colored clothing–which also helps in spotting hitchhiking ticks. And it might look silly, but tucking your pants into your socks is also helpful.

2. There are several options for bug repellent:

  • “Natural” repellents–These are available commercially or as homemade concoctions, and they’re usually made from a combination of essential oils.
  • DEET or picaradin–While DEET is the more well-known bug repellent, picaradin is an alternative that is proving to be very effective. Its relative newness means that the long-term effects have not been studied, however. This article from Appalachian Mountain Club provides a great breakdown of each option.
  • Permethrin–This is an insecticide (as opposed to a repellent) that can be used for treating clothes and gear (whereas DEET will destroy some materials) and you can also get a variety of pre-treated clothes (check out options for men and women here). While safe for humans and generally safe for dogs, it is harmful to cats, bees (plus other beneficial insects), aquatic insects, and fish–all of which are concerning and great care should be taken to prevent contaminating water or flowers. This article provides some facts and sources for more information about Permethrin.

>>  Want more deets? (See what I did there? 😉 ) Check out REI’s insect repellent guide which breaks down all of these and more. <<

My bug repellent pick: While I’m all about using less chemicals and more natural ingredients, I choose to use DEET products in the Maine woods because of the threat of Lyme disease (and because ticks totally freak me out). I recommend Repel (40% DEET) or Ben’s (30% DEET).

I do plan to try out picaradin spray this summer as well. If you want to use an essential oil option instead, the All Terrain brand looks to be of good quality based on the reviews (and a company committed to helping people and the planet stay healthy). They’ve got insect repellent for humans and one for dogs.

For your dog, make sure you talk to your vet about flea and tick treatments, as well as heart worm prevention and the Lyme vaccine (why don’t they have this for humans yet?). We don’t like to give our dog more medication than necessary, but I feel these are important in keeping her healthy.

3. It’s inevitable that you’ll get at least some bug bites. Our camping go-to for soothing itchy bites when I was growing up was After Bite, but you could also make your own bug bite treatment if that’s your style. Some people like Calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream. And if you’re allergic (my sister gets welts the size of a quarter from mosquitoes), an antihistamine might be helpful.

For ticks: pack a tick removal spoon and/or tweezers to keep in your first aid kit. Make sure you do thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors–on both you and your pets. And print out the Tick ID Card and the “What Should I Do After a Tick Bite?” from the Maine State Government website to throw into your first aid kit.

Sunscreen

Don’t think that just because it’s not so hot and pretty far from the equator that you don’t need sunscreen. Protect that precious skin of yours, yo. (And it’s not just for those of us lacking melanin–check out this Code Switch episode on the importance of sunscreen for people of all skin tones. Now if I can only convince my husband.)

Grab the last-minute essentials here:
  1. Maine Atlas
  2. Maps: Acadia National Park // Baxter State Park // Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
  3. Bug dope: Repel (40% DEET) // Ben’s (30% DEET) // Natrapel Picaradin
  4. Bug bite treatment: After Bite // Antihistamine // Tick removal spoon

 

What to Wear in Maine in the Summer

I should start this by saying that I’m not fancy. Most of the time in the summer, you’ll find me in khaki shorts or thrift store jeans (on their last leg), a tank top, and my worn-out Clark’s flip flops. Every once in awhile I remember that makeup is an option…and oh yeah, I have some random pieces of jewelry buried somewhere, right?

Maybe all of this speaks to the fact that Mainers are pretty down-to-earth, or maybe it’s just me who’s overly casual. So while I won’t pretend to give you fashion advice, I can tell you what to pack for your Maine summer vacation and how to prepare for the weather–feel free to translate it to your own standard of fashion.

Whether you’re heading inland for a week at the lake or exploring the rocky coast, here are some tips on what to wear in Maine in the summer.

Pack Layers

My biggest tip is to be prepared for anything from chilly to hot temperatures–sometimes in the same day! As I’m writing this, I’m getting ready to head to Maine for a week in the height of summer, and I fully intend to pack a sweatshirt, jeans, a windbreaker or fleece jacket (this L.L. Bean fleece is about as classic as it gets), as well as shorts and tank tops.

Whether you’re hiking, heading out on the water, or spending the day strolling a coastal village, be prepared with layers.

In May, expect spring-like weather–typically ranging from 45° – 65° F during the day in Bangor, Bar Harbor, and Portland. Other parts of the state that are farther north and west are a little chillier. May really isn’t “summer” yet in Maine! Pack warm clothes (and some lighter layers in case it warms up), especially if you’re from a hot region and aren’t used to the cold.

In June, things start to warm up and it’ll be about 10° warmer on average than it was May, but it’s still not usually hot.

➡️ In these early summer months, pack plenty of warm layers.

In July and August, summer is in full swing and temperatures generally range from 60° – 80° F during the day in Bangor, Bar Harbor, and Portland, and are slightly cooler farther north and west in the state. This isn’t to say you won’t ever get temperatures upwards of 90° – 100° F throughout Maine–it happens, along with humidity (and thunderstorms!). But overall, typical mid-summer weather in Maine is in the 70s or low 80s with evening temperatures dipping down enough that you’ll be loving the campfire and reaching for a sweater.

➡️ In these mid- to late-summer months, plan to take more clothes for warm weather–but don’t neglect a few warmer layers for evenings.

>>  Check out this post for more details on when to go to Maine and what the weather is like year round. <<

Take a Bathing Suit…or Not?

If you’re destined for the coast, you probably won’t want to jump into the freezing ocean water…unless you really want to fit in with locals. In the warmest months, you’re lucky if the water temperature on the Maine coast reaches 65° Fahrenheit. So pack your bathing suit–just in case–but try not to fantasize about the bathwater-like ocean beaches in other parts of the world.

As I write this, there is a beach hazard statement issued for parts of the Maine coast. No, it’s not some bacteria in the water or sharks or a rip tide. It’s that people might actually jump in the water since it’s so hot out. Actual verbatim warning: “THE WARM AIR TEMPERATURES IN THE UPPER 70S TO AROUND 80 MAY CAUSE PEOPLE TO UNDERESTIMATE THE DANGERS OF THE COLD WATER TEMPERATURES WHICH ARE CURRENTLY ONLY IN THE MID TO UPPER 50S.” Watch out, it’s 80 degrees.

You can’t make this stuff up.

That’s why “going to the beach” when I was a kid always meant a lake. For those of you heading inland, there are thousands of pristine freshwater swimming holes throughout the state that warm up to a comfortable temperature. So definitely pack a bathing suit for that week on the lake or waterfall road trip!

Rain Gear

Just like temperature changes, it seems like it rains at the drop of a hat in Maine. An umbrella or light rain coat is ideal if you’re spending time in the city or along the coast. My L.L. Bean rain jacket has seen me through the rainy season in Costa Rica, helped me keep camera gear dry on rainy wedding days, and everything in between. (Get the latest prices here: Men’s | Women’s | Kids’)

If you’ll be hiking or camping, you’ll probably want more serious rain gear. Pack a poncho and make a game plan for rainy days at the campsite–everything from keeping your tent dry (and muddy shoes out) to how you’ll cook and where you’ll hang out.

For my camera gear, I like to have an all-weather backpack that has a rain cover built in–I just have to pull it out of a velcro pocket and it fits snugly around my bag, keeping all my gear dry. Lowepro is my go-to–I have older versions of this bag (for days when I need less gear) and this bag (for more even weight distribution). These bags are well-loved–one of them went through an all out downpour in the middle of a long day hike–and still going strong.

Comfortable, Sturdy Shoes

Velcro sandals that can get wet (think classic Tevas) or water shoes are great for all-around light adventure–from whitewater rafting to nature walks to short bike rides. In lakes, they help you avoid any mucky areas and in the ocean, they keep your feet off sharp rocks. (Find prices here: Men’s | Women’s | Kids’)

For hiking–whether in the western Maine mountains or Acadia National Park–I highly recommend sturdy sneakers or hiking boots. In Acadia and other coastal destinations, keep in mind that even short distances can have you scrambling over rocks, so don’t attempt these trails in flip-flops.

I always pack my Clark’s flip-flops for everyday wear, as well as a pair of dressier thong sandals that I can pair with jeans and a nicer top or a sundress.

Keep it Casual (and mix and match)

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to give you fashion advice, but here are some general “what to wear” tips for different areas of Maine.

What to wear in inland Maine: Unless you’re going to church, keep it casual in the small towns of inland Maine. (You can venture into stylish territory in Bangor if you want.) The lumberjack look totally works, but generally speaking, nobody is going to care about your clothes–unless you look like you just got off a yacht. Then they’ll wonder if you’re lost.

What to wear in Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine: Overall, this area is still pretty casual. Although there are some very wealthy homes on Mount Desert Island compared to other areas of Maine, there’s still an air of outdoorsy-ness in harbor towns around the island–given their proximity to Acadia. I recommend packing some comfortable pants or shorts (if you plan on serious outdoor activity), bottoms that can go from casual to a little dressier depending on the top, and a variety of shirts (mostly casual).

 

Books to Pack for a Maine Summer Trip

While I haven’t read all of these, I’ve scoured the internet (so you don’t have to) and curated some ideas for you!

Fiction set in Maine

Empire Falls by Richard Russo is set in an economically depressed mill town in rural Maine. While that might not sound like an enticing vacation read, I think this side of the Maine story often gets overlooked, and I love to share a breadth of resources depicting Maine life.

Nonfiction stories and essays

Got Here As Soon As I Could: Discovering the Way Life Should Be is a collection of essays by Sarah Smiley, who moved from Florida to Vacationland to raise a family and make it their permanent home.

One Man’s Meat is a collection of essays by E.B. White (author of the children’s book classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little) that chronicle his reflections of moving from his New York City apartment to a saltwater farm in Maine.

I’ve heard great things about Lost on a Mountain in Maine, a true story by Donn Fendler about getting lost in the Katahdin wilderness for two weeks when he was twelve years old.

Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki by Kerry Hardy looks like an excellent (and accessible) resource for those who want to learn about the people who first called this land, now known as Maine, home.

Top Nonfiction Recommendation: One day in 1986, Christopher Knight drove his car deep into the Maine woods, parked it on the side of a dirt road, and walked into the forest without telling a soul. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel is the curious true story of Christopher Knight, who survived in the Maine woods for more than 25 years–completely alone, in a tent, and never lighting a fire. He didn’t speak to another soul until the night he was arrested in 2013. Beyond the fascinating details of how he managed to survive all those years, the book gives a glimpse into Maine’s small town culture–from the reactions of local cabin owners to descriptions of Knight’s hometown. It’s the perfect companion on a summer trip to Maine! ➡️ Check it out here.

Travel guidebooks

Explorer’s Guide Maine (18th Edition)–I really like this as an all-around Maine travel guide book because it includes plenty of pages from inland Maine (which often gets overlooked). It’s pretty exhaustive, but if you’re only traveling on the coast, you may want to get something like Moon Coastal Maine: Including Acadia National Park.

Children’s books

Robert McCloskey books are a must. My personal childhood favorite was Blueberries for Sal–my mom always called me “Sal” when we picked blueberries (read the story and you’ll know why!). One Morning in Maine and Time of Wonder are both great ones as well.

Ironically–because these days I hate spiders–Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was another childhood favorite of mine, and I had no idea until a few years ago that he lived in a farmhouse in Brooklin, Maine. If you’ll be visiting the Acadia National Park area, read this childhood classic with your kids and then stop by his farm where the story was birthed while exploring the Blue Hill Peninsula.

No kids but remember Charlotte’s Web with fondness? You might like The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims.

At One: In a Place Called Maine by Lynn Plourde is an illustrated picture book depicting scenes from all over the state–from twin fawns in the backyard to cross-country skiing by moonlight to the ocean waves.

What other questions do you have about packing for a Maine summer vacation? Are there any other tips you would add?
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