Get out and explore with Maine festivals for every season!
Get out and explore with Maine festivals for every season!
Updated: June 15, 2020
Many think summer is when Maine is prime Vacationland, but life can be the way it should be year-round with a little searching.
While there are hundreds of people, places, and things that make Maine truly special to live in, there is one thing that serves as the glue to bind it all together– the Maine commitment to the community. With the long yearly stretch of winter wonderland that consumes the state, many residents take a preference to semi-hibernation rather than going out and experiencing something new. Summers may be the most popular time to integrate with other Mainers, but opportunities stand year round for those brave enough to front the cold.
Instead of letting you spend hours scouring Yelp and Maine tourism websites, take a look at the list below for the best Maine events of every season.
Experince the multi-facted festival that is the Boothbay Harbor Festival, running annually from Spetember 4th-12th. There’s a little bit of everything at this event,
A design featured last year at the Fishin’ for Fashion show.
which is why so many Maine families commit to attending each year. Located in Boothbay Maine, a small coastal town with the palimpsest of times past, the festival draws in thousands each year and features the merchants, designers, and creators of the area. For those more inclined to shop and eat, there is a full-street worth of merchant and food stops so you can chow down and support local industry at the same time. If you feel more like getting a sweat on, the festival hosts a 5K and half-marathon to raise money for the YMCA’s Chronic Pain & Disease Management Program. For the fashionistas of the family, there is a yearly “Fishin for Fashion” runway show that features looks incorporating elements of Maine’s coastal history. Previous outfits have included buoys, pieces of lighthouse, lobster traps, and even lobster claws! If you want a well-rounded experience that introduces the family to the many different sides of Maine, look no further than the Boothbay Harbor Festival.
Squirrel Point Light– a favorite featured lighthouse in the festival.
There are usually two things that the rest of the USA associates with Maine– lobsters and lighthouses. Maine Open Lighthouse Day is all about featuring lighthouses and providing an educational background to residents of the state on their history and preservation. While many lighthouses are open year-round for vistors, there are still dozens that are often closed to the public for mantainence. Each year on Septemeber 12th the United States Coast Guard, the Maine Office of Tourism, and the American Lighthouse Foundation work together to allocate an educator to each lighthouse and open seldom visited lighthouses to the public for observation. The event is highly popular and set a record of over 12,000 participants in 2018.
Patrick Dempsey, foreground, rides in the Dempsey Challenge in 2017. (credit: Sun Journal)
Do you like Grey’s Anatomy? How about running? If that’s a yes and yes, then we’ve got the perfect Maine event for you. Each year the Dempsey Center, a cancer treatment center founded by Patrick Dempsey himself, hosts a run or walk event to raise money for the cancer treatments of their patients. In order to particpate in the 10K run/walk and 100 mile biking challenge, each team has an assigned amount they must fundraise to take part based on the number of people in each team. On top of the opportunity to run for a great cause, each runner gets a complimentary meal and food trucks are parked past the finish line. If you want to bring the kids along, the event also has a kids 5k run led by Slugger the Sea Dog at the same time as the 10k race.
If you’ve ever seen the rural farm hills of Cumberland, you’d likely be suprised that it’s home to one of Maine’s oldest and most beloved community traditions. Next Sepetember 27th, Cumberland will host its 149th annual fair— drawing in thousands of people from across the state each year. The fair is home to a variety of classics including carnival rides, carnival games, and concession stands. The event also puts an emphasis on spotlighting local farmers, with a number of petting zoos and animal sale areas for prospective buyers. If you want a show, each year the fair puts on an “all-american rodeo” which features bull pulls, pig races, and horse races amongst other exhibitions.
Celebrating its 169th consecutive year for 2020 and having drawn in more vistors than ever before in 2019, it’s no secret amongst Mainer’s that the Fryeburg Fair is a must-stop destination each year. The fair is the second largest agricultural fair in all of New England, and boasts a huge number of events to show it. A few of these events include carnival rides, a parade, harness racing, livestock shows, food vendors, and a local firefighter exhibition. Unlike the Cumberland Fair, for a small fee your family can camp on the fairgrounds for a prolonged experience.
Beginning in 1982, the Kennebunk Christmas Prelude has since become an increasingly popular way for Maine families to kick off the holiday season. Each year the event is kicked off by carols and lighting the tree down by the dock, and then the other festivities begin. Some of these include historic house tours, sleigh rides, concerts, caroling, holiday shopping, craft fairs, and more. Also, the kids will love watching Santa arrive in town on a real Maine Lobster Boat! In partnership with the event planners, local churches surrounding the event open make-shift holiday shops to support their organizations and amp up the holiday spirit. If the drive down and back to Kennebunk sounds too time-consuming, the town of Kennebunk is home to a number of acclaimed historical hotels for the whole family to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a truly magical experience to ignite the holiday spirit in your family, you’ve got to check out the famous Harbor Lights Festival in the seaside town of Boothbay, ME. There are many beloved events including a fully-functioning North Pole Express train, the festival of trees, the Dough Ball, and a finale of holiday sparkle fireworks. However, the real crowd-pleaser is the Gardens Aglow event– a walking path that features over 500,000 small lights illuminating the Boothbay Botanical Gardens. Interestingly enough, the walk was ranked the #1 public garden in the US by TripAdvisor. The Harbor Lights Festival will be sure to light up your Christmas spirit and provide an amazing experience for the family that so many already look forward to.
Looking for an event with less of a commute that still packs the same punch? If you’ve ever explored the Portland marina you’ve likely already enjoyed its plentiful local merchants and food while taking in the beauty of the accompanying ocean-side views. While the marina may be beautiful in the daylight, it evolves to something truly magical during the annual Parade of Boat Lights. You can either enjoy the parade of lit-up boats from the shore or hop on a Casco Bay Lines ferry to witness it up close on the water.
Every true Mainer understands the significance of L.L. Bean to Maine history and industry, which is perhaps why the L.L. Bean Northern Lights Festival is a huge hit each year. The event runs annually from Novemeber 22nd to Decemember 31st, and features a number of exciting events for the whole family to enjoy (in addition to exploring LL Beans huge storefront if you haven’t yet!). Most of the events take place in the Discovery Forest, which is a collection of 600 locally sourced evergreens and one giant Christmas tree fully lit up at the center of the display. The forest is home to a warming hut, real reindeer, Santa’s sleigh, and a huge model train display. The town also has a running horse-drawn carriage service for people looking to explore the wider outlet-centric town of Freeport, ME.
What could be more romantic than a seaside town committed to celebrating the power of love? Each February, the town of Kennebunkport “Paints the town red” with hung red hearts, twinkling red and white lights, and various love-themed banners. Each day features a special love-centric event– some past examples include ice bar parties, horse-drawn carriages, candlelight dinner specials, and special romance packages offered across the many historic hotels within the city. In addition, wine tastings and open houses at local galleries are on-going throughout the month and many local restaurants offer “red plate” lunch and dinner specials to compliment the event.
Similar to Maine Open Lighthouse Day, on March 22nd, many privately owned maple syrup farms open to the public for educational purposes across the state. In addition to educational information many farms offer guests games, activities, treats, sugar bush tours, music, and more. Maple syrup is a pantry-staple across the state, and one of the state’s biggest exports. If you’re dying to try some of the best maple syrup available on the market, you won’t want to miss this delicious and locally adored event. For a full list of participating farms and directions, be sure to visit Maine Maple Sunday’s website.
Maine may have heavy winters, but spring brings a wave of excitement for automotive lovers across the state. While you could go enjoy the many muscle cars cruising around Maine’s coast, if you’re looking for truly unique experience you have to visit Moose Mania in Danforth, ME. Owned by a local family, Moose Mania features a medium-sized raceway where monster trucks can compete and be shown off against the Moose– a monster-truck custom designed to look like a moose. Atop regular shows, the park offers rides in the Moose for a truly unique northern Maine experience.
Each year, over 200,000 people come to visit Maine’s only zoo and amusement park. The park is located in the old-timey town of York Beach, ME, and offers its guests a variety of family rides, paddle boats, a miniature golf course, a petting zoo, scenic picnic grounds, concession stands, two gift shops, educational events, and even a Haunted House. Directly connected to the amusement park is the zoo and butterfly garden, which feature an African lion, a Bengal tiger, different types of monkeys, and more (click here for a full list of animal exhibitions). The park also has a collection of “live interactions” including duck feeding, a petting zoo, and a deer encounter.
This three-day festival has been a local favorite for many years– and for good reason. With an ample supply of local seafood, local vendors, and local entertainment there is a little bit of everything for the whole family. The festival is one of few that offers completely free admission to the public, thanks to the donations of local sponsors and businesses that benefit from the fair’s location in Yarmouth, ME. The festival boasts an incredibly packed three-day schedule with favorites such as life sized monopoly, free horse rides, and the Maine state clam shucking contest. If the carnival becomes too noisy, just uphill from the festivals center you can also enjoy a craft show featuring hundreds of local artists and merchants.
Established in 1992 by a group of business people, civic leaders and friends, the Great Falls Balloon Festival is a weekend-long celebration featuring hot air balloons, food, and entertainment. The premise of the festival is simple– to simultaneously raise money for local nonprofits while promoting the towns of Lewiston and Auburn to tourists. The festival is based at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston—with additional entertainment and food offerings at Festival Plaza in Auburn—and attracts approximately 100,000 visitors throughout the weekend. Admission to watch the show is free to the public, and the festival offers a variety of food vendors and carnival entertainment to fill the gaps in airtime. If you want to see Maine from a new perspective, what better way than from birds-eye-view?
Make Music Portland is a day-long, free musical event, aimed at bringing local performers into the spotlight. Along with hundreds of cities around the world, every year on June 21 the festival rings in the longest day of the year with music and artistry. Local artists (sign-ups are open to anyone) fill local parks, restaurants, backyards, and private spaces with free music for the public to enjoy, ranging in style and genre. In addition to discovering free music, the festival offers free community events such as jam sessions, musical lessons, and crafts for the kids. If you’re looking for a free way to discover the city of Portland and new music, we highly recommending getting out and exploring next summer solstice.
If you don’t know what Moxie is, you’ve got to check out the spectacle that is the Moxie Festival at least once. Moxie, a popular soft drink with former medicinal properties, was first created by Maine local Dr. Augustin Thompson in 1876. The drink was originally designed to cure, “loss of manhood, paralysis and softening of the brain” but was soon scratched in the medical field due to lack of efficacy. Moxie was converted to a soft drink in 1890, and soon became the nation’s first soft drink marketed on a nationwide scale. The annual two-day festival is meant to celebrate Moxie’s local importance and provide entertainment to lovers of the classic drink. Some favorite activities include a chugging contest, a car show, a 5k, and a grand Moxie parade to finish it all off.