New England wraps together six northeastern states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The Maritimes are the three Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The regions are steeped in history—the Maritimes were the first areas of Canada to be occupied by European settlers (Nova Scotia means “New Scotland”), and New England is home to one of the earliest English settlements in the New World. If you’re interested in early American and Canadian history, appreciate the outdoors, and like to stay active on your vacations, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Hiking and exploring in National Parks
Maine’s Acadia National Park is the most well-known park in New England, with good reason. Located close to the seaside resort town of Bar Harbor, and mostly situated on Mount Desert Island and Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia offers a wide array of views and experiences that draw visitors from around the world. You can be among the first in the U.S. to see the sunrise from the pink granite dome of Cadillac Mountain, then explore some of the park’s 120 miles of hiking trails, which range from rugged paths to peaceful carriage roads with stone bridges (non-motorized travel only!) to summit scrambles.
Acadia certainly isn’t the only national park to explore in New England. Some, like the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Cape Cod National Seashore, open the door to unique aspects of the eastern landscape. Others, like the Longfellow National Historic Site and New Bedford Whaling National Historic Site, provide unique and important glimpses into American history.
Canada loves its national parks, too. Cape Breton National Park, on Cape Breton Island in the province of Nova Scotia, is a hiker’s paradise, with both forest and coastal hikes. And some of the most spectacular views of Canada’s Atlantic coastline can be had from the scenic Cabot Trail road. In New Brunswick, Fundy National Park is your gateway to the world’s highest tides. You can feel the power for yourself by paddling out in a kayak on the rising tide, or wait until the ebb and walk out across the tidal flats when the tide is out. Waters of the Bay of Fundy retreat up to three miles in some places, allowing you to literally take a walk on the sea floor looking for fossils, sea glass, and other beachcombing treasures.
Kayaking and paddleboarding
Acadia National Park is a “Top Ten” New England kayaking destination, and has been ranked one of the “7 Best National Parks for Paddle Boarding.” Paddling offers the chance to intimately experience the wildlife and scenic splendor of the place on ponds and lakes, through marshes, and out into saltwater bays among the many islands with sea lions, harbor seals, seabirds, and maybe porpoises for company. Kayaking in the Bay of Fundy is also an exceptional experience and great adventure even for novice paddlers—especially when you go with one of our outstanding guides. Spending a few hours in a kayak gives you a literal feel for the ebb and flow of the impressive Bay of Fundy tides and give you a front row seat to the dramatic coastline, secluded islands, fishing villages, lighthouses, and abundant wildlife.
Wildlife Watching: Whales, dolphins, and seabirds
With its mix of forests, shorelines, and ocean habitats, New England and the Maritimes offers much for the wildlife enthusiast. Whales are a big draw. The best times of year for whale watching is mid April to October, when humpback, minke, pilot, and finback whales arrive to feast in local waters. Orca, sperm, blue, and right whales are also occasional visitors. Dolphin spotting usually goes hand in fin with whale watching, and the same can be said of seeing seabirds. While you’re out on a whale watching boat, keep an eye open for leaping dolphins and soaring or diving puffins, shearwaters, jaegers, terns, cormorants, gannets, and loons.
On land, birdwatching can be immensely rewarding. You might spot nesting peregrine falcons, ospreys, any of two dozen warbler species (Roger Tory Peterson called Mount Desert Island “the Warbler Capital of the World”), waxwings, hummingbirds and many more. Acadia has a spring birding festival where you can learn from other birders and maybe get some sightings for your life list. And we can’t forget New England’s charismatic megafauna like moose, black bears, and foxes. There’s always something to see if you get out there and look.