Chances are, you’ve heard about Old Orchard Beach, Fort Williams and Acadia National Park. All are top tourist draws, and for good reason.
But there’s more to Maine during the summer than the tourist draws. Much more. From experiencing fine cuisine on a picnic table and relaxing on a secluded beach to munching on blueberries while taking in a breathtaking mountain view, here are some of Maine’s best-kept secrets for summer recreation:
If Old Orchard is too commercial for you and Popham’s parking lot seems too crowded, try this overlooked state park beach. The Rockland/Camden area has a ton of other summer attractions, which may be why Birch Point State Park doesn’t get a lot of publicity. And it’s relatively hard to find, as you need to take three meandering back roads off Route 73 to get there.
Once you do arrive, however, you’ll enjoy spectacular ocean views looking out at the Mussel Ridge Islands. There’s a small crescent-shaped sand beach, gentle surf, picnic tables, outhouses, tidal pools, spruce trees and lots of interesting rocks.
Birch Point State Park, off Ballyhac Road, Owls Head. Maine.gov/doc/parks/index.html. $2 for adults; $1 for ages 5 to 11; free for children under age 5.
Of the Casco Bay Islands, Cliff Island is probably the least known because of its geography. It’s hidden from Portlanders’ view by both Long and Chebeague islands, and it takes more than an hour to get there via Casco Bay Lines.
But it’s worth the trip to experience an island that feels more remote than it really is. There are only about 60 year-round residents, no paved roads, and a lot more golf carts than cars. There’s also a school, a market/cafe, quaint old houses, places to swim and collect shells, and beautiful scenery wherever you turn.
Cliffisland.com has a ton of history and basic information about the place, as well as a list of people who rent houses out there — in case you want to take a vacation close to home that feels much farther away.
In the heart of whitewater rafting country north of Waterville, the stunning Moxie Falls plunges 90 feet over a rocky cliff into the lush forest below. It’s easily reached by a short hike through the woods, from a trail head that starts in a small gravel lot.
Below the falls, deep pools of dark water swirl and eddy, making an ideal swimming spot. The truly adventurous can scramble to the top, but there’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a picnic on a hot summer day in the shade and misty dampness at the base of the falls.
Directions: Take Route 201 to The Forks. Once you pass by the fork in the river where the Kennebec and Dead rivers meet, take a right onto Lake Moxie Road. The parking lot and trail head will be on the left.
Maine is almost as well known for its farm-to-table fare as it is for lobster, and The Well in Cape Elizabeth, which opens for the season Friday, is the ultimate farm-to-table experience. Chef Jason Williams, who has worked in some of Portland’s finest restaurants, prepares gourmet meals in a small mobile kitchen parked in one of the fields at Jordan’s Farm. Customers eat at picnic tables, and seating is first-come, first-served.
All of the chef’s ingredients, including meat, are harvested fresh from Maine farms. There are usually three to five menu items to choose from — a chicken option, a seafood option and a vegetarian option — all in the $18 to $20 range. Children are welcome here, and can choose healthy, well-balanced dishes from Williams’ kids’ menu.
A couple of things to remember: Williams only serves water and iced tea, so if you want wine with dinner, it’s BYOB. And The Well only accepts cash.
The Well at Jordan’s Farm. 21 Wells Road, Cape Elizabeth. 831-9350; wix.com/jordansfarm/thewell#!
Something that has been around for four years ought not still qualify as a secret. But there’s also no question that more people need to know about the free Shakespeare at Portland’s Deering Oaks offered by Fenix Theatre Company.
For its fifth season, Fenix will present “Macbeth.” Should be bloody good. Under the direction of producing artistic director Rob Cameron, Fenix has carved a niche with its irreverence, wit and attention to detail. These shows are sharp, well-paced and thoroughly entertaining. It’s fun to bring a blanket or chair and plan a picnic around a relaxing evening of theater presented in the natural amphitheater of the park.
Fenix Theatre Company’s “Macbeth.” 7 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays, July 19 to Aug. 11, at Deering Oaks Park, Portland. Admission is free, with donations accepted. fenixtheatre.com
ICE CREAM & MINI-GOLF
Regardless of where you stand on the golf spectrum, you have to admit an old-fashioned round of mini-golf defines summer fun as much as baseball, beach days and ice cream. In Saco, there’s a place where two of these summer dreams can be enjoyed simultaneously. Martel’s Ice Cream and Mini-Golf has handmade ice cream to die for, and the course is a traditional one with well groomed landscaping and waterways.
Farther north near Sebago Lake is the Maine-themed Steamboat Landing in Naples. Mini-golf holes include a New England covered bridge, historic Fort Western, a scenic lighthouse and a Maine black bear. You’ll wind your way through wooded gardens and hear the sound of running water as it makes its way through the Grist Mill at the 10th hole.
Martel’s Ice Cream and Mini-Golf. 757 Portland Road, Saco. 283-1775. Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. $7 for adults; $5 for children.
Steamboat Landing, Route 114, Naples. 693-6782; steamboatlandingminigolf.com. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. $6 per person; $2 to replay.
Maine has no shortage of large scale-music venues. But if you’re looking for something a bit more intimate, we’ve got just the alley for you to slink down.
At the end of it you’ll find The Oak & The Ax, a long, skinny room with low lighting and zero pretense. Since October 2010, it’s had a busy schedule of live music with bands from Brooklyn, Boston and a lot farther than that who come to play.
The Oak & The Ax is an all-ages venue; however, it does serve beer, wine and hand-infused sake cocktails, along with some light food offerings like vegetarian sausage sliders.
The Oak and the Ax. 140 Main St., Suite 107, (back alley), Biddeford. theoakandtheax.blogspot.com
Blueberry Mountain, located in the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness north of Fryeburg, is aptly named, with an abundance of blueberries to eat on the way to the summit. This 4.5-mile hike is a bit of a challenge with its 1,150-foot elevation gain, but doable for adults (and kids who like to hike) with an average fitness level. The blueberry-eating stops, panoramic summit view of surrounding mountains, and the amazingly deep, clear waters of Rattlesnake Pool to cool off in are well worth the effort to climb this mountain.
Blueberry Mountain, White Cairn Trail to Blueberry Ridge Trail to Stone House Trail. Directions: On Stone House Road off Route 113 north of Fryeburg (about 1.3 miles north of Cold River camp). Park at the steel gate. GPS coordinates of trailhead are: 44.252, -70.9909. everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=40102
If Blueberry Mountain is too much climbing for you, try Douglas Mountain in Sebago. The elevation gain — less than 500 feet — is an easier and shorter hike, at 1.5 miles. But it’s also more popular, so you’ll need to get to this mountain at the beginning of wild blueberry season to eat them on the way to the summit. The stone tower at the summit offers a beautiful view of Sebago Lake and surrounding mountains. The tower also features a great panoramic map that identifies mountains and bodies of water orientated to the 360-degree view.
Douglas Mountain. Ledges and Woods and Eagle Scout trails all lead to summit. Directions: From Route 107 in Baldwin, take Douglas Hill Road to Dyke Mountain Road. GPS coordinates of trailhead are: 43.876, -70.696. everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=66116
– Staff writers Wendy Almeida, Meredith Goad, Avery Yale Kamila, Bob Keyes, Aimsel Ponti and Ray Routhier contributed to this story.