More than 30 million people visit Maine every year, but only a fraction venture away from Maine’s iconic shoreline to explore the heart of the state. While the coast offers great opportunities to enjoy lobster and lighthouses, the inland region is even more attractive if you love outdoor adventure—especially if you prefer to escape the crowds.

In The Maine Highlands there’s something for everyone. Whether you want to climb Maine’s highest peaks, fish the beautiful lakes and rivers, explore miles of trails, or simply enjoy a thriving arts and culture scene with incredible food. Among the wild landscapes and charming towns of Maine’s interior you’ll discover things you simply won’t find anywhere else in Maine.

1. Go Fly Fishing on the Penobscot River

The Penobscot River is the longest river in Maine that’s contained entirely within the state. It’s renowned for its excellent fly-fishing opportunities. The West Branch of the Penobscot River is known as one of the best places in the world to fish for landlocked salmon. Brook trout are also abundant. The fishing season runs from April 1 to September 30, however, ice in the spring may need some extra time to melt.

2. Explore the 100 Mile Wilderness

The 100 Mile Wilderness is generally considered one of the wildest stretches of the entire Appalachian Trail. If you’re heading north, it starts at Route 15 in Monson and ends at Abol Bridge in Baxter State Park. Requiring about 5 to 10 days of hiking, the 100 Mile Wilderness is a daunting but rewarding challenge for anyone.

3. Complete the Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit

Two adventure hikers looking out over the top of Borestone Mountain.
A view from the top of Borestone Mountain. Photo by Mark Fleming

The Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit is a challenge to climb six different mountains in the Moosehead Lake Region: Mount Kineo (4,756 feet), Number Four Mountain (2,890 feet), Whitecap Mountain (3,644 feet), Eagle Rock (2,290 feet), Big Moose Mountain (3,196 feet), and Borestone Mountain (1,923 feet). Those wishing to complete the challenge will cover more than 27 miles of hiking with 7,500 feet of elevation gain. Each climb rewards the hiker with panoramic views from different corners of the Moosehead Lake Region.

The challenge can be completed in four different ways. The first is simply to climb all the mountains. There is no time limit. The challenge can be completed in one week or over the course of a few years. The second is the Ultra Challenge, which requires you to summit all six peaks within 48 continuous hours. The last two ways to complete the Moosehead Pinnacle Pursuit are winter versions of the first two, and you must complete these between January 1 and April 15 of the same year.

4. Experience the Arts, Culture, and Energy of Bangor

Bangor is the third largest city in Maine. Once known worldwide for its role in the lumber industry, Bangor has become the cultural center of northern and eastern Maine. Bangor’s central location allows you to easily access some of Maine’s most famous regions. It serves as a perfect launching point for any adventure.

Aside from its location, Bangor has plenty to offer visitors, including a thriving arts and music scene. From May to October, artists open their studios for the Downtown Bangor First Friday Artwalk, where you’ll have the opportunity to talk with local artists about their work.

If you love live music, you can find concerts and music festivals throughout the city, especially during the summer months. Free concerts can be found weekly around the city. Music lovers can also enjoy performances by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra throughout the year, and fans of the theater can see popular Broadway shows at the Cross Insurance Center and the Collins Center for the Arts in nearby Orono. For a refreshing evening of music in an outdoor venue, head down to the banks of the Penobscot River where the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion hosts national acts.

5. Attend the American Folk Festival

Speaking of Bangor and music, the American Folk Festival is an experience not to be missed. This three-day event at the end of every August is a celebration of the diverse cultures found around the world. How many places can one find jazz, bluegrass, and Celtic music next to an a cappella group from Zimbabwe and a salsa band from Puerto Rico? Pair the incredible variety of music with food and art for a memorable weekend in Bangor.

6. Navigate the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Two men paddling a canoe down a river in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument includes 87,000 acres of pristine wilderness. Photo by Chris Shane

Established by President Obama in August of 2016, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument boasts more than 87,000 acres of pristine wilderness for outdoor conservation and recreation. Katahdin Woods and Waters offers opportunities for year-round adventures. Here you can enjoy canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, camping, backpacking, fishing, and cross-country skiing in some of the least crowded wilderness in the Northeast.

7. A One-Of-A-Kind Leaf Peeping Spectacle

Most people associate Maine with beautiful summers and harsh winters. But if you ask locals, most would say the best season in Maine is the fall. Because Maine is the most densely forested state in the country (with a whopping 89% tree coverage), the landscape is especially intense from early to mid October. Then the forest canopy glows with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. Whether you’re on foot, traveling in a car, or even riding in a plane, it is truly a breathtaking spectacle. The fact that the summer crowds are gone is just an added bonus.

8. Hike “The Grand Canyon of Maine”

 A rustic picnic spot along the trail in Gulf Hagas.
Photo by Cait Bourtault

Known as “The Grand Canyon of Maine,” Gulf Hagas is a slate gorge located along the Appalachian Trail’s 100 Mile Wilderness near Brownville, Maine. It boasts nearly 500-foot walls that stretch for three miles along the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Beginning at the Katahdin Iron Works Historic Site, the Gulf Hagas Trail takes you on an 8-mile trek through one of New England’s last old-growth forests, where you’ll encounter stunning views, interesting rock formations, waterfalls, and possibly a moose. Summer is the most popular time for visitors, but it’s also a great place to hike among the fall colors.

9. Summit Mount Katahdin

No list of adventures in the Maine Highlands would be complete without an ascent of Mount Katahdin. With a summit elevation of 5,267 feet, Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine. It’s also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The name Katahdin literally means “Greatest Mountain.” And in 2015 National Geographic named it one of the top 10 summit hikes in the world. Those who wish to summit Katahdin can expect a hike that stretches more than 10 miles and gains more than 4,ooo feet of elevation.

A group of smiling, adventurous hikers atop Mount Katahdin.
Mount Katahdin (5,276 feet) is the tallest mountain in Maine. Photo by Cait Bourgault

If you’ve ever wanted to escape into a place that’s wild—I mean really wild—set your sights on The Maine Highlands. It holds some of the country’s most remote and pristine mountains, lakes, and rivers. And, sitting at the edge of it all, the town of Bangor is waiting to with open arms as you emerge from the woods to seek out a great meal and a night of entertainment. In America it’s rare to find such intense wilderness near a city so rich in culture. It’s unique, and it’s inspiring travelers to look beyond Maine’s popular coast and head to the highlands.

Written by Erik Johnson for RootsRated Media in partnership with The Maine Highlands.

Featured image provided by The Maine Highlands