Southern Maine Coast visitors are flocking to the beaches and seaside communities for the most dynamic and colorful season of the year. Nope, not peak summer! Fall is trending from Kittery to Casco Bay, with a nearly 7 percent increase in tourism in 2022.
It’s not just the smaller crowds or fewer traffic troubles that make the Southern Maine Coast an epic fall vacation destination. While the days become cooler and the nights are chilly, the changing autumn leaves are spectacular.
And, there’s an essence that you can’t get in any other season and a nice blend of all seasons await — from the beaches to the bars to the best lobster rolls you’ll ever eat.
About the Maine Fall Season
In Maine, fall tourism begins after Labor Day and continues through the end of October.
While many seasonal attractions once closed at the end of summer in early September, more places are staying open through the second Monday in October. That benchmark is the state holiday of Indigenous Peoples Day, formerly known as Columbus Day.
Things to Consider for Your Fall Trip
Not all the rules regarding when your four-legged friend can be on the beach are the same. For example, leashed dogs are allowed on state park beaches starting in October. Beaches in Kennebunk Maine have no time-of-day restrictions starting the day after Labor Day.
TIP: Refer to local municipality guidelines for whether your dog can go to the beach with you this fall!
Off-season camping generally occurs between Labor Day and mid-October, and some winter camping is allowed. Not all Maine State Parks offer camping, but privately owned campsites dot the landscape of the Southern Maine Coast.
Don’t Assume Anything
While some say things like, “Ogunquit closes down after Labor Day,” that’s certainly not true. Some towns will stay open as long as tourists are visiting.
Top 10 Southern Maine Coast Things to Do in Fall
The hardest part about making a Top 10 list is ONLY listing 10 things to do in the fall since every town has its own special pumpkin-spiced flavor of fall. Here are our favorites.
View Fall Foliage
More than one-third of all fall visitors in Maine come to see the stunning change of seasons and autumn foliage. The most brilliant reds, oranges, and golds cling to the trees, and these gorgeous fall colors are often reflected perfectly in the coastal waters, marshes, and rivers.
While those “from away” might see colors morphing in September, October is the best time to plan a trip to Southern Maine’s coast to see the leaves.
This natural attraction is so popular that state employees across the state contribute to fall foliage reports as the season advances. Peak viewing is in mid to late October in Southern Maine. Mount Agamenticus in York and Ferry Beach State Park in Saco are two of the top viewing locations.
Visit a Haunted Attraction
If coffee shops can start serving pumpkin-spiced lattes in August, you can get in the Halloween spirit as early as September. The Southern Maine Coast has some of the best Halloween-themed adventures.
Kittery’s Zombie Zip Line Tours at the Take Flight Aerial Adventure Park take hair-raising holiday spirit to new heights. Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco hosts the popular Trail of Terror starting in early October.
Ghost tours take over many towns, like Portland Ghosts, York’s Ghostly Tours, and Kennebunkport Ghost Walk. Also, Southern Maine is home to one of the most haunted lighthouses in New England. Are you brave enough to visit the Wood Island Lighthouse?
Head to the Farms
Pumpkin patches, apple orchards, and U-Pick-Em farms pop up everywhere along the Southern Maine Coast during the fall season.
Cape Elizabeth has one of the longest growing seasons in the state, and Jordan’s Farm is a must-see. Zach’s Farm in York has a corn maze, pumpkins, and fresh veggies waiting for fall visitors. And, Wells Maine is home to The Orchard at Chase Farms.
TIP: Not sure what’s in season for your fall visit? Here’s some help!
City dwellers, don’t worry! The Portland Farmers’ Market runs through late November, every Wednesday and Saturday.
Be a Beachcomber
Maine’s beaches are filled with hidden treasures along the high tide line and intertidal zone. The Atlantic hurricane season peaks in the fall, running through the end of November. However, the day after a storm passes, the beaches are filled with huge seashells that haven’t been caught in enough currents to get broken into pieces.
Additionally, you can hunt down sea glass on some Maine beaches. Diamond Cove on Big Diamond Island has a “Sea Glass Beach,” but you’ll need to take a ferry and have a reservation at the inn or the Fort McKinley Museum to access this private cove.
Can you take shells and sea glass from Maine beaches?
Check with the park or local ordinance for your chosen location before you take anything. Most locations, including Maine’s state parks, abide by the Leave No Trace principles. You’ll get great Instagram photos regardless.
Attend a Fall Festival
Sure, every community has fall festivals, right? But how about one that helps you determine the absolute best lobster roll in the State? Harvest on the Harbor is the premier fall event in Portland Maine. Activities include an oysterfest and “Gourmet Craze,” sampling the finest local foods.
Ogunquit holds Fall for Ogunquit/Ogunquitfest throughout October. Take a walk along the scenic views of Marginal Way while you’re there.
While Old Orchard Beach is a summer favorite, the Annual Beach Car Show is one of the biggest in New England and just one of many events throughout September in OOB. Plus, the Palace Playland Arcade is open on weekends through early October.
Light a Beach Bonfire
The chill in the air of a fall Maine night, coupled with the sea breeze, is a perfect time to light a beach bonfire and make s’mores. Each locality will have its own beach rules for lighting bonfires:
As a responsible Mainer, I’m obligated to tell you the burn restrictions in your preferred town. I can still smell the woody scents mixed with wave mist as I tell you the best towns for bonfires with local rules.
NOTE: Beach bonfires are not allowed in any Maine state park property.
Start Holiday Shopping
Southern Maine is a shopping paradise in fall — with outlet shopping and shopping for gifts being more popular than in any other season! You have the Outlets of Kittery and Freeport Village Station outlets.
Freeport’s L.L. Bean flagship store and four other distinct branded stores cater to the outdoor lover in your life. The Maine Mall in South Portland is another shopping sensation.
Another “lit” gift could come from the Portland Head Lighthouse gift shop.
‘Tis the Season for Shellfish
Lobster season is all about the fall — with late September capping off the soft-shell lobster season and October and November being prime hard-shell season. You’ll also miss the long lines of lobster shacks when you have this fall snack. Crabs are bulked beyond belief from September through November.
Oysters are plumping up for winter come fall, so you’ll get your fair share of 3 million shucked oysters in Maine. Clams also come into prime demand as part of the steaming chowder that takes the nip out of fall air.
Portland restaurants and others across the region reveal fall menus with a mix of the finest shellfish and haddock on the market.
TIP: If you don’t want to stand out as a tourist, don’t wear a lobster bib.
Hop Across the Islands
Casco Bay includes 785 islands and rocky ledges, and six of those islands can be accessed by ferry. Using Casco Bay Lines, you can skip the summer crowds and explore six islands. Summer ferry schedules end after Labor Day, but plenty of fall options are waiting with a lot more room to stretch out because of the smaller crowds.
In addition, Fogg’s Water Taxi explores dozens more of those secluded islands.
If you make it to Maine’s Long Island, head toward South Beach (Andrews Beach) to hear the singing sands when the conditions are right. With so many things to do on the Casco Bay islands, you might never choose to go back to the mainland.
CAIRN LOVERS LISTEN UP: Cairn Beach on the backside of Peaks Island looks like a massive Lego kit to build your own cairns and see artworks left behind.
See a Moose
While moose in Northern Maine might outnumber people 10 to one, there’s no reason you can’t see a moose in Southern Maine. Best of all, moose have the most pronounced antlers in fall during the mating season.
Try the Sebago to the Sea Trail for the best chances of spotting a wild moose. You might even see one on the islands. To guarantee a moose sighting, head 20 minutes from Portland on a day trip to the Maine Wildlife Park, where you’ll also get to see a bear or a bald eagle.
Of course, the sweetest moose in Maine is at Len Libby Fine Candies of Maine in Scarborough. Lenny is a 1,400-pound chocolate moose that has been greeting guests since 1997.
TIP: If you see a moose crossing sign on the Turnpike or Route 1, take it seriously. Most accidents between cars and moose happen near dawn or dusk.
Explore All of the Southern Maine Coast During Autumn
We’re not embellishing the best fall things to do in Southern Maine or trying to debunk the summer beauty. Even new research shows that Maine’s fall visitors did more sightseeing, enjoying ocean views, road-tripping, hiking, shopping, and lobster eating by higher percentages than any other season. Nearly 90% of those surveyed said they will definitely return to the region again.
Fair warning — visiting Maine might just lead to moving to Maine. State tourism has increased over the years, and more than 8,000 people have moved there since 2020, making it one of the fastest-growing states.