MAINE DOESN’T NECESSARILY call attention to itself. It’s a pretty big state, but not a populous one. There’s intense and beautiful wilderness, but it won’t exactly swallow you whole. Maine just is…and maybe that’s its biggest draw.

There’s a message on the state welcome signs that sums it up: “The way life should be.” A Maine life is a life that’s connected to nature. It’s a life that’s unpretentious and a life that’s independent.

That message is enough to bring in millions of visitors every year — far more than the 1.33 million state residents. And many of those visitors return home wishing they could live in a place like Maine year-round. Why? What do people do on a trip to Maine, and why is it so impactful? The Maine Thing Quarterly‘s Chasing the Sun issue profiles one such trip, and through stories and images like those included below, shows exactly why time spent in Maine is “the way life should be.”


Base camp

If you're traveling to Southern Maine, the Harraseeket Inn is one of many incredible places to stay. Located in downtown Freeport, it's just a few steps from the flagship, 24-hour L.L. Bean store, which is definitely a plus. But what makes the Harraseeket and other Maine inns, lodges, resorts, and B&Bs like it so special is the comfort they provide. You may be here to strike out into other regions of the state, to pursue whatever kind of adventure you're into. But you need a good base camp, somewhere that'll make sure you start and end each day just right.


Getting a taste of Maine

Just down the road in Yarmouth, the Royal River Grill House epitomizes something you'll get to know very quickly about Maine cuisine: Eating local has been a thing here since long before it became the hip thing to do. And Maine is still leading the charge; it has more than 1.45 million acres of farmland and is the only state in the country that's actually attracting young farmers, and rapidly. In fact, the Maine Farmland Trust is currently raising $50 million for the sole purpose of becoming New England's "food basket." All of this is reflected at restaurants like the Royal River Grill House, which feature local ingredients produced by the state's farmers and fishermen, and menus that morph according to the season's bounty.


Camping with a view

When you come to Maine, you have to spend at least one night camping out, preferably lakeside, riverside, or seaside. In this case, the setting was Recompence Shore Campground, right on the coast out of Freeport. Maine campgrounds are something special: The sounds of the fire slowly crackling down to ashes, the rhythm of waves washing onto shore, the crickets chirping in their own 1,000-piece band...Mainers grow up on these sounds. And in the morning, hundreds of different species of finches and warblers will join with the robin and, perhaps, the campground rooster to serve as your alarm clock.


Fly fishing lesson

If you've learned how to fly fish, there are a few things you know: "10 and 2" is what you need to perfect, and the movements and habits of fish—trout, salmon, togue—are what you need to heed. A good angler doesn't just cast with grace, she chooses the best fly for the day, the time, the setting. She probably ties those flies herself, gathering materials from deer hide or leftover feathers to construct the most convincing woolly bugger—one that will look like a small offering of art on the vice, but an enticing morsel on the water. For novices, a great way to learn all this in an L.L. Bean fly-fishing course on the Royal River.


Putting those fly fishing skills to the test

Fly fishing is a bit different than other types of angling. There's no worm or bobber. You can't just "set and forget." Fly fishing is more of an art. Once you perfect your cast, you have to have just enough finesse to make your fly twitch—just a little bit, but not too much—before pulling it out of the water as if it just took flight. A salmon is never hungry enough to fall for poor theatrics.

And once you get a fish on the line, and you have the quick wit to set the hook, there's nothing like trying to reel him in. It's not easy—your rod looks so fragile it could split in two, and if you've cast a big fly you've hopefully caught a big fish. When you've finally wrestled enough to get that anonymous fish within your line of site, swimming around your thighs, it's time to go for the net. Maybe by this time you've caught the attention of some nearby anglers and someone has run over to offer a hand, but maybe, if you're lucky, you have the whole river to yourself. There's nobody else there to see that you've got a big one on the line. So you unclip your net from your waist, swoop it into the water with your free hand, and bring the salmon, or rainbow trout, or whatever, to the surface where you can really see how beautiful nature is in her many forms.


SUPping on Maquoit Bay

There's no way around it—hauling a stand-up paddleboard into the water does not look as sexy as running into the waves with an 8-foot, ultralight surfboard under your arm. It's a little cumbersome, no matter what kind of board you have. But what SUP boards lack in out-of-the-water sex appeal, they make up for in stability. Sure, if this is your first time, you've got to accept the fact that there's a chance you might take a tumble into the water. Luckily, it's just water and you've got an ankle leash on. When you do finally shove off from the shore and gain a little bit of balance, there's something carefree about SUP boarding. It can be as intense or as laid back as you want it to be. If you're in need of instruction and rentals, head for L.L. Bean's Flying Point Paddling Center, right down the road from Recompence Shore Campground. Or check out one of the state's many outdoor adventure resorts.


SUP style

And when the wind gets too heavy, and you feel like your body is just a gigantic sail taking all that power, take a seat. Kneel down and your problems will be solved. SUP boarding successfully is all about working your core, and your core remains engaged even when you're in a more relaxed position on the board. When you're SUP boarding, you've got options, and that's what makes it such a great sport to try for the first time, as you glide out of Maquoit Bay and make for Lower Goose Island. Just be sure to take a moment and inspect the awesome panorama that surrounds you.


Cliff jumping, Coos Canyon

The Maine coast is incredible, but you shouldn't visit the state without heading inland, where there's a whole other world to explore. For example: Coos Canyon, located in Byron, just under a two-hour drive north from Freeport. The area is named after Lord Byron, the English poet who once wrote: "I love not Man the less but Nature more." And Coos Canyon will give you a little glimpse of what Lord Byron was talking about. It's a 32-foot-high gorge on the Swift River, where water depths are often up to 20 feet.

You can pan for gold—they'll give you a quick how-to at the local gift shop—or jump off the 20-foot ledge at Toby's Beach. If anything, though, just bring a picnic and relax. Hike around. Enjoy the sounds of the rushing waterfalls and try to imagine when this place was just a big chunk of sturdy granite, not yet manipulated by glacial runoff.


Tumbledown Mountain

Tumbledown Mountain is located in Unincorporated Township 6 in Western Maine, not far from Coos Canyon. It stands at 3,054 feet, looking out onto Crater Lake. There are two main options here: The Brook Trail will take you about two hours if you maintain a brisk pace all the way to the top. It's ~2.5 miles and follows an old logging road before climbing steeply to the summit. The Parker Ridge Trail, your second and easier choice, is the oldest trail on Tumbledown Pond and will take you on a ~3-mile climb to the summit.


Crossing the ridge

When you hike with other people, you have to get into a groove together. The beginnings of a Tumbledown hike, especially if you take the Brook Trail, which starts out on an old logging road, might seem a little easy. But as a group, you've got to keep your head in it. And as you begin to climb together, and conversations start to get breathy before they completely surrender to a respectful silence, you'll establish a group pace. Maybe in your head, you're dying. You want this to end. You'd rather be back down on that logging road or back at the parking lot. But if you can come back to the group, you'll return to what makes hiking really worthwhile. And when you finally reach that first ridge, where you can see the summit and take in the first hints of a really great view—that's what makes all the collective breathing and sweating pay off.


A view of Maine

When the summit is yours, what can you really say? The abundance of undeveloped nature in this state is overwhelming. Turn around in a circle and it's all you see—there's nothing but lakes, streams, other mountains, and Eastern conifer forest. That's Maine. And when you can see it from above, it seems like a place that maybe should be calling attention to itself. And you're glad you've come.