Last updated on February 11, 2015
“Dirigo,” Maine’s state motto, is Latin for “I lead.” And dog-welcoming travelers will see that Maine is one state that truly “leads” the pack in acceptance and friendliness of both humans and canines.
Have dog, will travel is my personal mantra and probably one of your favorites as well. Never before have I experienced such hospitality, graciousness, dog-welcoming beaches and parks, and a general sense of dog equality as during my week-long stay in southern and mid-coastal Maine. There is even a local book and newspaper dedicated to dog-welcoming travel, which made our lives so much easier and much more fun.
We opted to stay within the mid-coast section of Maine in a town called Belfast, driving a few hours to southern Maine for the first leg of our trip. Depending on your price range and desired amenities, areas such as Portland, Kennebunkport, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth have dog-welcoming hotels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds and even beach houses.
By land or by sea, there’s a little of both for you and Fido to explore in Maine. Within the book, The Ultimate Guide to Dog Parks, Beaches, & Trails in Maine, we found that both the railway and ferries allow Fido to be a tourist in many cases. One of the ferries that ranked high on our list for friendliness and accessibility was Casco Bay Lines . Start your day with one of its many cruises, from a one-hour short jump to Peaks Island to a five-hour day trip to Bailey Island. No, you don’t have to sit on the outskirts of the ferry. As long as your dog is well-behaved, leashed and has a dog ticket ($3.75), all aboard and cast away for the day. Parking facilities are conveniently located in several lots and garages in the nearby vicinity. Be sure to take a clean-up bag and supply of fresh water.
Once you’ve arrived back on dry land, perhaps you’d like to take a trip back in time. Just moments from Casco Bay Lines you’ll find The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company. For a small fee, you and Fido can take a half-hour ride on a steam train. Relax as a railroad volunteer talks about the gorgeous waterfront district and the importance of these 2-foot gauge steam trains. Great photo opportunities and a lovely breeze, your canine pal by your side…can life can any better than this? Afterwards, take a stroll through the museum, which houses historic locomotives. Our guide was both hospitable and knowledgeable, as she guided us through the rich history of Maine’s railways. Did I mention Fido is allowed in? (Although Fido cannot ride on the preserved train cars, he can enter the museum itself).
A hidden Fido-friendly treasure we located prior to departing southern Maine is the Cape Pier Chowder House. Fido is allowed at the tables on the outdoor deck. A hop, skip and few jumps from Kennebunkport, you can enjoy a waterfront view as fishermen depart and return with their catch o’ the day. Highly recommended are the crab cakes and lobster roll, of course served while Fido relishes the view beneath the picnic table umbrella.
No trip to southern Maine would be complete without lighthouses. Within a few miles of each other are Portland Head Light Park, Two Lights State Park and Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth. My pooch and I were enamored with the beauty and majesty of Portland Head Lighthouse—with 90 acres of land, spectacular ocean views and picnicking facilities, this is truly a “must do” on your list of places to visit.
My favorite Fido traveler and I spent the majority of our trip on the mid-coast of Maine in the picturesque, quaint town of Belfast. Located in Waldo County and named one of the “Coolest Small Towns in Maine” by Budget Travel, this town has it all: off-leash dog park, Penobscot Bay, Fort Knox and quaint shops. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Comfort Inn Ocean’s Edge. The staff was hospitable, the amenities divine, and Fido has his own private patio with easy access to grassy areas and Penobscot Bay. While there, be sure to check out the Ocean’s Edge Restaurant featuring award-winning entries and desserts. It’s certainly not your typical hotel-style food, but offers delicacies at affordable prices.
A few short miles from the hotel we found the Belfast Dog Park. Dexter, my life-loving Cocker Spaniel, renewed his spirit and basked in the freedom of being off leash. The dog park is located at the Walsh Field Recreational Center, near the intersection of Route 1. There are two separate play areas: one for dogs under 25 pounds and one for dogs over 25 pounds. The park was clean, wide and spacious, and Fido-friendly water fountains freely dispensed relief to my play-weary pooch. BYOB (bring your own ball) is all that is required.
Acadia National Park is a mere 55 miles distance from Belfast. Soaring granite cliffs, ocean air and trails galore are at Fido’s beck and call. We opted for Park Loop Road, a 20-mile thoroughfare that culminates with Cadillac Mountain—at 1,530 feet, it’s the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coastline north of Brazil. In fact, visitors are known to arrive atop the mountain at dawn to see the sun rise at one of the first places in the United States. Breathtaking, mountainous views and a nifty gift shop await you at this elevation.
Recover from Acadia and fuel your body with lunch in nearby Bar Harbor. The downtown shopping district encompasses seven to eight blocks, complete with Fido-friendly eateries, stores that offer biscuits and water to your pooch, and waterfront views and grassy areas upon which to relax. I learned of places to dine in Bar Harbor from the very helpful Diana de los Santos of Bark Harbor on Main Street. She not only directed us to establishments that would be as Fido hospitable as she, but we were given several pages of Fido-friendly places to go, things to see and helpful information.
While winding down our week-long stay in Maine, I learned of the term “As goes Maine, so goes the nation,” referring to Maine being the only state in the country which used to have its elections in September. This Pennsylvania gal’s wish upon winding down her week-long stay in southern Maine echoed those very words. I hope that as Maine is one of the most dog welcoming states I have ever visited, so too will the rest of the nation become as friendly and accommodating. Travel well!