Located on the section of the border that runs vertically between the United States and Canada, Houlton is in Maine’s Aroostook County and is set among some of the state and country’s most rural, scenic, and rugged landscapes.
With a population of just over 6,000, it’s known as the end of the line for Interstate 95, which runs nonstop along the eastern seaboard from southern Florida to Houlton.
It’s also known for its variety of annual fairs and festivals that draw people from all over the region, and its border location makes day-trips into Canada easy as well.
Below are 14 things to do in and around Houlton.
1. Maine Visitor Information Center
For such a rural area, many visitors find there are quite a lot of things to see and do; one of the best places to learn about many of them is at the Maine Visitor Information Center in Houlton.
Located just off Interstate 95 Exit 302 on Ludlow Road, it’s full of maps, brochures, and travel magazines that are full of ideas and coupons for activities, dining, and lodging.
During the warm summer months, the area around Houlton comes alive with more activities than most visitors expect; many of them have been going on for years and are family friendly.
2. Houlton Agricultural Fair
Much more than just another farm fair, the Houlton Agricultural Fair takes place over four days in early June and includes a variety of activities that aren’t often found in other agricultural fairs.
ATV races and a demolition derby are big hits with visitors of all ages, and there are plenty of carnival-style games and rides that are both inexpensive and fun.
Like most fairs, the Houlton Agricultural Fair is known for its tasty food. Single and multi-day passes are available.
Non-farmers and out of state visitors will probably find the agricultural part of the fair particularly interesting as well.
3. Houlton Fair BBQ and Music Fest
If homemade BBQ, live music, and perfect summer weather don’t interest you, then by all means, do not attend the Houlton Fair BBQ and Music Fest.
Taking place over two days at the end of June, the popular festival includes six live bands and a number of BBQ vendors from all over New England.
Single-day and weekend passes are available, and there’s a beer garden that’s known for offering some of the state’s tastiest microbrews.
If you plan on staying in town during June and July, consider booking your accommodations well in advance as they often fill up quickly.
4. World’s Largest Scale Model of the Solar System
Built on the staggering scale of 1 to 93 million, the world’s largest model of the solar system runs through the small town of Houlton and begins with the sun at the University of Maine’s campus at Presque Isle.
Many of the planets radiating out from that center can be visited from Route 1.
It’s an interesting activity idea, especially for those with kids interested in stars, planets, and the cosmos. There’ll be lots of exciting things to see and do along the way.
The model stretches over 40 miles and through some of the region’s most quaint towns and beautiful scenery.
5. Southern Bangor and Aroostook Trail
At nearly 40 miles long, the Southern Bangor and Aroostook Trail follows an old railway line and is open to bikers, runners, walkers, and hikers.
It winds its way through some of the region’s most beautiful areas, and since it follows a rail line, it’s relatively flat and appropriate for those of most ages and levels of fitness.
Most of the multi-use trail lies between Houlton and Phair Junction and connects Monticello, Bridgewater, and Presque Isle.
Open year-round, it’s not uncommon to see a variety of animals, especially during the low light morning and evening hours when they’re most active.
6. Black Fly Brewfest
The New England States are home to an incredible number of microbreweries that have exploded onto the ever-popular beer scene in the last few years. If you’d like to have access to many of them in one convenient location, you’ll want to check out the Black Fly Brewfest.
Put on by Houlton’s Chamber of Commerce, it is the perfect way to spend a few spring days sampling some of the tastiest beer around.
Many of the fest’s beer vendors are from Maine, and there is a huge variety to choose from, so there will be something that agrees with everybody’s taste buds.
The fest takes place on Randall Avenue in Houlton.
7. The Temple
Located in Houlton’s historic downtown district, the Temple Cinema was built just about 100 years ago, and though it’s been updated and renovated since then, it still retains much of its original quaintness and charm.
It’s one of the state’s oldest cinemas and shows popular first-run movies like they do at the larger national cinema chains.
For many who grew up in town, it’s like a walk down memory lane, and the Market Square area in which it’s located is a great place to take a leisurely walk and do some exploring on your own.
New releases draw a crowd, so get there early if possible.
8. Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race
For nearly four decades, the Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race has been a Houlton institution that takes place in early May.
Featuring nearly 100 oar-wielding paddlers, the race’s course spans almost 10 miles – from the riverfront in Houlton to New Limerick.
To enjoy the pre-race festivities, follow the crowds and head to Riverfront Park on Main Street in Houlton.
In addition to the race, there will be other activities, games, and giveaways; you’ll definitely notice the town pride and sense of tradition in the air.
The festivities usually last most of the day, and there are plenty of relaxing restaurants nearby too.
9. Fredericton City Hall
For those with a sense of adventure, a valid passport, and a relatively crime-free background, heading into nearby Canada is a great way to take your Maine vacation to a different level.
Just across the border, the town of Fredericton’s City Hall was built in the 1870s and is the oldest of its kind in the eastern portion of the country.
Its traditional and stalwart design is similar to what you’ll see in American cities and towns, and it lies on the scenic St. John River. The downtown area is fun and safe to explore and is home to other attractions, so read on.
10. Fredericton Lighthouse
Though young by scenic lighthouse standards, the Fredericton Lighthouse makes up for in beauty what it lacks in age.
It was built in the late ‘80s with private money, was taken over by the municipality for a time, and is now run by a local hotel.
In addition to its stunning design and location on the St. John River, it’s one of the area’s most visited and photographed icons, and one that’s convenient to see.
There’s a café on site that’s the perfect place to relax with an ice cream, beer, or cup of coffee appreciating the area’s splendor.
11. Take a Canadian Micro-Brew Tour
Not to be outdone by their arrogant American neighbors to the south, the industrious beer lovers of Canada have created quite a microbrew scene in recent years that rivals that in the States.
Rural Fredericton was for years the exclusive domain of mega-brewery produced beers that many found lacking in flavor, but those days are gone; now, the area is home to a large variety of craft brewers that churn out an astonishing variety of tasty beers.
For those visiting for just a day or two, consider checking out The Snooty Fox, The Lunar Rogue, Graystone Brewing and James Joyce Pub.
12. Boyce Farmer’s Market
There’s no better place to learn about a town, rub elbows with the locals, and have a variety of unique and quality products at your fingertips than a farmer’s market.
Also located in Fredericton, Boyce Farmer’s Market isn’t on the radar for many tourists, making it one of those rare undiscovered gems you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.
Full of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables, the farmer’s market’s vendors also offer prepared food products like honey and yogurt; they’re particularly well-known for their fresh baked goods and coffee too.
It’s a great way to support local farmers and entrepreneurs, so check it out.
13. Garrison District
Located in Fredericton’s scenic and historic riverfront area, the Garrison District is home to a public park that’s known for its outdoor summer concerts, movies, and historic tours.
Another unique bit of history of the town is that it’s the birthplace of the Canadian Army; the changing of the guards is one of the most impressive spectacles you’re ever likely to see.
The town of Fredericton is pedestrian-friendly and is filled with historic buildings, homes, shops, and eateries that are worth a look.
It’s the kind of town you could spend a day or two in and not get bored.