While Calais is one of the smallest cities in Maine, its proximity to the Canadian border ensures it regularly receives visitors heading north or south. The first settlement dates to 1779 and incorporation was just over two decades ago.
It sits on the St. Croix River with three crossings over into Canada and St. Brunswick province. The river that flows through Washington County is the border for some stretches. While only around 3,000 populate Calais, a further 12,000 live in the immediate area.
Despite being relatively small, Calais is known as the best shopping area in the region and retail is a significant contributor to the local economy. Even if you are just passing through, there are plenty of good reasons to stay for a while, including the natural beauty and historical sites around town.
If you want to know more, here are the 15 Best Things to do in Calais.
1. Maine State Visitor Information Center
There are seven information centers in the State of Maine. The one in Calais is useful both to people who have just crossed the border from Canada and those who have yet to plan their time in Calais.
The center can certainly help you with your visit and identify the best things to do in any season, whatever your interests.
You may want to know the best trails for walking or biking, where you can camp or fish, or find out about historical points of interest; the center is the place for learning about all these activities and more and is a great starting point for your trip to Calais.
2. Calais Waterfront Walkway
Every visitor to Calais will immediately realize the importance of the St. Croix River to the community. You can walk along its shoreline on a relatively easy walking trail just a mile and a half long.
The walkway follows both the river and a former railroad track that opened in the 19th century. You will be in the heart of Calais one minute and within a short time be in lovely countryside with some great views over the river. There is even the chance of seeing bald eagles as they hunt for fish.
3. Devils Head Conservation Area
This area overlooking Calais is a glacial shelf just east of Acadia National Park. There are two trails that you will enjoy if you are a keen walker.
One looks over the St. Croix River and the other – running through forest along the shoreline – is popular with those keen to see some of the local wildlife. It includes deer, moose, and coyote. The bird species are also impressive, with bald eagle, osprey, ducks, and woodpeckers among found in the region.
In total, the area covers just under 320 acres. The high point is Devil’s Head, at 340 feet, where there are plans to construct a proper viewing platform.
4. Acadia Park
Acadia Park was established just over a century ago and built courtesy of private donations. Farsighted individuals, including John D. Rockefeller Jr, understood the importance of such a beautiful coastline and its hinterland.
The park is a beautiful slice of nature; the number of visitors each year suggests that many Americans agree. Acadia Park was the first National Park east of the Mississippi and its preservation is given the utmost priority.
5. Holmes Cottage
The oldest building in Calais, this cottage dates back to around 1820. Dr. Job Holmes was a local doctor when Calais was just developing.
It is a museum these days under the watchful eye of the St. Croix Historical Society. The society has done some restoration work but ensures that it is always in keeping with the original construction.
The cottage’s front door faces the river. This humble abode has witnessed Calais grow from the small beginnings to a busy place with lumber, shipbuilding and other industries developing.
6. Meridian Park – Historic Calais Observatory
Two granite stones still stand where they once supported scientific astronomical equipment. They are located in the grounds of the former Calais Academy, now known as Meridian Park.
It was important for the US Coast Survey to be able to calculate the longitude of Calais in relation to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Greenwich in England. A few years ago, the Observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is also part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Heritage Trail program.
7. Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge
This 30,00-acre refuge of varied terrain is a great place to visit. You will find rolling hills, large outcrops, streams, and lakes, as well as marshland. Hardwoods populate Moosehorn; aspen, spruce, maple, fir, and birch in the higher parts and white pine elsewhere.
The daily tidal fluctuation is 24 feet, with the shoreline both rugged and impressive.
It is a place for migratory birds and the fauna is interesting during every season. Bald eagles and osprey now nest here – valuable species that the authorities protect with great zeal. In nesting season, there are also many species of songbirds
8. St Croix Country Club
The local country club welcomes visitors who want a game of golf. It is a members-only club but individual green fees can be paid for anything up to 10 rounds. The fees are very reasonable and carts can be hired.
This 9-hole course opened in 1927 and the setting on the banks of the St. Croix River adds to the enjoyment of a round. If you go around the course twice to play 18 holes, the Men’s Par 70 measures 5534 yards.
It is rarely busy, so there is the added bonus of wildlife spotting – notably bald eagle and osprey.
9. St Croix Island International Historic Site
A group of French settlers set sail in 1604 for North America under the leadership of Pierre Dugua. They formed a settlement at the mouth of a river known as St. Croix Island – the first French on the continent. Dugua had been given the title of Lieutenant-General of “New France” a year earlier by Henry IV of France. His mission was to create a French presence with exclusive fur trade rights his reward.
The first winter killed off significant numbers, but the party then moved on in the summer. The French were here!
Visitors cannot go to the island, but can learn more on Parks Canada and the U.S. National Park Service tours, with exhibits and trails in the mainland park close to the island.
10. St Croix River
The St. Croix River may only be 70 miles long but it is a major attraction in this region. Visitors can walk its banks, canoe, kayak or fish along its length. It rises in the Chiputneticook Lakes and flows out into the Atlantic.
If you want a family day out, there are few better experiences than taking a cruise on its waters. There are a variety of public cruises, several including lunch or dinner, often with entertainment. Group facilities are also available.
While you will enjoy the river from spring onwards, the colors of the Fall are truly spectacular.
11. Wabanaki Cultural Center and Museum
No one should forget that Native Americans lived on this land long before white settlers arrived; this Cultural Center and Museum is an historic building that ensures that locals and visitors certainly don’t.
You will see an interesting collection of artworks done by the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Native American Tribes, and many historical artifacts as well.
Kids will especially enjoy the Touch Tank with its local sea creatures as an additional attraction.
12. Whitlock’s Mill Lighthouse
The waters off Maine were seen as perilous by sailors. This lighthouse – the most northerly in Maine – was the last built in the state and opened in 1910. It was certainly an aid to navigation when the station was established in 1892.
Maintained by the St. Croix Historical Society, you should contact them if you want to tour the grounds, although the keeper’s house is private property. The River View Rest Area is a good place to view it as an alternative, though it can be partially hidden in the summer when there are leaves on the trees.
13. Shopping in Calais
Main Street in Downtown Calais has earned a reputation as a great shopping area. You will find any essentials that you need as well as specialist shops if you are looking for souvenirs of your trip or presents for friends and family.
A good place to try is Urban Moose in an old bank on Maine Street. There are plenty of interesting items on display and plenty more in its vault. You will see the work of local artisans, jewelry, art, and sculptures. Shells and driftwood have been made into interesting decorative items for the house, and glass and wall hangings are other alternatives.
14. Wickachee Restaurant
If you’re looking for a family-friendly restaurant in Calais that serves nice homemade food, you could do a great deal worse than to visit this restaurant in Main Street.
The only warning that reviewers regularly give is that the portions are large and you may not need any side orders to go with your main meal. Everything is fresh and wholesome, which is the reason why so many visitors to Calais say they are certain to return in the future.
It is open for breakfast and you may find you don’t want to eat again until the evening.
15. St. Croix Snack Shack
When you’re on the coast of Maine, you must try the seafood. One place that you might like to try is this restaurant on South River Road.
Just look at the menu items – chowder, clam rolls, Maine clams, fish and chips, and lobster roll. You can buy dinners for two, as well as main courses such as pasta, pizza, soup, and chicken. If you don’t want to cook but don’t feel like sitting in a restaurant, why not use the Dinner Takeaway Service?