Freeport in Cumberland County, Maine is famous for its outlet stores but there is much more to attract visitors. Settlers first came to the area late in the 17th century and Freeport was initially part of North Yarmouth.
A town cannot become incorporated until it has a church, minister and congregation; in 1789, those conditions were fulfilled to allow Freeport its independence from North Yarmouth.
Locals made their livelihood from shipbuilding and fishing, and today the marina and yacht club are located where those activities took place. In addition, Freeport was a farming town and the canning industry was important.
While wooden buildings have largely disappeared, there is certainly historical evidence of Freeport’s past, a history you can learn about as part of the 15 Best Things to do in Freeport.
1. Freeport Historical Society
The Historical Society celebrates its 50th year in 2019. During those years, it has been very active in producing an inventory of valuable historic buildings and districts.
The society’s headquarters is at Harrington House, which was built by a merchant by that name in 1830. Initially, it was built on a 14-acre parcel of land. It changed hands several times over the years until it became the home of the society, whose tireless work has created an impressive record of Freeport’s history
2. Pettengill Farm
This 19th-century saltwater farm, owned by the Historical Society, covers 140 acres on the Harraseeket estuary. The terrain varies, from salt marsh to orchards – as well as fields and woods.
The farm has never had plumbing or central heating even though Mildred Pettengill lived there until 1970, five years before it was donated to the Society.
The flora is impressive, ranging from lilacs and roses to hollyhocks and dahlias. Inside, there are a number of interesting etchings of ships and marine life.
3. Casco Castle
South Freeport Village was known for its shipbuilding years ago; it is the site where the tower of Casco Castle still stands. Accessible by land and sea, in the 19th century, that meant the railroad or steamboat. Locals used horses, buggies and sleighs.
Sitting in a prominent position overlooking the bay, the tower – which measures 100 feet high – was built by a local man, Benjamin Franklin Dunning. It was quite a task to get the stones for the construction up the steep hill, from where the views across the bay are quite stunning.
4. Winslow Park
This park is named after the Winslow Family, who first settled in Maine at the beginning of the 18th century. The park is a great place for a host of activities on land and sea.
Numerous trails take you to stunning viewpoints of the bay, harbor and Casco Castle. There is an extensive camping area and families can book to stay here overnight. You can enjoy a nice stretch of beach, go kayaking, and eat a picnic; there are shelters available just in case it rains.
It is possible to book for a special occasion, and in the summertime, there are regular concerts.
5. Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park & Center
This parcel of land, covering more than 200 acres, was donated to Freeport 50 years ago. It is on a peninsula between Casco and the Harraseeket River. You will be just five minutes from the heart of Freeport but you wouldn’t know it, such is the diversity of the terrain
Pine and hemlock cover much of it, while there is also the salt marsh estuary and rocky shoreline. You will enjoy nature walks in the park and may catch sight of ospreys, who nest on nearby Goggin Island in the summer before heading to South America.
6. Bradbury Mountain State Park
Although this mountain is just short of 500 feet high, you will get some lovely views of Casco Bay from the summit. The colors in the fall are exceptional.
Over 20 miles of trails attract hikers, bikers and horse riders, while families will find camping facilities and a playground for kids.
This was one of the early parks in Maine; as you walk, you will see reminders of the region’s past, as well as a lovely range of flora – including the rare orchid. Please resist the temptation to pick one.
7. Desert of Maine
This natural phenomenon is a 40-acre area of glacial silt surrounded by vegetation. It is not a true desert and it receives plenty of rainfall.
It has developed as a tourist attraction, offering tours with a guide and a barn museum. Kids can hunt their own gemstones for an extra charge; a great souvenir of your visit if you are successful.
There are camping facilities and you can have a go at disc golf from early May until winter, with campers given morning priority.
8. L.L. Bean Flagship Store
Freeport is a good place for retail therapy. LL Bean now has stores across the USA selling outdoor clothing, footwear and camping gear. The original store was opened in 1912 in Freeport by Leon Leonwood Bean – a one-room store selling hunting boots. Bean was a local hunter and fisherman.
It was his grandson who really developed the business, which is still family-owned. Except for special occasions, the store is open 24/7.
9. Leon Gorman Park
This pleasant park close to the center of Freeport was donated to the town by LL Bean and named after the store founder’s grandson. It is a popular place to take a lunch break from work.
Covering just eight acres, within the park, you will find a picnic pavilion as well as outdoor picnic facilities. There is a short walking trail, a grassy area, and a small ice-skating area. Dogs on a leash are welcome, but part of the trail is steep so not suitable for biking.
10. Maine Audubon – Mast Landing Sanctuary
The primary aim of all Audubon sites is to provide a natural refuge for wildlife. That said, this sanctuary on the Harraseeket Estuary is open to the public, who can enjoy its trails as well as the wildlife.
As well as a stream and a salt marsh, there are forests of white pine and hemlock, fields and orchards. In the summer, it is a popular place for hikers, while during winter, people enjoy cross-country skiing.
Birdwatchers can expect to see a range of birds, many migratory, while resident mammals include minks, porcupines, coyotes, and raccoons.
11. Porterfield Cider
In recent years, an old farm dating back to 1890 has been revived and repurposed to produce cider. 117 acres of fields and gardens, woodland trails, and orchards are attracting visitors in numbers.
There is locally grown produce on sale seasonally, but it is the cider that has captured the imagination. You can sit with glass in hand and eat local food, typically cheeses and bread.
You can rent the farmhouse if you wish; it has been upgraded after years of decay.
12. Cruising the Bay
If you are in Freeport, you must take a cruise out into the Atlantic. There are times of the year when that is not practical, but on a fine day, go for it.
A range of tours is available; if you want the thrill of deep-sea fishing, that is also an option. You cannot be guaranteed a catch but it is fun.
The coastline is scenic and you will get a different perspective from the sea. You may enjoy a lobstering tour, go in search of Atlantic Seals, or visit Eagle Island State Park.
13. Hedgehog Mountain Trail
This little-known trail on 196 acres is well-maintained and ideal for a family day out. It is open all year round, with snowshoes or skis needed in the winter. Otherwise, you can hike or bike.
Hedgehog Mountain is the high point of Freeport; the trail takes you through pine and hemlock forests as well as over and around old stone walls. You can take your dog with you on a leash. Parking is adjacent, so this trail shouldn’t be ‘’little-known’’ much longer.
14. Maine Beer Company
The State of Maine is known for its craft beer, and many of the breweries, including this one, are more than happy to welcome visitors who want to sample their range of brews.
The brewery has been a great success, so plans for expansion are underway. You can expect to sample distinctly different IPAs, lagers, pale ale, and stout. Snacks are available if you want them.
15. Coastal Highway US 1
The north-south route from Maine down to New England and beyond follows the coastline. While you may not want to spend too much time in your car, it is worth driving a stretch of US 1, where you will pass lovely old villages and historic houses, as well as having spectacular sea views.