Located in the southern tip of the state of Maine, Lebanon is in York County about 50 kilometers north of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Not far from one of the state’s most scenic and popular lake areas to the north, it is close enough to the Atlantic coast to make day trips to the beach convenient as well.
Like much of the state, it’s an outdoorsmen’s and nature lover’s paradise, full of fantastic state parks, museums, art galleries, and historical sites, so finding things to do won’t be a problem.
Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around Lebanon, Maine.
1. Bear Brook State Park
Though you’ll find it in the neighboring state of New Hampshire, Bear Brook State Park is close enough to Lebanon to be on the radar of guests looking to experience the New England wilderness in all its glory.
Covering more than 10,000 acres, it’s the largest of its kind in the state, and with nearly 50 miles of trails, it’s not too difficult to see most of it.
The park features almost 100 campsites and includes mountains, bogs, rivers, and streams that are big hits with outdoorsmen and nature lovers of all stripes.
Check out the welcome center and camping shop before heading out.
2. The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire
Though it’s not the biggest museum in the world, what The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire lacks in size it more than makes up for in fun.
It’s one of those rare places that not only entertains kids, but engages and educates them too.
Located on Washington Street in Dover, many previous guests have stated that their experience far exceeded their expectations, and that even after two or more hours, their little ones weren’t bored.
Most of the museum’s exhibits encourage children to actively participate, not just watch passively, so they’ll work up a sweat and get rid of that pent-up energy.
3. Portsmouth Escape Room
For a truly unique and suspenseful afternoon or evening out of the elements, there’s nothing better than a good escape room.
Portsmouth Escape Room features a variety of rooms with different themes, and the level of difficulty can be matched well – even for groups with children.
If you’ve never experienced an escape room, they’re great ways to build camaraderie and teamwork, and they exercise the grey matter as few other recreation activities do.
Escape rooms are great ideas for double dates too, and since they’re in downtown Portsmouth, there will be plenty of restaurants nearby for a post-activity dinner or drink.
4. Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
Rachel Carson was one of the original heavyweights in the environmental awareness movement that swept the country decades ago.
Her book Silent Spring is still a classic after all these years, and there’s no more fitting way to honor her legacy than by spending some time at the National Wildlife Refuge named after her.
The refuge is an important layover point for migrating waterfowl and wading birds, especially when more northern and inland freshwater lakes are frozen.
The refuge’s entrance is on Port Road in Wells, and it was established in 1966 to protect the vital coastal ecosystem and the animals that live there.
5. USS Albacore
If you’ve never seen a submarine up close, they’re remarkable machines; when they’re totally out of the water, their impressive size and girth is something to behold.
The USS Albacore is a ‘50s era sub that’s now a museum and is open to the public.
In many ways, boats like the Albacore were test-beds for experimental technology, much of which led to advances that are now common on submarines.
Like most visitors, you’ll likely find the cramped spaces claustrophobic, but you’ll get a fascinating look into a stealthy weapon system that was on the front line for much of the cold war.
6. Discover Portsmouth Center
Located in a building that formerly housed the city’s library, the Portsmouth Historical Society includes a unique mix of exhibits and displays that touch on topics like science, history, culture, art, and the natural world.
In that respect, it’s one of a kind, and with such a variety, it’s likely that almost everyone will find something that interests them.
Many of the center’s exhibits have been designed with children in mind, and quite a few of them are interactive. In addition to their permanent exhibits, they often host temporary ones from other institutions, so you never know what you’ll see until you show up.
7. Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion Historic Site
Originally built in the mid-1700s, the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion was once the home, office, and library of a colonial governor. The mansion is comprised of more than 40 rooms, and its grounds were a working farm for much of its life.
The historic site is located on Little Harbor Road just a few miles from downtown Portsmouth; it is one of the most well preserved of its type from the colonial days.
The extensive mansion’s grounds are an excellent place for a stroll once you’ve toured the house, and offer excellent views of scenic Little Harbor.
8. Strawbery Banke Museum
Located in one of Portsmouth’s most historic districts, Strawbery Banke Museum includes more than 10 acres of grounds and an amazing living history museum that’s one of the state’s most complete repositories of historical and cultural artifacts.
The museum has different hours at different times of the year, and guided tours are available, many of which include other historic homes and buildings in the area.
For travelers who’re only in the area a short time and are interested in getting an overview of the area’s history, spending a few hours at the Strawbery Banke Museum would be a wise way to do just that.
9. Woodman Museum
With so much history dating back hundreds of years – to the days when most of New England was still a territory of Great Britain – it’s no wonder there are so many amazing museums in Maine and New Hampshire.
The Woodman Museum was founded in 1916 and includes elements of art, history, Native American culture, and the natural world.
The museum consists of four buildings which have unique histories of their own; they were the residences of some of the area’s most interesting and historically significant characters dating back to the 1600s, when the area was a wild and dangerous frontier full of hostile natives and animals.
10. Portland Museum of Art
In years past, New England was home to many of the country’s most respected and accomplished artists.
Portland Museum of Art is the state’s oldest and most comprehensive art museum and includes a variety of fantastic art – some of which is priceless.
Though many of the museum’s pieces are traditional, there are many contemporary ones as well. In addition to its permanent gallery, it hosts temporary ones from other institutions throughout the year.
Located in historic Congress Square, the best way to keep abreast of their events and exhibits is to check their website periodically.
11. Shop at the Old Port
Portland’s Old Port District is the city’s old waterfront area that was once a thriving wharf full of ship berths, warehouses, and horse-drawn carts clip-clopping over cobblestone streets.
Now after a transformative renaissance, it’s one of the area’s most trendy and popular retail areas, full of shops, galleries, and eateries that usually draw quite a crowd.
Many of the shop’s items are unique bits of New England-style Americana. Though the prices aren’t low, what you’ll get has much more character than what you’ll find at national retail chains.
The Old Port is a great place to relax with a glass of wine or cappuccino while waiting for the sun to set.
12. Take a Historic Homes Tour
With so many historic homes located downtown, Portland is the perfect place to take a historic homes tour.
For do-it-yourselfers, it’s pretty easy to compile a list of homes within a few blocks of one another. If you’d rather let someone else worry about the details, there are a variety of professionally guided home tour options available as well.
No matter which route you decide to take, you’ll get a fascinating glimpse into the past. It’ll also help you get your bearing on the city’s layout, which will come in handy as you continue to explore all the city has to offer.
13. Eastern Promenade
Portland certainly isn’t lacking in the waterfront department, and the Eastern Promenade is arguably the most quaint, scenic, and beloved area by locals and visitors alike.
Set on a beautiful piece of land between Fore River and Back Cove, the nearly 70-acre park is full of trails, beaches, and wide open spaces that’ll keep you and your travel companions occupied for hours.
It’s open year-round, and though it’s particularly popular in the warm months, some of the most dramatic scenes can be seen on blustery winter days, when the view looks like a classic oil painting.
Much of the park is relatively remote and will make you feel like you’re farther away from civilization than you really are.
14. Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park
Located near the town of South Berwick, Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park sits along the shores of Salmon Falls River that, for much of its course, is the dividing line between Maine and New Hampshire.
The park is open year-round, and though there aren’t any facilities to speak of, it’s full of incredible vistas and plenty of trail options that follow the river.
For those who’d like to combine a little history with the park’s natural beauty, it’s possible to reach Hamilton House by following a well-marked trail.
The home sits on a bluff overlooking the river that is one photo op that should be taken advantage of.
15. Fort Allen State Park
Portland’s Casco Bay is one of the area’s natural jewels, and there’s no better place from which to view it than Fort Allen State Park.
As they’re doing with unused space in many cities and towns, the land that’s now part of the state park was once sitting idly. Now, it’s a great community resource that provides a variety of outdoor activity options popular with locals and visitors.
Full of easily walkable paths, picnic areas, and covered gazebos, it has everything you’ll need for a wonderful time.
The park is open year-round and isn’t very busy, especially in the fall and winter months.