Note: Some tour providers on this list may have limited or ceased operations due to COVID-19. Check with your tour operator about availability before you book.
A trip to Maine is a nature lover’s dream. You can spend days sailing on the water, careening down the slopes on a snowboard or hiking through beloved Acadia National Park. The state also offers a wide variety of wildlife watching. And while many travel here to catch sight of moose and puffins, whale watching is a popular activity, too. A guided tour will put you in the hands of an experienced local who knows just where to find the whales. After consulting both traveler experience and expert input, U.S. News determined the following tours to be the best available.
Before you book, there are a few things to keep in mind to help make your trip a successful one. Maine’s whale watching season lasts from mid-April through October. Multiple species visit the state’s waters, including humpback, finback, minke and pilot. For the best visibility, time your trip for a summer day when skies are clear, as Maine’s fog will hamper your ability to spot the animals.
You’ll also want to wear plenty of layers (it’s chilly out on the water), and consider taking extra dry clothing in case you get wet. To protect yourself from the sun, wear sunscreen, a hat or sunglasses. And, of course, don’t forget to bring your camera and a pair of binoculars. Several companies may also allow you to bring snacks aboard the boat, but it’s best to call your guide and double check before you tour.
Cap’n Fish’s Cruises – Boothbay Harbor Whale Watching Cruise
During this tour, you’ll embark on a search for Maine’s marine life, including whales, seals, sharks and dolphins, among other critters. You’ll also get a quick tour of the Boothbay Harbor and see some of Maine’s famous lighthouses. Travelers say they see plenty of whales on this trip. They also appreciate that, in addition to informative narration, the crew offers instruction on what to look for when searching for wildlife.
Trips tend to last about 3 1/2 hours, but the company notes it could be longer if the crew has to travel farther than expected to search for whales (there is no set route for the tour). Departure times vary depending on the time of year, but you can expect to head out around 9:30 a.m. or between noon and 1:30 p.m. Ticket prices start at $65 for patrons 13 and older and $50 for children ages 2 to 12. Prices increase by $5 each during peak season (July 1 through Labor Day). Cap’n Fish’s Cruises depart from Boothbay Harbor, about 60 miles northeast of Portland. The company also runs a scenic cruise featuring Maine’s lighthouses, seals and lobster traps.
Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. – Whale Watch Cruises
If you’re planning a trip to Bar Harbor, you’re in luck: this company’s whale watching trips depart from downtown. These three- to five-hour tours transport passengers through Frenchman Bay and into the Gulf of Maine in search of whales and other marine life. Guides narrate the journey to help passengers learn about the wildlife and tourgoers find them knowledgeable and personable. Some travelers warn, however, that trips can get canceled due to poor weather and advise future visitors to be flexible.
Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. runs its tours from mid-May through October to coincide with peak whale watching season. Boats go out twice daily from late June through Labor Day and once daily at all other times. Exact departure times vary based on the season. Tickets start at $67 for participants 15 and older, $41 for kids 6 to 14, and $19 for children 5 and younger. Prices increase slightly from late June through mid-August. This company also offers a few other nature cruises, as well as a puffin and lighthouse outing.
Cap’n Fish’s Cruises – Whale Watch & Puffin Combo Cruise
This tour lasts at least four hours, giving you plenty of time to spot whales, Atlantic puffins, sunfish, dolphins and more. After boarding the Harbor Princess, you’ll head to Eastern Egg Rock to see the famous puffins before heading out in search of whales. Another bonus? If you don’t see any whales or puffins on your trip, you’ll get a standby ticket for another cruise at no cost. Tour-takers offer positive reviews for the tour and report seeing numerous whales and puffins. They also appreciate that the cruise is dog-friendly.
Tours depart from Boothbay Harbor from late May through mid-August. Trips leave at 1 or 1:30 p.m. From May through June, trips leave three times weekly. In July and August, they run Monday to Saturday. Tickets start at $81 for people 13 and older, $65 for kids ages 2 to 12 and are free for infants younger than 2. Prices increase slightly in July and August. Cap’n Fish’s Cruises also offers private charters, a cocktail harbor cruise and a special cruise on a tall ship, among other options.