Maine is an outdoor lover’s paradise. With miles of coastline, the famous Appalachian Mountain range, evergreen forests, and Acadia National Park, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities in the Pine Tree State. Maine provides many different outdoor experiences–from skiing and snowshoeing in the winter to swimming and hiking in the summer.
That’s why it’s the perfect spot for kids to access outdoor education. Kids have so many different opportunities to learn about themselves and the world around them because of the diversity in local flora, fauna, and ways to get outside. They can discover a whole new world in tide pools or gain confidence in themselves after completing a hike.
These nature schools maximize nature’s lessons by tailoring activities for their students. Maine has many wonderful outdoor schools and forest schools–perfect for a day or overnight field trip or full-time enrollment. These are the six best outdoor education schools in Maine.
1. Chewonki Outdoor Classroom
Address: 485 Chewonki Neck Road, Wiscasset, ME 04578
Grades: 5th-12th grade
Type: Overnight Trips
Chewonki Outdoor Classroom offers special experiences for schools. Their campus is north of Boston, along the coast of Maine. It features miles of rocky coastline, numerous private islands, and more than 5 miles of trails. From ponds and bogs to rocky shores and forests, there is plenty to explore and learn about at this ecology-focused place.
The most popular offerings are the Environmental Encampment programs and Saltwater Canoe experiences. Both are a 4-day, 3-night outing that teaches the basics of camping, from setting up tents to building and cooking over campfires and more. They cover everything from ecology to learning about wildlife.
All of their programs focus on Leave No Trace camping and promote responsible resource usage. If there are specific curriculum goals or technical skills that teachers are interested in exploring with their classrooms, Chewonki also offers custom wilderness trips in backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, and more.
Sound like fun for you as a parent? Chewonki Outdoor Classroom requires that schools provide one chaperone per group of kids, usually about 10-12 per group.
2. Penobscot River Trails
Address: 2540 Grindstone Road, Soldiertown Township, ME 04460
Type: Field Trip Destination
Penobscot River Trails’ Maine Outdoor Education Program (MOEP) makes for the perfect field trip destination. Located on the East Branch of the Penobscot River, they offer 4-hour lessons in ecology, geology, and geography through the lens of outdoor fitness.
Rather than limit the opportunity to learn from the great outdoors to once a school year, MOEP provides three distinct opportunities every fall, winter, and spring for school groups.
In the fall, students can participate in mountain biking. In the winter, they can try their hand at cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Then, in the spring, they learn to paddle along the beautiful Penobscot River in canoes or kayaks. Students follow a thorough curriculum aimed at combining knowledge with hands-on activities.
The school is committed to fostering a connection between outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship among students. They’re also accessible for students with disabilities, providing adaptive equipment and tailored activities.
3. Maine Outdoor School
Address: 87 Main Street, Milbridge, ME 04658
Type: Field Trip Destination
The Maine Outdoor School is dedicated to connecting students and learners of all ages with all that the Earth has to offer. Their professional Registered Maine Guides and Naturalist Educators create unique and fun outdoor earning opportunities for school groups, organizations, and families.
They combine science and the outdoors through guided nature walks, hands-on watershed exploration, and standards-aligned lessons at their campus near the Narraguagus River. Kids can gain insights into identifying different plants, hiking the outdoors, and canoeing the river.
If you can’t make the trip to their campus, teachers can coordinate with them to offer classes right on your campus. They also offer chances for students and teachers to give back with facilitated service projects.
The Maine Outdoor School is also perfect for parents homeschooling their children. They offer a fully customizable curriculum for groups and families looking to learn from the great outdoors and local environment.
4. The Community School of Mount Desert Island
Address: 585 Sound Drive, Mount Desert, ME 04660
Type: Day school
Located right outside the boundaries of beautiful Acadia National Park, The Community School of Mount Desert Island teaches outdoor learning through first-hand experiences. They foster a sense of curiosity in their students by guiding them through an interactive and engaging curriculum.
Their three main focuses for student learning are a sense of self, sense of place, and sense of community. They use their outdoor campus to teach all three in small classes with two teachers per class. They believe in holistic education supplemented by birdwatching and hikes in Acadia National Park and exploration of the tidal Babson Creek. With wetlands, forestland, fields, and more, the area is the perfect landscape for outdoor learning.
Their elementary and middle school students learn all of the skills necessary to thrive in high school in a more real-world setting. Kids also have a chance to complete a Capstone project and lessons in leadership, music, handiwork, and woodworking.
5. University of Maine’s Outdoor Leadership Program
Address: 5766 Shibles Hall, Orono, ME 04469
Type: University Program
For college students who want to pursue a career in the outdoors, the University of Maine’s Outdoor Leadership Program offers quite a few options.
Students can add an outdoor leadership concentration to specific majors or complete their 19-credit minor in Outdoor Leadership alongside any major. College students learn and participate in all kinds of activities, including kayaking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, and much more.
Students will be able to earn their Wilderness First Responder and Swift Water Rescue certification, as well as courses in paddling instruction and safety, ethics and social justice in outdoor leadership, and much more. This is the perfect way to work towards an outdoor dream job as a park ranger or be part of your local search and rescue.
Located within the College of Education and Human Development on the University of Maine’s expansive campus, students can connect with community and campus centers like the New Balance Student Recreation Center, Maine Bound Adventure Center, and others for real-world experience.
6. Adaptive Outdoor Education Center
Address: 3000 Outdoor Center Road, Carrabassett Valley, ME 04947 and 675 Old Portland Road, Brunswick, ME 04011
Grades: All ages
Type: Extracurricular Programming
For students with disabilities, access to the outdoors can be extremely limited at outdoor education schools and programs that don’t have the right equipment and activities. The Adaptive Outdoor Education Center is looking to change that historical lack of access by providing a wide range of outdoor activities and lessons to people with disabilities.
They have campuses in Carrabassett Valley and Brunswick to serve as many people with physical and cognitive disabilities as possible. They focus on fostering competence in outdoor and life skills, confidence, connection, collaboration, and community in an inclusive environment.
They offer sailing, climbing, music, and more in the summer. The center focuses on downhill and cross country skinning, theater, climbing, and more in the winter. There are also classes in nature education, whole-body health, and art and crafts throughout the year.
7. Ketcha Outdoors’ Farm & Forest Kindergarten
Address: 336 Black Point Road, Scarborough, ME 04074
Type: Full-day kindergarten
Ketcha Outdoors’ Farm & Forest Kindergarten revolves around outdoor play to foster a strong sense of exploration, social connection, and curiosity in their students.
The kindergarten’s classroom is the entire 100+ acre campus, complete with acres of forest, fields, natural water sources like streams and a pond, miles of hiking trails, and a real-life farm. If the weather does not accommodate the outdoors for the day, they have a wood-stove heated yurt and a separate indoor classroom.
In addition to the exploration-based education, students gain sufficient preparation for first grade thanks to their curriculum, including math, reading, phonics, and science. All of their lessons are supplemented by the natural world and nature-based examples on their daily hikes and outdoor excursions.
Non-kindergarten students can also take advantage of all that Ketcha Outdoors offers through their summer camps, teen leadership programs, and after-school programs. The student-to-teacher ratio is 1:6, so all kid’s needs are always met.