Accessing Private Land

Welcome to the Recreational Access and Landowner Relations Program

When Maine people want to get back to nature, they don't have far to go. The careful and productive use of natural resources has always been the foundation of the Maine economy. It's our heritage and our way of life. The ability of private landowners to continue earning their living from the land is also essential for outdoor recreation. Productive farmland and forests help to keep land from being developed. Maine has a unique history of public access to private land. Over the past 200 years, landowners, residents and visitors have forged a tradition of neighborliness and shared access that is found nowhere else in the nation. Approximately 94% of the state's land area is privately owned and more than 10 million acres of working farms and forests are open to the public. This voluntary contribution by landowners needs to be understood and respected by everyone who ventures outdoors.

The private land you use for recreation belongs to someone else, just as surely as your car or home belongs to you. Access to private land is a privilege, not a right. Now and in the future, private ownership is key to preserving Maine's rural heritage and recreational opportunities. The owners of Maine's farms and forests take great pride in the stewardship of their lands and they enjoy sharing these resources with others. Keep in mind, however, that you should always ask first for permission to use private land. It's the right thing to do. Some landowners may require permits for certain activities. If so, respect that request. Remember, your actions affect everyone who wants to use private land for recreation.

Public Access to Private Land is A Privilege, Not A Right

Landowners who permit you to use their land for outdoor recreational activities are not only doing you a favor, they place their trust in you. To demonstrate appreciation for the favor and to prove their trust is not misplaced:

  • Ask for permission first
  • Respect any and all special requests made by the landowner
  • Understand clearly where you can and cannot drive or park your vehicle and abide by those restrictions
  • If requested, provide the landowner, your name, address, phone number and vehicle description
  • Know the property boundaries of the land you have permission to use and stay within those boundaries
  • Railroad and utility corridors are not public rights of way and require permission for access
  • Always OBEY THE LAW

Please Consider the Situation from the Landowner's Perspective

It is no surprise when attention turns to recreational pursuits, the user and the landowner often experience different issues. In fact, some landowners dread various seasons of the year, believing the associated activities limit the use of their own land. Landowners are often baffled at the abuse and lack of appreciation by some users. The user has difficulty understanding why so much land is posted or restricted. As users, the responsibility is on us to show appreciation and be considerate. We must all work together to lessen any of these assumptions and perceptions and respect the landowner's wishes. If we fail to do so, we can only expect more private land to be closed to public use.

Developing a relationship with the landowner can be accomplished by:

  • Considering the situation from the landowner's point of view
  • Good communication and mutual respect
  • Practicing safe and ethical behavior at all times

Show Your Appreciation to The Landowner

Remember that you are a guest when using someone else's property.

Make an effort to express your appreciation for the opportunity to use the land for recreational pursuits. Take the time to say "Thank you," and always leave the land as you found it. If you see trash that someone else left, please pick it up.

Summary of Laws Related To Landowner Property

This is only a brief summary and not all inclusive.

Damages and injury to land under Titles 12, 14 & 17A*


A person who intentionally enters the land of another without permission and causes damage to property is liable to the owner in a civil or criminal action, that could include fines, penalties and jail time, if they:

  • Damages or destroys a tree on another person's land by inserting into that tree any metallic or ceramic object.
  • Erect or use either a portable or permanent tree ladder or stand attached to a tree on the land of another person unless that person has obtained oral or written authorization to erect and use a tree ladder or stand from the landowner or the landowner's representative.
  • Discharges a firearm or crossbow within 100 yards of a residential dwelling or a farm building used for sheltering livestock, machines or harvested crops without the permission of the owner, or in the owner's absence, an adult occupant of that dwelling.
  • Tramples or destroys any crop on another person's land.
  • Throws, drops, deposits, discards, dumps or otherwise disposes of litter, in any manner or amount, on property not owned by that person.
  • Damages or throws down any fence, bar or gate, leaves a gate open, breaks glass, damages any road, drainage ditch, culvert, bridge, sign or paint marking, or does other damages to any structure on property not owned by that person.
  • Cuts down, destroys, damages or carries away any forest product, ornamental or fruit tree, agricultural product, stones, gravel, ore, goods or property of any kind from land not owned by that person.
  • Harvesting Christmas tree and evergreen boughs, firewood cutting, and motorized gold prospecting are allowed only with permission of landowners.

"Forest products" means logs, pulpwood, veneer, bolt wood, wood chips, stud wood, poles, pilings, biomass, fuel wood, Christmas trees, maple syrup, nursery products used for ornamental purposes, wreaths, evergreen boughs or cones or other seed products.

Liability and damages recoverable:

Regardless of whether or not the damage to the property was done intentionally, the offender still may be liable to the owner for two times the owner's actual damages plus certain additional costs. These costs could include attorney's fees, court costs and the value of the owner's time spent on involvement in the enforcement proceeding.

The owner's damages may be measured either by the replacement value of the damaged property or by the cost of repairing the damaged property. For damages for disposing of litter, the owner's damages include the direct costs associated with properly disposing of the litter, including obtaining permits, and the costs associated with any site remediation work undertaken as a result of the litter.

There is No Excuse for Trespassing

ALWAYS ask permission before entering private land. You may be pleasantly surprised at the number of landowners who have posted their property, but may allow access to someone who has the courtesy to ask first.

Trespass is a crime. If convicted, you may lose any license issued by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. All state, county and municipal law enforcement officers can enforce trespass laws.

Remember, your actions reflect on all users and outdoor recreational enthusiasts and can affect future access to private land.

There is No Excuse for Land Abuse

Land abuse is a very serious problem in the State of Maine. Each year, access to private property is lost due to land abuse. If you see a violation occurring, contact Operation Game Thief at 1(800) ALERT-US [1(800) 253-7887]. There is NO EXCUSE for land abuse.

This information was prepared by the Maine Department of Conservation and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.