A kayaking journey in York Harbor — Photo courtesy of Mark PechenikFor many who come to Portland, no visit is complete without experiencing the region’s coastal beauty. For some, this means boat tours of Portland’s beautiful Casco Bay area. For others, it is a simple and casual walk along the city’s Eastern Promenade, the recreational path that is a favorite with walkers, cyclists, and others.
Still others prefer a more direct connection with the sea through kayaking trips and tours. This is a great way to gain first hand appreciation of the locals’ love affair with the sea. Southern Maine’s coastline is one of the most scenic and compelling natural wonders on the East Coast. And there is perhaps no better way to get up close and personal with this fascinating seascape than by indulging in a kayak paddling adventure.
But just where to begin on your day (or days) long kayaking excursion? The following locations along the Southern Maine coast (roughly from Portland south to Kittery) offer choice opportunities for coastline viewing:
A cormorant suns itself along Chauncey Creek in Kittery — Photo courtesy of Mark PechenikKittery: Kittery is Maine’s southernmost community and, as such, much of its land area adjoins neighboring Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Chauncey Creek is one of the best locations for kayaking in Kittery. Traditionally, kayaks launch from Kittery’s municipal boat launch, located beside the now closed Frisbee’s Market at 88 Pepperrell Cove Road. Weaving around the pleasure craft bobbing gently in the harbor, you’re likely to get a few friendly waves from boat owners. Soon after, you’ll enter the Piscataqua River, the main waterway in southern Maine and New Hampshire that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Off in the distance, you’ll enjoy the sights of small islands featuring lighthouses. Don’t be tempted to paddle to these islands, however, unless you are an expert paddler. You’ll soon find yourself exhausted from battling the Piscataqua’s unforgiving currents. Heading to your left, you’ll enter Chauncey Creek, a wide body of water that is more a river than a creek. Along this route, you’ll enjoy the majestic Cormorants, local seafaring birds, hunting fish; the lush and leafy shoreline featuring dramatically exposed rock and soil combinations, and a basin in which a swift moving current propels you under a highway bridge – a lot of fun!
Paddling the Eliot Boat Basin — Photo courtesy of Mark PechenikEliot: Moving up the coast, you’ll come to Eliot. Here, the Eliot Boat Basin can be found on Hammond Lane, just off of Route 103. The basin’s boat launch empties directly into the Piscataqua River which, at this point, is more tranquil than in Kittery. Located not far from the bustling port of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the basin often features large container ships which are even more striking from a paddler’s point of view. Another nice feature is an unnamed, small island in the center of the basin. Paddlers often enjoy beaching their kayaks to explore this property which, while small, is heavily wooded with beautiful upland views of the entire waterway. The shore itself is generally smooth but has many uprooted trees which make for very compelling scenery.
Cruising by the stately summer residences of York — Photo courtesy of Mark PechenikYork: York is the grand dame of resort communities in this area of southern Maine. Well-to-do families have had summer homes here for generations, Nevertheless, newcomers are always welcome as evidenced by the snack shops and arcade establishments at Long Sands beach. Paddlers will enjoy setting off from York Harbor itself, which is located on Harris Island Road off of Route 103. Here you will weave in and around pleasure craft and working lobster boats that are settled within the harbor. You may also want to take note of the stately mansions and summer homes that border this route. Afterwards, you’ll make your way along the shoreline with its towering sea grasses bowing in the stiff ocean breeze. Your route will take you along the wetlands with its stark, flat beauty and mix of birds and other wildlife. Another route will take you toward the ocean but be careful here. You can easily find yourself battling the current trying to make your way back to the safety of the harbor.
Exploring the Webhannet River shoreline in Wells — Photo courtesy of Mark PechenikWells: Heading north again, we come to the Webhannet River, the main estuary in Wells that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Wells offers a nice boat launch which is conveniently located near Webhannet River Kayak Rentals (345 Harbor Road in Wells). The Webhannet River itself features a small harbor. Moving along, you enter the river with vast views of wetlands on either side. Seafaring birds abound in this area and you’ll also likely see frogs, otters and other wildlife. The shoreline features cliff-like exposed rock and soil. Given the slow moving current here, it is possible to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
Kayaking along the Saco River mill complex — Photo courtesy of Mark PechenikSaco: This location offers a slightly different take on your typical kayaking excursion. Paddlers are afforded easy access to the Saco River via the Saco municipal boat launch, which is located near the Saco Yacht Club at 61 Front Street. This journey provides paddlers with a first-hand view of Saco’s industrial legacy. Gliding along the river, it is possible to enter a basin which is bordered by now closed mills. The view of these towering structures creates a canyon-like feel that is almost haunting. Along the way, you can paddle up to cavernous passageways used by the mills to empty used water into the basin. Adjoining the basin is an electric power plant with a thundering waterfall that also offers dramatic scenery. In the opposite direction, away from the mills, you’ll paddle along marshy islands featuring birds, towering trees and majestic stands of sea grass.
Exploring Cape Porpoise — Photo courtesy of Coastal Maine KayakKennebunkport: This kayaking excursion allows paddlers to get up close and personal with the gentle shoreline of Cape Porpoise, a beautiful harbor named by Captain John Smith in 1614. Other welcome sights include Goat Island and its historic lighthouse. The scenery is made even more striking by the vast ocean views that are nearby.
Practicing kayak escapes in Portland harbor — Photo courtesy of Maine Island Sea KayakPortland: We end our kayaking adventure up the coast in Portland. This city’s reputation as Maine’s center of commerce is fairly well known. However, kayaking Portland Harbor and Casco Bay serves as an introduction to Portland’s past military significance. Here, paddlers can gently cruise by massive, long abandoned coastal installations such as Fort Gorges, Fort Scammel and Fort Preble. These stone structures were built to protect Portland – and the United States – from much feared invasions from Europe. Also of note are the Portland breakwater light and smaller lighthouses which were built to aid seafaring navigation and which operate to this day. If you wish, it is possible to beach your kayaks to explore the many uninhabited islands, most of them owned by the state, while enjoying a nice picnic lunch.
Kayak Rentals: When it comes to paddling, the best way to go is to use your own kayaks. But, of course, this isn’t always possible – especially for out of town visitors. Fortunately, there are plenty of kayak rental establishments along the southern Maine coast available for those eager to experience their own paddling adventures. Rates and services vary among these businesses. It is possible to rent a kayak for as little as $50 for two hours. Some of these outfitters offer special deals such as afternoon tours with lunch included, as well as lessons for newcomers to this sport. You may want to start your kayaking rental search with the following businesses:
* Webhannet River Kayak Rentals
345 Harbor Road
Wells, Maine 04090
(Wells, Ogunquit area)
* Harbor Adventures
P.O. Box 345
York Harbor, ME 03911
(York, Kittery and Eliot areas)
* Coastal Maine Kayak
8 Western Avenue
(Kennebunkport, Kennebunk, Saco)
* Maine Island Kayak
70 Luther Street
Peaks Island, Maine 04108