Friday, January 27, 2012

Favorite Day Paddles in Maine

Favorite day paddles in Maine? So hard to choose, Maine’s coastline and islands number in the thousands . There are 250 miles of coastline as the crow flies; over 3,000 as the paddler meanders into every cove and along each peninsula. Maine’s State Planning Office claims 4,613 islands. Still, on one of many recent long car rides, we amused ourselves by trying to select five favorite Maine paddles.

Mark’s choices:
1. Stonington. An easy choice, dozens of islands to paddle by or land on, easy access and parking at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures. There’s generally pretty tame water, especially in the morning. Whether you opt for a long paddle, or a short one, there are plenty of places to see, and there are even options for paddling in the fog. These factors combine to make this a favorite location.
2. Porcupine Islands and Ironbound, off Bar Harbor: Amazing scenery, incredible wildlife, beautiful water with wonderful swells, awesome cliffs. Not many landing points, but there are two, Rum Key and the Hop. This paddle is edged out of the number one spot because parking is limited. This isn’t a location you can just decide to go to, you need to pick a quiet day and get there early. I don’t know if there’s any easy way to park a trailer full of kayaks there. And, as if it isn’t difficult enough already, a new huge hotel is going in. Not only is the parking difficult, but this is a place that requires good judgment. To start with, there’s a lot of boat traffic in the area, all manner of tour boats and cruise ship tenders. Some of the crossings are through major channels, you need to be prepared to cross quickly and efficiently. It’s not a good place to be in the fog. And out alongside the cliffs, or when tempted by keyholes and caves, you need to be able to assess how those swells are going to affect you, and figure out how close you should be. Not a great place for beginners to be on their own. Fortunately there are many kayak tour companies in the area.
3. Muscle Ridge from Birch Point State Park: (no blog post for this) Mark loves open water. This is a two mile crossing to start, with distinct currents. Each time we’ve been there, the weather has been questionable and the wind stronger than expected. These challenges inspire Mark. Many seals, not overcrowded (this was a September launch), easy access. Lighthouses, landing points, and multiple islands.
4. Naskeag Point: This is a beautiful little launch and one of the few which has better access on a Sunday than during the week. The point is made of salmon colored granite pebbles, and from the moment I arrive there and spy Harbor island posted just off shore, I feel ready to paddle and explore. There are a couple of islands nearby owned by the Bureau of Public Lands and additional islands scattered about the area. There are also busy channels nearby, which require concentrated effort to cross. It is a favored area for sailboats, which have right of way. The Naskeag area has a fair number of seals scattered about.
5. Bartlett Island,off MDI. We’ve had some wonderful paddles around this island. Parking is tough, and you should be careful of currents in the narrows. It is a great place to spot seals and harbor porpoise.

My Choices:
1. Stonington
2. Porcupines and Ironbound, off Bar Harbor
3. Lubec or Cobscook Bay. This place has huge tides so if you enjoy looking at the wildlife revealed by low tides, this is the place to go. I’ve found flounder, sea cucumbers, all sorts of sea stars and shellfish. When we paddled from Lubec to Eastport, we went through several schools of herring. It’s a beautiful area. But not a great place if you’re not accustomed to tides. The many narrows have incredible currents running through them. As a whole I feel better referring people to Cobscook Bay and advising them to stay away from the reversing falls area. But I enjoyed the Lubec to Eastport paddle more. 

4. Portland. Come on, there’s a Fort on an island just a half mile off shore! What a great place to bring beginning paddlers! Just a little further out is Peaks Island; with restaurants and ice cream stands. Yes the harbor is hugely busy, and no doubt on the weekends, or a hot summer day the launch is jammed, but time it right and it’s a great place.
5. Little Cranberry or Baker Island, off North East Harbor on Mount Desert Island. I love this area, ticking off islands as we paddle out, exploring along the shores, looking back at the rounded mountains of Acadia, enjoying active water. The crossings are often over a half mile, and usually quite busy. But there are lots of interesting sights. On Baker there is a lighthouse, fairy houses, a graveyard and the Dance floor. On Little Cranberry there's a museum, restaurant, library, and a couple of stores.

Finally, two honorable mentions:
Castine. Castine has an amazing amount going for it; history, quiet coves, tricky currents, multiple islands, seals, interesting boats, even a shipwreck. Again, parking is a challenge and the currents and tides can create problems. Still, it’s a great area.
Rockport to Camden: Camden Harbor is a fun place to explore, but access is tricky. Rockport has a great little launch site, where for a small fee, you get a peaceful beach, a great changing area and a hose for rinsing off when you’re done. The paddle goes along the shore, not generally our preference, though there are two lighthouses, one at the start and the other at the end. What makes it fascinating are the boats in the harbors. On windjammer days Rockport will be filled with huge yachts, and Camden with an incredible array of vessels. Because the paddle is along the shore, it’s not hard to stay out of the way. Camden harbor is busy, but not impossible.

Once we had our lists, it became apparent what we’d used for criteria:
a) Someplace to legally land. I want to sit on an island and eat my lunch.
b) Day trip with easy access. Though most of our ocean paddles are between 7-14 miles, places get extra credit if there are options for interesting shorter trips.
c) It should feel like ocean, the tide should rise and fall, currents should reverse and the water should hop up and down.
d) It shouldn’t be a soaking experience, few breaking waves, no raging currents.
e) As I paddle out, a seal should pop up and wave his flipper at me, and at some point a porpoise should leap over my bow. Or at least there should a seal who pokes his head up in the distance and a bunch of different birds hanging out on the water.
f) The area should have enough coves/islands/inlets to justify using charts and compasses.

If you feel I’ve missed any great paddles please let me know! (Include links if practical) The only thing better than an old favorite is discovering a new one!


  1. Wonderful post! I love paddling out of Stonington and around Isle au Haut. Also Vinalhaven and North Haven were gorgeous. There's a lot here to put on my list!

  2. Great post. I've done very little ocean kayaking on the Maine coast (just one trip from Hermit Island campground in Phippsburg), but on my priority list for this year is a trip to Stonington for the better part of a week. I've heard so many good things about the area, I've got to do it this year!

  3. I'm so jealous! I've only paddled Maine hotspots twice. And so lucky one of those trips was to paddle with you! Your stories keep us loving Maine!

    Cheers from Canada!

  4. Nice..Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer...

  5. Thanks for your great post, which does make the point that when it comes to Maine paddling destinations, having favorites isn't so easy.

    Normally, I say Muscle Ridge and paddling off Jonesport are my favorites. But as you remind me (new favorite) Baker Island and old favorites like the Porcupines aren't so shabby either.

    Have you paddled the Jonesport area (Great Wass archipelago)? Maybe we can get a group together and do it sometime.

  6. Thanks all for your comments. Vinalhaven is one of many places on "want to paddle list" We definitely have to get there. We went up to Jonesport for a paddle for the first time last summer, it was a beautiful area, but so full of sealsthat I felt guilty. Next time I'll visit later in the summer. ( Hermit Island is also an amazing place. mark went there often as a boy, and I love the tiny garnets in the sand. What can I say, there are just so many wonderful wonderful areas to explore in Maine. We spend our winter days planning more trips than will fit into our summers and falls...