February 23rd, 2021
Quiet Waters: Discover the Path Less Paddled
There’s nothing quite like Maine summer days on the water and nights under canvas. Combine the two and you’ve got the recipe for an unforgettable trip. More secluded than traditional campgrounds – with the opportunity to bring a little more gear in your boat than you could backpack – paddle camping is an accessible adventure for families and beginners alike. With a little planning and knowledge, canoe and kayak camping trips grant paddlers access to some of the most secluded and idyllic camping spots in Maine.
The many islands of Casco Bay make a beautiful backdrop to Portland’s city skyline. However, there’s much more here than a view – a paddling trip to one of the bay’s islands affords a whole new perspective. “Experiencing the sights and smells of the ocean from the vantage point of a kayak is exciting enough,” said Portland Paddle owner and co-founder Zack Anchors. “But here in Casco Bay we also have fascinating islands, forts, and lighthouses to explore” Portland Paddle orchestrates ocean adventures from the East End Beach each summer. While the busy waters of Casco Bay may look intimidating, guides are trained to lead paddlers of every ability. “Our team of guides take things to the next level. They are skilled at making sure each person has the support they need to have fun paddling on the ocean.”
Day trips are available morning through sunset, but the really memorable experiences are made over multi-day adventures. “We offer a three-day trip called the Casco Bay Traverse that gives a great introduction to kayak camping on the Maine coast,” said Anchors. “There are so many islands to explore that each trip is different. That said, Jewell Island and Whaleboat Island are two of our favorite islands for camping – with gorgeous scenery, lots of wildlife and amazing oceanside campsites.” Groups generally paddle 10 miles or less each day, though it varies a lot based on current and wind conditions. Portland Paddle guides also cook nourishing meals, so you can relax and explore the islands after coming ashore.
The experience of moving with wind and water between the islands creates a profound connection that you just can’t find from a ferry or powerboat. Anchors recalled a foggy morning paddle on the bay that was etched into his memory: “There was deep silence and glassy calm waters. I heard the puffing sound of porpoises breathing through their blowholes. We spotted the triangular fins of the pod arching above the waterline nearby, just as an osprey dove and grabbed a fish from the water.”
Ready for your own adventure? Gather your gear and head to Richmond, where you can launch your boat into the Kennebec River. From there, you can paddle downstream toward Merrymeeting Bay, where the Kennebec and five other rivers flow into the bay (although this area doesn’t front directly onto the ocean). This confluence of fresh and salt waters is a rare and abundant source of life, particularly for waterfowl and fish such as Atlantic salmon, shad, and sturgeon that travel upstream to spawn. The unusual geology also means the river is tidal and subject to strong currents. It’s essential you check tide charts before starting out, and try to stay along the edge of the bay’s quieter western shore.
Once you’ve had your fill of adventure, return to the calm shores of Swan Island, which fills the mouth of the Kennebec. This four-mile-long island houses 10 Adirondack shelters overlooking a large field and a dock, which can be booked in advance for a small fee. Light a campfire or wander the seven miles of trails that wind through the island and explore the island’s historical structures, which once housed a community of around 100 farmers in the 1800s.
Rangeley Lakes Region
If you’re ready to get out there and explore, the Rangeley Lake region is a must-see destination for canoe camping. Explore any of the six major lakes by day, and when you’re ready to set up camp, find your way to South Arm at the very tip of Little Richardson Lake. The main site is situated on the sandy shoreline with 38 paddle-in sites scattered as far as 15 miles up into Greater Richardson, through a section called The Narrows.
The scale of the lake should not be underestimated, especially if you’re planning to paddle way out. Ensure you pack plenty of water and warm clothes. Hug the shoreline as you paddle, where the winds that can rush down the lake won’t exert such a great force on your boat – and always wear a PFD.
Pick a spot within sight of the beach and main campground or cover some distance to find total seclusion in stunning surrounds of spruce, cedar and white pine beside crystal clear waters. Spirit Island campsite in the very middle of Little Richardson Lake is unbeatable for views and a deserted island feel.
With a stretch of water behind you and the sun low overhead, it’s a little easier to leave worries on the mainland while you soak up the peace and serenity that an offshore camping adventure can provide.
— Story by Saisie Moore. Saisie is a freelance writer and gardener living on Munjoy Hill in Portland.