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Our Favorite Places to Kayak and SUP in Maine

a group of people in a boat on a body of water

Portland Paddle Guides Share Their Favorite Paddling Spots

With all of Maine’s lakes, rivers, and coastline, there’s enough paddling to keep kayakers and paddleboarders busy for several lifetimes. You could very well pick a launch at random out of your trusty Maine Gazetteer and fall straight in love.

And since we’re all about sharing our appreciation for Maine’s waters so everyone can experience how enchanting it is to paddle here, we’ve asked our guides to share some of their own favorite places to kayak and SUP.

Perhaps they’ll become your favorites, too.

Burnt Island, Muscongus Bay

RECOMMENDED BY PORTLAND PADDLE GUIDE KYLE MARTIN:

a large body of water“Four miles southwest of Port Clyde, this 265-acre island marks the southern end of the mystifying Georges Island chain. Visiting and hiking the amazing cliff-side perimeter trail is like taking a step into another dimension of beauty and history.”

After the hike, Kyle recommends going for a swim in the Caribbean-like blue waters off the white sandbar separating Burnt and Little Burnt. Paddling to Burnt is an open-water adventure where lobster boats abound and the seabirds are aplenty. Paddlers can launch from the public boat launch in Port Clyde.

Nonesuch River from Clay Pits Boat Launch, Scarborough

RECOMMENDED BY PORTLAND PADDLE GUIDE ASHLEY “TALL” LEEDBERG:

a group of people standing next to a body of waterWhen the tide is high, there are plenty of outlets to explore that take you through a maze of marshlands. Follow the river to its mouth and you’re at Pine Point, or head up river and experience the vast open fields of the marsh filled with all of its wildlife and biodiversity. It’s never the same experience and always a good time!”

This winding river is an especially good flat-water paddle for less experienced ocean paddlers. Look out for egrets and herons in the mellow marsh waters. There’s a public boat launch on Clay Pits Road in Scarborough with ample parking. Mind the tides here – they can be deceivingly strong.

Richmond Island, Cape Elizabeth

RECOMMENDED BY PORTLAND PADDLE GUIDE CATHY NUGENT:

a sunset over a body of water“Conditions always surprise and delight, the sunsets are spectacular, and the paddle out can be combined with a trail run around the island.”

An island escapade that’s not too far flung, Richmond Island is an excellent day trip. Paddlers can launch from Kettle Cove or Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth to reach this privately-owned island. Visitors are generally welcome to land on the beach and walk (or run, like Cathy does) two-mile perimeter trail. At certain times the family that owns the island restricts access, however, so it’s worth checking out the island’s website for any updates. Always make sure you stick to the beaches and perimeter trail, and only use the campsites if you have permission. Keep your eyes peeled for the sheep!

Five Islands in Georgetown to the Kennebec River in Bath

RECOMMENDED BY PORTLAND PADDLE GUIDE TAI GROSJEAN:

a wooden boat in a body of water“We headed north off the launch and took the left branch of the Sheepscot River to Goose Rock Passage, where the Sheepscot connects with the Sasanoa River. The tide was coming in, and the current was quite powerful through the Passage. Through the gap, we continued north and west to the Little Hell Gate passage – avoiding Lower Hell Gate because my friend didn’t have the necessary gear for active water (i.e., a helmet and a solid roll). The current was our friend the entire way, pushing us through the passage to reconnect with the Sasanoa. From there, the Sasanoa turns almost due west – cutting through Hockomock Bay and continuing to Upper Hell Gate. UHG is a reversing falls – it goes in one direction when the time comes in, and the other direction when the tide goes out – and the current is incredibly powerful. Somehow, we timed it just right and were swept through just after the direction changed. Even with the tide not exerting its full pressure and power, we went through at 10 miles per hour. In a kayak. After that, it was just a matter of crossing the Kennebec and paddling North a little bit, to our take-out. Still one of the best days of paddling I’ve ever had.” 

This one-way trip requires a vehicle shuttle, experience paddling in strong currents and the right timing. It’s an exciting and scenic route for confident and prepared paddlers.

Whaleboat & Little Whaleboat Islands, near Harpswell

RECOMMENDED BY PORTLAND PADDLE GUIDE ZACK ANCHORS

a person standing next to a body of water”One of my favorite day trips involves launching from Harpswell and circumnavigating Whaleboat Island, with a stop on one of the island’s beaches for a picnic. Sometimes I’ll extend the trip by looping around Little Whaleboat Island too. But Whaleboat and Little Whaleboat are an even better destinations if you’re pre pared to camp for a night or two. The campsites offer great views and set you up to paddle even further into some wild and gorgeous areas of Casco Bay.”

Find information about visiting and camping on Whaleboat on the website of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which owns the island. Little Whaleboat, which is one of the newest additions to the Maine Island Trail, is listed in the trail guide. There are several places to launch for this trip, including Lookout Point, Mitchell Field, Mere Point or Dolphin Marina. Overnight parking can be tricky, though, and Mere Point is usually the best option if you can get permission from the Brunswick Harbormaster.

Ferry Beach, Scarborough

RECOMMENDED BY PORTLAND PADDLE GUIDE SHANNON BRYAN

a small boat in a body of water“The sunsets at Ferry Beach are top notch. That’s reason enough to visit this beach in Scarborough (not to be confused with Ferry Beach in Saco). It’s also a great place to kayak or SUP. Ferry Beach sits in a nook near where the Nonesuch River pours into Say Bay, giving paddlers options to paddle into Saco Bay and along Pine Point Beach or towards the marsh.”

Ferry Beach is the second spot mentioned here that lies on the Nonesuch River. In fact, you could paddle to the Clay Pits boat launch, mentioned above, from Ferry Beach. Another river nearby that offers a mix of marsh paddling and beach access is the Spurwink River, which connects to Higgins Beach.

Some other favorite destinations:

Fort Gorges, Portland Harbor

a person standing next to a body of waterPortland Paddle’s location near East End Beach is a prime launching point for all sorts of explorations in Casco Bay and Portland Harbor. One of the coolest trips is to Fort Gorges, a Civil War era military fort built on Hog Island Ledge and accessible only by boat. Portland Paddle leads beginner-friendly guided trips to the fort, where you can wander the grounds, admire the granite walls, and peek into the fort’s dark corners. Or you can launch your own boat from East End Beach.

Jewell Island, Casco Bay

a close up of a hillside next to a treeShe’s an absolute beaut! Plan to loiter awhile (like a day or two or ten) when you paddle to Jewell Island in Casco Bay. It’s a popular destination for paddlers and boaters, and the trip there offers excellent island-hopping views accented by passing lobster boats and diving seabird. Once you’re on Jewell, you can meander the trails, loiter at the Punch Bowl, and climb up into one of the World War II submarine towers.
Portland Paddle leads guided overnight trips to Jewell Island too.

Shaw Park, Gorham

a train crossing a bridge over a body of waterThe Presumpscot River is mighty mellow as it drifts past Shaw Park in Gorham. The park is an ideal place to put your SUP or recreational kayak into the river and enjoy an easy-going paddle under bridges and past more rope swings that you can count. If you’re a beginner paddler, the Presumpscot is a welcoming place to get acquainted with your new favorite activity. After your paddle, hang out on the beach and grassy area for a picnic.

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