Maine:North of Portland/South of Acadia

I want to go on a couple of day kayak trips north of Portland and south of Acadia somewhere. My goal is to see as much wildlife as possible: seals, porpoises, birds (maybe puffins?), and to generally stay in protected waters if possible. Last year I did some paddling in Muscongus Bay and did not see one seal. Hmmm…, I thought that was strange, as I actually have seen seals (well one) kayaking in the Charles River near MIT two years ago. Obviously, I was either in the wrong spots (or the seals were vacationing in the Caribbean somewhere.)

I probably won’t be going more than a mile from shore, depending on conditions. If there is anything specific I should know about a recommended area (or this area in general), I would appreciate hearing about that as well.

Also, if anyone could recommend a camping area, cabins, or ocean side accommodations that I could paddle out from, that would be ideal.



– Last Updated: Sep-03-08 1:57 PM EST –

This is my favorite area. (I'm going there in a couple of weeks.)

From Stonington a great many islands are accessible. Many of them are public, and many of the private ones are usable if you are a member of the Maine Island Trail Association ( Some of the islands are for day use only, but camping is permitted on others (e.g., Harbor Island). Be sure to get a chart of the area.

In Stonington there is a public boat launch behind the Isle au Haut boat area. Also in Stonington there is the Old Quarry Campground ( which includes a launch area.

Last September I saw a couple of whales near Merchant Island.

Tamsin Venn has written a book about day trips off the Maine coast; I've forgotton the name of it (Google? Amazon?). One of the trips I've taken a couple of times is the kayak approach to Cundy's Harbor. On this trip I've encountered seals - and friendly lobster boats.

I hope this helps.

Absolutly Stonington

– Last Updated: Sep-02-08 8:51 PM EST –

more bang for your kayaking buck than anyplace else on the Maine Coast---58 +- islands in a 6 square mile area---open ocean paddling if you want it out by Isle au Haut or more sheltered areas closer to Deer Isle--a resort/campground that caters to kayakers Old Quarry Ocean Adventures(207-367-8977) where you can camp in luxury(hot and cold running water w/toilets and showers, store etc--or where you can park your car and launch your boat to camp on any of the publicly owned islands in the area---have fun. Oh and BTW on a clear day you can see MDI(what you flatlanders refer to as "Acadia") from the waters around Stonington

I posted to your dupe question
in the other thread but as much as I like Stonington you have a stated goal of wildlife watching.

You are better off in areas of high mixing of currents. Muscongus Bay is great for its clear blue water but aside from the upper reaches where there is considerable mixing the bay proper wont give you the results you want.

Seek reefs only visible at low tide… and plan your timetable accordingly to be there when the tide starts to run in. Strawberry/Muscongus usually has seals visible from it on the incoming tide though they do not beach on it per se.

Thats why I love surf breaking beaches like Reid and Popham… The guy in the next kayak may not be a person. Seals love to surf too.

Stonington is decent again though the winds are offshore now…beware. We have had a persistent upper level low bringing strong breezes from the north…these will lull you into false security and only when you try to come back to land will the true magnitude of work dawn on you.

if youre worried about a north wind

– Last Updated: Sep-02-08 10:15 PM EST –

blowing you out to sea, you should probably avoid paddling in the mouth of the kennebec near Ried and Popham beaches, at least in a northerly wind on an ebb tide. I still think that stonington will give you what you want by way of wild life lots of Guillimettes and Gulls there, some seals and the occasional porpoise--The guy that owns Old Quarry, Bill Baker, saw a 30 foot basking shark there a couple of years ago. There are puffins south of Isle Au Haut---a colony near some ledges but if you don't want to go more than a mile from shore, you wouldn't want to paddle there--there is an excursion boat that takes people out to look at them

If you really want to see a lot of marine wildlife, one of the best places I've been for that on the mid coast is Castine---there are always porpoises hanging around Dice Head and in the middle of the entrance to Castine Harbor and if you go up the Bagaduce River from the harbor on the flood tide you will see plenty of seals near the narrows---in fact they tend to follow your boat---try not to get too close to them when they are hauled out on the ledges there as they tend to panic and slide into the water---the younger ones can be hurt this way---if you go far enough up the Bagaduce, you can have a burger at the Bagaduce Lunch. there is a kayak guiding service in Castine called Castine Kayak Adventures if you care to hire a guide---the number is 207-326-9045--It's run by a lady named Karen Francouer

The problem with both Stonington and Castine is that they are almost as far away as Bar Harbor---Castine is somewhat quicker to drive to but they are both off the beaten path---probably takes as long to drive to Stonington from Portland as it does to MDI---you might be better in the Boothbay Region or even in Casco Bay.

Muscongus Bay

– Last Updated: Sep-03-08 12:38 PM EST –

We've been paddling Muscongus Bay some part of every summer for years.

We've usually seen many seals, Guillimonts, Opsrey, Bald Eagles, Loons, Eiders, occasional Dolphins (porpoises?), Puffins at Eastern Egg Rock, etc...

I'm really shocked you didn't see wildlife, especially seals which we seem not to be able to avoid.

Where on Muscongus did you paddle?

The oddest bird I ever saw
was in Casco Bay…we did E. end to Jewell and a brown pelican flew not ten feet away from us.

BTW. Reid is protected as its on the se end of Georgetown Island and Popham is not.

The upper level low should leave soon. I am getting tired of 30 mph north winds every day

was on a camping trip on
Moosehead last week—first to days–5--10 knots nice SW winds–last day 10–15 knots winds(still nice) but gusting to 30—luckily I was headed downwind with only about 4 miles to go that morning—winds have diminished today

Maine Wildlife
If you want to be entertained by seals, something to put on your calendar for next year would be to come to Maine in mid June and paddle around the mouth of the Kennebec right off Ft. Popham. As I understand it there is a run of fish there that corresponds with the seal mating season resulting in a seal orgy. Whether or not this is the correct reason for the seal activity, there is a lot of seal activity there in mid June. If you want to stay in protected waters, don’t paddle out to sea from there; the waters off the mouth of the Kennebec are probably some of the trickiest waters on the Maine coast. You will be OK if you don’t go south of the beach at Ft. Popham. There are quite a few seal ledges around Cundys Harbor near the mouth of the New Meadows River

If you are interested in birdlife you can paddle in Scarborough Marsh, to the south of Portland or Merrymeeting Bay, to the north of Bath. There is a nice bird sanctuary on Damariscove south of Booth Bay, but access to the harbor there is on the south side of the island and ledges on the west side of the harbor mouth can generate some lively surf if there is a sea running. The best place to see puffins in mid-coast Maine is Eastern Egg Rock, but it is out in the middle of Muscongus Bay, nearly 5 nm from New Harbor on the west side of the bay and 3 nm from Allen Island on the east side of the bay. The puffins leave the island in mid-August.

I’ve seen harbor porpoises all along the Maine coast, but I’m not aware of any place where you can count on seeing them. Probably the places with the highest possibility of seeing them is in Penobscot Bay and up around Mt. Desert Island. Sighting great whales, minke being the most common, is a long shot anywhere, but the Mt. Desert area is probably the best spot.

Seals and puffins
As to puffins, they breed and then take off, by now they are probably long gone. The surest bet is probably Monhegan Island, like take the ferry over and walk around on the preserve, in early July. The nearest island to land you can go to that has puffins is Eastern Egg in Muscongous, which is a great paddle but a few person trip because it is 5-8 miles out, and the last reach after you’ve island-hopped all you can is an open 1.75 nautical miles.

Seals are easy in Muscongous on the ledges off of Jim’s and Cow at low tide as well as the ones off the southwest edge of Bremen LI, and I’d bet you have seen them but didn’t realize that’s what they were. At the distance you first can see them, they look like rocks. As you get close enough to be sure they are seals, they are in the water. Since the pups are up there in growth by now you can try getting closer to them, but what you can’t fix is that they will take off at the sight of a kayak. If you really want to get close, rent a really loud motor boat - we’ve seen guys tie up and walk along the ledge and the seals didn’t budge until he was practically stepping on them.

One interesting idea that’ll get you plenty of wildlife, and it’s a lot of bang for the distance, is Muscle Ridge at the southern edge of Penobscot Bay. One - it’s a mini-Stonington, a well-protected cluster of outer barrier and inner smaller islands and ledges with two landable MITA islands. The outside passage around Andrews is stunning - rock cliff shoreline.

The quickest launch is from Birch Point State Park, right on the beach, as well as the safest to get out. If you want more paddle, youi can go out from the town dock at South Thomaston, out the Wesqueag (sp?) River. You do have to be careful crossing the channel as boats are coming in and out of Rockland Harbor there, but the channel isn’t terribly wide there and the current you are dealing with this time of year isn’t usually real disruptive out.

At the end of the paddle you are easy distance to the City of Rockland for housing and food, or you can camp at the Lobster Pot Campgrounds right in that bay.

One caution about Muscle Ridge, even if there was a decent public launch point at the southern end (there isn’t), the passage over to the islands from Whitehead Island is dicey at the best of times. We’ve paddled around that on a day of very easy conditions and that point was a couple of steps up in conditions from everything around it. It’s also further to the shelter of the archipelago than from the state park.

Since the cat is now out of the bag

– Last Updated: Sep-03-08 2:21 PM EST –

Suggest you contact Ray Wirth in Belfast about Muscle Ridge since he does a few trips there and could give you advice or guide for that matter. Great person to paddle with. His website now features something about Muscle ridge.

It is everything Celia said and more. It and Great Wass are my favorite places along the coast of Maine. Might ask Ray about Great Wass too. Not sure of his schedule now that school is in session. This time of year I have seen essentially herds of seals there.

Muscle Ridge
Thanks, eel, for mentioning me & Water Walker.

I was going to suggest Muscle Ridge as well, but I also noticed the original poster mentioned “not more than a mile from shore” which seemed to indicate a cautious paddler not yet ready to venture out to the “Ridge” alone.

Muscle Ridge is a very special place to paddle though. A lot more wildlife (seals, osprey, eagles, ducks, porpoises) there than Stonington. (But let’s just keep that between friends):wink:

Hit me up, y’all, if you want to paddle there. I am back to my teaching job, but I’m always looking for a good excuse to go back out on Muscle Ridge.

Lots to see without driving far.

You can finds seals, osprey, eagles, porpoise, and such in many spots just north and east of Portland without having to drive all the way to places like Stonington just to get there and find several hundred people crowded on to 50 small islands. Stonington can be a disappointment if you are looking for wildlife and find only humans. Stonington has never disappointed me but I would not recommend it as a destination for wildlife viewing.

If you put in at the beach at Sandy Point on Cousins Island, just across the bridge from the mainland, you could paddle around Cousins, past Little John, over to Great Chebeague where you can follow the eastern side for like a mile or so where you can bang a left and head out to a small ledge (not sure of the name of the ledge but the area is listed as the Goose Nest on the Delorme Atlas) that usually has 50-100 seals on it at low tide. You chances of encountering large numbers of seals goes up dramatically if the wind is coming from the east and there is significant swell. Seals need a place to rest and when the outer reaches of the islands are getting pounded the seals gravitate to easier places to pull out. The ledge off to the east of Great Chebeague is one of those few places. It seems like every seal near Broad Sound will visit that ledge at low tide in stormy weather. On my version of Google Earth, the ledge has over 100 seals on it in the zoomed aerial photo.

Another great seal watching spot is Gunpoint Cove to the east of Orrs Island. You can put in at the bridge

on Route 24, just as it crosses over to Orrs, and paddle out into Gun Point Cove approx. 3/4 of a mile where you will find a seal covered ledge. Again the numbers of seals in the area goes way up when the waves are pounding and the tide is out.

Popham and Reid are excellent locations to find seals at any tide height. Right in front of Fort Popham you can always find seals swimming. They are curious and will follow you. Do not be surprised when it seems like something is breathing down the back of your neck. The entire stretch of the Kennebec from Bath to Fort Popham is loaded with wildlife. There are large numbers of nesting osprey, eagles, and other birds feasting on the fish where the fresh water meets the salt.

The ledges between Dix and Hewett Islands of Mussel Ridge are teaming with seals. The crossing between islands is little more than a mile (leaving Ash Point) at best expect to find moving water so be careful to choose you weather wisely. Opposing wind and tide can make these crossings kind of scary if you are not use to having water crashing over your bow. Well worth the trip though. Just be prepared for bumpy water no matter the forecast.

All those spots (except the Mussel Ridge Islands) are within a mile of other land or islands and are easy to get to.

It is especially important that of you travel to places where seals congregate to rest that you do not approach them within 1000 feet. That may seem pretty far but seals are pretty sensitive to intrusion. Any closer than that and you will disturb the seals causing them to give up their resting spot for the safety of the water. If you are approaching seals and they raise their heads to inspect you you are too close. If you are absolutely quiet and still you can get much closer but chances are you will flush every single seal from it’s resting spot before you leave. I hate it when that happens. Funny how a motorboat can whip by at 30 knots just 50 yards away and not disturb them but a single paddler 300 yards away freaks them out. Even at 1000 feet away from the ledges the waters will have seals swimming about and you will have company in the water around you. Not much need to be close enough to flush them all. Best to bring binocs and view from just outside a reasonable distance.

Hope that helps a little.

Interesting. Back in the 60s, I rowed
and sculled for 5 years on the Charles River Basin, and never saw a seal. They would have to come up through two dams, and some locks, under present conditions.

Of course, the river was filthy in the 60s, and any seal with an ounce of sense would not come upstream from the harbor.

North of Portland South of Bar Harbor
There are some nice places to paddle from Freeport Harbor/Harraseeket River…or from nearby Wolfe’s Neck State Park. I would be very careful around Popham and Reed State Parks because of very strong currents related to the Kennebec River (unless you start out at Fort Popham and go up river towards Bath). Stonington and Deer Isle/Blue Hill very nice.

Just south of Portland, there is a large tidal marsh which is very nice (except there is no water at low tide)…you can see deer, bald eagles…Scarborough Marsh…There are some really nice islands not too far off the coast of Portland.

Since Maine is so far east, the sun sets here earlier than other places in this time zone, so watch out for that if you’re out in the early evening.

Stay away!
There really is no decent paddling between Portland and Bar Harbor. I recommend you stay away and tell all your friends to do likewise. Instead, check out your local ponds for some really great venues.


Tamsin Venn’s book …
Is it “Sea Kayaking Along the New England Coast”? If so, you can buy it through the Appalachian Mountain Club:

$18.95 + shipping.

another good book for Maine
is Paddling the Maine Coast by Dorcas Miller—also 40 Paddling Trips on the Maine Coast by Shelly Johnson

Similar thread back in April
There was a similar thread back in April providing information on paddling on the Maine coast.

Several people made good suggestions and I put a few links to Maine paddling resources that may be helpful in my posts on that thread.

that’s the ticket, nothing good there
Yeah, that’s it, that’s the ticket - there is NO good paddling on the coast of Maine.

Why do you think Steve Maynard moved to Plattsburgh?

Heck even MIKCo (MAINE Island Kayak) schedules its sea kayak symposium off Rhode Island!