Maine’s coastal beaches provide myriad opportunities for winter walking. In sharp contrast to the crowds of people basking in the summer heat, our beaches at this time of year are pretty much empty — perfect for a contemplative walk amid the rhythmic sounds of the waves breaking onshore and the invigorating smells of salty sea air.

Most beaches are easily accessible, and no special gear is needed. Just pull on your boots, throw some extra clothing, snacks and water into your daypack and go! No ice creepers, snowshoes or skis required. Oh, and don’t forget the camera and binoculars.

”Beach walking in winter is a much different experience than summer,” said Gary Best, assistant regional manager for Maine State Parks, Southern Region. ”You’ll pretty much have the beach to yourself and enjoy expansive views of sand and sea. It’s a special time.”

Seals may be seen offshore, as well as sea ducks and a variety of gulls. At your feet, pebbles, shells, seaweed and driftwood are cause for frequent pauses, as is the occasional stormed-tossed lobster trap and other interesting man-made debris that washes ashore.

”I never tire of the surf, the salt spray and the 180-degree views,” said Best, who spends a lot of time out there at the water’s edge. ”It’s a meditational place, a stress-free zone.”

Beach hikers need to be prepared for cold and windy weather. Dressing in layers and wearing good shoes are recommended. Canine friends are welcome, provided they are kept on a leash and you clean up after them.

Most state beaches are closed to auto traffic in winter, so hikers must park outside the gates, being careful to leave room for emergency vehicles.

The DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer — the intrepid explorer’s best friend — describes 42 sand beaches along the Maine coast, from Roque Bluffs to York. Here is a selection of winter hiking favorites:

REID STATE PARK, GEORGETOWN

At Mile Beach enjoy the big surf as you walk the gravelly surface between two rocky promontories. Half Mile Beach is sandy and flat and leads to the Little River. Enjoy the views east to the Cuckolds Light and Damariscove Island.

POPHAM BEACH STATE PARK, PHIPPSBURG

Walkers will want to time their visit for low tide because of serious natural erosion that now leaves precious little beach area at high tide. Take in a mile of striding to the Morse River while Seguin Island Light beckons offshore. Cross the river’s outlet and continue on for another mile down Seawall Beach, part of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area (www.bates.edu). Head inland a short distance and climb the bump of Morse Mountain for a beautiful panorama.

CRESCENT BEACH STATE PARK, CAPE ELIZABETH

The easiest access is from Kettle Cove. Walk west along the arching beach for most of a mile with views of Richmond Island across Seal Cove. Nearby Cape Elizabeth Light at Two Lights State Park is worth a side trip.

SCARBOROUGH BEACH STATE PARK, SCARBOROUGH

It’s a half-mile walk on a causeway through the freshwater marsh known as Massacre Pond to the beach, where you’ll find more than a mile of pleasant strolling in the sand. Richmond Island is off to your left, Prouts Neck to the right.

For complete state park information, go to www.parksandlands.com.

PINE POINT, SCARBOROUGH TO OLD ORCHARD BEACH

For a short jaunt, hike east from the beachhead for a mile to the mouth of the Scarborough River and Scarborough Marsh. For a longer walk, head west over Grand and Surfside beaches to the famous pier at Old Orchard Beach, about three miles. The main street is mostly boarded up for the winter season, but Lisa’s Pizza is open if you’ve got a hankering for traditional beach pizza, french fries with vinegar and fried dough. Walk it off for another mile to Ocean Park, if you so desire. At low tide, you can cross Goosefare Brook here and continue on to Ferry Beach. For more information, go to www.scarborough.me.us and www.oobmaine.com.

LAUDHOLM BEACH, WELLS

The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm is a 2,250-acre preserve of amazing ecological diversity. From the visitor center, follow the Barrier Beach Trail through fields, orchards and woods to Laudholm Beach. Explore north to the Little River estuary, and south along Drakes Island Beach. Seven additional miles of trails are enough to keep hikers busy for many hours. For more information, go to www.wellsreserve.org.