With May in our rear-view mirror, we’re on the verge of entering summer in Maine. As temperatures edge into the 80s on some days and frigid sea waters warm, it’s prime season to visit Maine’s many beaches.

In Portland, we’re lucky enough to have the city’s East End Beach, as well as miles of spectacular sand beaches just across the Casco Bay Bridge. In South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, it’s a Goldilocks spot between the rocky Down East coast and the commercial blight of some southern Maine and New Hampshire beaches.

Though all the beaches in the Portland area are accessible by car, many intrepid Portlanders have discovered how easy it is to reach them via bicycle. Willard Beach, Crescent Beach, Kettle Cove and Higgins Beach are all a short ride from the city. It’s a lovely way to hit the beach; the roads are well-maintained, an ocean breeze keeps riders cool, and bikes negate the parking headaches that mount during the summer.

This week, I’m taking a look at how to get to the beaches, and what you’ll find when you get there.

Distances are approximate from the Ocean Gateway ferry terminal. A number of parking lots and garages surround the terminal, so people who aren’t native to Portland can easily find a place to switch from car to bike. It’s a straight shot up Commercial Street from the terminal to the Casco Bay Bridge, the main thoroughfare for bikers and motorists traveling to the beaches.

WILLARD BEACH

At just under 4 miles from downtown Portland, Willard Beach is the closest sand beach to the city. After crossing the Casco Bay Bridge, cyclists take a left onto the Greenbelt Trail and follow the smooth, paved path to Bug Light and the Southern Maine Community College campus. A right turn onto Breakwater Drive completes the trip to the beach.

The 4-acre beach, situated between SMCC and Fisherman’s Point, is one of the most popular in South Portland. During the summer season, restrooms, a snack bar and a bathhouse and showers are available. A short trip north along the shore takes visitors to Bug Light Park, with views of both the lighthouse and the city of Portland. Parking is free for cyclists or motorists.

CRESCENT BEACH STATE PARK AND KETTLE COVE

Located on Seal Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Crescent Beach State Park is a 7.5-mile ride from Portland proper. After crossing the Casco Bay Bridge, a right turn onto Route 77 (Ocean Street) gives cyclists a direct path to the beaches. Five miles from the bridge, the road splits — a left turn onto Ocean House Road leads to Kettle Cove, while continuing on Route 77 brings visitors to Crescent Beach.

Crescent Beach is an oddity in Maine, at least north of Old Orchard — a mile-long flat, sandy beach with light surf and sun-warmed water. Like Willard Beach, the park offers bathhouses, restrooms and a snack bar, along with grills and picnic tables. Entrance to the state park is $4.50 for Maine residents and $6.50 for nonresidents.

Kettle Cove tends to offer a slightly less crowded beach experience, with most of the car and foot traffic funneled to Crescent. Easy hiking trails connect Kettle to Maxwell and John Coves. The parking lot at Kettle fills up much more quickly than Crescent, but cyclists don’t have to worry about finding a place to park.

For cyclists making a loop of the beaches, it’s six miles from Willard Beach to the state park. Simply follow the scenic Shore Road past Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light, connecting back to Route 77 after a few miles.

HIGGINS BEACH

The farthest beach from downtown Portland on this tour, Higgins Beach is about 9 miles from the city. After crossing the Casco Bay Bridge, turn right onto Route 77 (Ocean Street) for just over a mile. A right turn onto Spurwink Avenue takes cyclists the remaining five miles to Ocean Avenue, the street that connects to Higgins Beach.

Scarborough’s Higgins Beach is quaint compared to the other area beaches, with no facilities available for visitors. It’s a beautiful half-mile sand beach, and the historic homes and seaside cottages that abut the sand make for a scenic backdrop. Of note on the beach are the remains of the Howard W. Middleton, a three-masted schooner that wrecked in the late 1800s. Not much of the ship remains, but the ribs of the hull still stick out like ancient fossils.

Motorists must pay to park in the Higgins Beach lot, but cyclists can park for free.

For cyclists making a beach loop, it’s 4 miles from Crescent Beach to Ocean Avenue. The path is an easy one — simply stay on Route 77 until you see Ocean on your left. A 9-mile trip back to Portland makes the loop of the four beaches a 24-mile round trip.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

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