An annual rite for spring for us is to pack the kayaks on the roof, the bikes on the back, and head down Route 1 to spend a delightful early-season day in one of our favorite parts of Maine: Gouldsboro, the Schoodic peninsula, and Corea.
There, in one day, we can celebrate the arrival of a new summer season and loosen up atrophied paddling muscles, as well as our biking and hiking legs. In an uncrowded and idyllic environment where we’re reminded how privileged (and just plain smart) we are to have chosen to spend our lives in Maine.
Getting there is half the fun … and I hasten to add if all you want to do this early in the season is stay in the car, or on the motorcycle and drink in the beauty of the coast, that can make for a pretty special day as well.
Driving east out of Ellsworth keep your eye out for Route 185 departing on the right in West Gouldsboro and head down to Winter Harbor. Proceed to the entrance to the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park and stop where the one-way loop begins at the Thompson’s Point parking lot.
Your exercise can begin there, should you have brought your bike, as you pedal toward Birch Harbor on what, at this time of year, can feel almost like your private bike-way with only the occasional car passing on the 15 mph loop. Be sure to stop for the surf out on the point before remounting and continuing to Birch Harbor, only about a mile after the one-way road becomes two- way when you pass the park boundary. Then it’s back along 185, which has been widened in recent years to allow plenty of room for bikes, to your starting point back in the park.
Next it’s a short drive to Prospect Harbor, where you’ll turn right to proceed to virtually undiscovered Corea. I’ve often said if you were to Google “Maine fishing village” and what appeared was a picture of Corea, the image would be authentic and accurate. The perfectly protected little harbor, with fishing boats turned into the tide on their moorings and docks stacked with pots and strings of colorful buoys accenting the panorama, is vintage Maine.
Added to that are the colorful characters slapping bottom paint on the hulls of their pulled-out boats, looking like what you’d get if you sent an order to central casting for lobstermen, and exchanging joking banter unique to hardy Down East folk.
If you’re into paddling, the harbor is a perfect place to loosen up your winter joints and just laze around for a couple of hours, weaving in and out of the docks and boats. If you’re adventurous,and the weather cooperates, you might even slide around Young’s Point to Sand and Long Mill coves up Gouldsboro Bay to the east.
But if you’re not into paddling and just want to piddle around, you can soak up the atmosphere, and explore the nooks and crannies of the tiny seaside community on foot. No McDonald’s or Starbucks, just the coast of Maine at its uncluttered best.
Although there are no designated launch sites, the road that skirts the harbor out to Crowley Island has wide spots where you can park and carry your kayak to the water, and there are plenty of fishing wharves where you can probably get the owners’ permission to launch. They’re a friendly bunch, not averse to outsiders disturbing tranquility.
To complete your recreational trifecta, if you’re up to it, and after you’ve energized yourself with the lunch you were sensible enough to bring along (slim pickings as far as buying something out there), head back toward Prospect Harbor. Keep your eye out on your left for the well-marked Corea Heath Division of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge system. It’s one of the four mainland properties of the Refuge in Hancock and Washington counties, and it has only recently been opened to the public.
Corea Heath comprises 431 acres of raised coastal peatland. The trails that have been cut on a relatively flat piece of terrain make for a delightful walk on which you’ll be assured of seeing plenty of local birds and wildlife in a nearly undisturbed environment.
Next, the piece de resistance for nature lovers is the Corea Heath Preserve, less than a mile further along the road toward Prospect Harbor. This is also a recently opened treasure thanks to the work of the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, a private, accredited, not-for-profit land trust located in Hancock. In its scant two decades in existence, the trust has preserved, through easements or ownership, over 6,300 acres of special pieces of land in the Frenchman Bay and Union River watersheds.
Comprising some 600 acres, the Preserve features a wooded trail about a mile and a quarter long that overlooks bogs and beaver dams and lodges.
Head west toward the setting sun and home after your day of biking, kayaking and hiking, or any one of those diversions … or none at all. Just experiencing this part of Maine is well worth the trip.
John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son Josh write in Outdoors about places to enjoy the beauty that only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at: