Most of the time, my articles highlighting spots worth visiting in Maine are met with an appreciative chorus. Land trusts, resorts and parks love the publicity, and outdoorsmen like a new destination or a different look at a favorite spot. But there’s a common group of grumbling outliers, those who bemoan my disclosure of their so-called secret spot.
When I let a few friends know the topic of this column, they joined the dissenters. But I will press on. Let me tell you about my favorite secret in Maine’s midcoast: Seawall Beach.
Tucked away on the end of the Phippsburg Peninsula, Seawall Beach and tiny Morse Mountain sit on the Atlantic between the Morse and Sprague River outlets.
The whole 600-acre endeavor is owned by the Bates–Morse Mountain Conservation Area Corporation, an amalgam of Bates College, which manages the property for research; original conservers the St. John family; and other members of the public. The beach is owned by the Small Point Association, another local interest that aims to preserve the beach.
Parking is about 15 minutes south of Bath, following Route 209 from downtown to Phippsburg, past popular Popham Beach, then Route 216 to Morse Mountain Road. A few hundred feet down the road, there’s a parking lot for the conservation area on the left.
It’s worth noting there’s an entry booth and gatekeeper at the lot and it gets closed once full. While it does keep the beach from getting crowded – there’s that feel of it being a secret spot again) – it means you’d do well to get to the beach early to secure a spot. There’s no parking on the sides of Morse Mountain Road or Route 216, so once the lot is full you’re out of luck until someone departs.
From the parking lot, the two-mile trek to the beach climbs 177 feet to the summit of Morse Mountain before descending to Seawall Beach. The trail, a service road used by the conservation area’s stewards, is wide and paved or hard-packed with gravel and is easy to hike. The summit’s low elevation still affords great views, particularly of the huge marshes that abut the beach. On a clear day you can even spot Mount Washington and the other White mountains to the west.
Beyond arriving early, my biggest suggestions are to bring lots of bug spray and plenty of food and water.
The bug spray is needed because mosquitoes, horseflies and other insects are particularly vicious in the area and stick with hikers from the parking lot to the protecting breeze of the beach. Water is needed because of the bare-bones availability of creature comforts in the Bates–Morse Mountain Conservation Area. Basically, there are none.
While the beach is privately owned, it’s kept open to the public but with restrictions. Dogs and bicycles are forbidden, as are camping, fires, and common beach items such as balls, umbrellas and Frisbees.
The beach also lacks public facilities such as tables and toilets. While some would scoff at these absences, I think they just add to the charm of Seawall Beach and Morse Mountain. After all, there are plenty of local beaches, such as Head Beach, Popham, and the mile beach at Reid State Park that provide that kind of experience.
Give me a beautiful, bare-bone stretch of land over those conveniences any day.
And while I wouldn’t advocate it, it’s even possible to wade through the Morse from Seawall to Popham if you’re in dire need of facilities. Just don’t do it in mid-tide when the flow of the river can be treacherous.
For those who are looking to make a visit to Morse and Seawall into a multiday trip, MorseRiver.com and MorseFarmsRentals.com offer house and cabin rentals, some within the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area. In the high season, the prices vary wildly, from $600 a week for a humble A-frame to $5,200 a week for the spectacular Neph, an elegant waterfront home that sleeps 10.
Nearby campgrounds Ocean View Park and the Hermit Island Campground offer more rustic options.
One of the joys of hiking – or doing anything outdoors, really – in Maine is the ability to get away from other people. Even in the summer, at the height of the tourist season, an early start or remote destination can make society disappear for a few hours.
I’ve found that with the right timing and a little luck, you can find privacy even at Acadia National Park.
As such, I’m not worried about giving away the secret of Morse Mountain and Seawall Beach, even though some will gripe that I’ve given them the spotlight.
One of my favorite things about Maine’s outdoor attractions is that they can be – and are meant to be – shared.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at: