Saturday, May 25, 2013
When I consider the name of this weekly column, one of the first places that comes to mind is Port Clyde. Situated on the southernmost tip of the St. George Peninsula, the scenic midcoast community is a haven for bikers, beachgoers and kayakers.
Short of a chartered boat or ferry, the only way to reach Port Clyde is to take Route 131 south from Thomaston. It's a winding and narrow road, but one that's been well-maintained over the years. With ample parking available in Thomaston, the best way to experience the trip down the peninsula is by bicycle.
The first bit of the ride is a bit discouraging -- an unrelenting, nearly mile-long climb from downtown Thomaston that passes the regal General Henry Knox Museum. Once you crest the hill, however, the 14 miles to Port Clyde are mostly flat.
The route takes cyclists through St. George and Tenants Harbor, seaside communities bursting with New England charm. Route 131 rarely leaves sight of the water, and Cutler, Watts and Seavey Coves provide natural air conditioning on even the hottest days.
In Port Clyde, the biggest tourist attraction is undoubtedly the Marshall Point Light Station. Constructed in 1832 to mark the entrance to Port Clyde Harbor, the granite and brick lighthouse is among the oldest in the state. It's also one of the most photographed lighthouses in New England, in no small part due to the unique wooden bridge connecting the light to the shore. The spot is a favorite of storytellers as well, most famously acting as the eastern terminus of Tom Hanks' cross-country run in "Forrest Gump."
The grounds of the lighthouse are open daily from dawn until dusk. The building, originally the keeper's quarters, now houses a gift shop and a museum. Both are open daily during the summer. The grounds are a one-mile walk from downtown Port Clyde, but there is plenty of parking at the lighthouse for those who would rather drive.
Just north of the lighthouse on Drift Inn Road, the Drift-In Beach is a secret haven for midcoast beach dwellers. It's a small beach, only about a quarter-mile long, but it's one of the few sand beaches north of Old Orchard. The gentle slope of the sand means that, at low tide, acres of beach seem to spread in front of you. The combination of sand and shallows also means that the high sun of summer warms the water significantly. A jump in the ocean at Drift-In is a bit less shocking than in other places.
There is a small parking lot next to the beach but it fills up quickly during the summer. Not a problem if you rode your bike to Port Clyde, but drivers may be stuck parking on the side of the road and hoofing their way back to the beach.
From the calm waters of Port Clyde Harbor, sea kayakers can explore the coves and islands of the Maine coast. This stretch of the coastline is thick with wildlife, and it's not uncommon to spot seals, porpoises, osprey and eagles. A local outfitter, Port Clyde Kayaks, offers guided tours and instruction for those uninterested in striking out on their own.
If paddle power doesn't interest you, the Monhegan Boat Line in Port Clyde offers ferry service to Monhegan Island. The trip to the island makes for a wonderful single or multiple-day excursion, especially for hikers. While hiking trails are few and far between around Port Clyde, Monhegan has more than 17 miles of trails along cliff, shore and forest.
The Port Clyde area is nationally known as a haven for artists and photographers, and with good reason. The town, the lighthouse, and the surrounding coves and islands are among the most scenic in a state with no shortage of breathtaking scenery. Hiking, biking and kayaking around the area puts you right in the thick of things, closer than armchair visitors could dream to be.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org