Swan Island offers one of the most beautiful early-season paddling/hiking outings in southern Maine. Easy access onto the Kennebec River from the downtown Richmond boat launch provides a half-mile paddle across to the boat landing on the northwestern end of the island. From there, a vast network of woods roads and trails lead through forest and meadows to the southern end of the island. Deer, coyote and fox are often seen early and late in the day, as well as wild turkeys and a wide variety of songbirds and ducks.

The 1,755-acre island is managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area. If you plan to explore the interior of the island, fee boxes ($8 per adult) are located at the boat landing at the northwestern end of the island and at the camping area on the eastern side of the island just below Little Swan Island. Ten Adirondack style lean-tos surround a beautiful meadow. Preregistration is required to stay overnight. Island guests over the years have included Captain John Smith, Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr.

In 1847, the town of Perkins was incorporated on the island. Nearly 100 residents lived here into the early 1900s. The Great Depression saw a collapse of all island economies, and by 1940 most islanders had left. Six historic homes remain on the northern half of the island in various conditions. The Dumaresq colonial saltbox dates back to 1763.

If you are already in mid-season paddling form and experienced in river travel, circumnavigate the four-mile-long island and enjoy it all from the water and the land. You will see many bald eagles perched in the treetops and soaring high above the island. On our recent visit, we saw many common mergansers feeding along the shoreline. Flocks of black ducks erupted in unison.

Plan your outing around the time of high tide. At low water, extensive mudflats are exposed, especially around the southern end of the island. We paddled at low water and had to paddle a half-mile south of the island to gain enough water to head up along the eastern side of the island. Keep in mind that high tide at Richmond is 2 1/2 hours later than high tide in Casco Bay. A nine-mile circumnavigation will take four to five hours, including stops to rest and explore.

Shipyard Point, a mile north of the southern tip, is a great spot for a rest stop. Open meadows stretch into the wooded interior of the island. To the east, an odd line of rocks dotted with small trees stretches down the center of the river from Green Point in Dresden. This portion of the Kennebec is called Middle Ground for obvious reasons.


The next meadow is the lean-to area. This peaceful open hillside is the perfect spot to soak up the sunshine, picnic and go for a short hike. A couple of half-mile loop trails lead around a man-made pond and through groves of enormous eastern white cedar and white pine.

Have we mentioned the doughnuts yet? Every outing needs high-energy fuel. Annabella’s Cafe on Front Street opposite the boat launch provides lots of homemade choices. The daily tray of sticky buns is hard to pass up, but we settled in on the giant buttermilk doughnuts dusted with a light layer of powdered sugar. The locals refer to them as all-day doughnuts and they are right. One doughnut got us four miles down the river, and doughnut No. 2 at Shipyard Point got us home.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. Contact him at: [email protected]


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