Ferry Beach State Park in Saco is a 117-acre gem in Maine’s state park system that features a nice stretch of oceanfront beach, a pleasant network of foot trails and some interesting history.

Long before the advent of roads, a ferry crossing connecting Hills Beach and Camp Ellis at the mouth of the Saco River served early travelers along the beach from as far away as Boston, thus giving Ferry Beach its name.

By combining the park’s trails plus a walk along Ferry Beach with three trails of the Saco Bay Trails system and two short sections of paved road, hikers can enjoy a scenic and ecologically diverse four-mile loop hike known as the Saco Beach Loop.

The hike is the brainchild of John Andrews of Biddeford, a tireless trails advocate, the driving force behind the Eastern Trail from Kittery to South Portland and founder of Saco Bay Trails. “I like to explore,” said Andrews. “I’ve always been interested in seeing where things went.”

This innate curiosity led Andrews to start wandering around the Ferry Beach area, fun journeys of discovery that resulted in the linking of existing foot trails via several street and road connections.

The Saco Beach Loop was formalized into an official hike about 10 years ago.

Ferry Beach State Park is open from April 1 through Oct. 31; that’s when you can start the loop hike from the beach parking lot in the park’s interior. Outside of that period, hikers must begin from the gate at the park entrance on Bayview Road.

By combining the Red Oak, Tupelo, Greenbriar and White Oak trails on your trek through the park, you’ll enjoy easy walking through a mixed forest while visiting a tupelo swamp and a freshwater tarn named Long Pond.

Rare at this latitude, the medium-sized tupelo or black gum trees are easily identified by their light brown, deeply fissured bark and short horizontal branches. The fruit of the tupelo is an important food source for migrating birds and the heavy, hard, cross-grained wood once made it a popular material for making wooden implements.

Beyond Seaside Avenue (Route 9) and a grove of gnarled pitch pines, the loop hike turns north on Ferry Beach. The beach is part of a seven-mile arc of sand extending from the Saco River at Camp Ellis to Old Orchard Beach and on to Pine Point Beach at the mouth of the Scarborough River.

The vista from Ferry Beach – the longest continuous stretch of beach in Maine – ranges over the entirety of Saco Bay, from Fletcher Neck in Biddeford Pool north to Prouts Neck in Scarborough, and includes the Old Orchard Beach Pier, an iconic coastal fixture since 1938.

Just shy of Goosefare Brook, bear left off the beach into the Oceanside Drive neighborhood. Wend through the cluster of homes and cottages, then venture out to Route 9. A short distance south, leave the road and take the Atlantic Way, Plymouth Trail and Vines Trail through a unit of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (here a mixture of salt marsh and woods) back to the park gate.

Given the beauty and accessibility of such a hike, it is essential to note the contributions of the indomitable John Andrews, a native of Massachusetts.

“In Massachusetts where I lived there were trails everywhere,” noted Andrews, who moved to Maine in the late 1980s. In southern Maine I realized there were not the same hiking opportunities.”

So Andrews got himself appointed to the Saco Conservation Commission to help develop a local trail network, ultimately founding the nonprofit Saco Bay Trails organization in the early 1990s. Today the group maintains a system of more than 20 miles of hiking on 25 trails in Saco, Biddeford and Ocean Park. More information and trail maps are available at www.sacobaytrails.org.

Carey Kish of Southwest Harbor is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at: