Set up chairs on the sandy Kettle Cove beach – or on a grassy strip that juts out and almost curls around the southern side of the cove. Photo by Amy Paradysz

Sister state parks Crescent Beach and Kettle Cove are 20 minutes south of Portland, off Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth, and they both have protected coves, sandy shoreline, walking trails, green space and basic facilities.

Crescent Beach charges $6 per adult Maine resident. Not too bad. But, for a quick end-of-summer dip and stroll, its little sister, Kettle Cove State Park, is even less. The suggested donation on the honor box at the trail head is $3. End-of-summer dips do tend to be short in-and-out affairs; might as well get a bargain.

Walking trails connect to rocky tidal pools and beaches for swimming. Photo by Amy Paradysz

What Kettle Cove lacks in size, it makes up for in rocky coastal beauty. Nearby, there’s a boat launch used by area lobstermen, providing plenty to watch on the water. A patch of green space on the rocky arm of the cove is an ideal spot for a sand-free picnic or watching the sunset. Overflowing with coastal vegetation, walking trails on the property are a mix of sunny and shaded, connecting visitors to rocky tidal pools for exploration and two swimming beaches. (Dogs are welcome on the trails, though not on the beaches until October.)

The first bit of trail takes you to Kettle Cove, a sandy inlet small enough to keep eyes on multiple children. Of course, the water is also little warmer and the waves quite a bit smaller in a cove, especially a small one. However, seaweed tends to accumulate, making swimming best at high tide.

Follow the trail a bit farther from the parking lot to a second more secluded cove (sturdy shoes are helpful in scrambling over a rocky bit). This rocky beach, called John Cove, is perfect for skipping rocks or building little cairns. But you can certainly swim here too.

Back toward the parking lot, restrooms are tucked a bit into the woods. But bring a little bag to take out whatever trash you bring into the park.

To get to Kettle Cove State Park, take Route 77 into Cape Elizabeth, then turn onto Kettle Cove Road (on your left, if coming from Portland). This little gem of a park is less likely to fill up after Labor Day. But, if there are no more parking spaces, simply get back onto Route 77 and go a half mile south (toward Scarborough) to Crescent Beach State Park. You’ll spend a few bucks more for a bigger beach and a larger network of trails.

On the way to Kettle Cove, you’ll pass Kettle Cove Creamery & Shack (2 Bowery Beach Road, just off Route 77), offering dozens of ice cream flavors as well as hard-serve frozen yogurt, soft serve, sorbet and sundaes, as well as fried clams, lobster rolls, burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers and fries.

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