While we wait for our inland waterways to shed the last of their winter ice, there are many outstanding April canoeing options available near the coast.

We recently enjoyed a four-hour, 10-mile round trip paddle on the Kennebunk River from the Old Grist Mill site near Dock Square in Kennebunkport upriver to the impressive Boston & Maine Railroad trestle. While there are homes along the river, there are also many serene wilderness sections to meander through. Chances are good you will have your “first of” 2021 sighting. We saw our first blue heron and first turkey vulture of the year, but will leave the first osprey sighting to you. Around every bend, flocks of geese and mallards announced our arrival with loud honking and quacking.

Mallards were seen and heard around every turn while paddling the Kennebunk River. Christine Wolfe photo

The river is tidal and best enjoyed within the time frame of two hours before high tide and two hours after. You can ride the tidal flow up and back if you time it just right, and paddling at low tide will be a muddy experience and best avoided. The Grist Mill site on Mill Lane is the only canoe launch site available in town.  Kennebunkport Conservation Trust owns the property and asks paddlers not park here while on their outing, but instead park on nearby streets where parking is allowed. This is a wonderful spot to hang out both before and after your paddle, enjoying the emergence of spring and relaxing in a peaceful setting. The greening grass, old apple trees, and the weathered red boathouse all lend a soothing timelessness to the day.

As you paddle north you will pass by the manicured slopes of the Cape Arundel Golf Club on your right. The quaint green clubhouse overlooking the river is named “41 House” after George H.W. Bush. While playing here with President Bush in 2006, Phil Mickelson set the course record of 60. Drifting along the shoreline we found an errant golf ball in the brush at water’s edge near the course where Babe Ruth once played. Canoeing for golf balls was yet another first-time experience.

If you don’t want to make the full trip, at least get to the out-of-place cliff face at a 90-degree turn in the Kennebunk River. Christine Wolfe photo

You soon come to a fork in the river. Follow it left and you will come to a 90-degree bend in the river. On the left sits a striking rock cliff plunging down into the river. From upriver the vertical brown rock at water’s edge looks like the head of the Old Man of the Mountain. If you decide not to paddle all the way up the river to the trestle, try to make it this far. The cliff seems totally out of place from the gentle oak, pine, and reed-lined shoreline of the rest of the river.

Eventually you notice that despite the incoming tide the river current is now against you. You are nearing the trestle, and the end of the navigable portion of the river. The trestle is an engineering marvel. We landed and spent 20 minutes munching our sandwiches and admiring the construction of the trestle. A freight train rumbled over the trestle heading south. The gray granite blocks came from a local quarry that also provided granite for President Grant’s tomb and the state capitol in Albany, New York.

The Boston & Maine Railroad trestle, at the turnaround point of the up-and-back trip while paddling the Kennebunk River, is an impressive structure. Christine Wolfe photo

While in Kennebunkport, be sure to take time to walk around Dock Square and over the bridge spanning the river. Interpretive signs on the bridge highlight the wooden boat building industry of the 1800s when six boatyards churned out massive schooners year after year. South Church, built in 1824, is a must see. The imposing steeple clock features an unusual wooden face.

We decided to follow Route 9 north on the way home to gain another seasonal first, a beach walk. Goose Rocks Beach is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Maine. The tumbling surf, shards of beached white foam pulsating in the wind, brilliant blue of sky and sea were a nice end to our outing.

Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 3) for help in getting to Mill Lane. No matter where you paddle in April, the water is cold and debilitating. Paddlers should be experienced.

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: [email protected]


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