Mainers are spoiled with over 2,000 islands, 3,500 miles of coastline and 6,000 lakes and ponds to explore. While there are many options to choose from, one of the best and most accessible ways to get a taste of it all is by kayaking.

Whether you want to go on a multi-day island hopping adventure on the sea or take a sunset tour of Sebago Lake, kayaking is your ticket to some of the best natural sights and sounds the state has to offer.

But what form of kayaking is best suited for you, and why should you give it a try this summer?

“We have one of the best environments for sea kayaking in the world,” said Zack Anchors, owner of Portland Paddle, which operates off East End Beach in Portland and Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth. “We have so many islands to explore and a lot of the most beautiful places on the coast of Maine are really difficult to get to unless you have a small boat, like a kayak.”

The ocean provides “a more dynamic environment” for kayakers than lakes or rivers, but “you’ve got a lot more to be aware of and to be cautious about,” he said.

Kayaking on the ocean provides a “dynamic environment” for the sport, said Zack Anchors of Portland Paddle.

“It’s a sport that takes time to learn,” Anchors said. “It’s really accessible to everyone if you take the time to learn the right skills and get the right equipment.”


Portland Paddle offers kayak lessons, rentals, half- and-full-day tours as well as multi-day excursions where participants camp on some of the southern coast’s many islands.

Throughout his years on the water, two memories stick out to Anchors most, he said, and they capture the full spectrum of the ocean experience.

One, from one of the multi-day trips, included blinding fog that lasted two days.

“In those situations, we have to use a compass and charts to navigate,” he said. “We just heard so many noises of different animals around … then, after two days of not being able to see anything, the fog just opened up and all of a sudden you get to see the open ocean, all these beautiful islands, and you get to see all the animals you’ve been hearing. I just love those trips where you get the full range of what the coastline offers.”

On Portland Paddle’s multi-day tours, participants can visit some of Maine’s many coastal islands, such as Jewell Island. Contributed / Portland Paddle

But the half-day tours come with their own pleasures.

“I did a half-day trip here in Casco Bay with a gentleman who had just moved here from Afghanistan,” Anchors said. “He had never been on the ocean before and it was his first experience going out in a kayak. He was just wowed by everything and it was cool to spot some seals with him and watch him experience the feel of being on the ocean for the first time.”


Lake kayaking provides great sights and sounds, too, but at a more leisurely pace.

“Some people get a little intimidated and think kayaking is some sort of extreme sport,” said Bill Allen, owner and guide at Sebago Trails Paddling Co. in Raymond. “Kayaking can be an extreme sport, but what we do here is not whitewater (and) we’re not going out on the ocean.”

Lake kayaking is accessible for everyone, he said. Experience, or the lack thereof, is not an issue, nor is age.

“We’ve had little toddlers go out with their parents all the way up to a woman that came here last year who was 92,” Allen said. “It definitely is an activity for all ages.”

He and his company have guided people from all 50 states and from all over the world, from Africa to Europe to Asia.

Sebago Trails Paddling Co. offers lessons, rentals and an array of tours – the most popular being the sunset tour.


Sebago Trails Paddling Company’s most popular offering is its sunset tour. Contributed / Sebago Trails Paddling Co.

“We take a little loop around the north end of Jordan Bay and we end up at a little rock island,” he said. “It’s just a really nice spot to stop and watch the sun set down behind the trees over on the other side of the bay … It’s just really relaxing.”

Sunset tour attendees also get a piece of candy “that’s uniquely Maine,” Allen said, but “the only way you’re going to find out what that is, is to go on the tour.”

Allen has witnessed first dates, marriage proposals and family reunions on his tours, but his fondest memory was when a family from New York City came to paddle on a particularly windy day that would even give bigger boats a challenge, he said. Allen helped them launch on the Presumpscot River in Windham instead, where Babb’s Covered Bridge blocks off gusts of wind.

The Presumpscot River near Babb’s Bridge in Windham can make for a great place to launch a kayak on a windy day and, if you’re lucky, you might spot a bald eagle. Contributed / Sebago Trails Paddling Co.

“We went down to the covered bridge and I was getting them ready to launch, going over a list of things to be aware of,” Allen said. “Just as I’m getting all that situated, a bald eagle comes in just above the bridge and it does a little spiral. It spirals, spirals and then it drops down into the water – must’ve been 75 feet in the air – and just seconds later it comes back up and it’s got a nice big fish … I turned around and looked at these people from New York City and they were just standing there with their mouths wide open.”

On the lake, wildlife regularly spotted include ducks, geese, herons, turtles, fish, beavers and muskrats, he said.

Allen and Anchors obviously have their preferences when it comes to which body of water to kayak, but to get the full Maine experience, they encourage newcomers to try both.

In fact, Sebago Trails Paddling Co. routinely refers people to Portland Paddle if they are looking for an ocean experience, and vice versa when someone is looking for a lake experience. The two businesses serve both Mainers and tourists, and it’s the experiences of the latter that can sometimes humble the former.

“The more I meet people from away, the more I realize that this is not everybody’s experience growing up,” Allen said. “They don’t have these things and they come here to Maine to experience genuine Maine, and we do our best to provide that for them.”

For more info on the two businesses and what they have to offer, visit and

Comments are not available on this story.