Canoeing in Maine: On Kennebunk River, a distinct view of Cape Arundel and surrounding splendor

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While we wait for our inland waterways to shed the last of winter ice, there are plenty of excellent canoeing opportunities near the coast in April.

We recently took a four-hour, 10-mile, round-trip trip on the Kennebunk River from the Old Grist Mill near Dock Square in Kennebunkport upstream to the impressive Boston & Maine Railroad trestle. While there are houses along the river, there are also plenty of quiet stretches of wilderness to meander through. Chances are you’ll have your first sighting in 2021. We saw our first blue heron and turkey vulture of the year, but we’ll leave the first osprey sighting up to you. At every turn, flocks of geese and mallards announced our arrival with loud horns and croaks.

Mallards were seen and heard every step of the way while paddling the Kennebunk River. Christine Wolfe Photo

The river is tidal and is best enjoyed within two hours before high tide and two hours after high tide. You can ride the tidal flow up and down the tide if you set the time just right, and paddling at low tide is a muddy experience and is best avoided. The Grist Mill site on Mill Lane is the only canoe launch available in town. The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust owns the property and is asking paddlers not to park here during their excursion, but rather to park on nearby streets that are permitted to park. This is a wonderful place to hang out before and after paddling, enjoy the spring, and relax in a peaceful setting. The green grass, the old apple trees and the weathered red boathouse give the day a soothing timelessness.

As you paddle north, you’ll pass the manicured slopes of Cape Arundel Golf Club on your right. The picturesque green clubhouse with a view of the river is called “41 House” after George HW Bush. When Phil Mickelson played here with President Bush in 2006, he set the course record of 60. As we were walking along the coast, we found a faulty golf ball in the brush at the edge of the water near the place where Babe Ruth once played. Canoeing on golf balls was another first experience.

If you don’t want to do the whole trip, at least a 90-degree bend in the Kennebunk River will take you to the misplaced cliff face. Christine Wolfe Photo

You will soon come to a fork in the river. Follow the road to the left and you will come to a 90 degree bend in the river. On the left is a striking rock wall that cascades down into the river. From upstream, the vertical brown rock by the water looks like the old man’s head from the mountain. If you decide not to paddle all the river up to the trestle, try to make it this far. The cliff seems completely out of place from the gentle coastline of oak, pine, and reeds of the rest of the river.

Eventually you notice that despite the incoming tide, the river current is now against you. You are approaching the goat and the end of the navigable part of the river. The buck is a marvel of technology. We landed and spent 20 minutes eating our sandwiches and admiring the construction of the goat. A freight train rumbled south over the box. The gray granite blocks came from a local quarry that also supplied granite for President Grant’s grave and the state capital in Albany, New York.

The buck of the Boston & Maine Railroad at the turning point of the round-trip journey while paddling on the Kennebunk River is an impressive structure. Christine Wolfe Photo

In Kennebunkport, take time to walk around Dock Square and the bridge over the river. Signs on the bridge illustrate the wooden boat building industry of the 19th century, when six shipyards produced massive schooners year after year. The south church, built in 1824, is a must. The imposing church tower clock has an unusual wooden face.

We decided to follow Route 9 north on our way home to win another season, a beach walk. Goose Rocks Beach is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Maine. The tumbling surf, the white foam splinters pulsing in the wind, the bright blue of the sky and sea were a nice end to our excursion.

Contact DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Map # 3) for assistance with 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 LL Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools and founder of Dreams Unlimited, which specializes in inspiring outdoor slide programs for community groups, businesses and schools. Contact: [email protected]

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