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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: July 20, 2015

6 inland boat cruises offer scenic adventure without coastal traffic

Written by: Ray Routhier

There was a time when the easiest way to explore inland Maine was by boat, on the state’s scenic rivers and lakes.

It may not be the easiest way today, since we all have cars, but cruising Maine’s lakes and rivers is still a great way to see overlooked scenic beauty, and much more relaxing than driving Route 1 in Camden in July.

If you don’t live near a lake, or a cruise-able river, you might not know how many different kinds of inland cruises there are. There is one, for instance, that takes you past oyster farms on the Damariscotta River. One takes you to sandbars in various lakes, where you and your boat mates can drop anchor and throw a party.

And for history and drama, you can climb about the 1,250-passenger M/S Mount Washington in nearby New Hampshire. A boat with that name has been cruising Lake Winnipesaukee since 1872.

Here then are some ideas for river and lake cruising this summer.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Damariscotta River Cruises

40 Main St., Damariscotta. $15 to $30. damariscottarivercruises.com

Take a trip down the Damariscotta River on a 50-foot boat called “River Tripper,” leaving from the picturesque mid-coast town of Damariscotta. The cruise operators say seals, osprey and bald eagles can be seen from the boat. The cruise also visits seven oyster farms.

The company website offers three cruises, all about two hours in length. There’s the “Oyster Farms & Seal Watching Tour,” which includes a talk on the river’s role in oyster farming, plus one free oyster to sample. The “Happy Hour” cruise includes a cocktail and an oyster. And on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. there is a “Reggae on the River” cruise offered, with local bands, and drink and snack specials for purchase.

Sandbar Party Cruises

Powerhouse Road, Bridgton. $250 and up. sandbarpartycruises.com

This is a charter boat, anchored on Long Lake, which takes groups out for excursions. The pontoon boat, with an awning, holds 8 to 10 people, sitting on beanbags. The boat has various routes, on Long Lake and Sebago Lake, with the end goal of being anchored at a scenic sandbar. The boat has a bar, so it’s no hardship to be stranded on a sandbar. There are full-day tours, or sunset tours starting at 6 p.m.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

The Songo River Queen II

Route 302 at The Causeway, Naples. $8 to $25. songoriverqueen.net

This two-story paddle-wheeler, like something we all imagine floating down the Mississippi in days gone by, goes out for one and two-hour cruises on Long Lake. It’s 93-feet long, and weighs over 100 tons, so the ride is smooth. The cruise takes passengers around the lake, with a view of Mt. Washington. The two-hour trip passes a home once owned by horror author Stephen King. There are special theme cruises throughout the season as well. On Saturday there will be a “Golden Oldies Dance” cruise from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., and tickets are $20 to $25. On Aug. 21 local funk and disco band Motor Booty Affair will be on the boat from 7 to 9 p.m., and tickets are $25.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

The M/S Mount Washington

211 Lakeside Ave., Weirs Beach, Laconia, N.H. $15 to $30 for daytime cruises, more for theme cruises. cruisenh.com

The first Mt. Washington began cruising Lake Winnipesaukee, about two hours from Portland, since 1872. The current version of the ship has been on the water for more than 50 years. The ship has a capacity of 1,250 people, so it’s more like an ocean liner than a typical lake cruiser, and it hosts weddings and high school proms frequently. The boat picks up passengers around the lake, including at Wolfeboro, Meredith, Center Harbor, and Alton Bay. Besides the daily 2.5-hour cruises, there are Sunday brunch and themed cruises. There are several dance cruises, with live music, including a tribute to Elvis Presley on Aug. 17.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Flagstaff Lake Scenic Boat Tours

Route 27, Eustis. flagstaffboattours.com

Maine Guide Jeff Hinman takes people on cruises of majestic Flagstaff Lake, north of Sugarloaf ski area, on a pontoon boat that carries up to 12 people. While taking in views of the Bigelow Mountain Range, Hinman talks about the history of the lake. The town of Flagstaff once stood where the part of the lake is today. People on the boat often spot bald eagles, loons and moose. For even more of an adventure, you can cruise the length of the lake and end up at the Flagstaff Hut, run by Maine Huts and Trails, for an overnight stay.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Rangeley Region Lake Cruises

Oquossoc Cove, near intersection for routes 4 and 17, Rangeley. $10 to $25. rangeley-lakes.com

Cruise Rangeley Lake on the “Oquossoc Lady,” a 1940s vessel with a maximum capacity of ten people. The one-hour tours are by reservation only. Also offered are sunset cruises, and fall foliage cruises. The Narramantic Island Cruise offer a historic overview of Oquossoc Cove, including views of Saddleback and Bald mountains.

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