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Mary Ruoff

Freelance writer Mary Ruoff of Belfast wrote the "Way Down East" chapter of Fodor's "Maine Coast" travel guide and has contributed Maine content to other Fodor's guides.

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Posted: May 23, 2018

Still too cold to get in the water? Get on it

Written by: Mary Ruoff

Take a windjammer out of Bar Harbor for a sunset cruise. Photo courtesy of Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines

In Maine, come late spring and early summer, it’s usually too chilly to get in the water, for most of us anyway. But the warmer days are perfect for getting on the state’s myriad bays, river, lakes and ponds. While some boat and paddling tours don’t launch until mid-June, others are already underway. Here are five different types of tours around the state.

PORTLAND PADDLE

Portland, portlandpaddle.net, 370-9730

The kayak tour to decaying, granite-walled Fort Gorges, massed just off downtown Portland in Casco Bay, is the well-regarded outfitter and guide service’s most popular. “It’s a really good tour for people of all skill levels,” said owner and Master Maine Guide Zack Anchors. “It’s not that far, but you do an open crossing with lots of great views.” Last year, the company added trips out of Cape Elizabeth’s Crescent Beach State Park bound for Richmond Island, where cliffs resemble those along Down East’s Bold Coast. Both excursions include time on-island. The three-hour round trip to Fort Gorges is $55 per adult. The Richmond Island trip is an hour longer and costs $10 more. Portland Paddle operates spring through Columbus Day. Its other excursions include two-hour family and sunset tours, half-day, full-day and overnight trips, and paddleboard tours, which, like the kayak trips, start at $40 per adult.

CASCO BAY SIGHTS-N-LIGHTS

Harpswell, cascobaysightseeing.com

See the cribstone bridge between Bailey and Orrs Island from the Casco Bay Sights-N-Lights boat tour. Photo courtesy of Casco Bay Sights-N-Lights

Captain Len Duda has been soaking up Casco Bay history since marrying his wife years ago – her family has owned a house at the end of Orrs Island since the 1890s. From May into October, the former teacher will share his knowledge on boat tours of up to six people aboard his 2018 Sportsman Center Console. On two- and three-hour trips around Bailey and Orrs islands, passengers love motoring under the famous cribstone bridge between the two. They spot World War II submarine watch towers, and on longer trips, Halfway Rock Light. Respectively, the cost for two people is $125 ($25 per additional passenger) and $175 ($35 per additional passenger). Mid-June to Labor Day, Duda also helms round-trips to Eagle Island State Historic Site, the former summer home of North Pole explorer Admiral Robert Peary. Visitors spend a few hours there before returning. It’s a half-hour each way and costs $35 for adults, $18 ages 5-11.

DOWNEAST WINDJAMMER CRUISE LINES

Bar Harbor, downeastwindjammer.com, 288-4585

The midcoast is renowned for its windjammers, but some overwinter in southern ports and don’t start trips back in Maine until June. Bar Harbor’s only windjammer operator runs from mid-May well into October. With their barn-red tanbark sails, its two large schooners – the flagship four-masted, 150-foot Margaret Todd and the 91-foot Bailey Louise Todd – have become part of the summer seascape in the bustling tourist town. A tip for state residents: Weekend cruises are typically less crowded, as many out-of-state visitors come and go then. On afternoon trips, a National Park Service ranger often narrates. There’s live music on sunset cruises; morning trips also sail. All three are $42 for adults, $32 for ages 6-11 and $7 for ages 2-5. The company also operates ferries between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor, and Southwest Harbor and the Cranberry Isles; runs fishing trips; and offers private charters on the Chrissy Lobster Sloop and the six-person Schooner Xandrielle.

The Songo River Queen II tours Long Lake in Naples. Photo courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism

SONGO RIVER QUEEN II

Naples, songoriverqueen.net, 693-6861

The red-and-white, 350-passenger boat is a replica of a Mississippi River paddle-wheeler, but it sure feels at home touring inland Maine’s Long Lake. The boat attracts families, couples and groups. If you have a loved one with limited mobility, a day trip on the large boat may be just the thing. There’s indoor seating; cocktails and snacks are sold. Weekend trips kick off the season in late May. The boat runs daily in peak summer, returning to a weekend schedule after Labor Day and making its last trip on Columbus Day. Special theme cruises are offered throughout the season, starting with on-board music performances during Naples’ Maine Blues Festival, June 15-17. Regular cruises are one hour ($15 adults, $8 ages 4-12) or two hours ($25 adults, $13 ages 4-12).

NORTHEAST WHITEWATER MOOSE CANOE TOURS

Moosehead Lake region, northeastwhitewater.com, 695-0151

From May through early October, this North Woods outfitter’s Registered Maine Guides lead moose canoe tours on remote, shallow ponds evenings and mornings, when these alluring creatures love to feed. Tours are $54 per person, a few dollars more than by land, but as Northeast Whitewater owner Jessica Hargreaves wrote in an email, “Picture this: You’re sitting in a canoe on a beautiful and scenic pond, listening to this massive animal chomp sedges and pondweed, and slurp the water, while tossing their heads back and shaking water from their long snouts; it’s awe-inspiring.” The family-run outfitter’s other offerings include whitewater rafting, paddleboard nature tours and lodging packages, with stays at Northeast Whitewater’s yurt or tent sites, or at a local motel.

Moose canoe tours offer an intimate view of Maine’s favorite mammal. Photo courtesy of Northeast Whitewater

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