The Boothbay region is one of the busiest vacation destinations in Maine, with a mix of fishing village charm and touristy kitsch. On the 15 mile drive from U.S. 1 down Route 27 South, you’ll pass farms, saltwater coves, RV parks, the Boothbay Railway village, a mini-golf course and several snack shacks promising the best price on lobster rolls. In quaint Boothbay Harbor, serious art galleries and a well-respected Opera House (Mark Knopfler is among the national acts who have performed there) can be found alongside the requisite fudge factory and T-shirt shops, while locals’ pickups share the road with campers and Volvos sporting yacht club stickers.
I have spent most summers of my life in the area, but I’m still discovering new things to do. Like hiking the trails of the Boothbay Region Land Trust, which are open year ’round, but especially beautiful in the summer, of course. And kayaking, which after many years of trying (unsuccessfully) to be a better sailor, has become my favorite way to get out on the water.
Now that I live in Portland, Boothbay and its many pleasures is just a little more than an hour away, making the area an easy choice for a day trip. One word of caution, however: on weekends in the summer, Route 1 North through Wiscasset slows to a maddening crawl (the townspeople have consistently voted down initiatives to build a bypass); so if you’re driving up from the Portland area, be prepared to be patient.
DESTINATION: Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, about an hour and 15 minutes north of Portland (unless you hit the infamous Wiscasset traffic).
HOW MUCH: A crab roll at Dutton’s Dog House is $8.95. A small fries will set you back $2.50. Kayak rentals from Tidal Transit in Boothbay Harbor start at $20/hour for a single, $30/hour for a tandem. A draft Geary’s at the Chowder House Boat Bar is $4.95; a Mount Gay and tonic is $7.95
WHO: Anyone interested in taking a somewhat rigorous, beautiful hike, and getting out on the water to see one of Maine’s prettiest, boat-packed harbors, up close and personal.
WHEN: Any good-weather day of the week.
The Boothbay Region Land Trust offers more than 30 miles of trails, all open year ’round to the public, absolutely free. I have my brother, an avid hiker, to thank for introducing me to the trails, which wind along the shoreline, through forests and marshes, and on which you will rarely see more than a handful of other people.
One of his favorite hikes is the Oven’s Mouth Preserve, which has two sections: East and West. Oven’s Mouth occupies a two-pronged peninsula where two salt-water rivers — Back River and Cross River — meet. Early settlers named it because of its resemblance to the opening of an oven (which I don’t quite understand) and if you’ve been through it in a boat as the tides are changing, you’ll know it for it’s riptides and whirlpools. The 1.1 mile East trail is listed by the Land Trust as “easy” and the 1.75 West trail as “Challenging,” but the trails intersect and there are options for combining the two (the Land Trust has good maps and the trails are marked with white (West) and blue (East) blazes.
On the West trail, you start out in a lush green forest with mossy boulders and ferns, before dropping down to a darker section carpeted with brown pine needles that traverses a long ledge and finally leads to the shoreline. This route offers just enough up and down action to make you feel like you are actually hiking, not just taking a stroll.
The Oven’s Mouth West Trail is in Boothbay, before you get into town. On Route 27, look for Adams Pond Road, just past Jordan Construction on the right (there is a sign for Oven’s Mouth Preserve). Turn right on Adams Pond Road; in .1 mile, turn right onto Dover Road. Go 1.9 miles and bear left onto Dover Cross Road. The parking lot is just ahead on the right.
Tip: You’ll need hiking shoes, Keens or at least sturdy sneakers for this hike. And don’t forget to bring a bottle of water. You’ll also want to check the tide chart: we did the hike at low tide, which wasn’t terrible, but views of the water are always nicer than mudflats and seaweed.
Boothbay Region Land Trust Oven’s Mouth Preserve | Dover Cross Road, Boothbay | bbrlt.org/trails
Visitors to Boothbay Harbor tend to stumble upon Dunton’s, driving past it on a lap around looking for parking. This is how most of them end up eating there, too — they see the line of boat yard workers and other locals waiting for lunch and figure it must be good. And it is.
I’m not sure how long Dunton’s has been around — certainly as long as I can remember. There’s an impressively large menu for a roadside snack shack, even a specials board with chicken teriyaki, eggplant parm and pulled pork sandwiches, among other things. But you’ll want to stick with the basics: the griddled hot dog, fried haddock sandwich or my favorite, the crab roll. Now the lobster roll gets plenty of attention, which is well-deserved. But Maine crab — sweet, creamy and less-expensive than lobster — makes a mighty fine sandwich that can stand up to lobster any day. At Dunton’s, they pile a toasted-on-the-grill, split-top roll with a generous helping of crab, blended with a judicious amount of mayo. No lettuce, no fancy seasonings, just seafood and toasted bun. You can eat your Dunton’s lunch at the picnic tables in back of the shack and to pass the time while you’re waiting, follow the sound of the wooden wind chimes and wander around the unusual Harbor Imports gift shop next door.
Tip: It’s cash only.
Dunton’s Doghouse | Sea Street, Boothbay Harbor
Boothbay Harbor is well-known by boaters as one of the best anchorages in the state, packed from Memorial Day through Labor Day with boats of all types and sizes, from antique sailboats to swanky power yachts. No visit to the harbor is complete without getting out on the water, and there are plenty of ways to do it. You can take the tourist route on the Balmy Days, The Pink Lady or another one of the big tour boats, spend an afternoon under sail on the schooners Lazy Jack or Eastwind or, take matters into your own hands — literally — in a kayak. Tidal Transit Kayak Company, in the heart of the harbor, offers kayaks for rental by the hour, half day or full day, as well as guided tours by Registered Maine Guides. Rentals include everything you need: kayak, paddle, life jacket and instructions. What you don’t need is any experience; owner Travis Journagan and his crew are fun-loving pros who will make sure you’re all set before you shove off.
While I love the zen-like experience of paddling around a quiet cove, kayaking through Boothbay Harbor offers far more adventure. There’s so much to see, and you can’t just zone out, because it’s a busy place. You’ll need to pay attention to the boat traffic and if you see The Pink Lady coming toward you, get out of her way — you can maneuver a lot better than she can. But from a kayak, you can get a close look at the pretty sailboats on their moorings, as well as the luxury yachts docked on the East Side. And, you’ll gain a perspective on the harbor you just can’t get from land.
Tidal Transit Kayak Company | 18 Granary Way, Boothbay Harbor | kayakboothbay.com
While there are no shortage of places to get a drink in what a friend of mine calls “Booze-bay Harbor,” the Boat Bar is at the top of my list. As a plus, it’s right next door to Tidal Transit.
You’ve probably seen other bars put together from parts of boats (The Dory Bar just up the road at The Thistle Inn is made from … well, you can guess.). But the Boat Bar is an actual sailboat, a sloop, with part of its mast still in place. It’s a place that calls for a sense of humor, both on the part of the bartenders — who have to climb up and over the decks and hop down into the bar, which is in the former cockpit — and customers, who have to sit sideways or straddle the barstools to keep from bruising their knees. There are also a few tables and a firepit with Adirondack chairs if you absolutely must have a more comfortable seat. But since this is an adventure, I urge you to sling your legs over a stool, order a Geary’s on draft (the Boat Bar offers the Summer and the Pale Ale) or the classic sailor’s drink — a Mount Gay rum and tonic — and watch the sunset over the harbor. (If you’re hungry, there’s a small menu of sandwiches and snacks.)
The Chowder House Boat Bar | 22 Granary Way, Boothbay Harbor | chowderhouseinc.com/boat_bar
Get out of dodge (at least for a little while) with a mini adventure. These excursions can be done in a day – sometimes an afternoon – and will hopefully lead you to places you’ve never been. This is Maine, after all, and we all need some adventuring.