Let’s start with a slightly embarrassing full disclosure: I’ve lived in Maine for all of my 49 years – and in Portland for the past 15 – and a trip in early July was my first to Peaks Island.
Sad, I know, especially since Peaks is a mere three miles – that’s 17 minutes to ferry riders – off the coast of Portland and features a slew of low-key outdoor activities (think biking, walking, beach exploring, cairn building, kayaking, sunbathing, even horseback riding). Heck, you can easily spend a good hour just sitting near the ferry dock, watching island life pass on by.
Now that I’ve experienced the laid-back feel and stunning views on Peaks, I’ll definitely be heading back. The Portland skyline may still be in view, but from the island, the city feels far, far away.
DESTINATION: Peaks Island, 3 miles (17 ferry minutes) off the coast of Portland in Casco Bay.
HOW MUCH: $7.70 for a round-trip ticket on Casco Bay Lines; add $6.50 for each bike.
WHO: People who like an easy pedal past amazing views.
WHEN: Ferries run nearly hourly from 5:45 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. during the summer and early fall.
It’s surprisingly easy to grab your bike and hop aboard the ferry to Peaks. We packed bike bags filled with snacks, water and sunscreen, pushed our bikes aboard and headed up to the top deck to enjoy the views of Fort Gorges and Bug Light on the way through the harbor.
From June through September the Casco Bay Lines car ferry runs hourly from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. from Portland. (You can go as early as 5:45 a.m. if you’re a morning person.) The last return time is 11:30 p.m.
You do have to pay extra for your bike to ride along ($6.50 adult, $3.25 child), but the bonus is that when the ferry finishes the short trip to the island, you can pedal right off, leaving the crowd of pedestrians behind.
No bike? No worries. Rent one on the island at Brad’s Recycled Bike Shop (76 Island Ave.).
The four-mile paved loop that takes cyclists around the outskirts of Peaks makes for some of the easiest pedaling you’ll find. Take a right from the ferry landing on Island Avenue and your first scenic view stop comes up almost immediately. Down a narrow path off Greenwood Street you’ll find Brackett Point, a small, rocky beach situated just across the way from House Island. Keep on pedaling and you’ll find Seashore Avenue, with a view of Cushing Island, before you hit the back side of Peaks. As you pedal along Seashore Avenue, look right and stare out into the vast ocean, or look left and check out the island homes, some cute and quaint, others impressive in both size and design.
The loop has minimal auto traffic and it’s easy to enjoy the scenery, with benches positioned in all of the best spots.
When Seashore Avenue ends, the route shortcuts through a bit of interior island to take you back to the front side of Peaks, with views of the homes on Great Diamond Island.
CAIRN BEACH AND MORE
Cairns are just plain cool, and the rocky area/beach on Seashore Avenue that’s filled with them is one of the most popular photo spots on the island. It’s nearly impossible to pedal away without attempting to stack a few rocks of your own.
At other scenic spots there are plenty of immovable rocks to explore, many perfectly flat enough for sunbathing. Centennial Beach near Trefethen Landing is the spot to find sea glass. Another prime picture spot is Battery Steele, a WWII military fortification now on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you want to get off the bike seats for a bit you can book a half-day or sunset kayaking trip with Maine Island Kayak Co.
You can pack a picnic for your trip to Peaks, find a secluded, scenic spot and enjoy nature and a sandwich. Or choose from several restaurant options that range from quick, cheap bites to white-tablecloth dining.
Peaks Cafe is a good spot to grab coffee, a sandwich or one of the famous cinnamon rolls. Down Front sells candy and has an ice cream counter.
If you’re looking for a sit-down meal, check the Cockeyed Gull or The Peaks Island House for casual dining on decks with terrific views. Both are just steps from the ferry landing. The Inn on Peaks Island offers a cozy dining room with meals that are a bit more upscale and brews cask-conditioned ale on site.