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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 28, 2014

Maine Mini Adventure: Giant’s Stairs, Mackerel Cove, Island Candy Co. on Bailey and Orr’s islands

Bailey Island and Orr’s Island offer easy access to dramatic scenery and small-town charm less than one hour from Portland

Written by: Ray Routhier
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Where in Maine can you find rocky cliffs rising from crashing surf, a picturesque harbor filled with lobster boats, and a 100-year-old seaside inn where the dinner bell is rung promptly at 6 p.m.?

Well, you could travel all over Maine to find all of the above in varying locations. Or you could drive to Brunswick, head south on Route 24 for 20 minutes, and find yourself on Bailey Island.

Bailey Island is a hidden treasure among Maine tourist destinations, partly because it’s not on the way to anywhere. It’s located across the Cribstone Bridge from Orr’s Island, and the bridge is the only way cars can get on and off the island. The Cribstone Bridge itself is an attraction. Originally built in the 1920s using stacked up bars of stone to allow water to flow through it, the bridge is an architectural rarity and really cool to look at.

The small island – it takes five minutes to drive from the Cribstone Bridge to the Land’s End Gift Shop – is a mix of year-round residents and folks who own vacation homes, with a few inns and motels mixed in. Partly because there are no large public beaches, Bailey Island is not often a place people think of for day trips.

But a day-trip to Bailey Island, and neighboring Orr’s Island, is perfect for people looking for easy hikes and leisurely strolls that yield dramatic scenery and small-town Maine charm.
Here then are a few of the not-to-be-missed experiences:

Avery Hughs swings out over Mackeral Cove. Logan Werlinger/staff photo

Avery Hughs swings out over Mackeral Cove. Logan Werlinger/staff photo

1. MACKEREL COVE

This is one of the prettiest harbor scenes you’ll fine in Maine. On any given day there are dozens of lobster boats floating in the long cove, plus traps and equipment stacked up on wharves and floats. Often there a few wooden boats strewn along the beach as well. The beach at the north end of the cove, while a little rocky, makes a good place to lounge in the sun or have a picnic lunch. There’s a parking lot at the beach, next to a large grassy field that’s suitable for Frisbee tossing. There’s also a tree near the beach where various swings usually hang. This year there’s just one swing, a piece of wood with two ropes. It provides children with a pretty exciting ride over the beach and over a large bunch of beach rose bushes.

The water at Mackerel Cove is usually warm enough for some wading and swimming. And it’s also a great place to look for hermit crabs. The area is also a good base for biking around the island or for putting in a kayak.

It’s also a place where on summer weekends you’re likely to see a wedding. Often tents are set up in the field for weddings overlooking the cove.

Johnson Field Preserve at Mackerel Cove, Abner Point Road, Bailey Island (get directions) | Parking available | hhltmaine.org


Tourists explore Giant Stairs Park. People often come to the park to watch the waves crash and splash over the rocks. Logan Werlinger/staff photo

Tourists explore Giant Stairs Park. People often come to the park to watch the waves crash and splash over the rocks. Logan Werlinger/staff photo

2. THE GIANT’S STAIRS

For some people, a “hike” has to include lots of sweating and grunting and potential injuries. But for people who like to have all the scenic vistas of a hike without much of the sweat and hard breathing, The Giant’s Stairs is the perfect place.

There’s parking for the trail at the Episcopal chapel on Washington Avenue (not Sunday mornings) and along the road. The trail is only about a third of a mile long, but most of the way you’re looking east out to sea with rocks and sea spray all around. Just south of the Giant’s Stairs themselves there are lots of dry rocks to scramble onto, and lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. But stay away from rocks close to the water, as the waves are pretty unpredictable and could make for a dangerous situation.

Giant’s Stairs and McIntosh Lot Preserve, Washington Avenue, Bailey Island (get directions) | hhltmaine.org 


Photo courtesy The Driftwood

Photo courtesy The Driftwood Inn

3. THE DRIFTWOOD INN

The Driftwood Inn is one of those places that is really hard to believe until you see it. It’s an old-fashioned inn with cottages, plus a charming separate dining hall. The place was built on rocks at the ocean’s edge more than 100 years ago, and crashing waves can heard constantly. The dining room is open to the public, but you have to order ahead. Diners have to call and place orders by 4:30 p.m. (most menu items are on the Web site.) Get there by 5:45 p.m. or so and take in the view until the dinner bell is rung, promptly at 6 p.m. The dining room is a feast for the eyes, with exposed rafters and wood everywhere, honey-colored wood tables and chairs and striking views of the ocean from nearly every window. The meal typically starts with hot popovers, followed by a salad, soup of the day, and main courses that include lamb chops, haddock, fried clams, swordfish, and scallops.

The Driftwood Inn, 81 Washington Avenue, Bailey Island (get directions)| thedriftwoodinnmaine.com or 833-5461


Jules (left), and Jackson Gross shop for candy and ice cream with their mother, Kristen, at the Island Candy Co. Logan Werlinger/staff photo

4. ISLAND CANDY CO.

Driving back from Bailey Island you pass the Island Candy Co., a perfect place for dessert or a treat in between island excursions. The place has a huge variety of homemade chocolates and candies, from honey sticks and salt caramels to pecan turtles and all sorts of butter creams. There are “penny candy” type candy like licorice and lollipops, and ice cream cones and ice cream treats. There are some wonderful fruit flavors, like blueberry and black raspberry chocolate chip. Outside the shop is a beautifully maintained flower garden, like something out of a Victorian novel. There are benches so you can sit, eat your candy or ice cream, and enjoy the island flowers.

Island Candy Co., 1795 Harpswell Islands Road (Route 24), Orr’s Island (get directions) | www.facebook.com/Island-Candy-Company or 833-6639


More Maine Mini Adventures

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.

Check out all the Maine Mini Adventures


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