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.
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.
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.
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.
<h#>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.
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.
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.