The Goslings and Cow, Whaleboat, Jewell and Richmond islands are great places to explore for day trips or overnight camping.
For those of us who paddle, we live in a spectacular region. Those who don’t: take note. Casco Bay is home to some 136 islands, or more depending on whether you count at low tide or high, littered across 200 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Running from Cape Elizabeth in the south to Cape Small in the north, residents of Cumberland County live alongside some of the most scenic and accessible sea paddling in the nation.
Unbeknownst to many people, Casco Bay houses many amazing island destinations that reside mere miles off the mainland. Due to the intimacy of the landscape and the large number of islands, the waters remain fairly calm, providing substantial land breaks that often protect paddlers from the full force of the ocean*. This is a great environment for extended exploration.
While Casco Bay offers endless opportunities for the day paddler, it is in the extended stay that one can truly get lost in the magnificence of this island-rich environment.
Since my arrival on the Maine coast in 2014, I have made it my mission to visit as many of the Casco Bay islands as possible. In those short two years, I have logged well over 200 hours on the bay and have visited 77 of the islands from Cape Elizabeth to Harpswell Neck.
Compiled here are what I have found to be the top five most notable overnight destinations for paddlers in Casco Bay.
*NOTE: No one should sea paddle without prior knowledge of tools and techniques. Please seek instruction before pursuing any sea-based paddling activities. Ocean conditions can change without warning – always be aware and fully prepared. For more information: thewildoutsiders.com/casco-bay-sea-paddling
Cow is a great starter island. Its proximity to the mainland makes it a superb option for beginners. The island is owned and operated by Rippleffect, a yo
uth and community development organization based on the 26-acre island. The eastern side of the island is reserved for their programs, while the western half remains open for public use. Unfortunately, the western side is not as scenic. Paddlers who stay for a night along its shores will gaze primarily upon Falmouth Foreside on the mainland. This view unfortunately takes away from the island’s sense of remoteness. On the bright side, it is only a three-mile haul from Portland and even closer from Falmouth’s shores.
This short paddle makes Cow a quick and accessible option for a night out under the stars. The island has three established campsites and a composting toilet available for public use. Rippleffect asks that you register before camping on the island, which you can do by calling 791-7870 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Be advised that ticks and poison ivy populate the island.
MORE INFO: rippleffect.net/cow-island/public-use
Whaleboat Island is located west of Harpswell Neck and is the largest undeveloped island in Casco Bay. The 122-acre island received its name from having a similar shape to whaleboats of old. The island boasts two forests, at the northern and southern ends, with a low grassland meadow in the center.
The island has three public-use campsites, two at the north end and one on the eastern side of the meadow.
While Whaleboat does not have an established trail system, there is plenty of exploration to be had via trodden pathways and a rocky shoreline. Because of its rich history, the island also has multiple structural remains.
Whaleboat is a popular destination during peak season (June to September) and is frequently visited by boaters, meaning it can get busy. Its proximity to Harpswell and surrounding islands make it easily accessible to day-trippers and campers alike.
Also be sure to explore neighboring Little Whaleboat Island, a hot spot for harbor seals. They frequently can be found gathering in large numbers to rest on the island’s satellite rock ledges. Campsites are first-come, first-served, except for the northwest site, which requires a reservation (mcht.org.)
A fire permit is necessary for all sites and can be obtained by contacting the Maine Forest Service at 1-800-750-9777.
MORE INFO: mcht.org/preserves/whaleboat-island
The Goslings are located off the southernmost tip of Lower Goose Island, west of Harpswell Neck. Simply referred to as “The Goslings,” the area is actually home to three small islands: West Gosling, East Gosling and tiny Irony Island.
The Goslings afford visitors a beautiful island getaway that is sheltered in what seems like your own private cove of islands. The Goslings can be reached with minimal effort, only a three-mile paddle from Lookout Point, a public boat launch on Harpswell Neck. Upon arrival, paddlers have a number of options for camping.
West Gosling hosts one site at its northern end that can fit multiple tents. East Gosling has two separate sites, at the northern tip and the southern end. There is also a great hidden campsite on the eastern side of Lower Goose with a spectacular view. Please obey osprey-nesting restrictions that may seasonally affect site availability.
If the scenery doesn’t impress you, the wildlife will. The Goslings are home to a multitude of bird species, and lucky visitors might even catch a glimpse of Lower Goose’s white-tailed deer population.
These sheltered waters allow for a relaxing getaway that provides plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching, relaxation and exploration. Fire permits are required and can be obtained by contacting the Maine Forest Service at 1-800-750-9777.
MORE INFO: mcht.org/preserves/the-goslings
This is the “crown jewel” of camping in Casco Bay. Well known and frequently visited by boaters throughout the summer months, the island is unfortunately susceptible to overcrowding. Beat the crowds by visiting during the shoulder seasons in late spring or early fall.
For paddlers, Jewell Island demands a fairly long haul. Nearly nine miles off the coast of Portland, it is not an easy trip to make. Once you land, find a spot to set up camp along the western shore.
There are plenty of sites to pick from, many with great water views. Then hit Jewell’s three miles of interconnected trails, exploring the heart of this woodland getaway. Make sure to visit the two standing WWII towers at the southern end, which remain accessible to the public. Climbing to the top will allow you to take in unbelievable 360-degree views.
Make sure to also visit the Punchbowl, a tidal pool on the northeastern side swarming with aquatic life. Keep your eyes out for Jewell’s resident deer population as you trek along. There are many other secrets gems hidden within Jewell’s confines that intrepid explorers are apt to discover.
Jewell is owned by the state and operated by the Maine Island Trail Association. A caretaker resides on Little Jewell Island just off shore during the summer months to offer assistance and to promote ethical camping practices and preservation. The sites are first-come, first-served, and most have fire rings.
MORE INFO: mita.org
Richmond Island provides a camping experience like none other.
A mere mile off the shore of Kettle Cove State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Richmond marks the last sentinel body in the southern half of Casco Bay. One would be hard-pressed to find a location as close as Richmond that can evoke the same sense of remoteness and isolation.
With only three campsites on the 226-acre island, it is easy to feel like you have the place to yourself. While all three sites offer their own special amenities, one reigns supreme. Clam Cove, the most desired site, features its own private beach, a wide and expansive view of the open Atlantic Ocean, and a beautiful and varying landscape.
Richmond Island tops this list not only for its remote feel and quality of camping but also because of its local inhabitants, a herd of wild rams. These skittish grazers roam the island freely and reside there year-round.
The land is owned and managed by the Sprague Corporation, and if you intend to camp there you must first contact them at 799-0011 to receive a permit. They also employ a caretaker who stays on the island throughout the summer months. Be sure to walk the two-mile perimeter trail. This rolling trail boasts magnificent rugged coastline views, forest, open plains and many sandy beaches.
This island gem offers an experience not found anywhere else in Casco Bay; it so perfectly epitomizes the beauty of the Maine islands and offers an unbelievable get-away destination that is remarkably close-to-home.
MORE INFO: ramislandfarm.com