January 14, 2021
10 Great New England Trailer-Boat Destinations
New England trailer-boaters have it pretty good. Not only are they able to access a wide variety of destinations within a relatively small geographic area, they’re also blessed with well-maintained launch facilities in 6 different states (thanks in large part to funds gained through fishing-related taxes).
From islands and rivers to secluded coves and beaches, today’s road-ready boaters have never had it so good. Case in point are the following 10 launch facilities to consider adding to your summer itinerary.
This all-tide ramp on Spring Point in South Portland is relatively close to Route 295 and offers immediate access to Portland Harbor and Casco Bay, plus lots of parking and a long tie-up float. Daily fee is $5 per day for Maine residents and $6 per day for non-residents. The ramp parking lot and other adjacent areas are available for overnight or long-term use, if space is available. Advance permission is required by calling (207) 767-5556.
Minutes from the ramp is downtown Portland and its vast array of restaurants and shops. You can drop off passengers at Bell Buoy Park, next to the State Pier, or grab lunch or dinner at DiMillo’s Marina & Restaurant.
Head east and you can explore the various islands and coves of Casco Bay. Drop by Great Diamond Island, where you can dine at the excellent Diamond’s Edge restaurant, or head to nearby Peaks Island for lunch or dinner at the Peaks Island Inn. Just a bit north, in Falmouth, you have another dock-and-dine option: the Dockside Grill at the Handy Boat boatyard.
Roughly 8 miles to the north is South Freeport, where you can chow down on fresh seafood at Haraseeket Lunch & Lobster. Also within striking distance is Harpswell, where you’ll find the popular Dolphin Marina & Restaurant.
Looking to mix some golf with your boating? Set a course for Great Chebeague Island, where you’ll find a 9-hole course and the magnificent Chebeague Island Inn, which serves lunch, dinner and an amazing Sunday brunch. You might as well stay the night, and you can!
Last but not least, take some time to poke along the winding and scenic Royal River to Yarmouth. It’s a beautiful waterway, and there’s some delicious ribs, barbecue and other grilled delights waiting for you at the Royal River Grill House.
Bath offers a 2-for-1 launch deal, as it has a pair of excellent all-tide ramps on the Kennebec River: one north and one south of downtown. Both are free and just minutes from Route 1.
From either ramp you have a veritable cornucopia of boating venues at your disposal. Head north and you will usually encounter seals, osprey and bald eagles on your way to magical Merrymeeting Bay, where you’ll find a low-tide sand bar in the northeast part of the bay that’s ideal for swimming and picnicking. Or you can head east through the lovely Sasanoa River—the backdoor route to Boothbay and Georgetown. Travel south and it’s 12 miles to the mouth of the Kennebec, Fort Popham and the open ocean. Along the way you can stop at the Maine Maritime Museum, just south of the Bath Iron Works, which allows free dockage with your entry fee.
Of course, you can stay closer to home and explore Bath, which offers plenty of free dock space at the Town Landing and quick access to downtown’s many good restaurants and shops. Or tie up at the Kennebec Marina & Tavern for good eats and a lively atmosphere right on the river. Oh, and if you like to fish, the striper action is pretty good, too!
The Pierce Island boat launch—rebuilt in 2006—is located just east of downtown Portsmouth. For a $20 fee, the ramp provides fast access to Portsmouth Harbor and the Piscataqua River, but beware the current, which can make launching and hauling a problem. If new to the area, you may want to launch at slack tide.
Downtown Portsmouth and its numerous shops and restaurants can be accessed via Prescott Park, which offers hourly tie-up. You can also dock-and-dine at The River House, BG’s Boathouse on Sagamore Creek and Warren’s Lobster House in Kittery.
For larger boats, the Isles of Shoals is just 7 nautical miles east of the harbor entrance, which makes the ramp especially attractive.
The big ramp on Plymouth Harbor, just minutes from Route 3 and 35 miles south of Boston, has ample parking with an attendant on duty during the day. The daily fee is $5, payable via an automated ticket dispenser. The ramp is usable on all tides, except at extreme low, when the drop-off at the bottom edge of the ramp can present problems.
Many fishermen launch in Plymouth because it affords quick access to Duxbury Bay and Stellwagen Bank, the latter just 20 miles from the harbor entrance buoy. Stellwagen is home to tuna, sharks, cod and haddock, as well as whales, dolphin and other fascinating sea creatures. Provincetown is a quick daytrip, too, as are Wellfleet and Barnstable Harbors.
But you can have plenty of fun without venturing into Cape Cod Bay. You can simply anchor or beach your boat on one of the expansive sandbars that appear in Duxbury Bay as the tide drops. Browns Bar, just east of Bug Light, is another low-tide hangout.
If you like to fish, Duxbury Bay offers some excellent striper fishing, particularly in June. Look for concentrations of birds to point the way—but keep an eye on your chart plotter and depthsounder.
This double-lane ramp at the end of Neck Road off Route 3A in Weymouth is ideal for boaters looking to access Boston Harbor. Parking is $8 per day, payable at the attendant’s booth. The ramp provides all-tide access and a pair of nice tie-up floats. A 10-minute run through the no-wake zone puts you at the mouth of the Back River and the doorstep of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. You can explore almost all of the islands, and camping is available on Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells and Peddocks (reservations required). You can also drop off passengers at the dock on Little Brewster Island for a tour of 300-year-old Boston Light.
Downtown Boston is just minutes away, too. Grab some delicious seafood or a drink at the Barking Crab on the Fort Point Channel, which has a dock for small-boat customers, or head over to Liberty Wharf Marina, where you can tie up for a $20 hourly fee while you hit the nearby restaurants. Closer to the ramp, Quincy’s Marina Bay and the Hingham Shipyard Village complex also offer short-term dockage and a numerous restaurants and shops to visit.
The big, busy launch facility at the mouth of the Bass River in Yarmouth is arguably the best on Cape Cod. Daily fee is $8 (no overnight parking). The ramp affords excellent access to Nantucket Harbor (21 nautical miles), Martha’s Vineyard (20-22 nm), Monomoy (10 nautical miles) and numerous South Cape ports such as Hyannis, Woods Hole and Falmouth Harbor. There’s excellent fishing nearby, too, for striped bass, fluke, bluefish, sea bass, tuna and more.
If you choose to stay inside the Bass River, you can hang out at beautiful Boater’s Beach, directly across from the ramp, or head upriver and grab lunch at the Summer Shanty at the Bass River Marina, where you can also fuel up. Farther upriver is a wide, protected area between no-wake zones where you can tube, wakeboard and waterski. On the eastern shore of this same area is a wildlife preserve where you can anchor out or beach a skiff or kayak.
The free launch ramp at the end of the Gallilee Escape Road in Narraganett was completely rebuilt in 2014. It can be something of a circus on summer weekends, but it’s a great jumping-off spot for trips to Block Island, some 9 nautical miles south of the Harbor of Refuge, as well as the beautiful South County shore. Other destinations such as Watch Hill (17 nm) and Newport (12 nm) are a reasonable run as well.
This ramp is very popular among fishermen, as it puts them within easy striking distance of some of the best fluke, striper, sea bass and tautog fishing on the coast. Inside Point Judith Pond, you’ll find numerous protected spots to drop a line, swim or hang out on your boat. You can also head deep into the pond and tie up for breakfast or lunch at Java Madness, located at the Stone Cove Marina.
In nearby Snug Harbor, stop by Jim’s Dock, a popular spot for fried seafood, burgers, lobster, stuffies and more. Poke into the channel leading to Potter Pond and you’ll find Capt’n Jack’s Restaurant and the Matunuck Oyster Bar, which has a dock for boating customers.
Haines Point, on Bullocks Cove in East Providence and just off Route 114, is widely considered the best saltwater ramp in Rhode Island. It offers good all-tide access for even large boats, and has a tie-up float and plenty of free parking.
The ramp puts you in Upper Narragansett Bay and close to the many great harbors—e.g., Bristol, Wickford, Newport and Jamestown—dotting its shores. Many of these towns offer public dockage, waterside restaurants, interesting shops and historic sites. (For details, explore our Boater’s Guide library of Rhode Island destinations.)
In spring, before the bay waters get too warm, you can catch striped bass, bluefish, sea bass and scup almost anywhere in the bay, from Providence to Newport. Later in the season, making the 18-nautical-mile run to the mouth of the bay and the cooler ocean waters is manageable for many boaters.
The Niantic River State Boat Launch in Waterford has 3 lanes and plenty of parking, but is understandably busy in summer. This is a free ramp and accessible to large boats. Brown-and-white Long Island Sound Access signs will help you find the ramp, which is just off Route 156. Launching here puts you within minutes of Long Island Sound and an array of excellent fishing spots, including Black Point, the Connecticut River mouth, and the fabled Race and Plum Gut. Inside the bay you’ll find good fluke fishing.
A few miles east of Niantic is the Thames River and New London, where you can easily dock or grab a mooring and visit the downtown area and its amazing array of restaurants and shops. Head west 7 nautical miles and you can explore the Connecticut River town of Essex, where good food and a cozy atmosphere await at the Griswold Inn.
Of course, many Niantic boaters like to run across the Sound to visit Long Island’s many interesting harbors, such as Shelter Island, Coecles Harbor, Mattituck and Greenport. All are within daytrip range.
Located directly below the I 95 bridge, the Baldwin Bridge State Boat Launch is a large, free facility with ample parking. In fact, the launch received an award from the state for providing such excellent boating access.
After launching, you can head upriver through the Connecticut to visit Essex, Chester, Deep Creek, Hamburg Cove and other interesting spots. Expect to see eagles, osprey, herons, egrets and other birds along the scenic river. There are several islands upriver, such as Selden, Calves and Nott, where you can anchor out and enjoy the beach.
Run south and you can access Old Saybrook. Waterside dining options include the Blue Oar in Haddam and Dock-and-Dine restaurant in Old Saybrook. Fishing options abound as well, as the ramp puts you close to Long Sand Shoal, Six Mile Shoal, The Race, Plum Gut and more. Of course, you can always stay inside the river and net a bushel of blue crabs around the dock pilings, as the crab fishery has been sensational in recent years.