Focus on: Scarborough, Maine
January 28, 2017
The Scarborough River may be the least Maine-like destination on the Maine coast. The area around the mouth of the river resembles, at first glance, a minor-league version of the Jersey Shore. If you’re approaching with your boat in tow or kayak strapped to your roof via Pine Point Road, you’ll pass through some densely packed facades of rental housing and summer businesses. But the vast stretches of the 3,100-acre Scarborough Marsh offer vistas that would be hard to duplicate anywhere else, let alone in densely populated New Jersey.
Scarborough is primarily a trailerboating and kayaking destination, as the town lacks any marinas, fuel docks or other marine services. However, it does boast 2 excellent launch ramps that provide easy access to some fascinating boating venues. Plus you can arrange to keep your boat on one of the free transient moorings made available by the friendly harbormaster.
Kayakers and other small-boaters can spend a day (or more) exploring upriver and deep into Scarborough Marsh, probably Maine’s most famous wetlands. Even though some 10,000 visitors tour the marsh each year, you’re likely to have the place to yourself in spots like the Nonesuch River, which along with the Libby River empties into the Scarborough as it flows to the sea.
The 3 rivers are not really rivers in the classic flowing-down-from-the-highlands sense. Instead, they act as natural drainage sloughs for the ebb and flow of the area’s 9-foot tides. For the most part, the extensive marsh is a remarkably clean saltwater paradise that has been left relatively untouched by modern development. In its maze of side streams and meanderings, you could get lost for hours.
If you’re headed the opposite way, Pine Point ramp is a good place to launch even deep-draft boats, as long as you do so between midtide and high tide. There’s ample parking here, even during summer weekends, along with courtesy floats, water and toilet facilities. The daily launch fee is $10 for residents; $20 for non-residents. There is no charge for kayak and cartop put-in. The river channel is marked by seasonal buoys that you can follow like a picket fence out to open water just west of Prouts Neck.
The Ferry Beach launch ramp, on the east bank of river, features the same amenities and fees as Pine Point, as well as fast access to the ocean. Visitors on this side of the river can hike to nearby Prouts Neck, home to Winslow Homer’s former studio, one of America’s most famous 19th-century painters. Much of the Neck’s southern end also serves as a bird sanctuary, and is home to the Black Point Inn, well known for its food and ambiance.
The Prouts Neck Bird Sanctuary is always worth a visit, although it may prove somewhat difficult to find. The trail begins a little east of the Black Point Inn’s eastern parking lot and meanders among impressive summer mansions and wind-blown habitat for terns, loons and other seabirds.
Of course, many people come to the Scarborough area for the beaches, and the ones west of the river mouth are unlike any others in Maine. Their soft, white sand stretches for miles along the relatively protected shore of Saco Bay between the Scarborough River to the north and the Saco River to the south. Since Colonial times, both rivers have attracted seafarers and shipbuilders, with the beaches always a side diversion. As early as the 1800s, Bostonians and others intent on avoiding city crowds escaped here during the summer. As shipbuilding died and the resort economy took over, beach lovers began to come from farther and farther away to enjoy the coastal waters, which warm to 70 degrees by mid-August.
A mile or two southwest of Pine Point Beach stands Maine’s famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—Old Orchard Beach (locally referred to as OOB). Like Pine Point, OOB has fine, white sand, but with one significant difference: it’s almost always rockin’ and rollin’. With its amusement park, restaurants and bars, a party atmosphere prevails at OOB through the season, which may or may not be your cup of tea. If you seek a more peaceful experience, not to worry: Scarborough has you covered on both fronts.