Are you looking for your next on-the-water adventure in the Northeast US? Imagine paddling by rocky shorelines while seals pop up their heads and you make your way to the next tree-covered Maine Island to make camp for the night. With an extensive number of islands, kayaking in Maine is easy and offers adventure for every level.
In the summer of 2020, we spent 3 days rowing and sea kayaking on the coast of Maine with 3 kids ages 8, 12, and 12. It was the perfect balance of relaxing and challenging and we loved spending the night camping on our own island! There is something magical about sleeping on an island that makes a Maine island camping trip a perfect family adventure.
Below I’ll share exactly how to plan a trip sea kayaking in Maine with details about our own trip to help get you started.
Read more about Kayaking with Kids.
What You Need to Know About Kayaking in Maine
The first thing you need to know about kayaking in Maine is that it is absolutely beautiful and I think the best way to see this iconic coast is by water. Maine has a rich maritime history that carries on today. The lobstering and fishing industries define the coast, and you will navigate between lobster buoys and sailboats. Paddling, sailing or motoring along this coast gives you the perfect perspective to appreciate this special place.
The second thing to know about kayaking the Maine coast is that it comes with its own set of challenges. Some of these challenges are also what makes this a great adventure destination. Some of the challenges you will face when kayaking in Maine include freezing water, remote locations, dramatic tides and currents, unpredictable weather, and boat traffic.
Another excellent way to see this stunning coast is to plan family a sailing trip.
Best Places to Go Kayaking in Maine
If you aren’t an experienced kayaker, I would recommend choosing a protected and short kayak for your first time. Sea kayaking on an overnight along the coast of Maine is probably not the best place to try kayaking for the first time. You can see a few recommendations for places to kayak in Maine here. Consider a day trip to get started, or plan an overnight on a lake before venturing out in a sea kayak.
If you are ready to sea kayak in Maine, your next step should be to get a membership to the Maine Island Trail Association. You can read more below, but this organization has lots of information to help you plan your Maine kayaking trip.
In general, the best places to do an overnight sea kayaking trip in Maine is north of Portland up to the Canadian border. This is a huge area and takes many hours to drive (much less kayak). You will likely want to select a small portion or one area along this route. Just note that some places may be close by water, but will be a long distance to travel by car.
What is the Maine Island Trail Association
If you are planning to go sea kayaking in Maine, you should absolutely join the Maine Island Trail Association. For a small membership fee, you get access to information to visit over 250 sites on the Maine coast. Many of these sites are islands and are available for camping, while others are day use only sites.
This organization does tremendous work protecting the Maine Islands while providing access to these special places, so a membership not only benefits your trip planning, but it helps support the sustained use and protection of these islands.
When you become a member you can see all the sites on a map and get the information you need to visit each one. This will help you know if it is first come first served, how many campsites are available, and if there are facilities.
Learn more about becoming a Maine Island Trail Association Member.
Best Time to Go Kayaking in Maine
Maine is a state with freezing cold winters, and cool summers. Even in the summer, you should plan for cold nights and if the fog rolls in, cold days. If you’re going sea kayaking, Maine is a cold place to start!
The best time to kayak in Maine is June-Oct, although it is possible to go earlier in the spring but you should expect even more frigid waters. In Oct, you can expect temperatures to start to dip to freezing.
The busiest time to kayak in Maine is July and August and you may have trouble getting campsites in these months, especially on the weekends. Try to get an early start.
Our Kayak Trip on the Maine Island Trail Association to Potato and Seller’s Islands
During the summer of 2020 as the pandemic limited our travel, we decided to go on an adventure a bit closer to home and spent 3 days and 2 nights kayaking and rowing on the Maine Island Coast Trail, with 2 nights camping on Maine Islands. Dave and I are both very experienced on the water and good kayakers, and our kids have kayaked their whole lives and done several longer kayaks.
We spent the night before our on-the-water adventure camping at Reach Knolls in Brooklin, Maine. For our adventure, we had 2 sea kayaks and a 16 foot rowboat. We could have done this trip with just kayaks, but having the rowboat meant we had extra space to keep supplies and could bring some firewood and other supplies we might not bring if we just had the kayaks. You can see more below on exactly what we packed for our overnight Maine kayak trip.
The first morning, we broke camp early and took our boats and car to Naskeag Point Boat Launch in Brooklin, Maine. This is a small boat launch and we were able to launch the rowboat and carry the kayaks to the shore. There is a permit to leave your car here overnight. We arrived on a Thursday morning, and when we returned on a Sat the parking area was pretty full.
Once we got our boats loaded with gear, we set out to our first destination. The low tide meant we skirted a long sand and rock bar and made a stop at Seller’s Island for lunch. The afternoon wind was steadily picking up and with the tide still going out, we had a choppy crossing ahead. We debated the crossing for a while and decided to go for it. Finley (11) and I were in the kayaks and Dave, Hadley (11) and Freja (8) were in the rowboat. About 1/4 of the way across Finley got talking, went sideways to the waves and flipped his kayak.
He stayed calm while we got him into the rowboat, mostly drained the kayak and tied it behind my boat for the rest of the row. At no point was the situation truly dangerous, but we were grateful Finley was comfortable in the water and kayak, had his lifejacket on, and that we had the rowboat. He also did not have any gear in his kayak so nothing was lost or soaked!
Our final destination for the night was Potato Island. A gorgeous little island with a spit of sand that goes out to a rocky outcrop. We arrive right at low tide, and set up camp on the only campsite on the island. Like most of the Maine coast, the current runs swiftly past the island. We carried the kayaks up above the high tide line but had to be creative to secure the rowboat overnight.
Potato Island is truly a magical place.
We spent the afternoon and evening drying out some things, making dinner, and tide pooling around the island. As it often does, the wind let up overnight, and by morning it was calm. After breaking camp, we headed across to Sheep Island to explore and eat an early lunch before doing the crossing. This time when we paddled across to Seller’s Island, the tide and waves were calm and we saw seals popping their heads up everywhere and could enjoy the boats passing by.
We spent Friday night on Seller’s Island and were happy we arrived midday as several other groups came by looking to camp. This island really just has one spot to camp so folks moved on to look for other options in the area. Cutter’s Island has a large sandy area and the kids loved watching the seagulls catch crabs at low tide.
Just a short distance from shore, Seller’s Islands was a fun place to watch the other boaters and we even watched a deer take a nighttime swim over to another island. We had a great night and the next morning packed up for the very short paddle back to Nakeag Point and our car.
This trip was a lot of work to get the gear together and up to the launch point, but we really enjoyed escaping onto our 2 beautiful Maine Islands for the night.
Map of Our Maine Kayak Trip
What We Brought on our Maine Kayaking Trip
Packing for our Maine sea kayaking adventure was its own adventure! The first thing you will need when you plan your trip is kayaks (or other small watercraft). We have our own kayaks, but you could also rent kayaks (although you will need to figure out how to transport them). You can see more about buying and sizing youth kayaks here: 7 Best Youth Kayaks for Kids.
In addition to the boats themselves, you will need paddles, skirts, lifejackets, navigation (GPS, compass, charts, etc), whistle
The next set of things we needed for Maine Island camping was standard camping gear. Here is a list of the camping gear we brought. Keep in mind that we had a rowboat so could bring more. If you’re kayaking, consider this more like backpacking gear. We packed all our gear either in waterproof bags, or black plastic trash bags.
- 6 person tent
- 5 sleeping bags
- 5 sleeping pads
- backpacking cook stove
- head lamps
- crazy creek chairs
- cooking pots,
- dishes and mugs
- water bottles
- extra water
- First aid kit
Each person also packed a small bag with personal gear for the trip. Extra layers were a must!
- Bathing Suit
- quick dry shorts and t-shirt
- rain coat and pants
- quick dry pants
- 2 extra tops layers
- winter hat
- basic toilettries
- Sandals (with heal strap)
- Camp shoes
You will obviously need to pack food for your kayaking trip. We brought plenty of warm drinks and camping meals for 3 days. If you have space you can bring a small cooler although you can also keep things cold by putting them in the water. We also packed over a few pieces of camp firewood that we purchased nearby and had a fire the last night below the high water line.
A Few Final Notes About Safety
Sea kayaking in Maine can be dangerous. In no way is this a complete guide to staying safe while kayaking in Maine, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t just bring your lifejackets – wear them
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return
- Don’t under-estimate the current and tidal changes. (I once did this in the bay of fundy in a canoe and ended up dragging a canoe several miles over land) Your boats should be well secured at night and you should have a plan in place if the current becomes too much
- Respect the locals. Those lobsterman who are zipping around are earning a living so stay out of their way! Also, not everyone on the water knows what they’re doing, so be cautious
- Be aware of the weather – fog is common in Maine and can roll in quickly making it impossible to see, navigate or for boats to see you. It is unnerving to be on the water and not be able to see more than a few feet in any direction, and even more so when you are in a low kayak.
Looking for More Adventures in New England? You Might Also Enjoy
Explore the 11 best hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This gorgeous and challenging hiking area is full of rocky peaks, babbling streams, and forest walks.
Explore New England’s National Park by spending a few days in Acadia. If you love rocky coastlines, this is the park for you!