On a sunny day there will be hundreds of beach lovers at Popham Beach State Park, but choosing to paddle a few hours on Spirit Pond and the Morse River in Phippsburg is an entirely different experience. It probably will be just you and the wildlife.

The warm waters of the pond host an amazing array of shorebirds. We saw flocks of plovers and sandpipers numbering in the hundreds, mixed with yellowlegs and snowy egrets. Add in sightings of common terns, cormorants, bald eagles and Canada geese on both the pond and the river, and you have the makings for a very entertaining outing.

The pond is part of the Phippsburg Land Trust’s Spirit Pond Preserve and McDonald Sanctuary Preserve. Two miles of trails meander through the forest north and west of the pond. The only canoe access is on the north end of the pond, a half-mile beyond the intersection of Route 209 and Parker Head Road. Slow down when you see the water through the trees on the right. The paved parking area only fits two cars and is easy to drive by.

Getting the tide right is critical. Spirit Pond has an old granite dam on its southern end. The gaps in the dam allow the tide to gradually filter in and out of this very shallow pond. You will want to paddle within an hour before high tide and two hours after high tide. Outside that window, you will be stuck in mud that you will not want to be dragging your canoe through.

Plovers and other shorebirds are a common sight on both Spirit Pond and the Morse River.

We portaged around the dam on the right, admiring the forceful tongue of cold ocean water dropping into the warm lagoon from the opening in the middle of the dam. Purple sea lavender adorned the shoreline. We paddled a few yards over to the left shoreline of Morse River, secured the canoe and scampered up a 10-foot high ledge that offered impressive views back over the pond and straight down to the channels of tidal water pouring into the pond.

Views south from the open ledge introduce you to the next leg of your dazzling paddling adventure. A winding ribbon of blue accentuated by rich green sun-washed marsh grasses leads down to the wooded profile of Morse Mountain. From there the river doglegs to the left, and meets the sea between Popham and Seawall beaches.


We headed toward the ocean, exited about getting out at the end of Seawall Beach and enjoying a refreshing swim. The forested shoreline soon gave way to a vast green plain, with the fortress-like island of Seguin three miles to the southeast providing a shimmering backdrop. Two rounded trees, hundreds of yards apart, stood tall over the marsh like a scene out of the African savannah. We hung close to the shoreline to mitigate the effect of the tide and the persistent southerly wind. Ahead, at ocean’s edge, we could see groups of people enjoying the early afternoon warmth. On Seawall Beach, we had birders with their binoculars viewing scores of tiny piping plovers that had recently hatched. Over to the left, teens paddleboarding in the marsh grasses mixed with those swimming off the beach. It was a joy seeing so many others enjoying a wonderful August day outdoors, and yet we still had our own little wilderness experience to ourselves.

The mile and a half back to the dam was effortless, courtesy of a nice tailwind and the last vestiges of the incoming tide. By the time we reached the dam, the water had reversed and was just starting to flow out of Spirit Pond on its journey out to the sea. With a few determined strokes, we powered through the opening that had been a froth of incoming water only an hour before. We had timed things perfectly.

Egrets are just one of the many species of birds that can be seen while paddling at Spirit Pond and the Morse River.

If you get there early and the pond is too shallow, just wait for the tide to fill further in. We drove the three miles down to Fort Popham to poke around for an hour and returned when there was enough water to launch the canoe. You’ll get your feet muddy pushing your canoe out into canoeable water, but the key thing is that your canoe can now move.

Our three-hour escape reaffirmed once again how lucky we are to live in Maine, and to have a trusted canoe to transport us to some of its best-kept secrets. Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 6) for help in getting to the boat launch site on Route 209 in Phippsburg.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools.

Contact: michaelj_perry @comcast.net

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