We are paddling along the coast this June to give the last of the black flies on inland waters the opportunity to settle into oblivion. The mouth of the Pemaquid River in Bristol provides a secluded saltwater tidal experience for both canoes and paddleboards without the challenges of open-water travel. We spent three hours exploring up to where the Pemaquid River tumbles out of the woods and enters the basin for its 2-mile journey out into Johns Bay.

The Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site boat launch offers a sandy beach to easily take off from. Just to the northwest sits the Pemaquid Harbor wharf, an old wooden boat cradle, and a few lobster boats at their moorings. We paddled over to check things out. On the grassy hillside, a group of red umbrellas marks the outdoor tables of the Pemaquid Seafood Restaurant.

Ledges where the Pemaquid River enters the tidal cove. Photo by Michael Perry

Judging by the number of cormorants we saw, a lot of fish must have been swimming below the surface of the cove. One flock had 50 birds. They put on quite a show trying to get their sleek, dense bodies airborne all at once, creating a lot of noise in the process.

Near the only island in the basin, we stopped to watch two osprey circling. Each took turns diving into the mirror-calm water, but every attempt to fish for dinner came up empty. A curious harbor seal watched from a few yards away, its head looking like that of a black lab’s poking up out of the water. A few tree swallows darted about picking insects out of the air. A solitary elongated rock looked like a buffalo standing chest deep in the water and gazing eastward.

We got out at the northern end of the basin onto a broad array of flat ledges with streams of water from the Pemaquid River flowing over them into a secluded lagoon. The ledges were mottled in midmorning sunlight providing a wonderful mix of invigorating morning chill dueling with the soothing caress of the rising sun. A cocoon of vibrant late spring green enveloped us. The grasses next to the ledges were dotted with the light-purple petals of wild geraniums.

Canada geese in the long, narrow eastern cove at the mouth of the Pemaquid River. Photo by Michael Perry

On our return, we followed along the eastern shoreline, exploring a narrow milelong cove. Near the end of the cove, a green heron lifted off on our left. A couple of blue herons watched us approach. Canada geese suddenly appeared from everywhere. Some walked out of the tall grasses into the water, while others appeared from a tiny stream at the end of the cove. About 40 geese got in line and started swimming slowly away from us along the shoreline. They passed by the two motionless herons who stood intently watching them all go by, as if judging the precision and synchronization of their parade formation.


Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map #7) for help in getting to the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site. Be sure to save time to explore the site after your outing. Above the parking lot sits an expansive mown hillside with picnic tables offering a grand view out over the harbor. It is the perfect spot to laze about on a sunny June day, reminding us once again of the Maine state line welcome sign truism, “The Way Life Should Be.”

The museum has thousands of artifacts uncovered over years of archeological digs. Stone foundations and sunken pits are reminders of precarious settlement interrupted by years of French and Indian strife dating back to the early 17th century. Near the ruins sits a plaque in tribute to the wreck of the galleon Angel Gabriel in 1635. While sitting at anchor in the cove, the ship was destroyed by a mid-August hurricane. The small cemetery to the east has slate markers dating as far back as the 1730s.

The Contented Sole Restaurant offers hearty food in addition to its clever name. The rustic interior feels true to the cannery the building once housed. Beyond the hill, you have all of Fort William Henry to explore, with its commanding view far out over Johns Bay. There is a small day-use fee to visit the area, but all is free for those 65 or older.

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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