Some phrases, if said with just the right attitude and not loaded down with too many mundane details, can sound far more exotic than they are.

Take for instance this one: “I think I’ll get away to the islands.”

It can sound like you’re considering a cruise to the Bahamas or a sailing voyage in the South Pacific. But in Maine, it’s more likely meaning is that you’re going to park in downtown Portland and take a 15-minute ferry to Peaks Island, or a slightly longer one to another Casco Bay island.

But in this pandemic summer, when staycations are preferred by many, there’s no reason why a day trip to a nearby island can’t feel exotic, or at least restful and rejuvenating. It’s a luxury we Mainers probably don’t take advantage of enough. I mean, people in South Dakota can’t just plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to an island in the Atlantic, unless a long plane ride is involved.

Peaks Island has lots of rocky coast to explore. Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

CLOSE TO HOME

Some of Maine’s best-known island retreats, like Monhegan or Islesboro in the midcoast, are best visited if you have some place to stay and have time for an overnight stay. But right now, that’s not appealing to a lot of folks, or even practical. So it might make sense to think about islands that can be reached relatively quickly.

You can start your island-hopping planning by checking out the website of Casco Bay Lines, which runs ferries from Portland to about a half dozen Casco Bay Islands daily. Currently there are COVID-19 restrictions when you take the ferry, like 6-foot social distancing between families and traveling groups and the requirement that everyone wears a mask. Round-trip adult fares range from $7.70 to $11.55, depending on which island you choose, and $3.85 to $5.75 for children 5-13 or people 65 and over. There’s no charge for children under 5. Bringing a bike is another $6.50 for an adult and $3.25 for children. The Casco Bay Lines website lists schedules and rates, plus information on COVID-19 restrictions.

TAKE A PEAK

Peaks Island probably gets overlooked by Mainers going on vacation because it’s so close, just 15 minutes from downtown Portland, and officially a neighborhood of the city. But spending a day out there and walking or biking to beaches and dirt lanes away from the fairly landing can be extremely relaxing. The loop of roads around the island is about 4 miles long and there are three main beaches to explore.

South Beach is one of the natural sights to see on Long Island. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Walk down Island Avenue from near the ferry terminal and it leads you to Centennial Beach, a sandy swimming beach with a great view of the Portland skyline. On the back of the island is Cairn Beach, not a swimming beach, and known more for the structures kids make out of rocks. At the southwest tip of the island is aptly named Sandy Beach. There are also historic sites to see on the loop walk, including the remains of Battery Steele, an underground gun battery manned during World War II. There are stores and restaurants on Peaks, but nowadays it’s best to plan ahead and bring your own food and water. Also when going to any island, plan your bathroom stops accordingly. The ferries have restrooms, and on Peaks there’s one at the ferry landing. For more information on Peaks Island, including maps and places of interest, go online to peaksisland.info.

THE OTHER LONG ISLAND

The town of Long Island is about a 45-minute ride on Casco Bay Lines from Portland. It’s less visited than Peaks, and there aren’t nearly as many commuters who live there. But it’s also known for beaches, including at the strand known as Sandy Beach or South Beach. Also within walking or biking distance of the ferry are Fowler’s Beach, Big Beach and Wreck Cove. The island has history as home to fishermen and was a fuel depot during World War II, so you’ll see old buildings used by the military as you walk the island. For more information about the island, including a map, go to the town of Long Island’s website. 

The view from Land’s End on Bailey Island. Logan Werlinger/Staff Photographer

YOU CAN GET THERE FROM HERE

If you’d rather not wait at a ferry terminal and then sit with others on a ferry, you can always drive to an island. Bailey Island, part of the town of Harpswell, is less than an hour’s drive from Portland but feels much farther way. The island is narrow, so you see water just about everywhere you go, and it has some of the best-loved coastal attractions in southern Maine. First, to get there, you cross over the Cribstone Bridge, built in the 1920s of granite slabs stacked atop each other. The island is home to the Giant’s Stairs, a scenic rock formation where waves crash into what looks like, well, giant stairs to the ocean. There’s also a path that meanders along the coast to the stairs, one of many hiking spots on the island. The tip of the island, Land’s End, gives spectacular views of Casco Bay. Mackerel Cove, with a rocky beach and grassy field, is a great place for a picnic. The cove is home to a fleet of lobster boats and looks like something you’d see on a Maine postcard. For more information on Bailey Island and things to see there, go to the town of Harpswell’s website.

 


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