Shore to Please: 8 Sea Kayak Adventures

March 14, 2016
Sea Kayak
Michael DaughertySeeking a classic sea kayak adventure? Paddle the islands at the mouth of Maine’s Kennebec River.

Although a driver traveling from Washington, D.C., to Lubec, Maine, could make the journey in about 800 miles, the full expanse of coastline measures nearly 11,000 miles. For kayakers, all of those coves, harbors, and rivers hold opportunities for adventure. We asked Michael Daugherty, author of AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, and Michaela Riva Gaaserud, author of AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic, to choose their favorite East Coast trips. (Both books will be available in AMC’s store later in March.) If you plan to try out any of their recommendations, below, make sure to research local tidal conditions and consult the proper nautical charts.

1. Great Wass Archipelago  |  Beals, Maine
This 40-island formation in Downeast Maine offers extensive, wild exploration on the edge of the Bay of Fundy. Launch next to the fishing pier on Great Wass Island, reachable by car from Beals Island, and paddle east through Pig Island Gut. Seals and seabirds may accompany you as you pass islands where rare plant communities thrive in the damp marine climate. Turn south and work your way past Alley, Green, Mink, and Little Water islands. Follow the northwest shore of Little Hardwood Island toward Pig Island Gut on the return trip.

Distance: 8 to 10 nautical miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England (AMC Books); The Nature Conservancy; Maine Island Trail Association

2. Georgetown Island  |  Phippsburg, Maine
Islands both big and small cluster in the mouth of the Kennebec River. Launch from Fort Popham when the tide is about halfway in and paddle north, upriver, eventually following the Back River into Hockamock Bay. Make your way east, around the northern tip of Georgetown Island. Several small islands, including AMC’s Beal Island (where camping is available with a reservation), lead into the Sasanoa River. Once the tide begins to ebb, paddle south, past MacMahan Island off Georgetown’s eastern shore, eventually looping back to your launch site. The currents and tides make this a challenging trip, and timing is crucial to take advantage of the current rather than fight against it.

Distance: Up to 20 nautical miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England (AMC Books); Knubble Bay Camp & Beal Island

3. Cape Ann  |  Gloucester, Mass.
Circumnavigating Cape Ann is a quintessential New England adventure. Rocky ledges alternate with sandy beaches; commercial fishing vessels come and go; lighthouses and wharves, harbors and coves line the shore. You can choose from several launches on and near the cape, but one of the easiest for paddlers is Long Wharf Landing on the Annisquam River. Take particular care navigating the current, as well as incoming and outgoing boat traffic, at the Blynman Canal drawbridge. More modest excursions include a sheltered exploration of the marshes on the Annisquam River and an intermediate out-and-back trip to Thacher Island’s twin lighthouses.

Distance: 20 nautical miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England (AMC Books)

4. Newport  |  Newport, R.I.
From the famed mansions perched above the harbor to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, a paddling trip around Newport has a little bit of everything. Launch at Fort Adams and paddle north, keeping an eye on boat traffic. Loop back to the southwest, around the peninsula, and follow the coast, gradually paddling around the southern tip of Newport and parallel to the town’s famed Cliff Walk. From there, follow the shore east to the wildlife refuge. Your takeout at Third Beach is located on the northern side of that peninsula. There are several spots where you could set up a shuttle to shorten this trip.

Distance: 13 to 14 nautical miles one way
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England (AMC Books)

5. Sag Harbor  |  Sag Harbor, N.Y.
Long Island’s Sag Harbor is better known for yachting than for kayaking, but paddlers of all abilities are in for a treat. Launch next to Long Wharf, at the end of Bay Street (there’s a small fee for nonresidents to use the ramp) and paddle past the anchored yachts. Head east, paddling under Ferry Road and into Sag Harbor, beyond which you’ll find the Big and Little narrows. Though mansions line these shores, an array of wildlife—including egrets, osprey, and seals—also calls the harbor home. A series of coves and creeks provides sheltered explorations, although the launch is part of a busy harbor, so be aware of boat traffic.

Distance: 4.5 or 9.5 Nautical miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books)

6. Island Beach State Park  |  Seaside, N.J.
This undeveloped barrier island stretches across 10 miles and consists of thousands of sand dunes. Use the Area 21 launch and head west to the nearby tidal marsh, through the narrow channel between two islands. Here you’ll enter a conservation zone where motorboats are prohibited. The water is shallow, so watch for sandbars and consider timing your trip with the incoming tide so you don’t end up stranded. At the far side of the island, turn right (southeast) and begin looping back toward the launch. The state park charges a daily fee.

Distance: 2 to 3 nautical miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books); Island Beach State Park

7. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge  |  Cambridge, Md.
This refuge on Maryland’s eastern shore is best known for its birds (more than 250 species have been identified), and its network of inland waterways gives kayakers a front-row seat. Choose between three well-marked routes; maps are available at the visitor center. The Green Trail, beginning at the bridge on MD 335, is the easiest. Paddle west, away from the bridge, and follow the trail’s black-arrow markers along a narrow section of the Black River. Watch for ducks and bald eagles, among other bird varieties.

Distance: 7 miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books); Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

8. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge  |  Virginia Beach, Va.
Tranquil Back Bay provides a contrast to the bustling Virginia Beach tourist area to the north. The refuge encompasses a barrier island and surrounding marshes—ideal habitat for migrating birds and paddlers alike. Launch near the refuge’s visitor center (there’s a $5 entrance fee) and circumnavigate Long Island, immediately in front of you. When you reach the southern end of the island, paddle through a narrow passage to reach the other side. Keep an eye out for the osprey known to nest in this area.

Distance: 7.4 nautical miles round trip
Info: AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books)


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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.