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The Works: Paddling The Maine Island Trail

Kayak island-to-island on the Maine coast

©Skip Brown

Looks caribbean-warm, but feels like a full-body ice-cream headache.

Coastal classic The savage beauty of Maine’s craggy central coast is the backdrop to a 325-mile route that stretches from Casco Bay to Machias Bay. You’ll nose your boat around exposed capes, down placid brackish rivers, and along expansive stretches of abandoned beach, all while darting around, and camping on, little-visited islands.

Basecamps Some of the 100-plus islands along the route are public; others are private. To access the latter, you’ll need to join the Maine Island Trail Association (individual memberships start at $45 and include MITA’s 400-page stewardship handbook and guidebook; see www.mita.org). Primitive waterside campsites are the rule; you’ll need to follow Leave No Trace regs.

Craft Although the workhorse sea kayak is most popular, the trail is open to sailboats and canoes.

The way Few tackle the entire run; if you’ve got a week, base out of the Old Quarry Campground in Stonington (where you can also rent gear; www.oldquarry.com) and explore Eggemoggin Reach and eastern Penobscot Bay; spend at least one night on Russ Island, home to a large flock of sheep and a lattice of hiking trails. If you’re pressed for time, put in at the Lobster Buoy Campsites in South Thomaston (207-594-7546) and trace a route through the quiet coves of the Muscle Ridge Islands.

Navigation Although it’s possible to find your way with only a MITA guidebook, it’s equally possible that you could get utterly lost in dense fog. Don’t head out without the appropriate nautical charts (see the MITA guidebook), plus compass or GPS and weather radio.

Season If you’re waiting for warm water, don’t: In the northern Atlantic, temps remain numbingly cold through summer. But at least the days are long and the sun is warm from June through August.

Expertise Basic paddling skills suffice, but navigation chops are a must. Unsure of your direction on water? Numerous guiding outfits ply the trail; try National Park Sea Kayak Tours in Bar Harbor (www.nationalparkkayak.com).

Seal the deal The coast is loaded with harbor seals (along with the less common gray, harp, and hooded varieties), and their nonstop play is a trip highlight. Keep an eye on the sky for terns, eiders, cormorants, and eagles, and another on your bare skin for opportunistic deer ticks.

High light Of the dozens of lighthouses along the trail, Seguin Island Light at the Kennebec River’s mouth is the most prominent; its beacon flashes a state-high 186 feet above sea level. Also look for Owls Head Light, which marks the entrance to placid Penobscot Bay.

Grub Patient anglers can cast from their campsites for striped bass and bluefish, using live bait or lures, but it takes less staying power to browse for handfuls of wild strawberries (June) or Maine’s famed low-bush blueberries (late July and August). Better yet, hail one of the many lobster boats and buy a few freshly trapped “bugs.”

Permits None are required. But if you want full access and the route’s only comprehensive guidebook, membership to MITA is recommended. www.mita.org.

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