LONG ISLAND — Leave it to the sound of the waves, peaceful ocean views, lack of traffic and friendly greetings that come with island life to make a family ditch their home in New Hampshire and move to an island in Maine.
That’s what Ron Pedro and his family did two years – before anyone knew the pandemic was coming – because they loved their summer vacation spot so much they bought a year-round home on Long Island. And as Pedro, a recruiter at a New Hampshire college who works remotely, enjoyed a beach walk on the island last week, he smiled at his good fortune.
“I am more active. I walk more, I kayak now. I bike. I even started fishing,” he said.
To be sure, not everyone can pick up and move to an island in Casco Bay. But whether you’re a tourist from out of state or a resident of greater Portland looking for a day’s adventure, some of these islands are just a ferry ride away.
During the pandemic, Casco Bay Lines encourages ferry service for day-trippers to three islands: Peaks, Long and Chebeague. Each is packed with scenic, restorative and memorable outdoor adventures.
So grab your masks and hand sanitizer as well as your beach towel, and get off the mainland for a few hours.
“I think it’s going to be really busy this summer out here,” said Catlin Byers, co-owner of Byers & Sons Long Island Bakehouse. “What are people calling it, revenge travel? Right now people want to get back to living life.”
Chebeague is an almost 5-mile-long community of more than 300 year-round residents that swells to about 1,500 in summer. There are a few beaches – including at Little Chebeague, a piece of wild, conserved land that can be accessed at low tide via a half-mile sand bar. But mostly it’s a great place to bike and feel far away.
Travel time: About 60 to 90 minutes, depending on route.
Hiking/biking: The sandbar to Little Chebeague takes you out to more than a mile of trails, all managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Maine Island Trail Association as an undeveloped island for picnicking, hiking and swimming. There are no facilities here, other than an outhouse. As with all islands in Casco Bay, deer ticks and Lyme disease are a concern and bug spray should be used.
Food and revelry: The Niblic at the Chebeague Island Boat Yard (846-1015) is a local sandwich and gift shop expected to open later in May. For a more decadent meal, the Chebeague Island Inn (846-5155) on South Road offers breakfast, lunch and dinner when it opens May 15. Reservations are recommended.
Did you know? Chebeague Island, which seceded from the town of Cumberland in 2007, actually consists of 17 islands. Only Great Chebeague, the largest island, and Hope are home to year-round residents.
Located 6 miles from Portland, Long Island is 3 miles long and just a mile wide. It’s home to a few hundred year-round residents, with a smaller summer community (about 1,000) than neighboring islands. The community seceded from Portland in 1993 to become the first new town in Maine since 1925 – a sign of the fiercely independent spirit here.
Travel time: About 30 to 60 minutes.
Hiking/biking: Many of the roads – including on the town dock side – ring the island and offer sweeping ocean views. There’s also a 125-acre conservation area in the middle of the island – accessed from Island Avenue – that has a freshwater pond and old tote roads winding through mixed forests that are perfect for hybrid bikes. Be sure to cut across the island on Harbor de Grace Street, also known as Bunny Hop road, where bunnies often can be seen in the woods.
Beaches: The most popular is South Beach at the end of Beach Avenue. It’s a long, white-sand crescent beach just 1.2 miles from the town dock – and offers an outhouse. Fowler’s Beach located near the end of Fowler Road (off Beach Avenue) also has soft, white sand – as well as a tidal pool that forms at low tide in the rocky outcrop. Children can search for small marine life when it does. Nearly two miles from the town dock at the other end of the island is Cleaves Landing Beach.
Some amenities: Byers and Sons Long Island Bakehouse (766-2512) is your classic island general store selling a variety of products including gas, homemade bakery goods, sandwiches, pizza and, you guessed it, lobster. The ocean-front deck is a choice spot at sunset for a meal or glass of beer or wine. It will be open weekends in May and seven days a week in June. Also, Boat House Beverage and Variety (766-5709) is a small grocery store down by the ferry dock, with hours in the morning and afternoon.
This could help: The town’s website has a wonderful printable map with all the key natural attractions, including many not mentioned here.
A short ferry ride past Bug Light and Fort Gorges, Peaks is a magnet for big summer crowds. But if you bring your bike – or rent one in Portland – you can find a quiet oceanside bench on the busiest tourist days. Although, you might have to settle for a large boulder as a bench along Seashore Avenue, where unparalleled sweeping ocean views can be had.
Travel time: About 15 to 20 minutes.
Hiking/biking: The 14-acre, wild preserve called Battery Steele was the most important fortification in Casco Bay during World War II, with two 16-inch guns and an observation tower. The Peaks Island Land Preserve now owns the historic property, which looks out to the ocean. It can be accessed from both Brackett and Seashore avenues.
Beaches: A short walk from the ferry, a small pocket beach is located at the island’s southwest tip, accessed by a staircase near the end of Greenwood Street. There also is the much-larger Centennial Beach located down from Island Avenue, another good swimming spot. On the backside of the island off Seashore Avenue lies a rockier beach, which is a famous spot for cairns.
Some amenities: Restaurants, an ice cream shop, and usually a hot dog stand can be found along Island Avenue in summertime, just up the hill from the ferry dock. Art galleries also dot the island, and a local company runs tours. Casco Bay Lines offers a list of amenities as well as a helpful map, although some businesses on the island are not open at this time.
Insider tip: Woods trails through the interior of the island can offer an escape from the summer crowds. Look on the land preserve’s website.