A bicyclist rides around Peaks Island. Photo by Amy Paradysz

There’s nothing like a walk around an island to put a little distance between yourself and your day-to-day life – even if you’re not that far from home. Go easy on Mackworth Island, get a little more challenging on Peaks Island or have a full-day adventure on Long Island. Difficulty is rated both in terms of the size of the island and how long it takes to get there. From Portland, Mackworth is just a few minutes’ drive, Peaks is a 17-minute ferry ride and Long can be reached by ferry in under an hour.

MACKWORTH ISLAND

With a causeway connecting it to Andrews Avenue, just off Route 1 in Falmouth, Mackworth has the appeal of an island excursion with none of the inconvenience – unless all the parking spots are taken when you arrive. The perimeter trail offers an easy, mostly shaded 1.25-mile walk, punctuated by inlets with views of Casco Bay and Fort Gorges.

A section of Mackworth Island is known as the Fairy Village because of the structures created from natural materials left behind by, well, presumably fairies. Photo by Amy Paradysz

The island is open from dawn to dusk, and the walking is mostly flat if you stay on the main trail maintained by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Steeper paths lead down to some of the waterside nooks. Along the way, benches and hanging swings provide resting spots. At the breakwater on the south side of the island, staircases descend to a small pebbly beach with flat shale perfect for skipping stones. Nowhere on this rocky island is there the sort of beach just right for sunbathing and swimming, but in the heat of summer you might as well wear something appropriate for wading.

A highlight of this island walk is a stop at the community village, otherwise known as the Fairy Village. With just a little imagination and some found natural objects, such as sticks, stones, leaves and shells, curious little abodes are constructed in the shaded far side of Mackworth.

The island once belonged to James Phinney Baxter and his son, Gov. Percival Baxter, who donated the land to the state in 1943. The Baxter School for the Deaf is set on the middle of the island. The trail is popular with dog walkers (who are asked to leash and clean up after their furry friends). The whole island, a legislated bird sanctuary, is for the birds.

Adult admission is $3 for Maine residents, $4 for nonresidents. When the gatehouse isn’t staffed, put a donation in the lockbox near the outhouses at the parking lot.

PEAKS ISLAND

For a day trip to a residential island with tourist comforts, Peaks Island has a convenient ferry schedule and walking trails with stunning views of Casco Bay, the ocean, mainland Portland and neighboring islands. A perimeter trail maintained by Peaks Island Preserve (www.peaksislandpreserve.org) passes sandy beaches, rocky expanses of shoreline, benches and cottage-lined residential streets.

Half the fun of a visit to Peaks is getting there, with a 17-minute ferry ride via Casco Bay Lines, leaving from Commercial Street in Portland (www.cascobaylines.com). Don’t worry about retaining a ticket stub with your round-trip ticket; anyone on the island is presumed to be coming back eventually.

The island is 720 acres, barely 1 square mile, but hilly. The roads on Peaks are narrow, so pedestrians keep to the left and should step aside to let vehicles pass. Bring some water because there’s nowhere to buy any once you leave the village.

A scenic place to stop, for a snack or just the view, while traversing Peaks Island by foot. Photo by Amy Paradysz

Once you’re on the island, trudge uphill 0.1 mile to the first intersection. From there, if you want to hit the market for sandwiches, stop at the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum, or rent bicycles or a golf cart, turn left. Or, if you want to get directly to the trail, turn right onto Island Avenue and walk 0.2 mile and take the second right (Whitehead Street). Walk a quarter-mile and take the second right (Seashore Avenue) and follow that to the end. Turn left on Trefethen Avenue and go 0.1 mile downhill. Turn left on Island Avenue to return to the ferry.

History buffs will find two places of interest on Peaks. The Fifth Maine Museum, a Civil War-era regiment hall on Seashore Avenue, is on the island loop; you can’t miss it, it’s bright yellow. Battery Steele Conservation Area, which has World War II era tunnels open to the public, is on the back shore. Finding the trailhead will be easier with a map, available at the market in the village.

LONG ISLAND

Long Island, accessible by Casco Bay Lines, is a quiet lobstering community six miles off the coast of Portland. The ferry takes 30 minutes to an hour one way, depending on the route and amount of cargo. The island is three miles long and one mile wide with a conservation area at the center, and coves, beaches and remote scenic views around the perimeter.

Once you get off the dock (and make a pit stop at the portable toilet), take a right to stop at Boathouse Beverage & Variety and ask for a visitors’ map. In season you also can pick up pizza or sandwiches at the Long Island Store as you turn onto Beach Avenue.

To get to South Beach, where the sand is so soft it “sings” underfoot, follow Beach Avenue the width of the island. If South Beach is your destination, your round-trip walk from the dock will be 2.4 miles. To see more of Long Island in one day trip, bring a bike on the ferry (for a small additional fee).

Long Island is Maine’s newest town, having separated from Portland in 1993 to keep taxes down and local control up. During World War II, Long Island was a fueling depot for the Navy, and some military buildings from that time can be seen along the shore.

Ferries come and go about nine times a day, but you can always call Fogg’s Water Taxi if you get impatient (www.foggsboatwork.com).

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough.

A group gathers on Long Island’s South Beach. The travel time from Portland is longer than to other islands, but that also means there will be fewer people there. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer


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