LIMINGTON — Kate Franklin was visiting Maine with her young family from the Cayman Islands when she discovered a section of the Saco River at the Limington Rips Rest Area, a park that offers picnic tables, wooded trails and a path down to flat rocks that reach into the bubbling, tree-lined river. After spotting the rapids from Route 25, Franklin and her children came back the next day equipped with float tubes.

While the Saco River can be slippery in this section, a float-assisted drift down beyond the rushing waves leads to calm water that invites safe swimming. Franklin and her children – ages 4, 10 and 12 – came back to do just that. But she was unaware of another plus to this swimming hole: the clean, clear water.

The Saco River Corridor Commission monitors the Saco for water quality at 35 sites from Fryeburg to the mouth in Saco. The river, which is a drinking water supply, has proven exceptionally clean. When Franklin heard that, she jumped and cheered.

“I’m so glad to get that information,” she said.

Maine is home to some 6,000 lakes and ponds, hundreds of small and large rivers, plus nearly 3,500 miles of coastline. But not all swimming spots are safe; rapids, currents and riptides can be lethal hazards.

Based on regular water-quality tests for bacteria, not all waters are especially clean, either. After the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, Maine rivers tainted by DDT and chemicals from such industries as paper mills and tanneries were cleaned up, and towns were required to stop dumping sewage into waterways. Today, Maine’s waters, as a group, are much cleaner than they used to be. That said, some still fail water-quality tests conducted by lake monitoring programs and the state-run Maine Healthy Beaches program that monitors 63 coastal beaches.


Here are some freshwater and coastal swimming spots within an hour of Portland that are accessible, clean and generally safe (though wherever you swim, always be alert and careful). We don’t promise warm water. But hey, this is Maine.

Twins Eli and Will Spaulding, 13, of Freeport prepare to catch a wave at Crescent Beach State Park, one of the state’s safest swimming beaches, thanks to geography – it doesn’t face the open ocean. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer



Bunganut Lake Park, Brock Road, Lyman: Owned by the town of Lyman and operated by the Sanford-Springvale YMCA, Bunganut has a large open field, hiking trails and ball fields. The 300-acre lake has shallow shores. Lyman residents can swim free; $15 for nonresidents.

Burnt Meadow Pond, Route 160, Brownfield: This section of the Saco River offers a very clear, clean pond for swimming, fishing and paddling, just below Burnt Meadow Mountains. Wonderful mountain views abound. The Saco River Corridor Commission monitors the water every week for the town’s swimming programs.

Kennebunk Pond, Kennebunk Pond Road, Lyman: A small pond, with a beach and small parking area, about 15 minutes from the Biddeford exit on Interstate 95. The town of Lyman hosts paddleboard lessons here in the summer. Go to for more information.

Little Ossipee Lake, Waterboro: Two swimming locations are open to the public on this 564-acre lake. One is at Gobeil Park on Route 5. The other is via the Bob Fay Memorial Park off Webber Road. The Little Ossipee Lake Association monitors water quality in partnership with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Results regularly show the lake is exceptionally clean.

Range Pond, Range Pond State Park, Poland: The crystalline spring water that runs into the 357-acre pond makes for a very clean swimming hole. Because it’s so shallow, with a maximum depth of only 38 feet, it’s also quite warm. In late July, Park Manager Adam McKay said the water temperature 2 feet off the shore was 80 degrees. One note of caution: the park is short-staffed this summer, and at times no lifeguards are on duty. (State park fees apply: $8 nonresidents, $6 residents, $2 seniors.)

Sebago Lake State Park, Song Beach, Naples: Maine’s busiest state park can be crowded, with throngs of campers who enjoy water temperatures that – though it’s the state’s deepest lake – can reach the 70s in July and August. The public beach is separate from the campground beaches, and the guard ropes provide ample room to swim. Sebago is Maine’s second-largest lake (Moosehead is the largest). (State park fees apply: $8 nonresidents, $6 adults, $2 seniors.)


Lia Kelley, 8, gets tossed by her father, Will Kelley of Norwood, Mass., while swimming at Dundee Park, a popular swimming spot in Windham along the Presumpscot River. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


Presumpscot River, Dundee Park, Presumpscot Road, Windham: The upper reaches of the Presumpscot near the headwaters are the cleanest parts of the river, according to the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust. This tidy little town park is an ideal family-friendly spot with many amenities, including a snack bar, picnic tables, restrooms and roped-off areas policed by lifeguards. Several summer programs are offered, including a Wednesday concert series. The downside for intrepid swimmers? They may not swim beyond the ropes. (Park fees: $5 adults, $3 for children.)

Saco River, Hiram Dam Falls recreation area, off River Road, Hiram: Just below the Hiram Hydro Power Plant is a sandy beach beside very clear, shallow water. The public parking area is located about 10 miles north of Cornish on the right side of River Road.

Saco River, Limington Rapids Rest Area, Route 25, Limington: A very slippery entryway into the river here is best navigated with a float tube. Farther down river lies clear, calm water. Use caution after a rainstorm or in the spring when water levels are high.

Saco River, Weston’s Beach, River Street, Fryeburg: A large beach is open to the public here with ample parking. It’s a popular swimming spot for fans of the Saco, as well as for those launching canoes and kayaks. Clear, safe water runs in this section of the river.



Many Maine coastal beaches have riptides, some have large waves. Others, which are monitored by the state’s Bureau of Water Quality, have had levels of bacteria from runoff that can spike after heavy rain. Here are beaches that are monitored in the state’s Healthy Beach Program that in 2018 were below Maine’s threshold for enterococci, a bacteria found in human and animal waste. These coastal waters also have a track record of clean water for the past several years, according to park managers. All are considered comparatively safe. And all have gate and parking fees.

Crescent Beach State Park, Cape Elizabeth: Wild, classic Maine scenery surrounds a protected swimming beach that sits behind Richmond Island and a natural jetty. Amenities include a snack bar, ice cream stand and paddleboat rentals. (State park fees apply: $8 nonresidents, $6 adults, $2 seniors)

Ferry Beach State Park, Saco: There is very little riptide at this state park when skies are clear (like all coastal beaches, conditions can change before a storm). Park Manger Robert Crocker boasts of his park’s clean water. At low tide you can walk out 120 yards and enjoy knee-deep ocean water. The beach draws regulars, most of whom practice the safe-swim approach of swimming parallel to shore. (State park fees: $7 for nonresidents, $5 for residents, $2 for seniors.)

Kettle Cove State Park Beach, Cape Elizabeth: A tiny pocket beach with a tiny parking lot and tiny cove. But it’s got the same big-sky views as Crescent Beach, which are stunning. (State park fees: $4 for nonresidents, $3 for adults, $1 for seniors).

Pine Point Beach, Scarborough: Currents off this exposed white sandy beach can be fast because the beach faces the open ocean. The wave action also is high, and riptides occur close to the jetty, warns Scarborough Parks and Recreation Manager Bill Reichl. But at low tide, Pine Point, also called Hurd Beach, is a safer swimming spot than many other beaches along Maine’s rugged coast, Reichl said. The town beach also offers a concession stand and bathroom facilities. The municipal parking lot is on Avenue 5. (Fee is $10; $5 after 3 p.m.)

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