Maine Swimming Holes
Mention to a local that you are looking for one of Maine’s best swimming holes and you may be directed to a hidden pocket of beach or a waterfall deep within the forest. Some swimming holes are prized for being family-friendly, others for being left in their natural state. Find your special swimming spot in one of Maine’s stunning state parks or at the end of a half-hidden trail leading off an interior highway. Just go out, get wet, and enjoy it.
Aroostook County borders Canada and is Maine’s largest county. Covered by thick forests and home to more than 2,000 lakes, this lightly populated area is home to more moose than people. Take a canoe or kayak on any lake, stream or pond and chances are you will find a scenic place to jump in and take a swim.
One the county’s natural treasures is the Allagash Wilderness Waterway State Park. It is made up of 92 miles of connected rivers and streams, opening up occasionally into quiet ponds and tree-rimmed lakes. Your reward for venturing into the unknown is a number of natural sand beaches, many of them with pristine swimming holes. Scofield Point, located on Churchill Lake offers camping under the trees and a half-mile long secluded swimming beach. Others of note are Russell Cove on Eagle Lake, the Sandy Point Campsite at Allagash Lake and the Gravel Beach Campsite at Chamberlain Lake.
The best way to explore the river is by canoe or kayak. Most trips involve camping in the piney woods and there are roughly five dozen backwoods campsites that offer just the basics. That means packing all your gear and food in and garbage out. Some do have picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets. If you don’t want to go it alone, join a group led by a Maine Wilderness Guide. Chances are a guide will get you into even more remote areas. There are no fees for traveling or camping in the Allagash. If you choose a guided tour, the cost depends on the length of your trip, how many are traveling and the inclusions.
Echo Lake, in Aroostook State Park, is another delightful swimming hole, fronted by a wide sandy beach. This is a more populated swimming experience, with nearby parking, a boat ramp, canoes and paddleboats for rent, picnic tables and restrooms. The day use section is accessible to the physically challenged.
Camping is also an option, either in tents or small RVs. Each site offers a picnic table and fire ring. Water faucets, pit toilets, hot showers and a cooking area are nearby. Aroostook has a day use fee of between $1 and $3 per person depending on age and residency. Camping fees depend on if you are tenting it or using an RV. Pets are welcome in the campground.
Downeast & Acadia
There is another Echo Lake Beach, only this one is in Acadia National Park. It sits on the western edge of Mount Desert Island and fronts a freshwater swimming site that is considered the best on the island. A lifeguard is on duty from Memorial Day until Labor Day. There is plenty of parking, changing rooms, rest rooms and a place to launch canoes or kayak. The pathway to the beach is paved and accessible to all. Loons and peregrine falcons frequent the area. The only fee is the park entrance which currently is $5 per person, good for seven consecutive days.
Lamoine Beach is a half-mile long stretch of sand fronting the Atlantic and though it is just off of busy Route 1, this swimming spot is remarkably quiet. Nearby is Lamoine State Park, offering day use facilities and overnight camping for tents and RVs. The nearby towns of Ellsworth and Bar Harbor offer shopping, dining and other services. The beach itself offers picnic tables and restrooms and a small boat launch. There is no fee to use the beach, but camping and park fees do apply at Lamoine State Park. Pets are allowed in the campground but not on the beach.
Greater Portland & Casco Bay
The Greater Portland & Casco Bay Region is known for its beaches. Old Orchard Beach is one of the best known, not only for its seven mile stretch of sand and its ocean swimming, but for The Pier. This vintage structure juts out into the ocean some 500 feet and has been doing so since 1898. Swim, bodysurf, picnic or just layout on the sand. Use of the beach is free and there is easy access. Nearby you will find restaurants, quaint shops, amusement rides and traditional carnival fun foods. Parking may or may not be free, depending on where you end up.
Willard Beach is not as well known and considerably smaller but just as enjoyable. Within its four acres are places to do a bit of ocean swimming, lay a towel on the sand and soak up some sun and even enjoy a treat from the summer snack bar. A bathhouse and restrooms are also available, as is a nearby parking lot. Located in South Portland, the beach is behind Fisherman’s Point near the Southern Maine Community College. Dogs are allowed, in summer they are restricted to before 9 am and after 7 pm. Use of the beach is free.
Kennebec & Moose River Valleys
The Kennebec & Moose River Valleys Region stretches from the Canadian border to the MidCoast Maine Region. Within that expanse of land, much of it remote and still very wild, are countless lakes, ponds and rivers of all sizes and veracity. With all of that water it is an easy task to find someplace to swim. The Dead River Public Reserved Land takes up 4,771 acres and is home to Fallstaff Lake, known for its fish-friendly mountain fed waters.
Lakeside picnics, complete with a quick dip in the freshwater lake are popular past-times. Picnic tables, outhouses and basic camping spots are available near the dam. Camping for both RVs and tents is available nearby at Big Eddy Campground, averaging $11 per person, per night. Short, easily negotiable trails lead to the shoreline. Float on the water and enjoy the pine-fresh air and the eye-popping mountain views framed by your very relaxed toes.
Belgrade Town Beach is an easy drive via Route 27 and Lakeshore Drive to the town of the same name. It is a small beach, but offers picnic tables, restrooms and the chance to swim in Long Pond. This is a free beach with easy access and close to shops, restaurants and other services. Dogs are not allowed.
Another swimming spot is Lake St. George State Park, located east of Augusta. Route 3 runs parallel to the 1,107 acre lake, a favored haunt of the Common Loon. The day use area offers picnic tables, barbeque grills, a playground and restrooms near the beach and swimming area. During the summer a lifeguard is available. Camping for both tents and small RVs is available. Day use rates run from $2 to $4 based on age and residency. Pets are allowed in the campground but not on the beach. This swimming spot is popular because of the expanse of lawn that leads down to the beach and the lovely views.
Maine’s Lakes & Mountains
As the name implies, Maine’s Lakes & Mountains Region is blessed with countless lakes and ranges of forested mountains along with dozens of waterfalls. Small’s Falls, on the Sandy River in the Rangeley area, is as close to a drive-in waterfall as you can get. A rest area off of Route 4 offers parking, picnic areas and pit toilets. Easy trails lead to the large, circular swimming hole at the base of the tiered waterfall. Brave souls can jump into the water from a ledge 14 feet above the water. You can also wade in from the rocky beach. There is no charge for parking or to swim in the falls.
The Carrabassett Valley is also favored for its swimming holes. Route 27 follows the river between Stratton and New Portland. One spot is Riverside Park, right off the roadway. The bottom is rocky and the water depth rarely gets above four feet, but there is a small beach, plenty of wading spots and a naturally formed water slide. The largest swimming hole on the river is Spring Farm, averaging seven or eight feet in depth even in the dry season. A shallower end is available for wading. To reach Spring Farm, follow Route 27 until you get about half a mile south of Valley Crossing, then look for the sign. An easy path leads to the swimming hole. These are both free to use, safe for supervised children and accessible to most.
The MidCoast Maine Region fronts the Atlantic, reaching from Penobscot Bay to Casco Bay and extending west to the Kennebec & Moose River Valleys Regions. Swimming holes are of both the freshwater and saltwater variety. Barrett’s Cove Beach, sits three miles inland, on the eastern end of Megunticook Lake. It is somewhat off the beaten path, so is seldom crowded. The family-friendly beach has a roped off swimming area and a shallow end for the little ones. Swim out to a diving platform anchored just offshore. This day use area has picnic tables, barbeque grills and an outhouse. Nearby is a boat ramp, suitable for kayaks, canoes and other small craft. Parking and use of the beach is free and the walk to the beach is short and easy. Barrett’s Cove Beach is off of route 52 in Camden.
Crescent shaped Lucia Beach, part of Birch Point State Park, is in Owls Head, just south of Rockland. It sits at the very tip of the small peninsula, sporting its own Owls Head Lighthouse. The curved beach is perfect for beachcombing and taking a dip in Penobscot Bay. A large parking lot close to the beach area leads to picnic areas and outhouses. Other than the lighthouse, perched on its rocky bluff, the area is much as nature created it. Lucia Beach Road leads to the parking lot/beach and there is no charge. You might even see dolphins or whales swimming offshore..
The Maine Beaches
Beaches and swimming just naturally go together. The Maine Beaches Region is blessed with over 30 miles of beaches, some sandy, some not so much. Most are swimmable. Kennebunkport’s Goose Rocks Beach is known for its three miles of wide, white sand. The name comes from the barrier reef just offshore, which not only protects the sand from erosion, but tempers the incoming waves, making this a safe swimming beach for adults and children.
Kings Highway runs along the beach, providing nearby parking. In the summer parking can get tight as locals and visitors flock to the area. A permit is required to park along the highway, available at Goose Rock General Store, the Kennebunkport Town Office or Police Department. Several paths lead down to the beach, most of them easy. Dogs are welcome before 8 am and after 6 pm. There are no services at the beach, but shopping, and lodging are available in Kennebunkport.
Ferry Beach State Park is located in Saco. The 117-acre park not only offers swimming and sunbathing at Ferry Beach, but two miles of nature trails, picnic areas and free parking. Changing rooms and restrooms are available. The waves are larger here than at Goose Rocks Beach, making it a good place to bodysurf. This is ocean swimming in a natural setting, but offering man-made creature comforts. Access to the beach is via Bayview Road in Saco.
The Maine Highlands
Dunn Point’s sandy beach on Moosehead Lake is one of the Maine Highland’s favored swimming holes. It is part of the 925 acre Lily Bay State Park, and offers a swimming spot that is safe for all ages. The beach overlooks Sugar Island, providing lovely views of largely untouched forest and the lake itself. Accessed via Myrle’s Way in Greenville, the beach offers parking close by with easy pathways to the water, picnic areas with tables and grills, drinking water, restrooms and a playground. Despite the amenities, this is a wild area, frequented by moose, deer and even the occasional bear. Lilly Bay State Park does have a day use fee of between $1.50 and $4.50, depending on age and residency. If you’d like to spend the night, campgrounds are available at Dunn Point and Rowell Cove. Both offer small RV and tent camping sites.
If you prefer your swimming hole to be out in the middle of almost nowhere, Buttermilk Falls is in the Appalachian Mountain Club 100 Mile Wilderness Conservation Area, south of Baxter State Park. The falls are on the Pleasant River’s West Branch, about 75 miles north of Bangor. One of several basins in the Jo-Mary Forest, this is the largest, filled with cold mountain water and usually bathed in sunshine. It does require a three mile hike, some of which is steep, so it is only accessible to those who are in fair shape. Parking is available at the Gulf Hagas lot, on the Katahdin Ironworks Road. The hike follows part of the Appalachian Trail then veers off to the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail, leading to the falls. There are no services and use of the area is free.