Harpswell, Maine Vacation Guide
It is no secret: Maine has a monopoly on dramatic coastline. However, not all coastlines are created equal, and while sunlit coves, salt-preened inlets and rocky promontories are a dime a dozen in Maine, some of them just have, as those French Canadians to the north might say, a certain je nais se quois. Harpswell Neck peninsula and the bridge-linked islands that make up this area south of Brunswick are known jointly as the Harspwells. The landscape is ruggedly beautiful and unspoiled. If you look at a map of Maine, it appears like the Harpwells are a set of jagged teeth taking a bite out of the Atlantic and Casco Bay. While most of the forty plus islands in the Harpwells are inaccessible, Bailey Island, Orr’s Island and Cundy Harbor are popular destinations. This area is of Maine is like coastal Impressionism.
Harpswell and the Peninsula Prowl
A tour of Harpswell, Bailey and Orr’s Island is the best scenic derive in Maine. Actually, it is more like a peninsula prowl than a traditional scenic drive, as the nooks, crannies and sweeping vistas will have you pulling over to the side of the road every few minutes to snap a picture. Harpswell is so perfectly charming and quaint that you begin wonder if you’re actually looking at a village scene in a snow globe. The Elijah Kellogg Church and the Harpswell Town Meeting House, both built in 1757, match each other like architectural twins, and you can read all about them in the Historical Society Museum. The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote: “We were very tired, we were very merry/We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.” Considering that she had a summer cottage on Ragged Island, it is safe to say she could have been writing about the Harpswells.
Bailey Island & Orrs Island
Summer cottages and lobster boats are scattered amongst the coves like flocks of colorful shorebirds. Continuing your peninsula prowl, you will drive across the world’s only remaining cribstone bridge. Considered a National Historic Engineering Landmark, the granite blocks are set in a honeycomb fashion. This allows the tidal water to naturally flow through the bridge. However, the cribstone bridge is not the only famous landmark in the Harpswells.
Mackerel Cove is a postcard perfect fishing harbor. It is one of the most photographed places in Maine, and you always see a handful of Sunday painters setting up their easels to try to capture the harbor’s sunlit tones. It would not be Maine if there were not a historic bait shop hung with a tangled array of colorful buoys. In the Harpswells, The Nubble is that place. A photographers’ magnet and a popular Christmas card backdrop, at least in the quiet Harpswells you will not have to wait in line to take your photo of this iconic Maine lobster shack. Lands Ends, a rocky beach at the end of Bailey’s Island, has a statue celebrating Maine’s fishermen. It is also where you will find the Giant Stairs, otherwise known as The Giant’s Steps, a unique rock formation that looks like a staircase leading into the sea. It is the type of place where Poseidon might come ashore if he was hungry for a lobster.
Lodging and Dining
These sleepy coastal villages pride themselves on New England culinary traditions. Simple, savory and fresh could be the tagline for any of the lobster pounds and waterfront chowder houses in the area. Shore dinners, fish chowder and lobster stew are the staples. The classic New England Shore dinner includes a 1-pound lobster, steamed or fried clams or mussels and a choice of sides (corn on the cob, fries, baked potato). Cook’s Lobster House, which began on Bailey’s Island in 1955, is so internationally known that it has its own gift shop. Once it was featured in a popular Visa commercial, the lines began to swell. Why not hawk lobster t-shirts, magnets and key chains to hungry tourists happy to use their Visa cards?
Built in 1862 and known then as the Union Hotel, Cundy Harbor’s most famous B&B has two rooms that share access to a cupola. The cupola has a 360-degree view of the harbor, islands and Atlantic. If your peninsula crawl started out as a day trip and changed into romantic weekend getaway, this is the ideal place to relax.
Harpswell Area Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Harpswell, Maine area.
Harpswell Maine Map