Discovering Maine

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Home to the L.L. Beans Outdoor Discovery School, Freeport has loads of outdoor fun for families!

While everyone in Tennessee may be heading south to Florida for a beach vacation, try something different:  Head north!  In Freeport, Maine, you’ll find the expected beach, water, seafood and shopping, but with a new twist – a cool climate!  Compared to Tennessee, it’s continual springtime in Maine, and families can take advantage of the perfect weather with tons of outdoor activities.

Outdoor Adventures

Located off Casco Bay, Freeport has some of the loveliest stretches of Maine coast just 10 minutes from the main shopping strip.  Be sure to stop by the L.L. Bean store, home to the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School.  Here you can book the family for convenient “walk-on adventures” such as kayak tours ($12 for two-and-a-half hours; participants must be at least 8 years old), fly casting lessons ($10 for one-and-a-half hours; participants must be at least 8 years old) or clay shooting lessons ($12 for one-and-a-half hours; participants must be at least 12 years old).  Walk-on adventures are available on a first-come, first-serve basis each weekend until June 14 and then daily through early September; all essential equipment is provided.

I had been interested in fly casting ever since seeing Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It.  I had visions of everyone putting on rubber waders and wading out into the middle of the river with hats full of insects.  I was slightly disappointed to find that lessons were taught a deck built around two long, thin practice pools, but of course safety comes first – and we had to learn the basics!

Our group met at the L.L. Bean store, and the staff drove us to meet our instructor at the Discovery School.  A fly fisher for most of his life, he knew more than we could have learned in weeks of lessons, but soon we were practicing the four-part fly cast (without hooks), which was quite a bit harder to do than it appeared.  While our group might not have been ready to wade out to the middle of Freeport’s Harraseeket River after the hour-and-a-half lesson, the small taste was certainly enough to peak my interest in the sport.  Experienced fly-casters can attend the family fly-fishing weekend and spend two days learning how to fly cast, tie basic knots and identify fish (children must be at least 12 years old).  Other all-day adventures include family kayaking or canoeing day trips, as well as outdoor photography.

Once I had a taste of the Maine outdoors, I couldn’t get enough – and signed up for the day-long kayaking trip into the protected waters of the harbor (a three-hour tour is also available).  We arrived at the “put-in” point at Casco Bay and changed into the provided short-sleeved wetsuits in preparation for a paddle across the bay – or so I thought.  There was still much to learn – from equipment and safety precautions to basic strokes – but once the basics were conquered, we explored the calm bay, which is filled with hundreds of small islands. 

Other Outdoor Adventures

L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School isn’t the only place in Freeport to find outdoor adventures.  Wolfe Neck Woods State Park offers five miles of trails that take hikers along the rocky shoreline of Casco Bay to the Harraseeket River and the salt marsh estuary.  The park’s proximity to both the river and the bay make it an ideal osprey habitat, and we spotted a few nests high in the trees along the coast. 

For a closer look at wildlife, take a seal and osprey watch cruise with Atlantic Seal Cruise.  The Eagle Island Adventure cruise takes visitors to Eagle Island State Park, the former home of Robert Peary, the first man to reach the North Pole.  On the return trip, we spotted seals basking along the rocky shore of a neighboring island.

For a break from the coast, stop by the fascinating Desert of Maine.  This natural phenomenon is thought to have been caused by a glacier that slid through Maine at the end of the last Ice Age – 8,000 years ago – leaving behind sand and mineral deposits that were eventually covered by topsoil and natural vegetation.  The massive over-clearing of trees and overgrazing by the farming family that owned the land caused soil erosion, eventually exposing 40 acres of hidden desert.

Lobster, Anyone?

All that exploring is bound to make anyone hungry, and you won’t want to miss the fresh seafood in Freeport.  Maine lobster is served at every restaurant, and I certainly didn’t mind!  Lobster bisque, lobster stew, lobster cakes, lobster rolls (sandwiches), steamed lobster … you could have it at every meal – and not break the bank.  Be sure to stroll down to the Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster Company on the South Freeport pier for a charming – and delicious – dining experience.  Sitting on a picnic table outside the small restaurant (orders are placed at the window), diners can watch the boatyard with the lobstermen hauling in their catches for the day. 

Where to Stay

There are many places to stay in Freeport, from camp sites to bed and breakfasts.  We stayed at the Harraseeket Inn, which offers all the modern amenities with traditional hospitality (they even have pet-friendly rooms).  Each morning the day begins with a full buffet breakfast in the Maine Dining Room, and each afternoon tea is served in the fireside room.  The Broad Arrow Tavern is also part of the inn and offers all kinds of seafood dishes as well as pizza, burgers and sandwiches for the kids.  Children 12 and younger can stay in the same room with parents for no extra charge; rollaway beds and cribs are available. 

If you’re searching for adventure, you’ll find it in this small New England town.  Explore the rocky shoreline, the woodsy islands in the bay and the wildlife all around Freeport – and don’t forget to relax!

Planning a Visit?

Freeport, Maine | www.freeportusa.com
Atlantic Seal Cruises | 877-ATL-SEAL
Desert of Maine | 207-865-6962 or www.desertofmaine.com
Harraseekett Inn | 800-342-6423 or www.harraseeketinn.com
L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School | 888-552-3261 or www.llbean.com/odp

Brenna Hansen is senior editor for this publication.

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