The quaint village of Kennebunkport is famous for its rich history and First Family ties but still holds some secret spots unbeknownst to even the most dedicated of visitors. Among these beautiful overlooked areas is the winding Kennebunk River, a tidal body of water whose green banks continue far past the iconic Lanigan Bridge downtown. When a childhood friend came to visit from out West, I knew a paddle into Dock Square would be the perfect way to show off the area’s natural and whimsical charm.
We got an early start to capitalize on the calm waters offered by high tide, stepping out the door and into our kayaks while the lawn was still dripping with dew. We paddled past the famed Belted Galloway cows grazing along the riverbank and passed under Durrell’s Bridge. Glancing down into the water revealed a cluster of wooden piers, a reminder of the area’s rich shipbuilding history and the generations before us that utilized the river for industry and pleasure.
The Kennebunk River winds down through the Welch Woods Preserve and the Butler Preserve. On this particular morning, not a single other kayaker was seen, we were in the company only of the swallows, egrets, and herons. Upon reaching the Cape Arundel Golf Course’s rolling greens, we began our final push into downtown, eagerly churning towards the coffee that was awaiting us. The center of the Port was just waking up and filling with morning walkers and breakfast-goers as we passed under the Lanigan Bridge into Dock Square. Running ashore in front of The Boathouse Hotel, my friend and I eagerly stowed our kayaks and made our way into the Dock Square Coffee House. We refueled with some delicious iced coffees while perusing the offerings in Kate Nelligan Design. Back in our boats, we continued meandering downstream, stopping briefly to observe the novelty of The Spirit of Massachusetts – a sailing vessel converted into a permanently moored restaurant and bar. Once satisfied with our downtown endeavors, we began our journey back upstream.
At times the stiff current and strong midmorning sunlight presented themselves as a powerful opponent to our progress, but the coffee and beautiful scenery empowered us to glide towards home against the flow of the tidal river. We admired the wildlife with which we shared the river and discussed the elegant riverside homes dotting the riverbanks. An array of coastal cottages, modern homes, and historic residences keep us occupied as we attempt to pick a favorite. Upon reaching the halfway point, we took a quick hiatus to jump off the rocks, a favorite swimming hole for local kids.
Paddling into dock square for a meal or shopping epitomizes the convergence of natural beauty and New England nostalgia that makes the Kennebunks so charming. It provides a different perspective on one of Maine’s quintessential coastal communities while easing the burden of Summer traffic. I am looking forward to many more kayaking trips on the Kennebunk River and hope to see you out there!
One of our favorite parts of this particular vacation was the day on the water we spent with Captain Rich and his crew aboard the Schooner Eleanor. Our boys had sailed before, but never in Maine. They were up bright and early that morning eager to see what the ride would be like.