Maine is an ideal place to live if you enjoy going outdoors, especially in a mild summer climate that rarely rises above 95 degrees. The northernmost state in New England boasts chilly sea breezes and sunny mountaintops covered in bright, thriving foliage and fauna. Where I live in Portland is particularly nice, because it allows access to mountains like Douglas Mountain or beaches like Seawall Beach within an hour of driving. Yet I am still close to the city, and can go downtown to the library for a book, or to Arcadia for a drink and a game of Galaga.
One of my favorite things to do is to find a place I’ve never been, and visit it. It’s easy in Maine because there are dozens of beaches close by. Even for those that are further away, I’m willing to drive up to 2.5 hours to go somewhere if it’s worth it. And when I can, I like to bring Batou the dog with me.
This last weekend I chose a beach called Seawall Beach, one that I had heard about on the radio. I don’t often heed advertisements, but when it’s for a beach in Maine that’s secluded and has a tiny parking lot, it’s hard not to pay attention. So I messaged my friend Alicia, who had planned on going on a hike with me this weekend, to find out if she wanted to go too. She said yes.
We went early on Saturday morning, armed with iced coffee, beach towels, and bathing suits donned under protective hiking wear. The warnings about the parking lot filling up early were no joke; by the time we arrived at 9:30 AM, more than 75% of the parking lot was already full. Alicia and I packed our backpacks up, sipped the last of the iced coffee, and started the two-mile trek through the woods.
The walk through the Bates-Morse Mountain Preserve was peaceful and beautiful. The weather was perfect; it was cool, in the upper 70s. The lush green trees along the dusty gravel road hung down, and gave us shade from the bright morning sun. It’s a 500 ft+ elevation climb, as the dirt and gravel road winds through low marshes and rumbles over a wooden bridge, to climb a short hill that leads over another rise. Neither climb was hard. It was easy enough for families we saw along the way, with their beach chairs and gear, the children tailing behind with their beach towels.
After some time we made it through the walk in the woods. We went up and down rolling hills, took a left turn here and a right turn there, until we came to the end of the woodsy path. The two of us emerged from the trees as the foliage faded away into brush, and the brush faded away into sand. Our conversation had been good, and the walk had handed both of us some challenges, including mosquitoes.
When we stepped out onto the sand and took our shoes off, we looked left and right. Nothing to see but broad beaches in either direction. There were barely any people. Tiny, near uninhabitable islands anchored in the mainland a half a mile from the edge of the beach, where it met deeper sea. We stood in awe at the wide expanse of sand that reached out to touch the Atlantic’s glittering blue waves. It was beautiful, breathtaking, infinite. We decided to walk north, towards the tiny islands and shallow tide pools beyond the sandbars.
Seawall Beach is peaceful, perfect with its glittering silver sand that leads you to the ocean. Everywhere you look, minuscule silver glints make it hard to look directly at the sand. The feeling of an extravagant, haunting magic we know nothing about hangs in the air. Gulls drifted on invisible breezes. We set down our backpacks beside a great rock that clearly belongs to the sea when the tides come in. It was early yet, and the tide was out just far enough for us to get to the sandbar, the border between deeper, icy seas and the warm shallow pools we wade in.
There was an abundance of shells at Seawall Beach, most of them in whole pieces, which felt unusual compared to other Maine beaches. There were shiny purple mussel shells, and wide brown and blue clam shells yet to be bleached by the sun. We saw the edges of the shells buried in the sand under the water. They were everywhere in the pools we wandered through; we even found a whole one. We gathered some shells to look at, but not to take home. There are rules about beaches in Maine; you do not take anything from the sea.
Alicia and I wandered around in these pools, laying on the sandbar and talking about our lives. We talked about how the world treats the people we love, and what love was. We considered our family relationships, and how we relate to other people and their understanding of the world. A helicopter flew over the tiny islands. We spotted a lighthouse on one of them, short and stubby, stubborn in its eternal watch for ships. Several small boats went by, and the morning wore on. The sun grew warmer. The sea began to creep into the mainland, covering our sandbar.
“Let’s go back before it becomes waist-deep,” we said to one another, and ventured through the tepid blue pools that stretched east to the sandy mainland. We were still talking, and it was only just 12 PM. We knew it would take us about an hour to get back to the parking lot, and about another hour to get back to Portland. Both of us had naps planned that afternoon, and I had to walk the dog. There’s no dogs at Seawall so we had to leave Batou at home for this hike. We headed away from Seawall Beach.
The way back through the woods was warmer than the way there had been. The afternoon had become more buggy also. The mosquitoes were in force despite our enthusiastic bug repellent use, and the horseflies soon joined in. We booked it back to the car, down the now less shaded gravel road. Through the marshes we marched, and up over the last hill before it gave way to the parking lot. Seawall, we decided, was a beach we must return to. Its sparkling silver sand and incredible expanse of wide, tepid tide pools would call to us again. We would bring willing friends and family who could make the hike here, any time they wanted to go.
If you’re looking for a peaceful, out of the way, gorgeous beach to spend the day, try Seawall Beach. Get there early, bring plenty of bug repellent and sunscreen. Bring food, and don’t expect to find a bathroom anywhere. But enjoy the beach for what it is: untouched, some purity remaining within this less traversed conservation area.
See the map below for directions (1 hour from Portland) :