Island living on the northeastern coastal United States is unlike any other. In coastal Maine, Harpswell is the place to go. With dozens of islands and hundreds of coastal miles, Harpswell never fails to disappoint. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned traveler, a newcomer, or a resident. Harpswell offers a combination of nature activities and relaxing opportunities year-round. The sights alone will make you want to stay, but the surrounding areas will make you want to see what more there is. If you’re traveling to Harpswell, Maine or simply looking for something new to do in the area, here are the 20 best things to do in the town to add to your list.
20. Eat lobster
Much like the rest of Maine, you can’t leave Harpswell without trying some eats. Food is one of the best things in Maine. Fresh seafood is what you should go for, and make sure to have lobster in more than one restaurant. Hawkes’ Lobster is one of the local favorites for fresh seafood in the area. The restaurant has been family-owned and operated for two generations now, so you can expect everything to be made with love and attention. If lobster is not for you, Hawkes’ also serves the freshest clams, oysters, and crab.
19. Popham Beach State Park
Although it’s busy majority of the time, Popham Beach State Park is visited for a reason. It’s probably the best beach in Maine, but that’s always subject to opinion. It’s busy all the time because people seem to think so. It’s a full-service state park that has bathhouses, grills, and other amenities you can use during a day trip. It’s highly recommended to visit Popham Beach during the low tide, so you can actually see how wide the shoreline is. You’ll be able to walk far into the ocean floor and enjoy the sands even more.
18. Rent an oceanfront cottage
Being oceanfront is an opportunity, and in Harpswell, the opportunity to experience something awesome and unforgettable. Why not make it even more memorable by renting an oceanfront cottage? There’s no better way to visit Harpswell or maybe even a staycation experience if you happen to be a resident. Harpswell has some incredible oceanfront cottage rentals that range from average to luxury. Regardless of what’s in the budget, an oceanfront cottage view in Harpswell will never disappoint you. And if a cottage just isn’t an option, you can always try oceanfront camping instead.
Given that Harpswell has a thriving artisan community, you’ll notice that there are a few galleries you can visit in this town. One gallery that’s a must-visit is Ash Cove Pottery. Pottery artist and shop owner Susan Horowitz has been creating the loveliest pieces of pottery since the 70s. Her philosophy in her pottery is inspirational, and it’s something you can see in her work. While you’re out visiting galleries in Harpswell, stop by The Blue Door as well. The Blue Door is Hati Modr’s studio, and it’s also one of the oldest houses in town. The Blue Door offers classes in both painting and drawing.
If you’re done with all the adventure going, nature walks, and sightseeing, you can then turn your eyes to one of the most fun things to do in Harpswell: shopping. Harpswell is home to plenty of unique stores that sell anything coastal—clothes, home décor, and more. H2H Driftwood Art and Gifts is a local and tourist favorite. This is the place you go to if you want to bring a piece of Maine home with you. Seaside Creations is another place to go shopping for artisan gifts and various coastal designs.
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert kayaker, Casco Bay Kayak is where you’ll find everything you need to get on a kayaking adventure in Harpswell. The company even offers tours and lessons. Kayaking isn’t difficult, but it’s also something you can do with a guide if you’d be more comfortable. Kayaking Casco Bay will give you incredible views and a great time. You’ll also get to stay active and paddle your way through the islands.
14. Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop
There’s a reason why Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop is a must-visit when it comes to Harpswell. The culture in this shop is representative of the artisan culture that’s seeded in the area. This wine and beer shop only specializes in small production wines and craft beer, so you know you’re going to find something unique off the bat. You can attend a wine tasting or even take your wine to the next level and do a class. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying something new to drink.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to be an expert sailor in order to get this one done. Ark II Charters can take you out on a sailing adventure on a nice day out on the water. Ark II Charters’ Captain Jack Deislinger is a fully licensed US Coast Guard captain, who is quite the expert on Maine waterways. All you’d need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Make sure to check availability during Covid as you plan any future trip.
12. Old Town Meeting House
As a National Historic Monument, the Old Town Meeting House is more than just something to drive by. This place warrants a full visit. The building itself has been around since about 1759, and it has served as an important historical feature in the town. At the cemetery, you’ll see the tombstones of some of Harpswell’s earliest settlers. While it’s open to the public during the weekend, be aware that the Old Town Meeting House is still actively being used as a place of worship.
11. Harpswell Community Garden
A town is only as good as its community, and Harpswell’s soul can easily be captured here at the Harpswell Community Garden. The garden is a collaborative effort among Harpswell’s residents. Individuals, families, and various groups gather here to plant and produce. Gardeners are always welcome, but you don’t have to be one to visit. Visitors are welcome year-round to simply enjoy the garden and maybe even have a picnic. There’s also a play area for children that aren’t much into gardening but would rather run around and play. If you wish to tend the garden as a volunteer, you can do so during your visit as long as there’s availability of plots to tend to.
10. Cribstone Bridge
Orr’s Island and Bailey’s Island is connected by a granite bridge that’s almost a century old. Built in 1928, Cribstone Bridge is listed on the National Historic Registry of Places in 1975 and was also designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1983. The makeup of granite is what’s allowed this bridge to withstand nature’s forces over the years. You can drive through the bridge, but you might want to try walking over it for a totally different experience. Walking through something that has seen so many years is worth it.
9. Harpswell Historical Society
Start your trip at the Harpswell Historical Society if you can because you’ll get to learn about the town of Harpswell here. You’ll learn about the culture, the history, and everything else that’s a town highlight. The Harpswell Historical Society establishment is small, but it’s been around for more than 30 years. Enjoy small museum, the Centennial Hall, and artifacts that are over a century old. Most everything that happens at the historical society are open to the public, so make sure to stop by even for just a few minutes.
8. Stover’s Point Preserve
It’s a beach. It’s a peninsula. It’s a sandbar that surrounds a salt marsh. Stover’s Point Preserve is an interesting destination given that it’s surrounding a salt marsh. Salt marshes are full of animals and plants that are unique to the area and have adapted to that environment. Stover’s Point is a total of 4 acres of preserved land. It’s untouched to the point that there’s not even parking here.
7. Giant’s Stairs Trail
Located near Bailey Island, Giant’s Stairs Trail offers hiking that ranges from easy to difficult. The trail itself is only 0.6 miles, but it offers one of the most dramatic coastal scenes in all of Harpswell. On a windy day, you’ll enjoy seeing the waves splash against the rocky coastline. If you happen to be a geology aficionado, you’ll get a kick out of the geological makeup of the location.
6. Reid State Park
It’s rare to find large shore beaches in Maine, but you can definitely find them at Reid State Park. It’s a bit of a drive to the park from Harpswell, but it’s well worth it. You can enjoy a long and wide sandy shoreline and even some white beaches. The water is very much enjoyable here, but there are also beautiful hiking trails if you’d rather stay dry. Reid State Park is considered today as one of Maine’s most beautiful beaches.
5. Cliff Trail
Considered to be one of the most popular trails in Harpswell, Cliff Trail is one rugged trail you wouldn’t want to miss. It’s only a 2.1 mile looped trail, but you’ll be passing some incredible sights along the way. That includes a waterfall and a shore walk along Strawberry Creek. You’ll also walk along 150-ft cliffs that overlook the largely untouched Long Reach area. The trail is moderate, so make sure to prepare appropriately for the hike.
4. Halfway Rock Lighthouse
Constructed in 1871, the Halfway Rock Lighthouse is built on Halfway Rock, the midpoint between Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small. The rock sits right in the middle of Casco Bay and is quite spectacular to see. Since 1988, the Halfway Rock Lighthouse is listed under the National Register of Historic Places. This spot has actually been the site of many shipwrecks over the years due to its dangerous location, so be careful on your way.
3. Cruise life
Perhaps there’s no better way to see all of Harpswell’s coastal islands other than to get on a cruise and see everything from the water. Casco Bay Lines has been running a modified cruising schedule during the pandemic. The charter travels to various islands on the coast, and you can even schedule a specialty cruise if there’s something to celebrate. The Sunrise Run is definitely a favorite, but be prepared to leave the dock by 5 in the morning.
2. Eagle Island
Pack a lunch and head on over to Eagle Island, where you can find the home of former Arctic explorer Admiral Robert Peary. The home itself is incredible, but you can also do some hiking in the area. Some trails may be closed down if birds are nesting, but you can easily spend an afternoon here just relaxing with the sweeping views. There’s plenty of wildlife to see, so bring a camera if that’s something you’d like to capture.
1. Hike challenge
This town in Cumberland County happens to be abundant in trails, and hiking here is one of the best ways to spend your time. In fact, Harpswell is known for the Harpswell Hiking Challenge, a two-day hike-a-ton for those brave enough to trek it. Although it sounds daunting, the hiking challenge is something the entire family can do. The hiking challenge seems to be halted at the moment—possibly due to the pandemic, but there’s no stopping you from doing the challenge on your own account. The last challenge issued was in 2019, and you can find the trail list and challenge info here.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn