When you combine this beautiful, rugged coast with some of the oldest places in the United States, you have the ultimate destination for nature- and history-loving boaters, who want to delve into the numerous national parks, wildlife refuges and historic sites.
As you plan to travel “down east,” note that the term originated back in the day when sailing from Newport or Boston to New Hampshire and Maine meant sailing downwind and east. Here are eight stops to consider, charting from south to north along New England’s seaside.
Located just five miles east of downtown Newport, this national wildlife refuge is easily accessible from several marinas by bike, scooter or one of Newport’s infamous three wheel “scoot coups.” Until the early 1900s, Sachuest Point was used for farming and sheep grazing. During World War II, the U.S. Navy turned the site into a rifle range and communications center.
Since Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1970, this 242-acre peninsula offers visitors more than three miles of trails, kiosks, interpretive panels and viewing platforms, as well as education programs and exhibits at the visitor center. Birdwatchers often encounter loons, eiders, gannets and harlequin ducks, just some of the more than 200 species that visit here each season. The Sachuest Point website notes that the refuge is also renowned for saltwater fishing and has an active night fishing permit system. The visitor center is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Where to Dock: Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina
Massachusetts – New England’s Seaside
Just a block west of New Bedford’s waterfront on the Acushnet River, this site encapsulates the area’s colorful history as the center of the American whaling industry in the 1700s and 1800s. The Historical Park spans
13 city blocks and includes the New Bedford National Historic Landmark District, New Bedford Whaling Museum, the schooner Ernestina-Morrissey, Seamen’s Bethel, Rotch–Jones–Duff House & Garden Museum, and two visitor centers.
The city’s famous “Whaleman’s Statue” is not within the park’s official boundaries; it’s at the corner of William and Pleasant Streets in front of the New Bedford Public Library. The park website notes that it involves more than whaling “as it includes global immigration stories, the Underground Railroad, women’s history, cultural diversity, architecture, art, and their relevance to current topics.”
National Park Visitor Center is in the heart of the National Historical Park and offers materials you need to explore the park, its partners and the city of New Bedford. New Bedford Waterfront Visitor Center encourages you explore an active commercial fishing port through exhibits and outdoor displays. Both centers are open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Where to Dock: Pope’s Island Marina
The 44,000-acre Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) occupies a 40-mile
stretch on the tip of the cape in New England’s Seaside where it hooks north and includes beaches, woods and ponds rich with marine creatures and native wildlife.
Within CCNS’s boundaries you also find Marconi Station (site of the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission), Highlands Center for the Arts (formerly the North Truro Air Force Station), Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District, and Doane Rock, an 18-by-12-foot “glacial erratic” deposited by the Laurentide Ice Sheet between 12,000 and 18,000 years ago. CCNS contains 12 hiking trails, several paved biking trails and two visitors centers: Salt Pond Visitor Center and Province Lands Visitor Center.
Where to Dock: Hyannis Marina
Comprised of 34 islands and peninsulas, Boston Harbor Islands National & State Park offers public moorings on Spectacle, Peddocks, Georges and Gallops Islands, with a marina on Spectacle Island. Moorings and slips are available by reservation.
Featured historical sites include Fort Warren, which served as a training facility for Union soldiers and a prison for Confederate officers and government officials during the Civil War; Fort Andrews, built in 1900, which served as an active coast artillery post and also held Italian prisoners of war during WWII; and Boston Light, the oldest
continually operated light station in the country, first lit on September 14, 1716, partially destroyed by the British in 1774, and rebuilt is 1783.
The maritime history of Salem stretches back nearly 400 years. This nine-acre complex of historic streets, buildings and wharves tells “the story of the development of colonial port towns, the importance of international trade to the early economy of the United States, and the connection between maritime trade and growing industrialization.”
Highlights include tours of the Custom House, Derby House and Narbonne House, the Public Stores and Scale House, Waite & Peirce (the park store), Salem Visitors Center, Derby Wharf Light Station (first lit in 1871), and guided and self-guided walking tours.
Where to Dock: Pickering Wharf Marina
Maine – New England’s Seaside
In between Kennebunkport and Wells, you find the Rachel Carson National
Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1966 to protect the area’s salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds, the refuge is comprised of more than 14,000 acres, offering five trails with interpretive signs that talk about salt marsh restoration, phenology, shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds, shrubland management and wetlands in general.
Timber Point Trail is located in the Little River Division at the end of Granite Point Road in Biddeford. This 1.25-mile walk takes you through a variety of habitats and ends on the rocky shore overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Goosefare Brook Trail & Overlook offers parking, a short stone-dust trail and observation platform with views of the marsh
and beach. Fishing, shell fishing and kayaking are also permitted.
Where to Dock: Chicks Marina
New England’s Seaside true national park, Acadia is located on Mt. Desert Island adjacent to the picturesque resort town of Bar Harbor. Referred to as “The Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” it’s one of the 10 most visited national parks in America, offering 27 miles of historic roads and 158 miles of hiking trails.
Highlights include Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States; the 27-mile Park Loop Road system, offering panoramic views of the park’s shoreline, coastal forests and mountains; and Hulls Cove Visitors Center, open from mid-April through October. The Island Explorer bus features ten routes linking hotels, inns and campgrounds with destinations in Acadia National Park and neighboring village centers, including Bar Harbor.
New Brunswick, Canada
Even though it’s technically in Canada, Campobello Island was a favorite retreat of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the park is jointly administered, staffed and funded by Canada and the United States.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s summer home is maintained as a combination indoor museum and outdoor nature park, open from mid-May through mid-October. Plan to spend about an hour touring the visitor center, Roosevelt Cottage and flower gardens, then explore the park’s 2,800-acre natural area, where you find walking trails, beaches, bogs, forests and ocean headlands. Brochures on the park website include Walking Trails, Carriage Road Drives, The Bogs, Birds of Campobello, A Geological Tour and Self-Guided Tour of Eagle Hill Bog.
The owners/operators of all private boats entering Canadian waters must report their arrival to the Canada Border Services Agency. Call toll-free to the Telephone Reporting Centre at 1-888-226-7277 from the phone booth at Welshpool Hall at Welshpool Landing on Campobello Island. Only the owner/operator may leave the boat to place the call. Everyone else must remain on board until the CBSA gives authorization.
Where to Dock: Welshpool Landing