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Maine's Most Beautiful Sand Beach

Sunset view atop Fox Island

(April 24, 2003)

Waves of tourists and decades' worth of stories have convinced many that Maine's 3,000 miles of shoreline has only rocky beaches. Well, here is a secret: Maine has beautiful sand beaches. One of the best-kept sand beach secrets, and I have mixed feelings about giving it away, is Popham Beach.

Sequin LightMaine's Message In A Bottle

Popham Beach was the location for the beautiful coastal scenes in Kevin Costner's movie "Message In A Bottle."  Located in Maine's Mid-Coast region an hour north of Portland, this beach has it all-fine sand, high cliffs, salt marshes, dunes, islands, two picturesque lighthouses, and historic forts. What makes Popham Beach so unusual is that it begins at the mouth of the Kennebec River (Atkins Bay) and rambles along the Gulf of Maine for three miles.  It's one of the widest sandy beaches in the state and offers abundant places to hike, bike, sail, kayak or simply sunbathe. There are also protected areas for wildlife and sightings of porpoise and seals are common. In fact, 520 acres of the beach is designated a state park. Within the park are bathhouses, freshwater showers, and charcoal grills.  If you picnic at Popham Beach beware of the seagulls - they are fearless and will snatch food right out of your hand! 

Kids love the sand While the water is crystal clear and beckons swimmers; beware it's a numbing 60 degrees on the warmest days.  There are lifeguards on duty in the park confines; however, visitors need to be wary of the strong tidal currents near the river mouth to the ocean, especially on an ebbing tide when the waters are rushing towards the sea.  Maine's tides are the highest in the U.S - a maximum of 11 feet between highs and lows.  At low tide, Popham Beach becomes so expansive that it's possible to walk across to tiny Fox Island.  A hike up the island's cliffs affords amazing views from every angle.

Two historic lighthouses add a true Maine flavor to the area.  The closest lighthouse to the beach is Pond Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1855. The other is Sequin Light built in 1795, which is the second oldest lighthouse in the U.S. and at 186 feet above sea level one of the tallest on the East Coast

Historic Beginnings

Fox Island at low tide Besides historic lighthouses, Popham Beach is the location of Popham Colony; the second colony in America established a few months after Jamestown in 1607.  Bear in mind, this was 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.  In August, 1607, approximately 100 Englishmen were sent to America to start a colony.  Unfortunately, sickness overwhelmed the colonists in the winter of 1607.  One of the casualties was the colonist's leader and colony namesake, Sir George Popham.  To return to England the surviving colonists built a 30-ton ship (pinnace) called Virginia. The Virginia was the first English ship built in North America.

At the end of the beach along Atkins Bay lies Fort Popham built in 1860 during the Civil War. While the semicircular granite fort was never completed, it was used again in the Spanish American War and World War I.  Nearby Fort Baldwin is unseen and unsuspected by most visitors to Fort Popham.  Built in 1912 atop Sabino Hill this fort was used in World War I and World War II as the next stage of defense but mostly as an observatory post to spot enemy submarines.

If You Go:

Popham Beach State Park is open from April 15 through October 30.  From Route 1 in Bath, take Route 209 south and follow all the way to Phippsburg (14 miles). Follow the signs for Popham Beach State Park. Admission $2.00 for adults and $.50 for kids ages 5 to 11.  Seniors age 65 and older are free.

Related Sites:

Popham Colony
Maine's First Ship
Popham Beach State Park


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