What is a hike, really, but a long walk, preferably in the countryside? Sometimes the sense of getting away can be amplified by the journey to get to the hike’s starting point, whether it be a long drive through strange places, a bus ride, or in this case, a boat trip. While it may seem hard to escape the (relative) bustle of Maine’s largest city, a 4-mile loop with birds, flowers, and ocean vistas is only seventeen minutes away via Casco Bay Lines. Like Moosehead’s Mount Kineo, this hike begins after a short ferry ride, a trip across Portland Harbor to Peaks Island, part of the city of Portland. The Casco Bay Lines Terminal is located at 56 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine, and the ferry schedule is posted here. As of May 2021, round-trip tickets are $7.70 for adults (14 and over), $3.85 for kids/seniors/disabled, and free for children under 5. You can bring bikes for a small fee, or rent them on-island (golf carts can also be rented, but that’s not hiking). The voyage from Portland to Peaks allows views of Fort Gorges, the harbor, seabirds, and occasional seals.
Portland Trails has a map on their site of the approximately 4-mile Peaks Island Loop. For more detail, check out the Peaks Island Land Preserve, which maintains the small, wild and/or historical places along the way. On a place like Peaks, time for visitors and businesses is measured by the ferry schedule, so allow a couple hours to fully explore the island before catching a ferry back. Simply turn right or left upon walking up the hill from the ferry, and follow the shoreline. If you get off-track, respect private property, and signs will typically get you back on the route which traces the perimeter of the island, predominantly along Island Ave and Seashore Ave.
Bring a small bag or backpack with you, with water and sunscreen, as most of the places to get those items lie within a stone’s throw of the ferry terminal. Hannigan’s Island Market has everything you need for an ad hoc picnic. For those with younger children who don’t think a long, sunny walk would be the best option, follow Island Ave to the left to City Point Road and the boat ramp. The beaches there are full of barnacle-covered rocks, sea glass, and skittering crabs. This part of the walk is somewhat of a home and garden tour. The shore of the island’s eastern side is more dramatic, with large waves crashing on rocks.
Battery Steele, about halfway around the island on the eastern side, is a World War II-era gun emplacement, part of the former Peaks Island Military Reservation (PIMR). The PIMR used to cover a quarter of the island’s land area, and served to guard Portland Harbor and Casco Bay against the threat of enemy ships and submarines. Now overgrown by vines and shrubs, these recessed turrets and tunnels can be explored by flashlight. Daughter used to challenge herself to see how far she could walk down these dark, spooky walkways without using a flashlight.
Central Avenue can be used as a mid-island cutoff, if trying to make it to a ferry, and leads to some quiet trails in the Hundred Acre Wood. While waiting for the ferry ride back, hopefully you’ve left yourself time for lunch or a drink, maybe even an ice cream. Our favorite is the friendly Island Lobster Company, on Island Ave just south of Peaks’ main intersection by the ferry. The beach adjoining the ferry pier will give up sea glass if you search for it, which makes a good distraction for kids. A trip to Peaks Island is a day well-spent, a unique ocean walk.