Free is a happy word. I’m always up for finding a bargain so I was excited to learn that Maine Resident’s Day, offering free admission at many Maine State Parks and Historic Sites, was scheduled for Father’s Day. We decided to take advantage of the free admission and try a new destination. While Swan Island is generally excluded from the free admission, I noticed on their website that they too were offering free access on Father’s Day. Admission is normally $8 per person, but on this sunny Father’s Day it was discounted 100%.
In planning our hike, I learned that for this particular trip, apostrophes are important because there are actually two destinations where you could end up if you google Swan Island and they’re located fairly far from one another.
There was our planned destination of Swan Island at the head of Merrymeeting Bay in the Kennebec River and accessed by a ferry in Richmond, Maine. But, keep an eye out for that apostrophe.
There is a second Swan’s Island located off the coast near Bar Harbor. This one is an island town and, although I’ve never been there, looks like a lovely destination as well. Maybe next time I’ll let google take us to Swan’s Island.
For this outing, Swan Island it was. We drove up to Richmond to pick up the ferry. The access point is right at the end of Route 197 at the intersection to Route 24 in Richmond Village. We got a late start and had to rush a bit to catch the 11:00 am ferry but sighed with relief when we arrived around 10:55 am and saw people clustered in groups, waiting for the ferry. We quickly realized that the 11:00 am ferry time was actually the departure time from Swan Island, and the ferry heading to the island for the return trip would be at 11:15 am. It’s probably best we didn’t know that before leaving, as we might have been even later.
Our first impression, when we arrived, was how close the island was to the shoreline. When I read that you had to take a ferry to the island, I assumed it would be a much larger expanse of water, but it’s really just a short hop. While we waited for the ferry, we took some pictures and enjoyed the warm weather and lovely views.
Once we realized how quick the passage was, we were not surprised to see a smaller boat, rather than the large ferry I had envisioned, heading our way to take us to the island. It looked to me like a super sized pontoon boat. Although it was bigger on the inside, as it didn’t seem big enough to fit everyone who was waiting to board, but somehow it did and there was even a little room to spare. There is also room on the boat to bring over bikes if that’s your activity of choice.
As soon as we arrived at the island, we immediately hopped into the back of a pickup truck and our ferry captain, became our truck driver. It’s dirt road, slow and bumpy, but I loved being in the back of the truck even as I was jostled and the wind tried to pull off my baseball cap. It brought back memories of my camping days which was appropriate given that she was bringing us to the campground located on the island. The campground is a few miles up the road and was a good starting point for our hike.
After a little debate as to which direction to head out on first, we ended up starting off on the trail near the shoreline as we thought it would be nice to enjoy water views as we hiked. And, we did enjoy some lovely views for about a hundred steps, before the trail looped inland and the water was no longer visible. We quickly got over our disappointment at leaving the water’s edge as we were greeted by gorgeous open fields covered in wild flowers. The trail meandered through field after field and as we walked we saw many butterflies, birds and bees although fortunately the later were too busy with the wild flowers to pay us much attention.
Given that we were worried about the time as we wanted to catch the 3:00 pm ferry back, we decided to do the series of hikes that cover the middle part of the island. The guide who dropped us off said that some hikers come over on the early ferry and hike the whole island. She stressed that if you want to do this, you need to coordinate a pickup with her so she can get to the other side of the island to pick you up and get back in time to pick everyone else up at the campground. If you wanted to hike down and back on your own, I’m sure you could, but the island is 4 miles long and a little over .5 mile wide according to the information on the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Site, so be sure to bring plenty of water.
At one point, the trail took a turn through one of the fields and curved back up towards the road so we stopped to visit the cemetery located on the main road near the trail. There was a sign by the entrance indicating that a local scout had fixed up the cemetery as part of his Eagle Scout project. After a quick look, it was back to the trails and more hiking.
At the mid-way point of our hike, we came upon the wildlife viewing tower. It’s not too high but does have a steep metal ladder so it can be a bit precarious. I’m not afraid of heights but I don’t love them either. I hesitantly climbed the metal steps and pulled myself up through the trap door, but after only a few minutes of viewing I was ready to get back down again. It was a little too open and high enough to make me uncomfortable. Just not my thing.
We headed out on the second part of our trek on the other side of the island through forested paths. While there are deer on the island, we did not see any during our hike or our few minutes spent at the top of the viewing tower. Maybe next time!
We got back to the campground about a half hour before our scheduled pickup. One bonus of arriving back a little early was that there were bathroom facilities available.
We wandered down to the waterfront and collapsed into some Adirondack chairs overlooking the water. My guess is that we hiked about 4.5 miles in hot weather so we were tired. Our resting spot had beautiful views of Little Swan Island, and I relaxed as I watched a small bird repeatedly go in and out of a wooden bird house setup by the edge of the shore. It was a peaceful spot.
There were signs on the islands providing information on browntail moths which can cause a poison ivy like reaction in some people. I did end up having a little bit of a rash that itched for a few days, but nothing serious and it went away fairly quickly. The Maine Forest Service has a fact sheet on browntail moths. According to an article by Patty Wight on the Maine Public Broadcasting (MPBN) website, unfortunately this is going to be a bad year for them too.
It was a great way to spend Father’s day and we even celebrated with ice cream from the Maine Street Dairy Treat in Richmond after we arrived back from the island. I enjoyed hiking Swan Island and would like to come back again some time to explore even more of the island. They have a variety of events throughout the year include lobster bakes with boat tours of the island which sound like an especially yummy way to explore Swan Island.
|things to know|
|Ferry||Intersection of Routes 197 and 24, Richmond, Maine|