Each time I visit my parents in Maine I usually have the very good fortune to accompany them on their monthly "hiking group" outing. May's outing was a day of biking day on Peaks Island, one of many islands in Casco Bay off the coast of Portland.
Now an artists' community with about 800 year-round residents, the island has been a popular summer destination for vacationers since the late 1800’s. We had to find out why.
After purchasing tickets for passengers and bikes, we boarded the Casco Bay Ferry in Portland. The ferry ride is a treat in itself, seventeen minutes of panoramic views of the islands in the bay and the Portland skyline.
From the ferry's dock we could smell cinnamon and hurried up the hill to Peak's Cafe where some of us enjoyed Linda's famous cinnamon buns. I bypassed the buns to get my buns on a rental bike at the bike rental stop just down the street.
Brad’s Bike Rentals looks like a small garage with a front yard full of used bikes that have been lovingly recycled by Brad. There’s no fitting or personalized service from Brad, just a friendly, “Pick what suits your fancy,” grab a bike of your choice, and off you go. Bike rentals are $5/hour or $15/day and my rented wheels were a perfect fit for the outing.
We began our trek around the island on the main road around the island’s perimeter. There we found a constant view of the ocean and access to small beaches all along the roadway. We stopped at the benches which are comfortably situated every quarter mile. You can't help but relax when invited to do so by the sitting spots and the sea.
We finished one lap around the island in less than an hour (including stops). The next leg of our journey involved cruising through the interior of the island, along dirt roads that sometimes turned into residents’ driveways and other times winded through neighborhoods of artistically crafted and meticulously cared-for private homes.
There is no doubt that extremely tolerant artists and retirees make up the majority of the year-round residents. There is a sense that you are free to wander even private property here, wherever you like to observe a butterfly, analyze the texture of a garden fence or sit on the front lawn and enjoy your lunch.
We opted to eat our packed lunches at a small park we found just down the street from the only “Keep Out” sign we encountered. We were deterred from that area only so as not to disturb the young seal pups that were nesting on the shore below.
After lunch we meandered back into town, stopped at two of the local art galleries and stepped into the lobby of the Inn on Peaks Island. The Inn is decorated in a laid-back island living style with plenty of attention to the details that whisper luxury to the visitor. It has only 6 cottage-style suites for lodging guests. It's open to everyone for lunch and dinner, and it's obviously a very popular wedding venue since the nearly-permanent tent adjacent to it was being outfitted in wedding white even today in the late off-season.
Golf carts are a common mode of transportation on the island. In addition to several locals’ carts, we met a bright red Peaks Island Electric Golf Cart Tour vehicle at each of the Fifth & Eight Regiments Houses we visited. Guided tours are available if you’re not naturally inclined to exploring on your own. I’m sure that just like us they made a stop at the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum as well.
No outing for these seniors is complete without ice cream so they met me at Down Front Ice Cream Parlor after I returned my bike. Ice cream cones in hand, we wandered down the block to the ferry dock, and boarded for our return voyage. We took in the spectacular view of the Portland skyline and surrounding smaller islands all the way back to they city.
My trip to Peaks Island was a day filled with spectacular scenery, a touch of history, a bit of exercise, and a heaping helping of natural and man-made island beauty.
If you're traveling to Portland Maine anytime soon, grab a short ride on the Casco Bay Ferry to Peaks Island. You'll be glad you did!