“Hold your ears now,” cautions Capt. Kent Uicker as the Songo River Queen II announces its departure from its berth in Naples with a blast of its horn. Then the replica of a Mississippi River paddle wheeler, all 100 tons of her, is underway on a two-hour voyage on Long Lake, an 11-mile long lake in the heart of the Sebago Lakes Region.
Maine has many lakes and ponds—the state government has assigned at names or at least numbers to 6,000 lakes and ponds within Maine’s borders. There are even multiple lakes regions, Moosehead and Rangeley, both on the eastern side of the state, being two of the most notable. But the Sebago Lakes Region is the most readily accessible and closest to the greater Portland area. You can hop in the car in Portland and be on the shores of Sebago (the source of Portland’s drinking water) in under an hour.
If you don’t arrive with your own water transport, whether jet ski, kayak or power boat, there are plenty of places to rent them. Or for a quick fix, hop on the 93-foot Songo Queen II (the original burned to the waterline in 1981) and get a relaxing tour of both shores of the lake. With Uicker at the helm, you’ll pass a posh boy’s camp, Camp Takajo, owned by former ABC morning show host Joan Lunden’s husband, peek into private compounds and see the brown ranch-style home where Stephen King used to live and was inspired to write his 1980 novella The Mist.
In Maine, people go down to the ocean and up to camp, and you’ll find many people have distinct preferences for one or the other. Even if you are an ocean lover, the region is worth a day trip. From Portland, take the Roosevelt Trail (aka Route 302) out to the lakes to check out the sights. Entertain the kids at Seacoast Adventure in Windham along the way (mini golf, go karts, ropes course and more). Or go backroads off the 95 exit at Gray, head north to swing by Shaker Village. Definitely detour to Outlet Beach on Sabbathday Pond to experience the great incongruity of gourmet hot dogs and more than a dozen varieties of ice cream made by multiple James Beard Award nominee Krista Desjarlais at Bresca & the Honey Bee. (Bring cash, no cards accepted.)
The bonuses of the lake regions include warmer (and calmer) water for recreation, great fishing and, often, spectacular mountain views. From the deck of the Songo Queen II, Mt. Washington is often visible on the horizon and the smaller mountains of the Bethel ski region frame the northern shores of the lake. There are two cruises a day through August, leaving at 1 p.m. and at 4 p.m.. Adult tickets: $28 (including for children over 12).
Mary Pols is the editor of 95 North and Maine Women Magazine. She had the “Indochine” hot dog at Outlet Beach.