Difficulty: Easy. The forest trails of the park have been smoothed and surfaced with gravel and include a few wide wooden bridges and boardwalks.
How to get there: The park’s address is 95 Bayview Road in Saco. To get there from Interstate 95, take Exit 36 to Interstate 195, then take Exit 2A and turn right onto Main Street in Saco. Drive about 1 mile to a four-way intersection where you’ll turn left onto Route 9 (Beach Street, which turns into Ferry Road). Continue on Route 9 for 2.7 miles, then turn left onto Bayview Road. Drive 0.3 miles and the park entrance will be on your right.
Information: Located on the coast of southern Maine, Ferry Beach State Park is named after an old ferry crossing on the nearby Saco River, used by people traveling along the beaches of New England.
The 117-acre park features a long sandy beach, a mixed forest, Long Pond and a boardwalk through a tupelo swamp, a rare habitat in Maine. Connecting all of these natural features is a network of easy forest trails that totals about 1.5 mile of walking. There’s the Tupelo Trail (0.4 mile), Red Oak Trail (0.2 mile), White Oak Trail (0.4 mile), Greenbriar Trail (0.1 mile) and Witchhazel Trail (0.1 mile). Also a short trail leads from the parking area to the beach, passing under Seaside Avenue along the way.
These smooth gravel-surfaced trails are generally wheelchair accessible, with some barriers. People who use wheelchairs may assistance in some areas, according to the state park website.
Interpretive signs located along the trails help visitors learn more about the history and wide variety of habitats found on the property. For example, at both ends of the boardwalk leading through the 100-acre tupelo swamp are displays explaining that black tupelo trees are rare at this latitude. The displays also offer a detailed description of the tree so visitors can try to identify them as they walk along the boardwalk.
The gates of Ferry Beach State Park are open 9 a.m. to sunset daily from Memorial Day to September 30, and admission varies from free to $6 depending on a visitor’s residency and age.
During the off season, the park’s gates are closed, but people are still welcome to use the trails and visit the beach. During that time, visitors simply much park outside the gate, well out of the way of traffic, and enter the park on foot.
In the winter, people often travel the park’s trails by cross-country skis and snowshoes, and the park’s Long Pond is sometimes used for ice skating.
The park also includes picnic tables and benches, restrooms, changing rooms and a nature center providing guided nature programs. These facilities — excluding the picnic tables and benches — are not open during the off season.
Many people who visit the park just to spend time on the beautiful sand beach.
To reach the beach, visitors walk along a wide gravel footpath that leads through a fragile habitat of sand dunes and pitch pines. These dunes provide an important barrier that prevents erosion along the beach and serves as a nesting area for many bird species, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Visitors are asked to stay off this fragile environment.
Dogs are permitted on park trails year round if kept on leashes not exceeding 4 feet in length. Dogs are not permitted on the beach from May 1 through Sept. 30.
To learn more about the park and the visitor rules and regulations, visit maine.gov/ferrybeach or call 283-0067.
Personal note: Last weekend, I drove to Boston to see a childhood friend, and on my way, I stopped in southern Maine for a short hike. It was nice to break up the long drive with a walk through the woods and along the beach of Ferry Beach State Park, which I hear can get crowded in the summer. But on that particular day, Dec. 4, I only saw a few other visitors.
Walking on the boardwalk through the swamp, I tried my best to identify the black tupelo trees. It would have been easier if the trees hadn’t already dropped their small oval leaves, but I’m almost positive I found them based on their deeply fissured bark and the branches growing perpendicular to their trunks. I’d like to return another season, when the trees are still holding their leaves. I hear in the fall, black tupelo leaves turn bright red.
Since I was traveling that weekend, I didn’t have my dog Oreo with me on the hike, and that made it a lot easier to view wildlife. Flitting through the evergreen trees were little golden-crowned kinglets, tufted titmice and black-capped chickadees. And off the sandy beach, I watched a common loon in grey and white winter plumage as it wrestled with large fish.
Much farther out into the bay, a group of black scoters bobbed on the waves. It was my first time seeing the species, and at the time, I didn’t know what they were, so I took a few photos in hopes of identifying them with a guidebook later. As it turns out, they were fairly easy to identify. The male
has a solid black body and a bright orange-yellow knob at the base of its bill, and the female has a distinctive feather pattern of brown and light grayish brown. These stocky ducks breed in the subarctic and winter offshore, along the coast.