Sea Kayaking Maine’s Stonington Archipelago

7-minute read

The Stonington Archipelago is a sea kayaker’s playground off the coast of Maine. This grouping of about 70 islands offers a ton to see and do from wildlife viewing to camping to learning about the history of this unique area.

 Will Steinharter leads a kayak tour through Stonington Archipelago

Will Steinharter guides a sea kayak group among the islands of the Stonington Archipelago

To learn more about this sea kayaking destination, we caught up with Will Steinharter, co-owner of Osprey’s Echo Sea Kayaking. This family-owned sea kayak touring company takes guests into the Archipelago every day during its season.

Here’s our conversation with Will:

AQUA BOUND: What’s unique about sea kayaking the Stonington Archipelago?

WILL: As you look at good places to paddle, Stonington is absolutely at the top of the list! It’s a hidden niche. [NOTE: The town of Stonington itself is on an island, so just to get there is a unique experience.]

The islands face Penobscot Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, but the islands break up the chop, so you can get into sheltered, quiet areas.

Map of Maine (left) and Stonington Archipealo (right)

The town of Stonington (left) and the Stonington Archipelago (right)

The islands in the Archipelago are a combo of public and privately-owned, with maybe 15-20 of them with campsites. At least half of them can be accessed on day trips.

Then you just have the beautiful Maine coastline, which never gets old! I guide mid-May through mid-October and am on the water almost every day. I can go somewhere different each day, so I always have variety. As a guide, that’s key—I don’t get bored with the terrain. Not only am I completely invigorating our customers, but I’m keeping myself entertained by the variety, too.

And then there’s the charm of the area. We’re near Acadia National Park, but we don’t get anywhere near the crowds. Stonington is a quaint fishing village combined with an artist community. So the town is part of the attraction. It has the largest lobster port in New England. There are some beautiful day hikes in the area, very friendly people, beautiful inns and great seafood.

AB: What kind of wildlife do kayakers encounter?

WILL: I don’t like to promise wildlife views because it’s wildlife, right? But since we started our company three years ago it’s been excellent. I think when boat activity lessened during the pandemic it helped some of the wildlife come back.

We see harbor seals on almost every tour, and I know where a lot of the seal colonies are in the area. If we’re very lucky we’ll see porpoises—I got to see them a few times last year. The bay is quite shallow, so whales don’t come into this area, though.

(That’s one of the reasons kayaking is so good among the islands—we don’t get the massive waves.)

There’s a lot of bird life, in fact, there’s a bald eagle nest right outside our launch spot. Ospreys are everywhere (hence our business name). There are two or three nests even in our cove. They’re amazing architects! We also see cormorants, guillemots, gulls and more.

sea birds on a tiny island

Then there are the lobsters and stone crabs, and some of the local land wildlife like deer, coyotes and fox.

AB: What skill level do paddlers need for this area? With or without a guide?

WILL: The fun part about Stonington is that it’s perfect for everyone. It’s accessible for beginners as an easy entry into sea kayaking where they’re not dealing with 3-4 foot waves. And even for the more experienced, there are so many islands out there that they’re not going to get bored either. (And if they really want it, they can find some tricky paddling nearby.)

But I would say no matter what experience you have, finding that local knowledge is important. As guides here, we know safety aspects an outsider wouldn’t—like the large lobster community. We know where their boat lanes are and when they’re coming home…fast. It’s hard for these lobstermen to see kayaks in their path.

And it’s not just the safety aspect—Stonington is a working community and a recreational one. We want to respect these guys who are working the boats and stay out of their way. They’re making a living, while we’re out there having fun.

I know almost every rock in the Archipelago, which ones we can access, which ones are private property, where the camping is.

I’ve taken out people who were probably much more experienced as paddlers than me, but I’ve cut down their research and prep time. They may know about the tides and currents, but I can show them where the osprey nests are, I can find the seal colonies. I know where the isolated beaches are, and which islands get the fewest visitors.

I see people get off on the wrong islands—they either don’t know or don’t care—which is also something a guide can help prevent.

 several people hike on an island

A kayak tour group explores one of the public islands

And then, of course, navigating among the islands can be tricky. Almost everyone I’ve taken out has turned to me and said, “I’m so happy you’re here—I have no idea where we are!” The paddling itself isn’t as tricky, especially in the middle of the summer. Sometimes we’ll get flat water. It’s more navigating the islands and getting off on the right ones.

Another big deal here is the fog. Fog and the Maine coast go hand-in-hand. It can’t be underestimated. I’ve been out there on days when I’ve had fog completely take over an entire island in 10-minutes.

I’ve run plenty of guided tours during fog, though. We do very specialized routes where I know there will be less boat traffic. That’s the beauty of the Archipelago—there are so many options.

AB: What kinds of sea kayak tours do you do?

WILL: We’re about to start Year 3 with Osprey’s Echo (spring 2023). We had a great first two years, we’re growing and doing really well. We’re working on getting another guide and expanding our tours.

Our two most popular right now are the half-day group tours and our sunset tours. We also offer full-day and private half-day tours. We tend to get our experienced paddlers in both privates and full days. And our "young and adventurous" guests, along with experienced paddlers, book our full-day option.

We offer a full-day tour and a 2-day camping trip. I’m hoping we can get out longer in the future. The camping is amazing. You can get an entire island to yourself if you know where to go, and you’re right on the ocean.

A group of kayakers pulls off on an island

Exploring one of the Archipelago’s 70+ islands

We also do lessons. We’re working with the American Canoe Association (ACA) this June and running an event with them and another instructor.

We want to keep our company small so we can give our customers a genuine, unique experience on the water. From the time they come and are greeted by our dogs, to the end of the tour when they’re taking a photo for our book, we want them to have a great experience.

AB: Which Aqua Bound paddle do you use?

WILL: I have the Tango Carbon 2-piece straight shaft model. It’s extremely light, which has been essential when paddling every day, sometimes 15 or 20 miles a day. Having a really light, usable paddle that maneuvers well has been so helpful.

I’ve been using it since we started the company. My parents wanted to upgrade my paddle for me and at the time I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for another company expense. But after three weeks I thought, “Wow!” Sometimes I’ll trade with my customers and they’ll say, “No wonder you’re going so fast!”

AB: Any final words?

WILL: I would say the big thing is to make sure not to skip the town of Stonington itself when you come here. It’s on Deer Island. It has an amazing culture from the local art to the beautiful coastline to the parks.

I see kayaking as a tool to show people the area. It has a fascinating history, there’s the wildlife, the lobster industry. I didn’t grow up in Maine, but we’ve been coming here my whole life. It’s a beautiful town and area.

Will Steinharter on the water, another kayak behind him

Will Steinharter, lead guide for Osprey’s Echo Sea Kayaking

Our thanks to Will for his time!

To learn more about Osprey’s Echo and how you can go on one of their sea kayak tours in the Stonington Archipelago, visit their website and find them on Facebook and Instagram.

(All photos courtesy of Osprey's Echo Sea Kayaking)

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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