Now that the hectic days of summer have passed, a beach getaway is far more attractive, a chance to walk the beaches, look for shells, eat a lobster or two and enjoy cool, ocean breezes free of crowds. Only about 75 miles from Boston, Wells has not only first class beaches, but the Rachel Carson Wildlife Reserve to explore.
The Wells tidal marshes, where sea life begins
Like Ogunquit, the primary beach at Wells is separated from the lodging and shopping part of town by a broad stretch of tidal marshes that stretches for miles along the east side of Route 1. These marshes are the life-blood of the ocean, producing the nutrients and small krill and fish that form the bottom of the food chain. At high tide they are flooded by the sea, making the ocean side settlement of beach-side vacation houses into a virtual island. At low tide they present fields of brilliant green grasses creating waves as the winds blow over them.
The best place to see the tidal marshes is from Harbor Road, Drakes Island Road on the north end (it leads to an upscale beach settlement) and Mile Road on the south (the main road to the beaches). At the end of Harbor Road is the boat harbor (not surprisingly), at the opening of the marshes to the sea. At low tide, large areas of the harbor are sandy beaches, fun to explore but no bathing is allowed. If you have kids with you, there is a nice playground with swings and slide, as well as a pavilion for picnicking.
Then there are the beaches to explore
The best beach at Wells is the stretch from Mile Road north, a distance of a bit over four miles, but access is divided because of breaks in the barrier dune for streams and the entrance to Wells harbor. At the beach end of Mile Road there is a pay parking lot, but if it is full you might want to take the next left onto cottage-lined Atlantic Avenue. At the end is another parking lot (fee charged). The beach here is broad at all but high tide and it’s an enjoyable place to walk with long vistas along the shore.
Another good choice for beach wandering is Drakes Island Beach. To get there, take Route I north about a mile and a half north of the Route 9 intersection. At the beach, turn left and follow Island Beach Road to a parking lot at the end. The entire frontage here is privately owned so access to the beach is through this parking lot.
A favorite of the locals is Parsons Beach, separated from Drakes Island Beach by an outcrop of granite. To get there take Routes 9 and 1 north and follow Route 9 (Port Road) to the right when the routes split. In just under two miles look for Parsons Beach Road on the right. Take it to the end where a sign advises you not to go any further. Park only on the designated side of the road. In summer this road is crowded with cars but at this time of year there should be space. Parsons is an undeveloped beach with access over dunes covered in beach roses. Do stay to the path and take out all you bring in. It is privately owned and access is at the tolerance of the landowners.
Escape into the world of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge
Experience a totally different exposure to the coastal environment at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Look for the entrance on the south side of Route 9 (Port Road) about a half mile from Route 1. The Carson reserve includes many miles of southern Maine coast, but at the refuge headquarters in Wells there is an interpretive trail of just over a mile that takes visitors through a coastal forest and along tidal marshes where sightings of heron, egrets and sea birds are common.
Lodging and dining
There are many lodging options in Wells but we stayed at the Sea Mist Motel right on Route 1, just over a half mile south of Mile Road. This motel-style inn is reasonably priced and has in-room kitchenettes with microwave, mini fridge (no freezer) and toaster, as well as TV with a DVD player. A bit more upscale option is the Misty Harbor Resort on Mile Road. For dining try Billy’s Chowder House, right in the middle of Mile Road along the tidal marshes. Another good option is Fisherman’s Catch on Harbor Road. They close in late October.
Take I-95 through New Hampshire and into Maine to the exit for Routes 9 and 109 east. Take Routes 9 and 109 east to Route 1. Harbor Road will be to the left, Mile Road and the Sea Mist to the right.