Just a short drive from downtown Bath is the community of Phippsburg, home to three state parks, Popham Beach, Fort Baldwin and Fort Popham – all within a short distance of one another that can be enjoyed year-round.

Popham Beach

Taking in the fresh salt air to the sounds of waves breaking and call of the gulls, is there a better way to relax than a walk on the beach? Popham Beach State Park is just a 15-minute drive from downtown Bath off state Route 209.

Our most recent visit Saturday, March 10, was a chilly, gray day but that didn’t stop dozens of visitors from enjoying the park, including several teams of horseback riders.

Going to the right (south) is a long stretch of beach where you’ll see wind twisted pine trees, mounds of stiff beach grass and acres of rosa rugosa along the dunes. This part of the park has remained undeveloped and I like to imagine looks much the same as when the first English explorers arrived.

If you follow the shoreline here, you’ll come to the Morse River inlet. On the horizon are Morse Mountain and Morse Hill, now part of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, another popular place for hiking and beach bathing.

Walking in the opposite direction takes you to Hunnewell Beach past several campgrounds, seasonal cottages and year-round residences. The beach gradually wraps around a small peninsula where the Kennebec River meets the ocean. Out into the ocean you’ll see the lonely Pond Island light station warning mariners of the Pond Island Shoals. Farther out in the ocean is Seguin Light House.

Fox Island at Popham Beach State Park. Photo by Phil Di Vece

Fox Island is one of the park’s most prominent features. At low tide you can cross the sandbar to it and follow one of the well-worn trails to its summit. Here you’ll also see a granite memorial to a Bates College student who drowned in 1963 while attempting to rescue a classmate swept off the rocks by a strong wave. This sad tragedy serves as a reminder not to venture too close to the edge of the island’s rocky slopes. Remember also, to keep a close eye on the tide or you could find yourself marooned!

The Popham Beach State Park gate is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays through the winter. Visitors can park in the turn lane. The park is open 9 a.m. to sunset.

If you visit, stay off of and away from the dunes. Along with providing protection from beach erosion, they provide an important nesting ground for migratory and other birds. Dogs are permitted from Oct. 1 to March 31, but must be leashed. Horseback riding is permitted for the same period.

For more information including fees and passes go to: www.maine.gov/dacf/parks

Ruins of Battery Cogan, Fort Baldwin. Photo by Phil Di Vece

Fort Baldwin State Park

Fort Baldwin State Park is farther down Popham Road (Route 209). Here you can enjoy an invigorating hike to the summit of Sabino Hill and explore the ruins of a former World War I military reservation.
The shortest way to the top is from the park’s northern entrance located on Fort Baldwin Road. It’s a sharp left hand turn by a small cove. The road is narrow and winds around a private home – drive slowly!

The parking area is just ahead on the right; the Fort Baldwin Park entrance is across from it. An old tote road leads to the top – a 500-foot climb that rises gradually. The grounds abutting the parking area are the site of Fort St. George, a part of the Popham Colony established by the English in 1607. The Virginia, the first sailing ship launched in the New World, was built here. A brass depiction of the ship is anchored to a boulder facing Atkins Bay.

The trek up the old Fort Baldwin Road takes less than 10 minutes. At the summit are the fort’s ruins that are in remarkably good shape in spite of being left to Mother Nature’s mercy for decades. The ruins encompass roughly six acres. The ocean view is best appreciated in spring or late fall when there’s less foliage.

After the war Fort Baldwin was abandoned. It was manned again during World War II. That’s when the cement observation tower was built where U.S. Army spotters were stationed to watch for German submarines.

From the observation tower the trail continues over Sabino Hill southwards through the woods running gradually downward. It’s about a 20-minute hike that brings you out to another, smaller parking area off Perkins Farm Lane. This road takes you back to Route 209.

The trail is well-traveled and easily followed through tall pines and mixed hardwood past a tumbling stone wall. A side path branches off leading to a secluded cove on Atkins Bay. The trails here are open 9 a.m. to sunset.

Fort Popham State Historical Site

Following Popham Road to its end brings you to Fort Popham State Historical Site. Construction of the stone, boomerang-shaped fortress started during the Civil War, but wasn’t completed until 1869, a few years after the war ended. It later saw service during the Spanish American War and World War I.

Fort Popham State Historical Site. Photo by Phil Di Vece

Alongside it is a small sandy beach fronting the Kennebec River, where parents often bring their children for summer bathing. At low tide you can follow the shoreline all the way back to Popham Beach, a long but enjoyable walk that takes you by a former Coast Guard Station.

The fort itself is open to visitors from Memorial Day until Sept. 30, although the grounds outside the fort are open year-round 9 a.m. to sunset. The waters here are a favorite place for harbor seals that can frequently be seen swimming a short distance from shore.

Just beyond the fort is a small pier, during the tourist season from here a ferry service offers daily trips to Seguin where visitors can tour the light station as well as enjoy the island’s hiking trails and beaches.

Phil Di Vece has resided in Maine since 1979 and written two books on Wiscasset history. He works as a freelance journalist and an active retiree at L.L. Bean in Freeport.