12 Best Maine Lakes for Swimming

Some of the best places to hit the beach in Maine are inland.

Best Maine Lakes for Swimming
Photograph by Brooklyn Morgan.
By Emily Glatz Fontaine

From our June 2008 issue. 

For many people, their image of Maine is understandably tied to the ocean, with its almost 3,500 miles of coastline, yet Maine water also runs deep inland with 2,500 lakes and ponds across the state. Maine’s freshwater provides pleasures beyond pure scenery. The unique scent of piney woods and sweet fern merge along many rural roads leading to pristine inland beaches. Immersing into cool, clear freshwater on a steamy summer day is a tactile experience like no other. Maine affords plenty of public access to inland waters for free or minimal fees. Sample some of these exceptional lake beaches, organized north to south, while the days are still hot. Don’t forget your suit!

Cross Lake, Square Lake Township

Head north to the Crown of Maine and discover remote and picturesque Cross Lake, between Caribou and Fort Kent along Route 161.

Cross Lake Beach is well tucked in two-and-a-half miles down the Disy Road, which is located several miles past the turn-off for the village of Stockholm. This road and waterfront property is owned by the Irving Company and includes a beach, picnic facilities, a boat launch, ample parking, and a primitive outhouse.

Cedars dominate the well-defined day-use picnic and beach area providing fresh scents and shade under lush cover. Picnic tables are spread out among the trees and two are covered in the event of rain. Dark smooth pebbles comprise the natural beach material and continue underfoot well out into the water. Rolling hills and farmland symbolic of Aroostook County span out on the opposite shore beyond the lake. This lake is 5.5 miles long with an average depth of twenty feet.

Water quality in Cross Lake has been vastly improved over the last decade due to extensive local and state work to meet EPA Clean Water Act requirements. It suffered from the 1950s through the early 2000s largely due to high levels of phosphorus as a result of run-off from surrounding agricultural land in the Aroostook River Watershed. Visiting Cross Lake today serves as a reminder that Maine’s beautiful inland waters require continued evaluation and protection to maintain the state’s treasured natural resources. Cross Lake is a lovely place to spend the day or simply stop for a swim along the way to Fort Kent or Canada.

Moosehead Lake, Beaver Cove

Lily Bay State Park provides important access to Maine’s largest lake within a 924-acre parcel in the Beaver Cove Township. Dunn Point is home to Lily Bay’s beach area and is positioned on the eastern shore of the lake with western views toward Sugar Island in the foreground and the Misery Ridge mountains in the background. Jaw dropping, unobstructed, natural beauty abounds.

The terrain slopes gently toward the water. Mature white pines tower overhead whispering in the wind along the edges of the cleared playing field. Natural dark sand and pebbles form a sizable beach. Water clarity is top-notch and temperatures are cold even in late August. White-capped waves are characteristic from the usual northwesterly winds. Afternoon hours are warmest while full sun shines on the beach. A small wooded bluff extends to a point on the south end of the beach and provides excellent wildlife viewing within the cove. Moose, deer, bear, and waterfowl are common to the area.

Picnic tables and grills are dispersed among the trees surrounding the beach. Outhouses are near the beach area, and a full bathhouse is available on the park road about three quarters of a mile from the beach. The beach is relatively quiet even when the ninety-one campsites at Lily Bay’s Dunn Point and Rowell Cove campgrounds are full. The pleasant town of Greenville is located nine miles south.

Sebec Lake, Dover-Foxcroft

Sebec Lake sits in the quiet center of Maine about six miles north of Dover-Foxcroft and is the centerpiece of Peaks-Kenny State Park. It spans ten miles, elongating eastward first into the Sebec River, then into the Piscataquis River, and finally emptying into the mighty Penobscot. Popular among locals and campers alike, this beach is well worth a trip.

The natural five hundred-foot sand beach graces the shore of Sebec Lake’s South Cove. Views of two thousand-foot Borestone Mountain, an Audubon Society sanctuary, provide a scenic backdrop. The large grassy lawn, picnic tables, grills, horseshoe pits, and swings provide the raw materials for an old-fashioned outdoor summer day in Maine. Lifeguards man the roped-off swim area, and clean water beckons on a hot afternoon. Facilities include modern bathrooms, changing areas and coin-operated showers.

To get there, follow Route 153, locally called Greeley’s Landing Road, about five miles north from Dover-Foxcroft. Catch a glimpse of Katahdin on this hilly ride out to the lake.

Upper Richardson Lake, Richardsontown

The fourteen-mile trip north of Oquossoc on Route 16, locally known as Wilson’s Mills Road, is well worth the time and fuel. Keep your eyes peeled for moose on this isolated stretch of road, and plan on spending the day at this natural western Maine oasis, especially if you have a boat in tow.

Mill Brook Road, marked with a boat launch sign, is a mile-long, well-groomed dirt access road to Upper Richardson Lake. The state owns 22,000 acres in the surrounding area including twenty-one miles of shoreline on Richardson and Mooselookmeguntic lakes, as well as frontage on several nearby ponds. Facilities include an outhouse and plenty of parking across the road from the boat launch.

A forest of spruce, fir, pine, birch, aspen, and maple set the stage. Late summer may be the best bet for maximum beach access. Once past the boat launch dock, head left toward the mouth of Mill Brook Stream, the connector between Pepperpot Pond and Upper Richardson. This intersection of flowing water creates a gentle current that beckons swimmers to paddle upstream from rock to rock, and then enjoy an easy coast back down into flat water.

Rocks and boulders are scattered amongst the mildly red-tinted sand providing texture and interesting places to anchor down. Wading up into the brook along the edge makes for enjoyable exploring. There are plenty of shallow sandy areas for cooling off, and deeper areas for swimming. Bring along a pair of field glasses to view the loons.

Lake George, Canaan

Lake George is a 320-acre park located off Route 2 between Skowhegan and Canaan. The park encompasses both sides of the lake with the beach area located at the end of mile-long East Lake George Road.

Formerly Camp Modin, an overnight summer camp founded in 1922, this park has a unique campus feel with groomed grassy playing fields, a multi-use trail system, and tennis courts. An octagonal two-story building suggestive of a lighthouse, a relic from the park’s past, marks the access point for the multi-use trail.

A favorite spot for young children, the sand beach is often sprinkled with brightly colored buckets and shovels. Water temperatures warm up nicely by late summer, but are always slightly refreshing in this spring-fed lake.

Shade covers the beach in the early morning and full sun soaks the sand by afternoon. Plenty of shade is available under a string of ancient trees parallel to the water.

The park is staffed by rangers during the summer and there is a minimal day-use fee. Changing facilities and clean flush toilets are situated at the far side of the parking lot near the ranger station.

Webb Lake, Weld

Webb Lake at Mount Blue State Park is nestled into a wilderness basin rimmed by Tumbledown Mountain, Little Jackson Mountain, and Mount Blue. Quiet and remote, this state park beach is off the beaten path. Rumford is the closest sizable town, seventeen miles southwest. Rangeley and Farmington are each about twenty-eight miles in opposite directions.

Perfectly clear water is edged by a crescent-shaped sand beach on the lake’s southwestern shore. A two-foot retaining wall separates sand from lawn, allowing picnics to be eaten grit-free. There is a large roped-off swim area with endless shallow water. A giant rock juts above the surface just beyond the swim area and often attracts kayakers and paddlers.

Shade sits well back from the water under mature trees between the parking lot and the grass. A lifeguard occupies a stand in the middle of the beach during prime summer weeks. Full sunshine, combined with shallow water depths averaging twenty feet across this seven-mile lake, contributes to late-summer water temps that invite even the most cold sensitive for a dip.

Beach amenities include bathrooms with flush toilets, changing facilities, showers, picnic tables, and grills. A nearby nature center offers wildlife exhibits and a summertime schedule of activities for kids.

Branch Lake, Ellsworth

Branch Lake offers a piece of quintessential Maine. The experience begins on the footpath leading down to the beach where the bright blue sky and water merge beyond the silhouette of towering white pine trunks. Thick cover shades this short walk amidst the scent of pine needles and lake water. Branch Lake has a quiet essence, devoid of crowds and noise.

On the beach, assorted boulders and bushes provide an element of privacy. Several large rocks emerge from the water a few feet from shoreline, great places for climbing, jumping, or sunbathing. Still, there is plenty of sand, and swimming is fantastic with crystal-clear water, plenty of shallow area, and warm water temperatures through August.

Sunshine hits the beach around noon, making afternoon hours warmest.

An outhouse is available across the road about a quarter of a mile from the footpath back in the direction you came. Bring your own food and carry out all trash. Branch Lake is accessed off Route 1 between Bucksport and Ellsworth. Follow Happytown Road two-and-a-half miles and turn right onto Boat Launch Drive.

Pennesseewassee Lake, Norway

Pennesseewassee, locally known as Norway Lake, is nestled among the western foothills in Oxford County. This beach offers a terrific stop-along-the-way to picnic, play and cool off. Several miles outside of Norway heading west on Route 118, the beach park entrance is marked with a large wooden sign. Plenty of parking is available for beach goers and boat trailers.

Wander down along the trail toward the beach and discover two state-of-the-art playground structures camouflaged among the trees. Several footpaths continue down beyond the playground to the beach where soft sand is plentiful. Shady trees line the perimeter. The water gradually deepens toward the outer buoy-marked swim area.

The most notable features at Norway Lake Beach are several semi-private swim areas hidden among tall pines along the shoreline path toward the boat ramp. Each hide-a-way has a picnic table and a small swimming area with delightful sand underfoot. They are sunny in the morning and shady in the afternoon. Arrive early to lasso one of these unique spots.

Echo Lake, Mount Desert

Echo Lake is cuddled into the interior of Acadia National Park on the quiet side of Mount Desert Island halfway between Somesville and Southwest Harbor. The main gate is well marked off Route 102, and a paved entrance road leads to the parking area above the beach. Pedestrians will enjoy this shaded half-mile walk and brook access along the road.

Hefty granite steps cut down to the sand along a footpath. Gradual sloping access is available from the handicap parking area for those who prefer an easier walk or require wheelchair access. The beach suggests a canyon laying below the jutting ledges of Beech Mountain on the west and the looming ridges of Acadia and St. Sauveur Mountains on the east.

On the beach, a wide swath of sand joins shallow clear water at the southern tip of Echo Lake. Unlike the ocean temperatures at Acadia’s famous Sand Beach, the water temperatures on this smallish two-mile body of water invite full immersion for hours on end. Shallow water extends far out making this beach especially suitable for children. Shade, thin woods, and rocks along the edge furnish alternative places for relaxing out of the sun and fodder for fairy house construction.

Motorboats are limited to ten horsepower, lending to Echo’s peaceful atmosphere. A lifeguard is on duty during peak summer hours, and bathroom facilities are located at the rear of the beach. Take the Island Explorer shuttle bus from Bar Harbor and avoid parking difficulties especially during busy summer days.

Damariscotta Lake, Jefferson

Snuggled on the edge of the pastoral village of Jefferson, Damariscotta Lake State Park inhabits a seventeen-acre parcel of shorefront land on the lake’s northern Great Bay. This recreational area is accessed from Route 32, which runs north and south connecting well-traveled Route 1 and Route 17.

Convenience, relaxed atmosphere, and refreshing water describe this sunny beach. Shallow water runs out far into the lake, and there is a wide swath of sand to accommodate many children and sunbathers. Parents can chill a notch or two knowing there is a lifeguard on duty, and kids can be entertained for hours splashing in a few inches of water or playing on the sand with gently lapping waves to fill moats and hand-dug ponds.

Easy parking close to the beach simplifies logistics of landing with a picnic, toys, floats, towels, chairs, and the kids. A bathhouse with modern toilets and changing rooms is located in a grove of tall pines. The park also offers a group use picnic shelter and a grassy playing field.

Located within a half mile of the park entrance, amenities include the Jefferson Market and an ice cream shop just around the corner. Augusta is twenty miles northwest and Damariscotta is fifteen miles south.

Lower Range Pond, Poland

Range Pond (pronounced to rhyme with “sang”) State Park is known for its beautiful one thousand-foot sandy beach on the northeast side of Lower Range Pond. It is the smallest section of a three-tiered body of water comprising upper, middle, and lower ponds.

The beach at Range Pond is a natural jewel within Maine’s most populated southern region. The sand is soft and spans two-tenths of a mile with all areas of the beach easily accessible by the promenade that borders its entire length. Several ramps make access much easier for wheelchairs. A plunge into the pond may result in hours of splashing and bathing amid water temperatures pleasantly perfect. Lifeguards staff both ends of the beach during prime summer hours.

Ten-horsepower motors are the limit on Lower Range Pond, allowing the sounds of children playing to override engine noise. Full sun hits the beach mid-morning through evening. Just off the beach, there are numerous picnic places with tables and grills. A superb modern playground is hidden in the shade beneath a thick canopy of tall pines. Children aged two to twelve will find plenty of fun on equipment including a zip-runner, cross bars, ladders, stairs, a corkscrew, several slides, toddler swings, and more. From the playground, a network of flat, wooded trails on old logging roads and railroad beds spans out across the 750 acres within park boundaries.

Facilities include bathhouses with showers, flush toilets, and changing areas. Range Pond is easily accessed from Empire Road off Route 122 less than ten miles south of Auburn. Historic Shaker Village and the Poland Spring House are both nearby.

Sebago Lake, Casco

Sebago Lake’s sheer beauty beckons visitors to plunge into the water on a hot summer day. Big deep water ensures cool temperatures throughout the hottest months. Sebago is the second-largest lake in Maine after Moosehead, and the deepest, with depths over three hundred feet.

Giant white pines and mixed hardwood trees line the entire half-mile length of Songo Beach, on the lake’s north end. Giant root systems of eighty-year-old trees are embedded into the sand like king crab legs. This effect is partially a result of beach erosion due to highly controversial water level regulation initiated in the late 1980s for the purpose of hydroelectric power.

Wade out onto the sandbar at the west end of the beach that extends almost all the way to Thompson Point across the winding mouths of the Songo and Crooked rivers. Anticipate immersing well beyond the knees in places as the water level fluctuates. A small sand island marks the end of the sandbar where powerboats tend to raft up during prime summer months. Prepare for the excitement of boat traffic and noise. Waves can be sizable on a windy day and the water drops off reasonably fast.

The beach and surrounding woods cater to the many visitors of this popular southern Maine destination. Hundreds of picnic tables and grills pepper the grounds under the shade of mature white pines. Multiple modern bathroom houses are easily accessible from the beach and there is an up-to-date playground prime for children aged two to eight toward the west end of the area. A snack bar is centrally located on the premises. The park is twenty-five miles north of Portland off Route 302 in the foothills of the White Mountains.