Paddle ‘Round Portland: Royal River
You don’t need to go way up north to have a canoe or kayak adventure. There’s plenty of spots right around town where you can get out on the water before or after work. Remember: every place outside your house is the great outdoors. Enjoy it.
PRP: The Royal River from Route 9 in North Yarmouth to the dam on Elm Street in Yarmouth.
Get in: From Monument Square, it’s 18 miles to the start of this trip at Old Town House Park in North Yarmouth. Zipping up I295 from Portland will take about 25 minutes.
Paddle: The river trip is about six miles. It took us three hours but we did a lot of lollygagging. A steadier, 3 mph, clip will get your there in two hours. There’s no real current to help, though.
Get out: Take out just past the second railroad trestle near Royal River Park in Yarmouth. The spot is technically the parking lot of the Yarmouth Historical Society. If you’ve stashed a second car here, the drive back to the launch site takes 10 minutes. We called a rideshare service. It cost us $8.
The Royal River runs 39 miles from Sabbathday Lake, in New Gloucester, to the sea in Yarmouth. It’s possible to paddle the upper stretches but there has to be enough water. The lower part, after the dam at Elm Street in Yarmouth, is crazy with waterfalls and tidal currents. The bit we did — from Route 9 to Elm Street — is passable all summer and easy going. It’s basically a long pond backed up behind the dam.
We left Portland at the stroke of 5 p.m. Traffic was just starting to bunch up on the highway headed north. We were at the put-in site, at Old Town House Park in North Yarmouth, before 5:30 p.m. and paddling 15 minutes later.
The river never gets very wide here. You can throw a rock across it for the most part. The wind blew enough to keep the bugs off us but not hard enough to impede our progress down stream. There was a tiny current. In summer, there’s none at all and you can paddle in both directions without any trouble.
It was striking how isolated we felt on the river, being so close to town. Only a few houses popped up along the way. The banks were thick with trees. The Royal River appears in many Stephen King stories, flowing near his imagined town of Castle Rock. King grew up in these parts. The classic 80s movie “Stand By Me” and the story that inspired it — “The Body” — were set here.
We didn’t find any bodies or see anyone at all till close to the end when a father and son passed us, kayaking up stream. Before that, all we saw were osprey, cormorants and ducks. We think we heard a beaver splash into the water but we didn’t see it. Perhaps it was one of King’s nasties trailing us. If so, we somehow escaped with our lives.
You know you’re near the end when you go under a railroad trestle emblazoned with “you can’t stop hip hop” in four-foot, white letters. Immediately after that, you go under another trestle and the pull out is on the right. Don’t go any further or you risk getting swept over the dam.
We got there at dusk (about 8:30 p.m.) and, in true Portland fashion, called for an Uber driver. His license plate read: “Shalom.” It was fitting. He gave us a ride back to our cars for $8. We were in Portland, eating pizza, a little over an hour later and talking about doing the trip again this fall under a full moon. I hope Mr. King would approve.
See other paddles ’round Portland HERE.