My family has been renting a cottage for a week every summer in York, ME, for 12 years! It has been a great tradition. And we have smaller traditions we enjoy each year we go–lobster night, long beach days, rare date nights, and so on.
But what amazes me is how every single year we are always able to discover something new and exciting in that area as well. We had a wonderful time at Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (often shortened to GBNERR for obvious reasons) and as outdoorsy as we are I’m surprised it took us over a decade to discover this place!
It’s a short jaunt south of York, and also only an hour from Boston (45 minutes from the North Shore, where many of our readers reside) so it makes a great day trip from home, as well.
To put it simply, an estuary is where the river meets the sea. At Great Bay, it is the Piscataqua River. GBNERR covers about 10,000 acres, with about 7000 of them being open water and bogs. There are many access points, but the main one has a Discovery Center, a Conservation Center, a 1700-foot boardwalk, climbing structures, a replica Native American camp, and more. Bird watching is famously excellent at estuaries, and the boardwalk makes this one wheelchair accessible.
The Discovery Center is open seasonally (generally May-Sept/Oct, Wednesday to Sunday, but check the site for changes) but the grounds are open year round. Check out their calendar for a bunch of family friendly events.
The grounds near the Discovery Center are covered with gorgeous gardens full of local plants. If you don’t consider this too much of an oxymoron, I’d consider them both kid-friendly–playhouses, tunnels, pint-sized Adirondack chairs–and animal friendly, with plants chosen to attract beneficial local insects and birds.
For more attractions near York, including their amazing playground, check out our post from last year. This attraction also abuts Portsmouth, NH, a vibrant small city with lots to do. Whether you are staying at the northern beaches or taking a day trip from the Greater Boston area, we recommend checking out Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.