Acadia National Park's rocky coastline, Maine
Maine's Acadia National Park—beautiful, and likely brisk in spring

Where should I go for a spring break kayaking trip?

A couple of friends and I want to take a spring break trip sea kayaking. Although we own play boats, we would need to rent sea kayaks. We are college students, so we need to keep the cost at about $1,200 or so for the whole week. We would prefer the East Coast, but if costs and/or weather make this difficult, we would try some West Coast flavor, too. What do you suggest? Lucas Benton, AR

Acadia National Park's rocky coastline, Maine

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Sea kayaking on the East Coast in March can be tricky. Early spring months can be reminiscent of winter with temps hovering in the 40 to 50s, with a nor’easter arriving at a moments notice. But if you’re prepared for the foul weather and up for the adventure, paradise awaits. Scenic spots along the Atlantic shoreline offer world-class sea kayaking as well as some pretty spectacular campsites.

Acadia National Park's rocky coastline, Maine

Acadia National Park's rocky coastline, Maine Maine’s Acadia National Park—beautiful, and likely brisk in spring

With 200 miles of narrow barrier islands lining half of its coastline, North Carolina is one of the East Coast’s premier spots for sea kayaking. Paddlers will find moderate temps in March, ranging between 40 and 60 degrees—perfect for daytime exploration of quiet marshes and estuaries, as well as islands with year-round camping. Rent a kayak at Barrier Island Kayaks in Swansboro and pick their well-paddled brains about a route to Bear and Huggins islands. Accessible only by passenger ferry or private boat, 892-acre Bear Island, and lays claim to one of the state’s prime aquatic attractions, Hammocks Beach State Park. Three and a half miles long and less than a mile wide, the island is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and salt marshes, estuarine creeks, and the Intracoastal Waterway to the north. Home to thousands of coastal seabirds such as herons and egrets, bottlenose dolphins are also a common kayaker’s companion. Huggins Island is just east of Bear and visible from downtown Swansboro. The island is a Maritime swamp forest with 115 acres of upland area surrounded by 96 acres of lowland marsh. Huggins’ dense forest is a stark contrast to Bear Island’s sandy beaches and open dunes, but both landscapes are worth the trip. Because of dredging, camping on Bear Island won’t be available until April so set up base camp at Cedar Point Campground. Located at the mouth of the White Oak River near Swansboro, the campground has a small boat ramp in shallow water suited for sea kayaks. Cedar Point is open year round, has hot showers and is just $15 per night. Kayak rentals start at $55 for the first day and $35 for each additional day.

For one of the East Coast’s most diverse sea kayaking adventures, visit Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Home to Acadia National Park, the island covers 108 square miles—the largest off the coast of Maine. Take Route 1A east from Bangor to Ellsworth, and then Route 3 to Mount Desert Island. Head to Somesville in the center of the island on the north end of Somes Sound. Rent a kayak at National Park Canoe & Kayak and explore the sound, or paddle south, where you’ll find Greening Island, Sutton Island, Cranberry Isles, and the gateway to the Atlantic. Follow the southern shore of Mount Desert, heading east to Otter Cove, which adjacent to Blackwoods Camprground, the only campground open in Acadia National Park in the winter (through March 31). Camping is free; just make sure you get a permit from park HQ just east of Bar Harbor. With over four harbors and six islands on the southern half of the island, there are plenty of inlets and coastal crevices to explore. But be prepared for cooler weather. Average highs in March hang around 40 degrees, and sometimes there can be a late snowfall. That said, once you’ve returned to Somesville, you can warm yourself in Bar Harbor with wood-fired pizza at Geddy’s or elbow up at the Atlantic Brewing Company or Lompoc Café and Brewpub. Shack up for the night at the Bar Harbor Hostel on Main Street. Starting at just $20 per night you’ll get a warm bed and a roof over your head in some pretty squeaky clean accommodations.

But if you long for warmer waters, the recent plunge in airfare could work to your favor. For example, flights from Little Rock to San Diego can be had for under $300—putting warmer waters within your budget. One you get there, hook up with Aqua Adventures. They offer weekly kayak rentals for just $200, so you can easily tour from Mission Bay to San Diego Bay for just $55, or navigate your way south along the cost to Baja, where you’ll find rocky cliffs, towering caves, and narrow crevices. You might even meet up with a grey whale or two. Once you’re back in U.S. territory, make your way up to San Elijo State Beach near Cardiff-by-the-Sea via the Coaster and claim your campsite. Starting at just $20, the 171 campsites even offer Wi-Fi. After catching their morning waves, you’ll find surfers hanging out at Pipes, a local breakfast hangout with freshly made breakfast burritos with avocado and freshly squeezed orange juice.
–Amy A. Clark

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