The city of Saco in York County is the oldest recorded permanent settlement in this the state of Maine, which is close to the Canadian border. Founded in the middle of the 17th century, it sits on the northern bank of the Saco River with a population of a little under 20,000.
It was the center of the lumber industry and subsequently, towards the middle of the 19th century, cotton mills and iron foundries ensured the population grew.
The closure of the last mill in 1958 hit the local economy hard, but diversification ensured that the city survived such a blow. The architecture of Main Street in many ways tells the history of Saco; visitors looking for ideas on how to fill in their time in the city should read on to learn about the 15 best things to do in Saco.
1. Ferry Beach State Park
This recreation area covers just under 120 acres and is located between Saco and Old Orchard Beach at the mouth of the Saco River.
It includes a nice stretch of sandy beach, several trekking trails, and a nature center. One rarity in the park is the Tupelo – a black gum tree -which is not regularly found at this latitude.
Picnic areas and restrooms are available.
The views across the Atlantic are especially impressive. At one time, the sands were the easiest transport route before established roads, while the park got its name from another form of transport: the ferry crossing is here.
2. Old Orchard Beach
This Beach and its well-established facilities are just five minutes away from Saco. The sands stretch for seven miles and as long as you dress appropriately, they are a nice place to walk even in mid-winter.
There is an old pier as well as a boardwalk, and with plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby, the beach is popular with visitors and locals alike. It is a clean and well-kept stretch of sand where families can enjoy a day out over the long days of summer.
3. The Eastern Trail
This trail connects Saco with Scarborough via Old Orchard Beach. It is eight miles long in total, with the area up north close to Scarborough well known for its wildlife. It is a salt marsh region – the largest in Maine – covering more than 2,000 acres.
Forming part of a much larger trail which is not completely off-road, this eight-mile stretch most certainly is. It follows the former railroad which opened in 1840 and closed in 1945. Visitors will find parking with kiosks on site.
4. Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center
If you take the Eastern Trail, you shouldn’t return to Saco without exploring the 3,000-acre estuary run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The marsh area is both saline and freshwater and is important for birdlife – some resident, others migratory. If you don’t want to walk, take a kayak or canoe.
Audubon staff run tours which are invaluable for those wanting to hear from experts, although you can meander around yourself on a self-guided natural trail if you choose. You will have the chance to see shorebirds and songbirds, ibis, egret, heron, raptor and waterfowl. Mammals include muskrats, otters, deer, and mink.
5. Pine Point Beach
Maine is blessed with nice beaches and this one stretches four miles south from Scarborough back down to Old Orchard Beach in Saco Bay.
It is managed by the town, who look after parking for a fee. Visitor facilities include showers and refreshments. The beach itself is raked weekly during the summer months and the Clambake close by is a great place for seafood.
Beach cruiser bikes and kayaks are available for rent if you want to do more than sunbathe, stroll down the sands, or swim.
6. Saco Museum
Initially founded in 1866, a group of locals realized the importance of preserving local history for future generations. The early exhibits concentrated on arts – fine and decorative – as well as artifacts representing regional history.
The founders’ aim was to ensure that their collective knowledge on the region, its precious history, and its nature was not lost. Donations were quickly gathered for public display and today’s visitors can see them – now a century and a half old – and everything that has been collected since. Many people’s favorites are the natural history exhibits, including a bald eagle caught in 1870 and an alligator originally presented alive a year later.
7. Saco Heath Preserve
The Nature Conservancy in Saco manages this area that covers over 1,200 acres. It is home in season to the Hessel’s Hairstreak Butterfly. The Atlantic White Cedar – one of only two places where these trees are found in numbers – is another highlight.
Originally, the area included two lakes which gradually filled up with dead vegetation, creating peat. Ultimately, a wetland bog was created, with the peat sitting above the water table. You can hike through the preserve on a boardwalk above the peat seeing carpets of colorful flowers, particularly in the spring
8. TGK Athletics Grind Labs
If you need convincing of the importance of developing natural talent, TGK Athletics is the place to go. It is evidence of the commitment of experienced trainers to help locals make the most of their athletic abilities, whatever the sport. Staff have largely succeeded in sport themselves – everything from athletics and basketball to soccer.
You can learn the basics of different sports with the ultimate aim of TGK (The Grind Knows) being to ensure that anyone with the potential to compete professionally has the chance to do so.
9. Cascade Falls Trails
People first walked these historic trails back in the 19th century; they have been popular ever since. The Trout Pond Loop is gentle and well-maintained, suitable for people of all ages and those confined to wheelchairs.
You can enjoy a number of activities, including fishing or having a family picnic, taking in the lovely surroundings. In the summer, you will see attractive flowers in bloom as well as moss and ferns.
There is a waterfall that rewards people taking this trail, although you need to take care because that portion of the trail is fairly steep and not maintained.
10. Saco River Market
This market promotes the local produce of the region as well as its crafts and is a partnership between producers and the stall holders selling the goods.
If you are looking for locally made cheese, fresh eggs, and meat, try the market. The produce on sale is seasonal, so the best range of vegetables is often outside the main weeks of summer.
You can expect a little entertainment if you go to this weekend market; there are usually musicians playing live to entertain the visitors.
11. Aquaboggan Water Park
Aquaboggan was Maine’s first water park, opening in Saco in the late 1970s. All ages can enjoy the water features within the park.
You will find some high-speed water slides, tubes, as well as a wave pool, which may be the top choice of older adults. Boating is available and a little more sedate.
If you are not particularly interested in water ‘entertainment, there is a mini-golf course and youngsters are certain to enjoy the go-karts on the small Grand Prix circuit.
12. Funtown Splashtown USA
This Saco amusement park has been entertaining locals for many years and can do the same for visiting families as well. The water features are all well-maintained, while the wooden roller coaster shoots around the park perfectly safely. The drop at the beginning is scary but nothing more.
This is a family-run park with a fun ride section including that rollercoaster, bumper cars, and casino. The water park section has slides that will amuse kids for hours.
13. President Bush Compound Kennebunkport
While there is obviously no public access to what remains the Bush family summer home, many visitors head to see the compound, where the Texas flag will be flying if the family are in residence.
The recent death Of George H W Bush – the 41st President of the USA – has increased the numbers heading to Kennebunkport, which is just a short drive from Saco. Walker’s Point is a dramatic setting where visitors can just take in the scenery. If you are heading to this part of Maine, you must head here no matter for how long.
14. St. Ann’s Church
This historic church on Ocean Avenue will give you another reason to head to Kennebunkport. It was built on land donated by the Kennebunkport Seashore Company and consecrated in 1892 by the Bishop of Maine.
Made from local stone, the donation meant that the original idea for a wooden structure was forgotten as permission came to take seashore stone along with the donation. Both exterior and interior walls make use of this local stone.
15. Huot’s Seafood Restaurant
Maine is famous for its seafood and this restaurant in Eastern Avenue is a great place to sample it at its best. It is close to the harbor and the fishing boats.
Clam chowder is a popular starter, as are fishcakes. There is a good range of fish for the main course and lobster is a real favorite. Outside seating in nice weather allows you to watch the activities in the harbor while you eat.
The restaurant is likely to be busy, especially in season, so it is worth calling early.