Please be sure to check this area’s website for the latest updates on health and safety measures currently in effect.
Part wildlife refuge, part ghost town—Swan Island is an intriguing and unusual spot set amid the rolling waters of the Kennebec River. Visitors willing to take a short boat ride across the river will find a quiet place where they can go for a hike, see Colonial-era buildings and look for birds and wildlife, all a short distance from the state capitol.
Swan Island has a long history among Maine’s peoples. The Kennebec tribe, part of the Abenaki Indians, had summer hunting camps on the island centuries ago. In 1607, the first known Europeans visited the island. English settlers soon followed. By the mid-18th century, Swan Island hosted the town of Perkins, fueled by farms, fishing, small shipyards and ice harvesting. Changes in the economy and the environment eventually doomed the town, which lost its population in the mid-1930s. But while the community is gone, some homesteads and houses – dating back to the 1700s—remain. Today, the island is a mix of historic homes, former farm fields, wetlands and long stretches of forest. It’s easy to explore. There’s a 4.5-mile dirt road perfect for mountain bikes and seven miles of hiking trails.
Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area
Swan Island is part of the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, operated by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It’s named for one of the island’s first state biologists. Given that you need a boat to get there—there are no bridges to the mainland—the island has largely reverted to the wild. Visitors can spot migrating ducks and geese, songbirds, bald eagles (there are several active nests), wild turkey and white-tailed deer.
The island is a rare wildlife area that allows camping (by reservation only). There are 10 campsites, each with a fireplace and a three-sided lean-to, sleeping up to six. Drinking water and restrooms are available at the campground. Bring everything you need (except firewood, which you can purchase on the island). There are no stores on the island.
Fishing is available both in island waters and in the surrounding river. Trout Pond has bass and stocked brook trout and is open to children 15 years and younger. Fishing gear is provided! The river offers smallmouth bass, carp, trout and salmon. Be sure to check the fishing regulations first.
How and When You Can Visit
Swan Island is open seasonally from mid-May through late October. To protect the island’s wildlife, pets are not allowed. Canoeists and kayakers can paddle from the boat launch in Richmond across a short stretch of the Kennebec to either the island’s primary landing on its northwest end or to the campground landing on the island’s east side. People arriving with their own boats—and who stay for just the day—need no reservations. The island’s ferry service leaves from the parking area in the town of Richmond and is available by reservation, as are island tours. Check here for more information.