Experience Midcoast Maine’s fall colors from sea-level on a scenic walk on the historic Rockland Breakwater
The Rockland Breakwater, which extends south across Rockland Harbor, was built between 1880 – 1900 by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The lighthouse at the end was added in 1902; the beacon was automated in 1964. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the lighthouse is owned by the City of Rockland and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers.
The breakwater is 4,363 feet (just over 0.8 miles) long. The walk from the parking area out to the lighthouse and back is about a two-mile round trip. Constructed with 700,000 tons of local granite, the breakwater is an engineering marvel that has helped make Rockland Harbor one of the best safe harbors east of Portland. A walk along its length makes clear the effort taken to fit together the massive granite blocks. And that’s just what’s on the surface: the underwater base of the breakwater is up to 175 feet wide.
Thousands of visitors make the trek out to the lighthouse and back in all seasons. The walk is a relatively easy one, but care should be taken and don’t try to do it in heels! While the surface is relatively level, it is by no means smooth, and there can be sizeable gaps between the hunks of granite. Remember, too, that the wind can be especially strong and biting the farther you progress out into the harbor.
You can walk around the outside of the house and its 25-foot beacon any time of year. Especially high tides during the full and new moons or as a result of storms may cause ocean waves to cover the breakwater’s end, effectively cutting off the lighthouse itself from shore access until the tide turns.
Footing can also be a bit treacherous during winter months when freezing spray may coat the breakwater stones.But if you can handle the cold, the end of the breakwater offers a great spot for winter bird-watching: murres, sea ducks, kittiwakes, and loons may be spotted in Rockland’s outer harbor.
This shot taken near the end of the breakwater shows how high the high tide can be during a full moon. Relatively calm seas were cresting over the stones, and there was no way to avoid getting your feet wet while walking the last few yards to the lighthouse itself. You can feel a bit like you’re walking on water.
High tide doesn’t slow down the foot traffic on this popular walk. The breakwater offers a unique perspective on the Midcoast. Looking back, you can see the Samoset Resort, with its scenic golf course, and Beech Hill rising behind in all its fall glory. (You can even see the little sod-roofed stone hut atop Beech Hill, which is a nature preserve accessed by several trails.) The western, harbor side (left in this photo) of the breakwater is clearly the lee side, and shows how well the jetty protects the harbor from nor’easters.
During the summer, in addition to all the walkers, the breakwater may be lined with fishermen casting lines for mackerel and crabs. It’s also a wonderful vantage point from which to watch lobster fishermen pulling their traps, historic windjammers and other sailboats coming and going from Rockland Harbor, and the regular passage of the ferries to the nearby islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven. At low tide, seals often haul out on rocks near the small stony beach at the breakwater’s base.
You can also enjoy a spectacular view of the Camden Hills, their fall colors aglow against the blue of Penobscot Bay. Here you can see the long, high ridge of Mount Megunticook, the second highest mountain on the Atlantic seaboard, as it rises above Rockport and Camden, and lower, redder Mount Battie. Both may be accessed by several trails within Camden Hills State Park. An auto road takes you to the Mount Battie summit, from which you can look southwest for a view of the end of the breakwater!