We kayaked to an abandoned fort in Portland, Maine, that's only accessible by private boat, and it's now completely overrun by nature

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderWe kayaked to the abandoned Fort Gorges with Portland Paddle, and it was a hauntingly beautiful way to learn about American history.
  • Fort Gorges is an abandoned fort on the coast of Portland, Maine.
  • Located on an island ledge, it’s only accessible by private boat.
  • We took a tour with Portland Paddle, which included two hours of kayaking and an hour exploring the fort with tour guides.
  • Fort Gorges was built during the Civil War but was rendered obsolete by the time the war ended.
  • Used for mine storage until the end of World War II, the fort was later abandoned and is now overrun by nature.
  • The fort is falling apart, and the City of Portland, Maine, is hoping to restore it with the help of a fundraising organisation called Friends of Fort Gorges.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.


We took a tandem sea kayak to Fort Gorges from Portland, Maine, which is only accessible by boat.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA tandem kayak comfortably seats two people, and it felt more stable than a single kayak.

To get to the fort, you do have to cross boat channels. Ferries, cruise ships, and lobster boats all cross steadily throughout the day.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderWe took a tour of Fort Gorges that provided kayaks.

Source: Portland Paddle


The total trip is about 2.5 miles. Maine’s coast has dynamic sea conditions. This includes big tides and swift currents. When planning trips, time of day doesn’t matter so much as these conditions, which can be calm as a pond or too windy for tours depending on the day.

Google MapsThe total trip is about 2.5 nautical miles if you loop around the fort.

Source: Portland Paddle


We had to wear life vests in case anyone capsized, especially since the tide is known for being so unpredictable.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderWe wore life vests during the kayaking trip, as kayaking companion Galo demonstrates.

Source: Portland Paddle


Located on Hog Island Ledge, Fort Gorges is a granite fort that is completely surrounded by water.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from our kayak.

Source: Portland Paddle


Since there was another tour group at the launch where we were supposed to dock, we got to paddle around the perimeter of the fort while we waited for them to disembark.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from our kayak.

Source: Portland Paddle


This perk gave us the chance to see the exterior of the fort in great detail. The fort was made entirely of granite.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from our kayak.

Source: Portland Paddle


The granite was quarried on the coast of Maine. Granite quarries were a huge industry on the Coast of Maine back in the 19th century.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from our kayak.

Source: Portland Paddle


Going around the fort also gave us a chance to see the surrounding wildlife.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderBirds live on ledges and small islands all around Maine.

Source: Portland Paddle


Cormorants and gulls were perched on the rocks near the ledge. These birds live on ledges all over the coast of Maine.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderCormorants and gulls are just a few of the bird types you’ll find nesting on Maine’s coast.

Source: Portland Paddle


Once we arrived at the launch …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from our kayak.

… we docked our kayaks and removed our life vests …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe launch on Hog Island Ledge.

… and our tour guide led us to the entrance of the fort.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe entrance to the fort is near the launch.

There was a warning sign in regard to fall hazards …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe entryway to the fort.

… make that two warning signs.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe entryway to the fort.

The idea to build Fort Gorges came up after the War of 1812 when US coastal towns were deemed vulnerable to attack.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe entryway to the fort.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


Construction on the fort began in 1858 and continued until the end of the civil war.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the sea from inside the fort.

Source: Portland Paddle


The final design was an octagon with two sides omitted, forming the shape of a ‘D.’

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from the roof.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


Fort Gorges looks a lot like Fort Sumner, except smaller, according to experts.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from our kayak.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


The fort was designed to hold two levels of canons — 28 canons on each level …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe inside of the fort is filled with walkways.

Source: “Harbour Forts: Essays”


… and 39 guns on the roof.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from the roof.

Source: “Harbour Forts: Essays”


Although it was made to house 500 soldiers, Fort Gorges didn’t actually end up housing any, aside from fort workers and their families.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderGun platforms on the first two floors of the fort.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


This is because, by the time the fort was completed, new explosive technology rendered the fort obsolete.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe inside of the fort is filled with walkways.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


Instead, Fort Gorges was used to store mines during the Spanish-American War, and it was used to store submarine mines during World War II.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe outline of a mine storage shed remains.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


After it was rendered obsolete, sod was added to the top-level to insulate it for the latest weaponry, but the project was never finished. Over time, vegetation has grown in that sodded area.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from the roof.

Source: Portland Paddle


The roof of the fort holds some treasures in its foliage, like this relic.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA parrot rifle from the Civil War remains.

Source: Portland Paddle


This is a parrot rifle, and its the only Civil War relic that remains at Fort Gorges. All the other cannons from that time were sold for parts, but at 300 lbs, this one was too heavy and inconveniently placed to be moved. It was the biggest type of gun used during the Civil War.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA parrot rifle from the Civil War remains.

Source: Portland Paddle


The roof also houses this solar panel, which was installed in the last 20 years and has one purpose — …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA lone solar panel on the third level of the fort.

Source: Portland Paddle


… to a power a light that shines on the American flag.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the fort from the roof.

Source: Portland Paddle


After World War II, Fort Gorges was abandoned until 1960, when Portland, Maine, acquired it and added it to the National Register of Historic Places.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderGun platforms on the first two floors of the fort.

Source: “The Forts of Maine”


Today, the fort functions as a park. Tours are offered regularly, and sometimes events are hosted at the fort. We toured the fort with Portland Paddle.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA tour guide explains the history of Fort Gorges.

Source: Friends of Fort Gorges
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Portland Paddle


The inside of the fort is open to the public at your own risk, and being inside the fort helped us understand why …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderGun platforms on the first two floors of the fort.

… this place really is crumbling, with rubble and debris in some parts.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA tour guide led us through the rubble.

We entered this huge, cavernous room without any windows where gunpowder used to be kept. Without any lights, it was truly pitch black and a little eerie.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThis is a photo of the room without lights.

Luckily, we were able to use our phone flashlights, but our tour guide showed us that, back in the room where they stored gun powder, they had to put lamps from the other side of the wall into that opening to light the room …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThis room was used to store gun powder.

Source: Portland Paddle


… since you couldn’t bring a lamp into this room, which is called the Great Powder Magazine. This room is designed to stay dry and is located in a spot that isn’t likely to be attacked. Lamplight + gunpowder wouldn’t have been a good mix.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThis room was used to store gun powder.

Source: Portland Paddle


Without light, we would have been completely oblivious to signs of extreme damage and decay.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThis room was used to store gun powder.

Some areas were extremely dark aside from slivers of light.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA window in a dark room on the fort.

And even in the light, stalagmites and stalactites hang from the brick arches of the gun platforms.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderGun platforms on the first two floors of the fort.

According to the Press Herald, Fort Gorges is one of Maine’s most endangered historic places.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe fort is slowly falling apart.

Source: Press Herald


A lot of this has to do with location. Fort Gorges is totally exposed and located in the ocean. So not only has it been standing for 155 years …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the interior of the fort from a gun platform.

Source: Maine Preservation


… it’s also been enduring brutal weather that has impacted the foundation of the structure.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe structure of the fort has been compromised over the years.

Source: Maine Preservation


If it continues this way without any plans for restoration …

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderGun platforms on the first two floors of the fort.

Source: Maine Preservation


… the site will eventually be deemed unsafe for visitors.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderSome loose material from the structure.

Source: Maine Preservation


In the summer of 2019, Friend of Fort Gorges started a fundraising campaign to raise $US250,000 for the fort’s most time-sensitive repairs.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe fort needs to be stabilised.

Source: Maine Preservation


But some have other ideas about the fort’s future. Developer and Portland resident Mike Dugay wants to commercialize the space.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderThe fort needs to be stabilised.

Source: Press Herald


Dugay’s plan includes a restaurant, brewery, and eventually a bed and breakfast in the now-inaccessible historic officer’s quarters. However, the idea wasn’t supported by the public.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view of the sea from inside the fort.

Source: Press Herald


Although Portland’s city council has the final say in what happens to the fort, the public informally voted against commercial partners being involved with preservation.

Rachel Gillett/Business Insider

Source: Press Herald


Instead, they voted for a combination of public and private partners including Friends of Fort Gorges to fund the preservation efforts on Fort Gorges.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderA view from the roof of the fort.

Source: Press Herald


After finishing our three-hour tour that consisted of two hours of kayaking and one hour of exploring, we said goodbye to the group and headed to Highroller Lobster Co. in Portland, where we treated ourselves to another piece of Maine’s history — delicious lobster rolls.

Rachel Gillett/Business InsiderLobster rolls originated in Maine.

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