There's little doubt that the very best way to see the coast of Maine is by paddling a sea kayak. Designed to float in very shallow water yet buoyant and stable enough to withstand ocean swells, a sea kayak can get a paddler close to seabirds and the life aquatic at the shoreline, floating with the rhythm of the tides.

The Maine coast is not only stunning but ecologically unique, best seen by bobbing alongside the shore. There's no better way to leave the world behind and spend an afternoon with a blue sky and sea breeze for company, and a good chance of sighting seals, ospreys and even whales. Not to mention, pausing at one of the spruce-clad islands that lie offshore — Maine counts more than 4,600 hundred of them — and snacking on wild blueberries while you rest on a rocky beach.

For the most experienced paddlers, the coast of Maine is an endless feast of exploration and discovery. It is a deeply beautiful place, ranging from protected waters to settled fishing towns. Brightly striped lobster buoys are everywhere, as is the squawk of seagulls and the deep-throated chug of a lobster boat engine as a lobsterman makes his daily rounds to check his traps. Paddling the coast, you might encounter a pack of porpoises gracefully arcing in and out of the water, a curious seal raising its head above the waves or an osprey grabbing a fish with one graceful dip into a bay. The coast is a birder's delight of cormorants, guillemots and loons, with bald eagle sightings common. On land, the pine trees give way to shingled summer cottages surrounded by fields of purple and white lupines. There are small fishing towns, shrouded in a fog that parts just in time for sunshine to illuminate a cluster of white clapboard houses. Kayakers, rhythmically paddling away, steering with their foot rudder, take it all in, as the light and the wind change moment to moment.

In the company of a seasoned guide, sea kayaking is a sport whose paddling basics can be quickly learned. Donning life preservers and spray skirts, novices can join a guided group for an easy saltwater paddle on quiet, protected coastal waters, getting exercise, fresh air and a sense of discovery. Even a couple of hours on the water provide a taste of what makes sea kayaking a brilliant way to see Maine from the water.

There are easy waterways that are ideal for beginners, like the Scarborough Marsh, the state's largest salt marsh, which provides an important habitat for herons, egrets and ibis, as well as waterfowl. Or the Damariscotta River, which takes paddlers past islands and oyster farms.

Yet for many kayakers, it's those thousands of pine clad islands off the coast that beckon — for a rest stop, lunch or even an overnight or multi-night camping trip. Tour outfitters can arrange such trips while seasoned sea kayakers can head out on their own. Both take advantage of the Maine Island Trail, a 375-mile water route that provides access to 200 islands and mainland sites for day trips and camping.

The Maine Island Trail, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2018, is a unique collaboration between conservationists, agencies, and private land owners who have managed to create a water trail from Casco Bay to Machias Bay. The Maine Island Trail Association, a nonprofit conservation group, maintains the sites and publishes a guidebook with details of the islands and navigational charts showing where travelers on the trail can stop to rest or camp. The islands are typically quiet places, with lush pine trees, enormous granite boulders enshrouded in lichen and beaches strewn with sea wrack. Many are just granite outcrops, topped by evergreens, with enough space for a couple of tents.

Paddling past wave-worn rocks, with seals sunning themselves and seabirds swirling, it's a rich landscape. The day's rhythms can be punctuated with a lunch stop in a village for a lobster roll and a pint of a Maine microbrew or perhaps just a nap on an empty island. For those who choose, it can be a challenging paddle on the open water. At the end of the day, whether you decide on a quiet coastal paddle in the marshes or a bold crossing to a cluster of islands, sea kayaking remains the most authentic way to experience the dramatic coastline of Maine.