Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve

Quick Facts

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve


(207) 646-1555

Map Directions

Things To Do



Protecting estuaries was a key motivation for the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, which outlined the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. This network of protected areas is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and coastal states.

The Wells Reserve is part of a system of 27 Reserves around the country -- from Maine to Puerto Rico and from California to Alaska. All the Reserves contribute to, and benefit from, nationwide initiatives that advance knowledge and stewardship of coasts and estuaries.

Where rivers meet the sea, salt water mixes with fresh water to form estuaries, one of the most dynamic and productive ecosystems on earth. Estuaries provide essential habitat for plant and animal life, shelter human communities from flooding, act as buffers against coastal storms, and remove pollutants from water passing from land to sea. The Wells Reserve encompasses three estuaries: Little River, Webhannet River, and Ogunquit River.

Staff scientists and visiting investigators study and monitor change in Gulf of Maine estuaries, coastal habitats, and adjacent coastal watersheds. Staff educators teach people about these natural resources and the role that individuals and communities play in protecting and sustaining them.

The Wells Reserve protects 2,250 acres of salt marsh, freshwater wetland, beach, dune, forest, and field. The Laudholm Farm campus serves as headquarters. Its historic buildings have been renovated and restored to serve the 21st century research, education, and stewardship goals of the Wells Reserve. Stop by the visitor center and ecology center to learn more about the reserve.

Map of Wells Nat'l Estuarine Research Reserve

Latitude, Longitude: 43.321306, -70.562611



  • Bird Watching

    Many bird species, including rare species such as least terns and piping plovers can be seen at the reserve.

  • Hiking

    Hiking trails cover a variety of habitats and offer rich opportunities for discovery. Enjoy seven miles of easy to moderate trails to experience the beauty of south coastal Maine. Trails are available year round for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

    Recommended Routes * Follow the Salt Marsh Loop to learn how rain and snowmelt move through a watershed and into an estuary, where fresh water mixes with salt water from the Gulf of Maine. * Follow the Forest Interpretive Trail to find out how landscape vegetation shifts over time, succeeding from open space to mature forest, and how water and wildlife are influenced by that change. * Walk the length of Laudholm Beach to stand at the Little River mouth, where barrier beaches protect a mud flat supporting shellfish and shorebirds. * Explore the Wells Reserve on your own or join one of many tours guided by trained naturalists. Families looking for hands-on activities can stop in at the Visitor Center to find out about the Discovery Program.

    Please -- no pets, no smoking.

  • Wildlife Watching

    Wells Reserve protects fields, forests, salt marsh and sandy beach on the densely populated southern coast of Maine. The reserve's diverse habitats support a broad variety of plants and animals, including rare species such as least terns, piping plovers, arethusa orchids and slender blue flag iris.


Trail Hours: Every Day - 7 a.m. to sunset

Visitor Center & Exhibit Hours: * Monday to Friday - 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. * Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day - Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Park Partners

Laudholm Trust

Laudholm Trust provides crucial monetary and in-kind support for Wells Reserve programs, operations, and capital improvements. They act as a partner to the Wells Reserve and an advocate for cultural preservation and coastal protection.

Laudholm Trust was born from a kitchen-table conversation in 1978 and was recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1982. For all the years since, Laudholm Trust members have steadfastly supported the work of the Wells Reserve and the care of its precious site.

(207) 646-1555



Northbound off the Maine Turnpike: * Take Exit 19 (Wells) off the Maine Turnpike * Follow signs to U.S. Route 1 in Wells. * Follow Route 1 north 1.5 miles to Laudholm Farm Road (just north of the Lighthouse Depot and south of the Maine Diner, at the second flashing traffic signal). * Turn right and follow signs to the Reserve.

Southbound off the Maine Turnpike: * Take exit 25 (Kennebunk) off the Maine Turnpike * Follow signs to Kennebunk. * Take a right on U.S. Route 1 and travel 3.3 miles to Laudholm Farm Road (just south of the Maine Diner and just north of the Lighthouse Depot at the flashing traffic signal). * Turn left and follow signs to the Reserve.

From Kennebunkport and Kennebunk Lower Village: * Follow Route 9 westbound from Kennebunk toward Wells. * After crossing the Mousam River, continue 1.7 miles to Skinner Mill Road and turn left * Cross the small bridge and watch for the Wells Reserve entrance.

Phone Numbers


(207) 646-1555