The geographic expanse of Maine’s coastline ranges some 230 miles from Kittery to Lubec, as the crow flies, but an incredible 3,500 miles when every nook and cranny and 2,400 islands are accounted for along the Gulf of Maine between New Hampshire and New Brunswick, Canada. Most of Maine’s islands are remote and uninhabited, but a good many are accessible by public and private ferries, bridges and causeways.
Make a visit offshore and you’ll be transported to “island time,” where the pace of life seems slower and more relaxed, just right for a few hours of recreation and leisure time. So, pack your rucksack with warm, weatherproof clothing, lace up your hiking shoes and grab a camera for a special adventure on one of Maine’s idyllic islands rich in scenic beauty and colorful history. Here are a handful with great hiking trails worth some exploring this summer and fall.
Cruising aboard the M/V Captain Henry Lee, it’s a 45-minute ride from Bass Harbor to Long Island 8 miles to the south. Also known as Frenchboro, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust has protected the bulk of the island, more than 1,000 acres in all. A spectacular 8-mile trail loops around the bold coastline to Bluff Head, Rich’s Head and Yellow Head. Take the Friday ferry to allow for a full nine hours on the island to enjoy every amazing footstep.
Ten miles out to sea from Port Clyde will seem a lot farther when you step off the Monhegan Boat Lines ferry at the wharf and step back in time in the quaint little village of galleries, shops and eateries. Head for Lobster Cove and the Cliff Trail, which meanders along the rugged backside of Monhegan to Gull Rock, White Head and Black Head. Save time to explore the wonderful Monhegan Museum and grab a brew at Monhegan Brewery’s “Trap Room.”
GREAT WASS ISLAND
Cross the bridge over Moosabec Reach from Jonesport to Beals and you’re on your way to great adventure at Great Wass Island Preserve, a 1,576-acre chunk of wild oceanfront terrain owned by The Nature Conservancy. Combine the Little Cape Point Trail and Mud Hole Trail for a 4-1/2-mile circuit that’ll have your hiking heart aching for more. The section between Little Cape Point and Mud Hole is a trail-less scramble like few others along the Maine coast.
ISLE AU HAUT
From mid-June through late September, Isle au Haut Boat Services – aka “the Mailboat” – out of Stonington will deposit you at Duck Harbor on the southwest edge of Isle au Haut. Some 2,700 acres of the island are part of Acadia National Park, and this is a prime spot to sample some of the otherworldly 18 miles of trails. Cobble together Western Head, Cliff, Goat and Duck Harbor Mountain trails for a wonderful beach, cliffs and ledges tour.
The arching Deer Isle ridge over Eggemoggin Reach is the gateway to a hiking bonanza thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the State of Maine. Stop at the visitor center on Little Deer Isle and grab a copy of the IHT’s guide to hiking trails and public access for an overview of the seven preserves and 15 miles of trails scattered across the island. Tennis Preserve, the largest, has 3 miles of trails.
GREAT CRANBERRY ISLAND
It’s just 3 miles from Southwest Harbor to Great Cranberry Island via the Cranberry Cove Ferry, but that’s enough to really separate you from the hubbub of Mount Desert Island. Follow Cranberry Road to Cranberry House, where a lovely foot trail out back leads to Whistler’s Cove. Enjoy glorious profile views of the MDI mountains as you saunter a couple miles further along the main road to Cranberry Shores Preserve and its stunning pink granite rocks.
Sears Island, at the head of Penobscot Bay just off Searsport, was the site of many proposed industrial projects in the latter half of the 20th century. By the 1990s, however, all such plans had been thwarted, and the 935-acre island was purchased for conservation by the State of Maine. A pedestrian-only causeway leads to the undeveloped island, where you’ll find a number of short trails, a main old gravel road and miles of walkable shoreline to explore.
Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish