By Carey Kish
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 more than 3,000 islands are accounted for on the undulating margin along the Gulf of Maine between New Hampshire and New Brunswick, Canada. Head north into Maine’s vast interior forestlands and there are hundreds more islands among the bountiful lakes and ponds, rivers, and streams.
Many of Maine’s islands are remote and uninhabited, while others are home to small communities of hardy residents who eke out a living from the local woods and waters amid a landscape of rugged natural beauty. Reasonably accessible by public and private ferry services, these destinations offer inquisitive travelers the opportunity to enter a different time zone of sorts—often referred to as “island time”—where the pace of living seems slower, more relaxed, and just right for many pleasurable hours of recreation and leisure time.
So pack a rucksack of warm and weatherproof clothing, grab your camera and lace up your walking shoes for a special day-long adventure to one of these idyllic Maine islands rich with scenic beauty, colorful history and plenty of fun things to do.
Great Cranberry Island
Catch the Cranberry Cove Ferry at the town dock in Southwest Harbor for a scenic 40-minute ride to Great Cranberry Island, a sweet cruise that offers visitors a perspective of Acadia National Park and Mt. Desert Island that landlubbers won’t ever get to see. From the town dock at Spurling’s Cove, it’s just a few steps to the Cranberry General Store for snacks and the public restroom. Then it’s time to amble down Cranberry Road and take in the many sights and sounds that help put the “great” in the island’s name for us mainland folks. Like the Cranberry House, which is home to the Preble-Barr Historical Museum, Hitty’s Café, three gardens and the restored one-room Samuel Sanford cabin. A foot trail just behind the house leads to lovely Whistler’s Cove and its cobble beach. Further down the road is the Cranberry Shores Preserve, where a Maine Coast Heritage Trust path takes walkers to a brilliant shoreline of pink Cadillac granite. If time or energy is short, hop on the Cranberry Explorer tram for a fun ride back to the ferry.
Take an exciting 10-minute boat ride across sprawling Moosehead Lake aboard the Kineo Shuttle from the Rockwood Town Landing to visit Mount Kineo and its dramatic 700foot cliff face of ancient rhyolite rock. While Kineo is technically not an island, it might as well be; it’s connected to land via a narrow causeway that is gated, making the only public access by water. Stroll along the lakeshore on the Carriage Trail, then scramble up Indian Trail for magnificent views of Maine’s North Woods wildlands. The old fire tower atop Kineo’s 1,789-foot summit is a short jaunt ahead and well worth the extra effort. Descend via the gentler Bridle Trail and make tracks for the historic Mt. Kineo Golf Course. Built in the 1880’s to entertain guests of the Mt. Kineo House (once the largest inland hotel in America with accommodations for more than 500, all three iterations burned over time), the course is the second oldest in New England. Rent clubs and play a scenic, but deceptively challenging nine holes, or simply enjoy cold beverages, sandwiches and snacks on the clubhouse deck, where there’s a sweeping view of the Kineo cliff face.
Isle au Haut Island
In the fishing village of Stonington, at the southern end of Deer Isle, hop aboard the passenger ferry named Otter (also affectionately known as “the Mailboat”) for 45-minute cruise to Isle au Haut, nine miles out to sea beyond the spruce-studded islands of the Stonington Archipelago. This remote and wildly beautiful island is home to just 65 year-round residents, a small general store, an ice cream stand, Maine’s smallest post office and a 2,700-acre chunk of Acadia National Park. At the boat landing at Duck Harbor, a park ranger will meet you to answer questions and offer some historical perspective on this unique island. Shoulder your day pack and set off to explore the rocky shoreline and pebbly beaches, craggy peaks and ridgelines, dense spruce forests and marshy bogs. Refuel in the evening with dinner and drinks back on the Stonington waterfront and maybe an evening of music or theatre at the 1912 Stonington Opera House.
An hour’s ferry ride and ten miles from Port Clyde is just enough time and distance to separate Monhegan Island, and you, from the hustle and bustle of mainland life. Grab a coffee at the Barnacle Café on the wharf and saunter uphill past the charming Island Inn. Walk the narrow gravel lanes of the village past clapboard cottages with well-tended flower gardens and poke through the little emporiums and quaint galleries. Explore alleyways stacked with lobster traps and piles of buoys and line, and where the roads give way to foot paths, follow through raspberries and red spruce to dramatic cliffs, pocket coves and cobble beaches. Visit the Monhegan Museum for a look into the fascinating natural and human history of the island and the classic panorama over the harbor to Manana Island. Toast your good fortune and the day with a small-batch beer at the Monhegan Brewery taproom, then enjoy a bite at any of a handful of island eateries.
A small open-air ferry operated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife carries passengers and bicycles across a channel of the Kennebec River in five short minutes (reservations are a must). Jump off at the main island landing and you’re ready for a day of exploring the natural beauty, bountiful wildlife and rich history of Swan Island, officially known as the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, in the middle of the river at the head of Merrymeeting Bay. To get the most out of your visit, take the self-guided walking tour along the old roads and nature trails of this tranquil four-milelong island, where five homes and two cemeteries are all that remain of the agricultural community that thrived here from the 1880’s into the 1930’s. Climb the wildlife viewing tower for a look out over the fields, woods and ponds. Back on shore in Richmond, just uphill from ferry landing, enjoy happy hour at the Old Goat, a European-style pub with friendly staff and patrons, good beer and perhaps the best pizza in Maine.
Casco Bay Lines runs hourly ferry service between Portland and Peaks Island, a trip that takes just 20 minutes and nets cruisers wonderful vistas of Portland’s city skyline, Fort Gorges and numerous islands in Casco Bay. Just uphill from the ferry landing, rent a bike at Brad’s Island Bike Rentals and pedal off on a pretty and easy 4-mile circuit around the island’s circumference via quiet, mostly car-free streets and lanes. Take a break on the island’s rugged backshore at Battery Steele, the massive Army artillery battery built during World War II and now part of the Peaks Island Land Preserve. Catch up on Civil War history at the 5th Maine Regiment Museum, then take in the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum. Wind down with a stroll along Island Avenue and its small collection of shops, galleries and eateries. From the deck of the Cockeyed Gull, on a clear day, you can see across Portland Harbor all the way to lofty Mt. Washington, 70 miles distant.
This article was republished from the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Green & Healthy Maine Visitor’s Guide. Subscribe today!