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Fall for Maine's Offshore Islands
The more than 3,000 islands along Maine’s 3,500-mile coastline are delightful microcosms—each with its own allure and character. Here are a few suggestions of offshore islands to explore.
Just 20 minutes from Portland’s Waterfront by ferry, this island in Casco Bay has a lot to offer on just 720 acres for those looking for a quiet time. There are over 1000 year-round residents on Peaks, giving the island a cozy neighborhood vibe. No car needed—this island is best seen on foot or bike. Tour the island’s highlights on the 3.7-mile loop; hike the trails webbing the preserves (great for birdwatching); bring a flashlight to prowl through Battery Steele, a large World War II gun battery; and visit the Fifth and Eighth Regiment lodges, now museums, built by Civil War veterans. There are two public beaches great for swimming and building sandcastles. Stay overnight for sigh-worthy sunset views over Portland’s skyline.
Ten miles from the shore, the small rocky island of Monhegan sits high above the waves. Wonderfully remote, Monhegan is renowned as an artist’s colony and a birding destination. Bring your paints for a day of plein air at its best, whether in the forested interior, craggy shoreline, or weather-beaten village. Birders flock here in spring and fall, following the migratory birds winging southward along the Atlantic Flyway. Roughly 12 miles of often strenuous hiking trails wend through 1,000 acres, skirting the shoreline, weaving through Cathedral Woods, connecting artists’ studios in the village to the historical Monhegan Museum of Art & History in the former lighthouse keeper’s house. Seasonal excursion boats depart through mid-October from Boothbay Harbor and New Harbor, while the year-round Mail Boat departs from Port Clyde.
Vinalhaven and North Haven
Ferries depart Rockland for each of these two Penobscot Bay islands. Vinalhaven, home to one of the world’s largest lobster fishing fleets, is a bustling, working island with a rich granite-quarrying heritage. Here you can paddle around the shoreline or hike through Basin Preserve—excellent for bird and wildlife watching. North Haven, more genteel and seasonal, offers a nine-hole golf course and 30 miles of roads to bike. Overnight accommodations as well as restaurants, shops, galleries and preserves are within walking distance of the ferry docks. Instead of a car, consider bringing bicycles to explore beyond the villages.
Islesboro is reached by a 25-minute ferry ride from Lincolnville and great for day trips to enjoy hiking and biking to see Grindle Point Lighthouse. Warren Island State Park, just offshore of Islesboro, is accessible only by boat but if you have a kayak or boat, exploring this 70-acre park is a treat. You can camp on the 12 campsites or three Adirondack shelters.
Isle au Haut
Half of Isle au Haut is federal park land—home to the remote and rugged backcountry section of Acadia National Park. Isle au Haut has about 50 year-round residents, one general store, a couple of galleries, and a lighthouse inn. Services are concentrated around the town dock, accessed via the year-round Mail Boat. It’s about a 4-mile hike to the park, with 18 miles of hiking trails. There’s an additional stop to Duck Harbor Campground until October 15. If camping in the park’s lean-tos, expect to haul all supplies including food, and note that reservations are required. For those who seek an island, Isle au Haut is heaven.
Just offshore of Mount Desert Island, the Cranberry Isles are a delightful day trip, especially in autumn. Passenger ferries from Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor to-and-fro between Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry, better known as Islesford. In the fall, you can see the colors of the foliage brighten the mountains of Acadia National Park across Somes Sound. Although both support year-round populations, they exude a classic summer vibe; and in fall, when the low-bush cranberries are ripening, it’s easy to understand how they got their name. Both are easy to explore on foot or by bicycle.