Exploring Acadia National Park – Isle au Haut

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lived on Deer Isle, Maine for nine years and up until a week ago, had never been to Isle au Haut. Something always managed to get in the way of taking the 45 minute boat trip from Stonington to the “High Island” and spending the day hiking the trails that are part of Acadia National Park.  When guests at Pilgrim’s Inn, our coastal Maine bed & breakfast, would ask me about taking a trip to the island, my descriptions of biking or hiking the terrain were a bit sketchy.

So when visiting family members proposed a trip to the island, I jumped at the chance.  The weather was perfect, and not a breath of wind disturbed the water on our way over. Due to a late start to the season,  few people were headed out on the only morning boat that Sunday in June.

Before getting our tickets, we stopped at the Harbor View store next to Fisherman’s Friend and ordered up sandwiches and snacks to take on the trip, as we weren’t sure what our options would be once we arrived.  We rented mountain bikes from the Isle au Haut Boat Services on the Stonington side and loaded them onto the top deck of the boat with help from the crew.   The ride out offered fabulous views of Stonington from the water and views of the quarry operation on Crotch Island.

Once we arrived at the Town Landing we were met by a Acadia National Park ranger who gave us valuable information about biking and hiking on the island.  The best tip she gave was to start with the hardest biking first by taking the road up from the boat to the right.

We started out cycling on pavement for a mile or so, which then turned to an unpaved road of hard packed dirt and light gravel, which was easy going.  But as we were warned by the ranger and the boat crew, once we got into the Acadia Park land, this section of “unpaved road” was much rougher.  While technically a road, the conditions seemed more “off-road like” from my “middle aged but in decent shape” perspective, with rocks, tree roots, and deep ruts, along with some inclines that started to challenge my 50 year old muscles. 

After spending most of the hardest biking in a wooded section, we were greeted by cool ocean breezes and a beautiful rock beach between the Deep Cove and Duck Harbor trails where we stopped to take in the view.  We were excited to hear the cry of an eagle and to spot its nest high up in the trees beyond. 

We soon found ourselves cycling past a water pump and toilet facilities in Duck Harbor, which were welcomed amenities at that point in the trip.  After exploring the path on foot that leads to the dock where the boat comes into Duck Harbor, we took a right onto the Western Head Road, a “limited access road” according to the map,  which was actually pretty similar to the “unpaved roads” we had just been on, but with grass and more puddles (and inclines of course).  At the end of the road we ditched our bikes, remembering the amused looks from the boat crew when we had asked if we needed to lock them if left unattended.

At the end of the road we took a short climb to the Cliff Trail and found spectacular scenery and views of the rocky coastline, where we stopped for a much deserved picnic. After lunch we biked back down the Western Head Road and reconnected with the loop around the island.  After a few more challenging inclines, we found “unpaved road” that was similar to the earliest part of our trip and easy to negotiate.  A “dream” as described by the ranger, after spending the day on the rougher roads inside the park section.  We realized at this point why it’s so important to do the harder terrain first — you may not make the boat if you think all the “unpaved roads” were as easy as this!

We later stopped at Boom Beach which was marked by a pink flamingo stamp on the paved road.  The beach was filled with smooth large rocks, which make thunderous sounds during storms and high seas. Back on the road, which turns to pavement a few miles before reaching the Town landing, we saw a beautiful view of the harbor with a schooner in the background.

A visit to Black Dinah Chocolatiers was on our must do list, so we cycled the half mile pass the Town landing to their cafe, where we washed down salted caramels with delicious iced coffee drinks.  We definitely made the right decision to save this treat for the end of our trip!

Biking the island was a great way to get a sense of the terrain, the landscape and the town, and I would recommend it for your first trip to the island.  But if hiking is really your thing, I would suggest staying on the boat and going directly to Duck Harbor.  Our trip with stops along the way took 3.5 hours and we covered roughly 17 miles of roads ranging from easy to sometimes difficult terrain. 

Tina Oddleifson

A few tips before you go:

  • Helmets are available from the boat service if you ask for them, and are recommended.
  • The ranger station is about a quarter mile from the town landing and has
    a toilet outside.
  • If you get off the boat at the town landing in July and August there is a general store where you can get groceries, souvenirs and necessities.  A food truck called “the lobster lady” has outstanding lobster rolls and other seafood (but not on Sundays).   Shore Shop Gifts is open seven days a week with artwork from island residents and others, and Black Dinah is open Wednesdays through Sunday.
  • If you go directly to Duck Harbor, there are
    no services other than a water pump (the water has a strong iron taste
    to it) and a toilet, so bring food, water, some rain gear, good footwear
    and bug spray  
    Below are links to  resources on the island.

Isle au Haut Boat Services
Map of Isle au Haut
The Island Store
Black Dinah Chocolatiers
The Lobster Lady
Shore Shop Gifts