After weaving your way down the Blue Hill Peninsula and crossing the soaring pray-as-you-go bridge to Little Deer Isle, you’ve entered the realm of island living. Sure, bridges and causeways connect the points, but the farther down you drive, the more removed from civilization you’ll feel. The pace slows; the population dwindles. Fishing and lobstering are the mainstays; lobster boats rest near many homes, and trap fences edge properties.
If your ultimate destination is the section of Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut, the drive down Deer Isle to Stonington serves to help disconnect you from the mainland. To reach the park’s acreage on Isle au Haut, you’ll board the Isle au Haut ferryboat for the trip down Merchant Row to the island. In summer, you can go directly to the park’s Duck Harbor Landing; in other months, it’s a hike through the woods.
The biggest attraction on Isle au Haut is a remote section of Acadia National Park that’s raw and rugged, beautiful, even breathtaking in parts.Deer Isle and Isle au Haut are inexorably linked yet distinctly separate and very different. Both seduce visitors with their rugged independence and undeveloped landscapes. Deer Isle’s main town of Stonington is a metropolis compared to Isle au Haut, with a population of about 1,200 versus fewer than 50. The sidewalks roll up relatively early in Stonington, but there’s not much even in the way of pavement on Isle au Haut. Deer Isle has stepped tentatively into the 21st century; Isle au Haut remains pretty much in the 20th—and the early 20th at that. Let it be said, though, that electricity came to Isle au Haut in 1970; telephone service soon followed—although cellular service is spotty at best—and Internet access is available near the village.
Deer Isle is a colony of artists and artisans in equal parts due to the inspiring scenery and the inspirational Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Top-notch galleries and working studios are found throughout the island. It’s also home to numerous small preserves, ideal for easy hiking and bird-watching, and its bevy of nearby islands beckon sea kayakers.
While dreamers and summer rusticators are plentiful, Stonington is first and foremost a working waterfront dominated by lobster and fishing boats and the remnants of once-active granite quarrying operations. It’s also the jumping-off point for trips to Isle au Haut, an offshore gem that has gained fame thanks to author Linda Greenlaw.
The biggest attraction on Isle au Haut is a remote section of Acadia National Park that’s raw and rugged, beautiful, even breathtaking in parts. It’s not as dramatic as the Mount Desert Island section, but it seduces visitors with its simplicity, peacefulness, and lack of cars. On the trails that hug the granite shoreline and climb the forested hills, perhaps more than in any other section of the park, you can truly feel removed from civilization.
Planning Your Time On Deer Isle and Isle au Haut
If you’re coming to this region specifically to visit Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut, plan your visit to time with the Isle au Haut Company’s boat service directly to the park (early June-mid-Sept.); otherwise it’s nearly a 10-mile round-trip from the Town Dock to Duck Harbor and back. The park boat is first come, first served, so it’s wise to be in line well before your intended departure. The park limits visitors to only 128 people, including campers, each day, although there’s no real way to enforce that. Reservations for the park’s primitive campground open in early April, and slots go quickly.
Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle are primarily fishing communities with seasonal tourism centered primarily on touring galleries, sea kayaking, hiking the preserves, soaking in the small Maine town vibe, and savoring the island-dotted vistas. July and August are the busiest months—although the region is well off the usual tourist trail—with September being a lovely month to visit, although businesses have fewer open hours and some galleries close.
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts: This internationally renowned crafts school with an award-winning architectural design is located in a stunning setting.
Nervous Nellie’s: Sculptor Peter Beerits’s ever-expanding whimsical world captivates all ages, and it’s free.
Arts and Crafts Galleries: Given Haystack’s presence and the inspiring scenery, it’s no surprise to find dozens of fabulously talented artisans on Deer Isle.
Edgar Tennis Preserve: Serene views and pleasant places to picnic are reasons enough to hike the easy trails here.
Barred Island Preserve: Bring binoculars to sight nesting eagles on the island.
Sea Kayaking: Paddle between the plentiful islands off Stonington and into hidden coves.
Guided Island Tours: Captain Walter Reed knows these waters and is an expert on the flora and fauna.
Acadia National Park: Isle au Haut’s limited access makes this remote section of the park truly special. It’s unlikely you’ll have to share the trails—or the views—with more than a few other people.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Acadia National Park.