Acadia National Park: Isle au Haut
Hitch a ride on a mailboat to a quiet island off the coast of Maine.
Isle au Haut is a small outlier of Acadia National Park located just 25 miles south of the main park off the coast of Stonington, Maine. While the vast majority of visitors, over 2 million a year, head for Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut will see just around 7,000 visitors a year, many of which only come for the day. Visit in spring, before the summer crowds show up, and you can have the island trails all to yourself.
The island's sparse visitor count is somewhat by design. By the 1970's, visitation to the island was exploding and began to cause problems with the local community that comprises half of the island. Legislation put in place in 1982 limits visitation to the island, and the National Park Service has adopted a policy of non-promotion. Visit the main park on Mount Desert Island, and little to no info about visiting Isle au Haut will be available unless you ask. Luckily, the measures put in place have worked. The island's visitation, while still capped, has fallen to lower levels in past years, making the island a pristine secret getaway for the adventurer in the know.
Getting to the island, located 5 miles off the coast of Stonington, Maine, requires a ride on the local mail boat ferry. If you visit before mid June, the ferry makes only one stop, at the main landing dock in town. From there, overnight campers will have to hike 4 miles to reach the campground at Duck Harbor. In the summer, the ferry makes a second stop at the Duck Harbor Campground boat landing, making for an easier trip for those not looking to backpack. Experienced kayakers can also paddle out to the island.
There are 18 miles of hiking trails in the park land on Isle au Haut, ranging from easy to strenuous in difficulty. For the most dramatic coastal views, hike around the western head of the island, along the Goat, Cliff, and Western Head trails. Marshes, bogs, rocky shores, and a mile long freshwater pond are all within reach along the island's trails.
In order to get the most out of your experience on Isle au Haut, spend a few nights at the Duck Harbor Campground. Camping at one of the five lean-to sites is available from May 15 to October 15, by permit. The campground has potable water, picnic tables, fire rings, and a composting toilet, and is a great jumping off point for the hiking trails. To get permits for the campground, you need to apply by mail starting April 1st. Being flexible with dates and your length of stay will help insure your request goes through, especially during the summer.
When to Go: Duck Harbor campground opens May 15. Go before mid June for mild temperatures and to avoid the crowds, but you'll need to backpack 4 miles from town to the campground.
Get There: Ride the ferry ($19.50 one way) or kayak out to the island. Park in town or at the ferry docks.
Permits: Apply by mail starting April 1st, $25 one time fee, limited to one stay per year.