Downeast Islands Vacation Guide
It does seem a bit odd that the Downeast & Acadia Region happens to be on the north-eastern corner of the state. To understand why, you need to go back to the sailors of old who relied on nothing but the wind and their own wits to get them from one place to another. When they set sail from Boston on their way to the Maine they were heading east. The wind pushing them along was at their back. This meant that they were sailing down wind. Over time the terms got combined and the coast of Maine from the Canadian border to Penobscot Bay became “down east”.
The Downeast Island Communities are lightly populated and wildlife rich bits of land that follow this nautically named coast. They include Long Island and the town of Frenchboro, Islesford and the Cranberry Isles, Beals Island and Swans Island.
Long Island – Frenchboro
Long Island sits roughly eight miles from Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park. Frenchboro is an age old fishing village on the western end of the island. The town limits extend far beyond Long Island, taking up 12 even more remote neighboring islands, including Great Duck Island. The Great Duck Island Lighthouse was built in 1890 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The cluster of streets surrounding Lunt Harbor on Long Island is the town hub, home to the US Post Office, the Frenchboro Public Library and Lunt’s Dockside Deli, famed for its lobster, served in almost any form. Long Island is best known for its Annual Lobster Festival, held each August. The Maine State Ferry, passengers only for this run, makes a special Lobster Festival Run getting you there in time to enjoy the live music, sales booths and the outdoor dinner.
The Maine State Ferry does provide passenger and car service three days a week, with an extra sailing on Fridays during the summer season. Visitors come to walk the scenic trails, explore the Frenchboro Historical Society Museum, the Outer Long Island Congregational Church, circa 1889 and just absorb small town life.
Accommodations on the island include the Frenchboro Parsonage, which may be rented out during the summers and early fall seasons. The other option is a rental cottage, available May to September, at the Israel B. Hunt house. Built in 1840, the house is also known as the Harbor House Inn.
Cranberry Isles – Islesford
Just a 30 minute ferry ride from Mount Desert Island is a cluster of islands called the Cranberry Isles. Their claim to fame is the wild cranberries that ripen each fall. Unlike the ones on the mainland that grow in bogs, these grown on bushes on dry land. They aren’t as large as the water variety but that doesn’t stop berry lovers from cruising over and doing some serious berry picking.
The two largest of the five islands are Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry, both on the ferry service route from Southwest and Northeast Harbor on the mainland. These are passenger only ferries, but they do allow dogs and bicycles on board. The ferries travel from the mainland to Great Cranberry, then to Little Cranberry and back. One ticket allows a visit to both islands on the same day. Other options include using a water taxi service, traveling on the mail boat or hiring a private boat charter.
Great Cranberry Isle is known for its Cranberry House Historical Museum and the Preble House, described in the novel “Hitty, Her First Hundred Years’ by Rachael Field. The book is about her hand carved wooden doll circa 1827. Local restaurants include Hitty’s Café, which is also a free wireless Internet hotspot, and the old fashioned Cranberry General Store near the ferry dock.
Islesford is on Little Cranberry Island. The town has its own Islesford Historical Museum and is known for its population of artists and craftsmen. Kayak rentals and the Islesford Dock Restaurant are near the ferry docks. There are no public accommodations on the islands, but occasionally you’ll be able to find a rental from an island resident. Most visitors just make this a day trip from the mainland. The annual 4th of July Picnic draws people from far and wide, featuring steamed lobster as well as barbequed burgers, chicken and deserts.
Beals Island, named for early settler Manwaring Beal, is connected to Jonesport on the mainland by a bridge. The town of Beals is on the northern part of the island with the Great Wass Island Preserve taking up most of the south. It is really two islands, connected by the Great Wass Island Road and a tiny bit of land. The preserve is made up of 1,540 acres of prime wildlife habitat and is home to lounging seals, ospreys and countless seabirds.
This is the island for the hiker and the nature lover, with 13 miles of trails criss-crossing the preserve. At the preserve’s entrance a welcome box is stocked with trail maps, pointing out the Little Cape Cove Trail, Cape Point Vista and the shoreline walk at Read Head.
The Moose Peak Lighthouse on nearby uninhabited Mistake Island, circa 1826, is visible from Beals Island. Two restaurants are available on the island, Barney’s Cove Lobster Company and Libby’s Lobster Pound, Inc. Additional restaurants as well as overnight accommodations are available on the mainland.
Swan’s Island dates back to the 18th century when an adventuresome Scot, Colonel James Swan colonized the island and surrounding areas. Samuel de Champlain was the first to chart the island in 1606 when he was scouting the coastline for France. Located off the southeastern end of Mount Desert Island, this scenic isle is a mere 30 minute ferry ride away. Since the ferries do provide vehicle transportation and the island offers overnight accommodations, this is a good place to spend a night or two.
The Swan’s Island Lobster and Marine Museum is a barely 100 yards from the ferry terminal, located in the Captain Henry Lee House. Next door is the Natural History Museum. The library is about a mile away and all other attractions are biking or driving distance. Fine Sand Beach is about five miles away, with a pathway to the white sand winding through groves of fir and spruce trees. Other places of note include the Hockamock Head Lighthouse, great for picnics, Burnt Coat Harbor and Quarry Pond, an old granite mine.
Many islanders live on Swan Island year round and support themselves by lobster fishing. Restaurants on the island specialize in lobster dishes and other Maine specialties. Accommodations include the Harbor Watch Inn, the Carter House B&B and a number of cottages and vacation homes for rent.
Downeast Island Area Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in Maine’s Downeast Island area.