MidCoast Islands Vacations Guide
Maine’s eclectic Mid Coast Region is made up of age old fishing villages, busy modern harbors and stunning seaside resorts. Sharing that spotlight are uninhabited bits of shoreline, the domain of snoozing seals and elegantly winged ospreys. Located just off shore are a number of islands, some anchoring lighthouses, others with wildlife populations that far outnumber the human residents, looking much as they did centuries ago.
Monhegan Island is perfect for those who want to get away from it all. It is privately owned, rocky and about ten miles from New Harbor on the mainland. Passenger only boat service is available to the island from New Harbor, Boothbay Harbor and Port Clyde. If you have your own boat there are a few moorings available for day use and overnight stays.
There are roughly 13 miles of sometimes challenging hiking trails throughout the island, many offering stunning coastal views. The trails are too rough for bikes, and they are not permitted. Dogs are as long as you pick up after them. Sites of interest include the Monhegan Lighthouse, the Monhegan Historical & Cultural Museum, Swim Beach, the artist’s colony and the fish houses at Fish Beach.
The main village is near the boat docks and is home to artist’s shops, galleries, the US Post Office and eateries such as the Barnacle Café and the Fish House Fish Market. An organically inclined grocery store, Carina, offers beer, wine and locally grown items and will deliver to your cottage. Monhegan Lobsters will also deliver to your island home between October and May.
Accommodations range from quaint B&Bs such as the Shining Sails Bed & Breakfast to The Monhegan House, built in the 1870s as the local inn, and still going strong. Interior and ocean front cottages are also available. Reservations are advised. There are no banks, only one ATM at the Barnacle Café.
Located 22 miles off the coast of Rockland, Matinicus is one of the wildest and most remote of the Mid Coast Island Communities. This is the place for artists to set up their easels and capture the antics of wayward seabirds or photographers to point their lenses at a many-hued sunset. Birdwatchers may want to visit during the latter part of May when bird migration is at its peak. Fall migration is more drawn out, lasting from the end of August until well into September. Boat trips are available to Matinicus Rock, a favored nesting spot of Atlantic puffins and other seabirds.
The island is home to two sandy beaches, Markey’s and South Sandy Beach, father away from the main village. Walking trails lead around the oval shaped island, weaving through coastal forests and along craggy shorelines.
The Matinicus Ferry out of Rockland is a passenger/car service that takes a little over two hours and operates about three days a month. Other options are private boat charters or to fly to the island from the Knox County Airport in Owl’s Head, near Portland. Since Matinicus Airstrip handles small passenger prop planes, you fly lower and get a much better view of the Maine coastline.
Accommodations include the Tuckanuck Lodge and a number of cottage rentals, rustically charming and some with ocean views. July and August offer craft fairs and outdoor café. Groceries are available from the Matinicus Island Store or through fax order to Shaw’s Supermarket in Rockland. The items are flown over by plane. Lobster and crab is plentiful, with suppliers offering home delivery. If you haven’t brought a car, no problem, the island does have taxi service.
Located roughly 12 miles off of Rockland lace-edged Vinalhaven Island is home to a successful lobster industry. It was first settled in 1766 by Thaddeus Carver, who at one time owned more than 700 acres. Carver’s Harbor is named after the founder.
In 1826 granite was discovered on the island and for the next 100 years fine quality stone was harvested and shipped to the mainland and beyond. Some of these abandoned quarries, scattered around the island, are filled with groundwater and act as impromptu swimming holes for visitors and residents alike.
Other points of interest include Browns Head Lighthouse, Heron Neck Lighthouse and Saddleback Ledge Light, all on the National Register of Historic Places. The Vinalhaven Historical Society & Museum and Armburst Hill Wildlife Preserve are both on the southern part of the island near the town of Vinalhaven. The northern end is made up of six connected islets that are lightly populated, except for an abundance of birds and wildlife.
Access to the island is via the Maine State Ferry Service out of Rockland, or Penobscot Island Air from the Knox County Airport. The best way to get around the island is by walking or bicycle, especially during the busy summer season. If you must bring your car, book your ferry reservation well in advance.
A number of cabins and cottages are available for rent and the Tidewater Motel and the Libby House Inn both offer room rentals. Grocery stores and restaurants are available. This is an artist’s haven and there are shops and galleries on the island. Each June the Seal Bay Festival of American Chamber Music comes to the Mid Coast, including performances scheduled in Vinalhaven.
North Haven Island
North Haven Island is 12 miles off the coast of Rockland, north of Vinalhaven Island. Mostly a summer vacation colony, the island does have a hay farming industry, boat builders and fishermen that live on North Haven year round. This is very much a working island, suitable for those wanting to get away from it all. There is only one grocery store, one motel and two gift shops. The other option would be to arrange for a cottage or home rental through an agency or private owner.
Transportation to the island is via the Maine State Ferry service out of Rockland. The ferry has room for 19 cars so reservations must be made well in advance. The other alternative is a boat charter with Equinox Island Transport, your own boat or flying over on Penobscot Island Air. There is no public transit on the island.
Mullen Cove is one of the scenic coastal areas, with a tiny, tree colored islet reached by a sandbar at low tide. Lazy seals rest on the shoreline around the island and the bird population is far greater than the number of local inhabitants. Artists, photographers and writers will appreciate the peace, quiet and eye-popping scenery.
Isle au Haut
Roughly 60 percent of Isle au Haut belongs to Acadia National Park. This lightly populated island is only accessibly by mail boat from Stonington, about six miles north on the mainland. Most visitors do come for the park which has miles of hiking trails, picnic areas and a primitive campground at Duck Harbor. The Isle au Haut Lighthouse is on the western coast of the island and while the lighthouse itself is closed to the public, the grounds are open.
Samuel de Champlain named the island, which in English translates to High Island. The highest point is 556 feet. At one time it was a shipbuilding center and more than 800 people lived on the island. Today there are less than 100, most living in homes without electricity, comfortable but rustic. Even the lighthouse is solar powered. Island residents were the last in the United States to give up their crank-style telephones.
The Inn at Isle au Haut is near the boat dock and is open from June through September. Operating much like a bed and breakfast, the inn does offer a dinner menu, and provides bicycles for guest use. Other options include renting one of the cottages at the lighthouse or from a rental agency.
Only three miles off Lincolnville Beach on the mainland, Islesboro has a year-round population of 650 people. Settled in 1769, at one time this island had the largest commercial fishing fleet in Penobscot Bay. It is blessed with a number of natural coves and harbors which today serve as anchorages for overnight boat stays. After the Civil War, Islesboro was turned into a high-end resort island with large summer houses complete with boat docks for the family yacht.
Warren Island State Park takes up 70 acres and offers primitive camping in a back-to-nature setting. Warren Island is actually a smaller island off the southwest coast of Islesboro. Access is by private boat or kayak. The main part of the Islesboro is reached by ferry from Lincolnville Beach or by small plane into tiny Islesboro Airport
The Abby at Farrow Farm offers a bed and breakfast/conference center, or you can rent a cottage or home from an agency or private owner. Artists flock to this locale and there is no shortage of gift shops. Massage therapy is also big on the island. The Grindle Point Sailor’s Museum offers insight into the nautical history of Islesboro.
MidCoast Island Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in Maine’s MidCoast Islands area.
- Isle au Haut Maine
- Islesboro Maine
- Matinicus Isle Maine
- Monhegan Maine
- North Haven Maine
- Vinalhaven Maine