When it comes to summer vacation, the Camden, Maine area has it all: scenic harbors, rugged mountains, miles of hiking trails, interesting little shops, art galleries and a world-class museum, great restaurants, and… islands!
Maine ragged coastline features over 4,000 islands, only 14 of which are inhabited year-round. Of these 14, five are visible from Camden (all visible from atop Mount Battie, at least): Islesboro, North Haven, Vinalhaven, Matinicus, and Monhegan. Visiting one or more of these unique island communities can be a wonderful way to add local color with a touch of sea salt to your Maine vacation.
A few things to keep in mind as you plan your island day trip:
- On the ferries that do allow cars, don’t expect to be able to bring yours. Waiting lines are very long summer, and residents and service providers line up hours ahead of time. The best way to see any of these places is on foot, or if appropriate (on Islesboro, North Haven and Vinalhaven, but not on Matinicus or Monhegan), by bicycle.
- Don’t expect full service anything. These are small communities with limited resources, and everything that did get out there took effort and will cost more. Bring your own snacks and water, pack out all your trash.
- Be mindful of time. If you’re planning to take the last ferry off the island, it won’t wait for you! If you miss the boat, you’ll be very lucky to find a place to stay; island inns (the few that there are) book up well in advance of summer.
- When in doubt, take something ahead of time for motion sickness. The smaller Monhegan ferry in particular can hit some rough seas. An hour might not seem like a long time, but if the boat and your stomach are rolling, it can seem like an eternity.
- Island communities are not groomed amusement parks. These are real, working communities where people live, and most of them do not appreciate camera-toting visitors wandering through their yards or treating them as set pieces for their holiday. You’ll see mansion and shacks, manicured gardens and junk. Please be respectful of all!
The islands and how to get to each:
- Islesboro. Home to a year-round population of just over 500 people, this island is three miles off Lincolnville Beach. The state-run ferry, which makes nine daily runs between Lincolnville and Islesboro, takes 20 minutes one-way. A fun place to explore by bicycle, the island features Grindel Point Lighthouse, and Warren Island State Park across the harbor from the ferry dock, as well as an exclusive summer colony (think celebrities like John Travolta) inhabiting large, mostly unseen oceanfront homes.
- North Haven. About 12 miles from Rockland, North Haven is home to just over 300 people year-round, and many hundreds more in the summer. The state-run ferry runs three times daily; the trip takes one hour and 10 minutes one-way. You can also take an air taxi from Knox County Regional Airport. Worth exploring by bicycle–you can find stony beaches, trails, spectacular scenery, and tasty snacks near the ferry dock. For a truly special island outing, book a round-trip dinner cruise: enjoy dinner at classy Nebo Lodge with round-trip transportation from Rockland provided by the Equinox.
- Vinalhaven. Sharing a channel with North Haven, Vinalhaven is about 15 miles from Rockland. The state-run ferry, which runs six times a day, takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there from Rockland. You can also book the air taxi from Knox County Regional Airport. Famous for its granite quarries, the large island also hosts an active fishing community. Over 1,100 people live there year-round, and the town thus offers more than other island towns, including a large, picturesque harbor, several restaurants, shops, a small grocery, an inn with kayak and bike rentals, and parks and trails within walking distance of the ferry. With a bike, other trails, preserves, and public beaches are accessible. (From the mainland, you can often pick out the three on-island wind turbines that power the island.)
- Matinicus. Twenty-two miles offshore, remote Matinicus is best visited by small plane from Knox County Regional Airport, as the once-weekly ferry doesn’t linger. There are no visitor services on the island, nothing much to beckon the casual visitor. Fewer than 100 people live there year-round, most of them fishermen; as with all the islands, its population briefly swells each summer with seasonal residents. If you can get out there, it’s a beautiful place for a picnic, hike, and glimpse of “the real Maine.”
- Monhegan. This tiny island, located about 12 miles offshore, is accessible by private ferry from Port Clyde (about 40 minutes from Camden) three times a day in the summer. (Two other private ferries service the island from New Harbor and Boothbay Harbor.) Fewer than 50 people live there year-round. A historic artist colony, the island hosts a much, much larger population in the summer. Visitors are not allowed to bring cars or bikes, so be prepared to walk–the island features miles of trails through a forest preserve and along rugged oceanfront cliffs. Geared for day trippers, the tiny village offers, surprisingly, several good gift shops, an art gallery, restaurants, a handful of inns and lodgings, a small grocery, a fine art and historical museum at the lighthouse, and an excellent micro-brewery!