Isle Au Haut camping trip

posted in: fun, hiking, maine, nature, travel | 0

Western Head trail. Isle Au Haut camping trip. Penobscot Bay, Maine

Way back in April we reserved a campsite for a weekend at Isle Au Haut, a little island off the Maine coast, an hour out from Stonington by ferry. It’s actually an outpost of the famous Acadia National Park, which is mostly located up the coast a bit on Mount Desert Island – but there is a less-known snippet of the Acadia National Park land located on Isle Au Haut. We heard the campsites are hot property and it’s hard to get a reservation in the summertime, so the thing to do is send in your campsite request as soon as applications open in April. We just closed our eyes, pointed at a random date on the calendar, and mailed in a request for it. A few weeks later we got our camping permit back in the mail! August 6th and 7th. It turned out that Mike’s friend Paul (from San Francisco) came to visit us that week, so we all went camping together. And by some crazy coincidence, in the week before our trip, two different shopkeepers at different stores in mid-coast Maine randomly happened to contact me and ask if they could buy some of my goods for their stores. So I packed up my stationery and t-shirts and made plans to stop and sell my goods along the way!

pretty houses in Wiscasset lobster traps

along the drive: one of many grand old houses in Wiscasset; lobster traps at the flea market, route 1 in Searsport

It was a nice opportunity to take a leisurely drive up the Maine coast and show Mike around some of the most famous coastal destination spots in the state. We headed out on Friday after lunch, north on Route 1 through Freeport, did get stuck in traffic for an hour or so (Route 1 is a two-lane coastal road famous for being a) beautiful and b) jammed with tourists in August). It turned into a beautiful drive along the jaggedy coastline, over bridges and across peninsulas and through pines and salt marshes. We stopped in Camden to check out the town and meet Amy at Sugar Tools, a new shop on Bay View Street with a very sweet and sophisticated selection of items from around the world – home goods, stationery, gardening stuff, etc. She took some rooster cards and greetings! cards to add to her stationery selection. And then on up the coast to bustling Belfast, Maine, where we arrived downtown in the middle of the Friday evening Art Walk. All the galleries and shops had their doors open, there were performers out on the sidewalks, there was a parade of antique cars, free wine and snacks, it was a surprisingly festive moment to arrive in town. We made our way to Roots and Tendrils, a really sweet space in a gorgeous old building down on the waterfront, where we met Meg and Bub and sold lots more greeting cards and enjoyed a bit more wine and snacks in the festive pre-show atmosphere – they were setting up for a live music night on the corner stage. It’s a fun multi-function space with art on the walls, a great selection of exciting and artsy goods (all made in Maine, but not your predictable selection of blueberry jams and watercolors – awesome t-shirts, journals, cards, zines, bright jewelry, etc etc), and live music playing on the stage every weekend.

Then we moved on to the famous Belfast Food Co-op, which is the state’s oldest food coop or something like that. It’s an AWESOME place. We were really hungry but I can objectively say that it was not just the hunger, this place is incredible. We stocked up on fresh veggies, trail mix, all kinds of camping and hiking treats, and some wholesome snacks to nibble on the road.

Belfast, Maine

view from bridge leaving Belfast, headed north

And then we had to head northwards again, on up through Searsport in the golden evening light, and across Bucksport’s two bridges in a blazing sunset. We stopped at about eight places trying to find a little fuel cannister for our camp stove, finally found one and headed south down the peninsula towards Deer Isle in the twilight. It was kind of a tough road to drive as it got darker, we were on these crazy twisty windy hilly coastal backroads so we were relieved when we finally made it across the bridge from the mainland to Little Deer Isle, across another bridge to proper Deer Isle, and across the last bridge to Stonington. Of course it was dark and we were groggy from hours in the car, so we got all confused and lost and had to ask for directions to find our campground in the dark. I set up both tents while the boys started a campfire and we had a tasty late supper around the fire.
Early in the morning, up and off to the ferry landing in town, for the 10 am ferry out to Isle Au Haut.

net sailboats in Stonington

Stonington panorama


It’s around an hour’s ride, I think. I dozed through it because I hadn’t slept well in the tent. Arrived at Isle Au Haut and disembarked at the Duck Harbor campground landing. Dropped our packs at our lean-to, had a snack, and headed right out for a nice big hike! We headed up across the Duck Harbor Mountain Trail, which goes right up to the summit of the island. It was a fantastic hiking day, crisp and clear and sharp. Beautiful piney trail that opens out onto ledges. We had to do a few challenging scrambles over sheer rock faces around the summit; I had to tie my water bottle to my belt and use both hands and feet and sometimes knees. Fun! But we passed a few other hikers who were like “THIS IS CRAZY!” We were rewarded with lovely views out across the harbor and out to sea, scattered with lobster boats, islands and bright sunshine.

mike hiking Paul

Mike hiking up; Paul at the summit

mushroom tiny flower pine cone

mushroom, flower, pine cone

Squeaker Cove

Squeaker Cove

We descended to Squeaker Cove and then followed the Goat Trail to the Cliff Trail and then the Western Head trail looped back to Western Head Road which took us back to our campsite. Here’s a trail map.

roots forest floor

crazy moss

ferns path

mosses, ferns

The trails run through fantastical magical-looking mossy woods, and then out onto beaches made up entirely of rounded, fist-sized sea-washed rocks that make an amazing echoing hollow sound when you walk across them.

tiny cairns cairn

tiny cairns

out to sea

The whole hike was something like 5 hours. Got back to camp tired and hungry and happy to see we’d brought along a bottle of wine.

dinner home sweet lean-to

dinner, lean-to

sitting on the rocks, watching the sun go down

sitting on the rocks and watching the sun go down

Next morning: sat on the rocks watching seagulls, knitting and reading. Took a picture of the rusty woodstove sitting by the trail in the woods. Packed up camp, sat on the dock til the ferry came. I stayed awake for the ride back, which was lovely… we passed this awesome lighthouse down by the town landing in Isle Au Haut. It happens to be for sale, in case anybody has $2M sitting around and wants to own a lighthouse!

Duck Harbor boat landing Miss Lizzie picks us up at the dock

waiting on the dock; our ferry was named Miss Lizzie.

Isle Au Haut lighthouse

Isle Au Haut lighthouse

Leave a Reply