Isle au Haut (pronounced “eye-la-HO”) is Acadia National Park‘s most far-flung parcel of property. Located 15 miles southwest of Mount Desert Island, the 12-square-mile (31-square kilometer) island feels trapped in time. While Mount Desert Island is defined by tourism, Isle au Haut is a working Maine island where fishing has been the primary occupation for over 200 years.
A few dozen people live year-round on Isle au Haut, and roughly half of the island belongs to Acadia. This is arguably the most pristine coastal landscape in Maine. If “rugged,” “remote,” and “rock-bound” are some of your favorite words, it’s time to add “Isle au Haut” to your vocabulary.
Getting to Isle au Haut
Isle au Haut reaches farther into the Atlantic (15 miles) than any other large island in Maine. First, drive to the town of Stonington on Deer Isle, which is located six miles north of Isle au Haut. (Bar Harbor to Stonington is about a two-hour drive.) Next, catch the ferry to Isle au Haut (207-367-5193, isleauhautferryservice.com). Another option is Old Quarry Adventures, which offers hiking, biking and kayaking day trips to Isle au Haut (207-367-8977, oldquarry.com).
Things to do on Isle au Haut
Isle au Haut’s small town landing is the “downtown” social hub of the island. The Isle au Haut Cooperative Store (207-335-5211, theislandstore.net) is a community-owned general store with groceries and basic supplies. The Maine Lobster Lady (207-335-5141, mainelobsterlady.com) sells delicious lobster rolls, clam rolls and seafood from June through October. Just up the road is Shore Shop Gifts (207-335-2244, shoreshopgifts.com), which features local Maine artisans. Down the road is Acadia’s Isle au Haut Ranger Station (207-335-5551).
Over 18 miles of hiking trails crisscross Isle au Haut. The island’s best hiking trails are concentrated at the southern tip of the island, near Duck Harbor Campground. Duck Harbor Mountain (Strenuous, 2.4 miles round-trip) rises 300 feet above Duck Harbor, offering terrific views. Another option is connecting the Cliff Trail and Western Head Trail (Moderate, 2 miles one-way) which meanders in and out of dark spruce forests along the shore. Note: trails on Isle au Haut are often rugged and overgrown. Watch your step!
There are five miles of paved roads and seven miles of unpaved roads on Isle au Haut. If you’d like to explore the island, a mountain bike is your best bet. Just be aware that the roads aren’t nearly as picturesque as the hiking trails, where bicycles are prohibited. If you’re only here for a day or two, focus on hiking.
Isle au Haut Hotels
Located at historic Robinson Point Lighthouse, The Keepers House is one of the most unique places to stay in Maine. Even if this lighthouse/inn wasn’t the only lodging on Isle au Haut, it would still be fabulous. Breakfast, lunch and candle-lit dinners are included. Bicycles and a rowboat are available to guests. (207-335-2990, keepershouse.com)
Isle au Haut Camping
Acadia’s gorgeous Duck Harbor Campground, perched on a hill above lovely Duck Harbor, has five 8 x 12-foot lean-to shelters that sleep up to six people each. Facilities include fire rings, picnic tables, a fresh water pump and a composting toilet. Open May 15 to October 15. Reservations are required, and they first become available April 1 (207-288-3338, nps.gov/acad). Book ASAP. During peak season the Isle au Haut ferry stops at the landing in Duck Harbor, about a quarter mile from the campsite. Off season you’ll need to hike five miles from the town landing to Duck Harbor Campground.
Isle au Haut History
Isle au Haut (“High Island”) was named by the French explorer Samuel Champlain in 1604. Although Champlain voyaged up and down the Maine coast, he named very few places. But Isle au Haut, with its tallest peak rising 543 feet above the water, was too obvious a landmark to remain anonymous.
Before Europeans arrived, Wabanaki natives paddled to the island to gather sweetgrass and hunt ducks by driving them into the island’s narrow harbor (now named Duck Harbor).
The first white settler arrived in 1772. Fifty years later roughly 200 people lived on Isle au Haut, most of them fishermen who benefitted from the close proximity to rich, offshore fishing grounds. In 1860 a lobster cannery opened on Isle au Haut, and the population soon swelled to a peak of nearly 300.
When gas-powered engines arrived in the early 1900s, however, fishermen could commute from the mainland, and the population plummeted. Electricity didn’t arrive until 1970, and phone service only arrived in 1988! Today there are roughly 60 year-round residents on Isle au Haut, including author Linda Greenlaw, the female swordfish captain chronicled in The Perfect Storm.