This summer, jump on the mail boat in Stonington and ride to Isle au Haut. Whether you’re spending the day or longer, the island provides many opportunities for outdoor fun and learning.
Isle au Haut is roughly six miles long and two miles wide and features part of Acadia National Park. Filled with small mountains, wooded trails, and rocky shorefront, Isle au Haut offers challenges along with scenic beauty.
The French explorer Samuel Champlain first spotted the island in 1604 and named it for its tallest attribute: being the “high island” — or tallest island — in Penobscot Bay. In 1789, it was incorporated as part of Deer Isle Plantation. Eighty-five years later, Isle au Haut was incorporated as its own town and is no longer part of the same county as Deer Isle.
It is one of 15 unbridged islands with a year-round population — and that makes Isle au Haut a popular destination. While the off-season is best for hikers who don’t want to be disturbed, the high season — June through October — is a time to engage with locals.
After all, the island is home to several celebrities and one world-class chocolatier. Author Linda Greenlaw calls Isle au Haut both her home and workplace (she is a lobsterboat captain and retired swordfish boat captain). Author and chocolatier Kate and Steve Schaffer live on the island where Kate’s business, Black Dinah Chocolatier, is based.
To get to Isle au Haut, plan on taking either a private boat or the Isle au Haut Boat Service’s Mail Boat, which departs from the dock in Stonington. During the summer there are several trips to and from Isle au Haut. Check the schedule at www.isleauhaut.com for specifics. Round trip fare for adults is $37 and $19 for children under age 12.
Consider these things to do on your Isle au Haut trip:
• Bike or hike Acadia National Park. A section of Acadia National Park covers over half of the island and includes wooded trails, shorefront trails, and some smaller mountains. The island is full of trails and dirt roads, making bike-riding a pleasure. Dogs are welcome, but must be leashed. Be respectful and only leave footprints behind.
• Stop in and sample some world-class chocolate. The Inn at Isle au Haut may offer great lodging, but there’s nothing better than getting a fantastic piece of chocolate and enjoying it on the island. Black Dinah Chocolatier offers visitors a chance to take a break with chocolate or another delicious goodie at their summer café. Chocolate is made in the kitchen on site and is bound to satiate any sweet tooth.
• Go camping. Enjoy nature at its finest while really roughing it. Five “primitive” campsites are available at Duck Harbor campground, so make your reservations before you board the boat to Isle au Haut for Duck Harbor Campground. For details visit, www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/duckharbor.htm
• Visit a lighthouse. The Isle au Haut Lighthouse is located on Robinson’s Point. A brief hike from the main road will allow you to get up close and personal with the lighthouse and its craggy shore. However, to see even more lighthouses, take the lighthouse boat tour. The lighthouse tour will take its passengers by Mark Island Light, Goose Rocks Light, Brown’s Head Light on Vinalhaven, and Heron Neck Light.
• Go on a nature hike or ride with experts. The mail boat offers ocean-bound excursions, as does Old Quarry Ocean Adventures. For land-bound excursions, consider Kathie Fiveash, The Island Naturalist, who will teach you about the flora and fauna of Isle au Haut. Her phone is (207) 335-2171.