By Katy Kelleher
Photograph by Steve Kelly
01 Vinalhaven Ferry
If you happen to be traveling after winter’s chill has set in, the ride to Vinalhaven is a moody and slightly austere way to experience the Atlantic and its many wild islands. Rows of benches that are reminiscent of pews provide a place to rest on this hour-long voyage. Winding between the small islands off Vinalhaven, there are moments when it feels as though you’re just inches away from going aground (particularly during the tight passage at Lairey’s Narrows). Watch quietly from the windows while the sharp spikes of evergreen come into focus and you breathe in the briny taste of island air.
02 Beal + Bunker Mail Boat to the Cranberry Isles Off the coast of Mount Desert Island lies a group of five small islands, named for the low-bush cranberries that grow wild in the fall. Along with Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry, there’s also Sutton, Baker, and Bear. While visitors can reach the islands by water taxi, many prefer to take the Beal and Bunker Mail Boat. Since there isn’t a single car-friendly ferry that services the charming island communities, the Beal and Bunker vessel is forced to push a barge to the islands. It’s quite a sight to see.
03 The Mail Boat to Isle au Haut Although Mount Desert Island tends to be credited with rights to Acadia National Park, the protected land stretches over Toothacker Bay and onto the lovely and scenic Isle au Haut. If you want to hike Mount Champlain or take a dip in the warm waters of Long Lake, you’ll have to catch a mail boat in Stonington. While you can choose to disembark at Town Landing, it is far more satisfying to dock at Duck Harbor, a beautiful little inlet nestled in the heart of this petite portion of Acadia. From here, you can access miles of carriage trials and dirt roads, perfect for exploring on a summer’s day.
04 Casco Bay Lines Known as the Calendar Islands, the vast archipelago in Casco Bay is composed of verdant pockets of green in the summer, and wild craggy rocks in the winter. While the longest and most comprehensive route is the Bailey Island line (it takes over five hours round-trip), this long meandering cruise shuts down in the winter. Thankfully, there are ferries departing daily year round from Portland, which makes the Casco Bay Lines a convenient way to escape life as a landlubber—even in the depths of snow season.
05 Monhegan Boat Line Located 10 miles off the coast and with a population of just 75, Monhegan can feel like an entirely new world. Hitch a ride on the mail boat in Port Clyde and you’ll soon find yourself entering the vast seascape of the open ocean. Keep your eyes peeled for whales between Allen Island and Monhegan, for this is one of the few places you are likely to see the prehistoric mammals. On the return trip, you might spot families of sleek and blubbery seals, who like to sun themselves on the isolated shores.
06 Frenchboro Ferry While the Frenchboro Ferry runs just twice a week, this quintessentially Maine trip is not to be missed. The voyage, which takes travelers around islands and into the open ocean, is gorgeous in its own right. However, in this case, the destination might just be more captivating than the journey. Following the hour-long cruise, the Maine State Ferry pulls into Lunt Harbor, where fishing families go about the daily routine of trapping lobster and casting nets. After you tire of watching this trade, take a stroll down the shoreline trails (maintained by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust) and into the wild backside of the island.