Monhegan Island sits roughly 10 miles off the coast of Maine and is home to just under 70 full-time residents, a number that hasn't grown in years. With no roads or bridges connecting the Island to the mainland, the only access is by boat. The car-free island is only one square mile in size with no established roads, but there's a small community with some places to eat and stay, and it's packed with 12 miles of rocky coastal hiking trails.
The island's impressive trails meander throughout the island and encompass the beauty of the landscape, which has long drawn artists and nature lovers from around the world. Artists like Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Andrew Wyeth have all stepped foot on the island and been inspired by its scenery—and are alone worth a visit.
Read on for further look into our recent late summer trip to Monhegan Island, or scroll on further down to dive into our well earned guide for visiting Monhegan Island—including how to get there, where to stay, and what to do—to make sure you make the most of your own trip.
Monhegan Island Trip Report
This was only my second visit to Maine, the first being to the mountainous western part of the state. This time around, we opted for a more traditional coastal getaway to ease the soul. Our journey started on the mainland in a small town located in the Mid-Coast Maine region called Edgecomb, where we rented a cabin that sits along the Sheepscot River. The cabin offered easy access to any of the three ferries that go to Monhegan Island.On the second morning of the trip, with our provisions packed and film cameras loaded, we set out for the day, starting with the hour-long ferry to the island.
Calm waters allowed for a smooth ride, and after about 50 minutes had gone by, I spotted the jagged pine-covered coastline of Monhegan in the distance. As we arrived on the island, some were greeted by residents, likely family members of island dwellers visiting for a relaxing getaway. Unlike them, our voyage to the island was not a retreat to unwind and relax—we were on a mission to log as many trail miles as possible on our short five-hour stint.
Our first stop off the ferry was a tattered wood-clad general store perched along the harbor called The Barnacle. The inside seemed unchanged but well-cared for. Going inside felt like stepping into an old bar, a row of stools lines the interior and faces out over the Gulf of Maine. A pair of binoculars sat on the table for gazing out at the sea while sipping coffee. Unfortunately, our time on the island was short, so we ordered a couple of scones and sandwiches, packed them away in our bags, and made our way up the dirt road to the trailhead to begin our coastal trek around the island.
Our hike started at Lobster Cove trailhead on the island's west end. The trail begins as a moderate hike before turning into a scramble over the rocky shore. We continued past an old shipwreck and began a climb up towards an area known as Christmas Cove. At this point, we started to lose sight of any fellow day trippers as the hike along this section, simply labeled "Cliff #1" on the trail map, is known to be a bit ill-marked, steep, and dangerous in some spots (just what we were looking for). After an intense climb and some bushwhacking through spruce trees, we arrived at our route's halfway point, an area known as Norton’s Ledge.
After a brief pause to catch our breath, we continued onward to Gull Rock. About midway between Gull Rock and our end point, we spotted a few hikers up ahead of us pointing at something. As we passed, they informed us there were seals surfacing on the rocky shoreline just below us. A few yards farther out at sea, we saw a fin appear, likely a great white shark looking for an afternoon snack, and a reminder of the harsh, unpredictable environment of the ocean surrounding us. After the seals disappeared, we continued onward along Cliff #1 trail. After another mile or so, our hike concluded at the rocky outcrop known as Burnthead. We sat on the lichen-stained rocks and watched the waves crash below us before heading back into town.
From Burnthead, we followed the Burnt Head #4 road back to town and made our way to the lighthouse, the second tallest point on the island. From this viewpoint, you can really grasp the size of the small-scale community, and we could see almost everything this community encompasses: The harbor, the schoolhouse that only has one active student, the meadow of wildflowers, and just past that, the yellow-framed library.
At this point, we had a decision to make: continue onward to Deadman Cove or walk down the lighthouse road to the local pub. Our group collectively decided it was time for a well-earned beer and a lobster roll, so we headed back to the south end of the island to a small family-owned brewery known as Monhegan Brewing Company. After a few beers, we made our way down the road in search of a lobster roll, stopping along the way at a few artist galleries scattered around the island. We ended the day at Fish House Market, where we finally found our lobster rolls.
Although we didn’t even scrape the surface of the Monhegan trail system, we still felt accomplished with the time allotted, and all agreed we would be back someday to log more miles along the coastal trails of Monhegan Island.
As we waited in line for the ferry, I tried to envision what it’s like to be one of the 70 residents inhabiting the island year-round. Having the opportunity to walk the coastline trail at sunrise, sitting at Burnt Head looking out through the pines at sunset, walking home through the old-growth forest of Cathedral Woods. Places like this are a dime a dozen nowadays, and after visiting for just a few short hours, it’s obvious the importance of them, both physically and spiritually. As I stepped onto the ferry, I thought to myself how if I could recreate this experience every day, it might warrant cutting ties to the mainland.
Monhegan Island Travel Guide
How to Get to Monhegan Island
Select your ferry destination from three options: Monhegan Boat Line in Port Clyde, Hardy Boat Cruises in New Harbor, or The Balmy Days II in Boothbay Harbor. Ensure you book your ferry online before your departure, and check the schedule to make sure you don't miss the last ferry back to the mainland.
Where to Eat and Drink
As small as it is, Monhegan Island has a decent selection of places to grab a bite or stock up for the day.
- The Barnacle — General store provisions for your hike or dine by the water overlooking the wharf.
- Monhegan Coffee Roasters — Specialty coffee roasted on island
- Monhegan Brewing Company — Small-batch beers with outside seating and food truck on site
- Monhegan Fish House — Fresh local lobster rolls and various fish selections, located on the beach overlooking the harbor
- The Novelty — Small artisan shop with pizza, wraps, sandwiches and craft beers
Where to Stay
Monhegan Island is a viable destination for a day trip if you're staying in the Midcoast region, but there are a handful of places to spend the night if you're planning a longer stay.
- The Island Inn — A historic inn overlooking the harbor that dates back to 1816 and has 32 rooms.
- Trailing Yew — A compound of New England-style cottages for rent.
- The Monhegan House — Bed and breakfast in the center of the village with a restaurant and ocean views
- Shining Sails Cottage Rentals — Shining Sails is a small bed and breakfast that also manages a number of privately owned cottages spread across the island
Hiking on Monhegan Island
The 12 miles of hiking trails on Monhegan Island are overseen by Monhegan Associates, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to a "Leave No Trace" philosophy. To plan your hike effectively, be sure to acquire a Monhegan Associates trail map, which can be obtained from the ferries or various shops and trail boxes in the villages.
If you're visiting on a day trip, try the Lobster Cove hike to the D.T. Sheridan shipwreck, Burnt Head #4 to the ocean overlook, and Whitehead #7 trail along the coastline. If you plan to stay longer, I highly recommend taking the Cliff 1A trail, which encircles the entire island perimeter. Explore the island's ancient spruce forest on the west end via Cathedral Woods trail, Evergreen trail, or Fern Glen, all marked on the trail map. After your hike, you can cool off with a refreshing swim at Swim Beach or Fish Beach.
Before heading back to the harbor to catch your ferry, make sure to indulge in a Monhegan Brewing beer and savor a delicious lobster roll from Fish House Market. For additional hiking options and comprehensive information about Monhegan Island, see the Monhegan Associates website.