Difficulty: Easy to moderate. About 1.5 miles of trails are located on the preserve — a main trail and a side trail that forms a loop. The trails travel through the shaded forest for the most part, over gradual hills and twisted tree roots. There is no trail on Barred Island, but you can walk around the island on the large granite slabs that surround it. Take care navigating the rocks, which become slippery closer to the water.
How to get there: The preserve parking area is located on Goose Cove Road in Deer Isle. To get there, cross onto Deer Isle from Little Deer Isle on Route 15. After crossing the causeway, continue on Route 15, heading south, for 4.1 miles, then turn right onto Main Street. Drive 0.5 mile on Main Street, which turns into Bridge Street. At a fork, turn left onto Sunset Road and drive 2.7 mile. Turn right onto Goose Cove Road. Drive 0.3 mile and veer left at the intersection, staying on Goose Cove Road. Drive 0.5 mile and veer left at a fork, staying on Goose Cove Road and the parking area will be on your left in a few hundred feet.
If the parking area is full when you arrive, a sign at the parking area asks that you leave and check out another preserve, saving Barred Island Preserve for another time.
Information: Located on the west side of Deer Isle, Barred Island Preserve features about 1.5 miles of nature trails that wind through a whimsical boreal fog forest to a sandy beach on the coast. And if you time your visit right, you can then cross over a sandbar to explore the scenic, undeveloped Barred Island.
Owned by The Nature Conservancy, Barred Island Preserve is managed by the Island Heritage Trust, a nonprofit land trust on Deer Isle that was founded in 1987 by residents concerned about protecting Deer Isle from development pressure that threatened to cut off residents from the shore and recreational use of the land. Island Heritage Trust currently has conservation easements on more than 770 acres of land, owns 18 properties that total 459 acres, and protects more than 13 miles of shore. Many of the conserved properties have public trails, which the land trust maintains.
At the Barred Island Preserve, the land trust maintains a blue-blazed 1-mile nature trail that travels through a maritime boreal fog forest to the coast, where visitors find a sandy beach, and if they hit it at the right time of day, a sand bar serves as a natural bridge to Barred Island, which is also conserved by The Nature Conservancy. The land trust also maintains a shorter Shore Loop trail, which forms a loop off the main nature trail and leads to two memorial benches on a boulder called Prayer Rock.
Barred Island is only accessible by sand bar about 3.5 hours on either side of low tide, which changes daily, therefore, you’ll need to check a tide chart for Deer Isle before visiting if you want to be sure to get over to explore the island. There are no trails on the island, and its forest is thick, but you can enjoy some stunning views of Penobscot Bay and and Goose Cove by walking around the island on the granite slabs that make up its shoreline. And if you visit during the summer, be sure to stop along the way to smell the white and pink wild roses growing at the edge of the forest.
As you walk through the mossy forest and relax on the sandy beaches of the preserve, keep in mind that this land was farmed by the Stinson family about a 100 years ago. And thousands of years before that, Wabenaki people summered there, fishing and collecting shellfish, according to a brochure about the preserve provided by The Nature Conservancy and Island Heritage Trust.
As for Barred Island, it was owned by Frederick Law Olmsted, famed landscape architect and one of the founding fathers of the national park system, about 100 years ago. The island remained in his family when Olmsted passed away in 1903, and in 1969, it was his grand-niece, Carolyn Olmstead, who donated the island to The Nature Conservancy.
Other major players in the creation of Barred Island Preserve include Ralph Waldron, a botanist who established Goose Cove Lodge and laid out much of the preserve’s trail system, as well as the subsequent lodge owner George Pavloff, who gave 47.5 acres of maritime boreal fog forest to The Nature Conservancy in memory of his wife, Elli. This land provides access to Barred Island. Atop what’s known as “Prayer Rock,” you’ll find two memorial benches, one for George and the other for Elli.
The preserve is open to the public for free for day use only. Fires, smoking and fireworks are not permitted. Dogs are also not allowed. Visitors are asked to remain on trail at all times and respect the neighboring landowners’ privacy. Leave no trash, and take no natural objects, such as rocks and shells.
To learn more, visit the Island Heritage Trust website at www.islandheritagetrust.org or call 348-2455. You can also stop by the Island Heritage Trust office and nature shop at 420 Sunset Road in the town of Deer Isle. And if you’d like to learn more about the flora and fauna along the trail, check out the printable deeriNature guide for Barred Island Preserve created by Marnie and Ken Crowell at islandheritagetrust.org/self-guided-nature-trail.html.
Personal note: There was only one spot left in the parking area when I arrived at Barred Island Preserve at about 1 p.m. on Friday, June 17. I’d checked the tide charts and knew that low tide was around 3:30 p.m., so I timed my hike so I would be able to cross the exposed sand bar to Barred Island.
On the way to the preserve, I stopped by the Island Heritage Trust office to collect a good trail map and preserve brochure, which are often available at the trailhead kiosk, but sometimes run out. I like carrying a map with me even if it’s a simple trail. I inevitably end up using it.
As I walked through the forest of the preserve, I was entranced by the mossy carpet covering the forest floor, the white bunchberry blossoms and legions of tall, straight spruce trees. Deer Isle, in my opinion, has some of the most beautiful forests in the state.
Along the way, I passed a few other hikers. A couple of tourists with southern accents stood in the middle of the trail, the man taking a phone call while the woman urged him to hurry. I also came across a local, an older man who told me that the preserve was one of his favorite places to walk on the island.
At a sandy beach just before the sandbar leading to Barred Island, I took off my shoes and waded ankle deep into the freezing Atlantic, then wandered the shore looking at slipper, clam and mussel shells. By the time I crossed over to Barred Island, I could feel my shoulders start to burn in the hot sun, but I kept going, enjoying the salty breeze as I picked my way over the granite edge of the island. After circling it completely, passing two friendly women on the way, I headed back to Deer Isle and explored the Shore Loop and visited Prayer Rock before backtracking along the main trail to the trailhead.
All in all, I spent about 4.5 hours exploring the preserve and took hundreds of photos. The beauty of the landscape, the rocky coast and spooky forest, was so special that I wished I’d had someone with me to share it with. But if I hadn’t been alone, I may have been too rushed or distracted to notice the delicate purple wildflowers growing at the edge of the beach, the large bleached periwinkles caught behind a pile of driftwood on Barred Island, and empty crab shells scattered through the mossy forest of the point.