Difficulty: Moderate. The loop hike is about 2.8 miles long with some steep, rocky sections, some of which require hand-over-foot climbing.
How to get there: You first have to get to Isle au Haut, a small island in Penobscot Bay. Most people take the Isle au Haut Boat Services Mail Boat, which leaves from a dock at the corner of Seabreeze Avenue and Bayview Avenue in Stonington. A round-trip ride is $40 for adults and $20 for children under 12 years old. Bicycles are an extra $22. Pets are free. The schedule and more details is at isleauhautferryservice.com.
During the summer, you can take the boat to the dock at Duck Harbor Campground and start your hike from there. Off season, the boat only lands at the Town Landing. From there, you can bike on the island’s main road along the west side of the island about 5 miles to Duck Harbor Campground, or you can bike on the island’s main road along the east side of the island about 7.5 miles to Duck Harbor Campground. The first option is shorter but rougher because it includes more gravel and rocky sections. The second option is longer but smoother, with a much higher percentage of it being paved. You can also hike from the Town Landing to the campground on the 3.8-mile Duck Harbor Trail.
The Duck Harbor Mountain Trailhead is on Western Head Road just a short walk from the kiosk at Duck Harbor Campground, which displays a trail map that should help you find your bearings.
Information: Duck Harbor Mountain is a rocky hill that rises about 300 feet above sea level on the southwest side of Isle au Haut, an island in Penobscot Bay. Though not particularly tall, this mountain features several areas of open bedrock along its ridge, allowing for wide open views of the ocean and the sea of evergreens that covers the south side of the island.
Half of Isle au Haut — including Duck Harbor Mountain — is a part of Acadia National Park and features a vast network of hiking and biking trails, as well as a campground. While the other half of the island is privately owned, with summer residents and a year-round fishing community.
Exploring Duck Harbor Mountain with a loop hike involves three trails. From Duck Harbor Campground, you start with a short walk along the Western Head Road (which is a multi-use trail) then turn left onto the 1.2-mile Duck Harbor Mountain Trail, which travels up and over the mountain. This trail, which is particularly rocky and hilly, leads to the summit of the mountain, which is marked with two U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey markers embedded in the bedrock.
From the summit, the trail heads down the south side of the mountain to end at the coast at Squeaker Cove, where old wooden steps descend to a cobblestone beach. There the waves have shaped and smoothed the stone until they’re perfectly round.
There at the beach, head south on the Goat Trail (a right if facing the ocean) a short distance, passing by one more cobblestone beach on Deep Cove before turning right onto Western Head Road for an easy hike back to the campground.
To stay at Duck Harbor Campground, you’ll need to make reservations for one of the five primitive campsites available there from May 15 to Oct. 15 for $20 per night. Parties are limited to six people per site, and these campsites fill up quickly in the summer. For a better chance at snagging a site, I suggest planning your trip for early in the season.
During the summer, day trips to the island are also an option because the mail boat runs to Duck Harbor Campground twice a day.
For bikers, Isle au Haut features five miles of paved roads and seven miles of rough, unpaved roads, and for hikers, there are about 18 miles of marked and signed footpaths that visit a wide variety of habitats. The village area on the island also features a small grocery store, a gift shop, a tiny post office, a beautiful church, a one-room schoolhouse and more.
All visitors to Acadia National Park must pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October. For hikers and bikers without a car (as would be the case on Isle au Haut), the fee is $15 per person, with children 15 years old and under being free. These passes can be purchased online at https://ww.nps.gov/acad. Dog are permitted but must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times.
Personal note: The twittering of songbirds and the cool, salty ocean breeze gently nudged me awake on Tuesday, May 22, on Isle au Haut. The sun was filtering through the evergreen trees that surrounded our campsite, and beside me, my fellow campers were stirring in their sleeping bags. It was time to get up, brew some coffee on our camp stove, grill bagels over the fire and head out on our morning hike.
The night before, in the light of a lantern, we had looked over the island’s trail map and settled on exploring Duck Harbor Mountain because the hike was so varied, with mountain views, forest paths and cobblestone beaches. We wanted to see as much as possible before biking back to town and boarding the mailboat to return home.
It was my first time to Isle au Haut. For those of you who are interested in the details, I’ll write more about it in another blog post. But for now, I’ll focus on the hike.
With my hiking and camping companions — Wanda Greatorex of Corinth, Betty Jamison of Holden and Kristine Reid of Holden — I headed up Western Head Road and quickly found the narrow Duck Harbor Mountain Trail, which plunged into a thick evergreen forest and quickly started to climb up a rocky slope. It wasn’t long before we were up high enough to enjoy views of the ocean, but the trail dipped a few times before we climbed to the actual summit of the mountain, so don’t expect a straightforward climb up and down. There are plenty of grooves in the mountain along the way, including some interesting rock formations where you have to do a little hand-over-foot climbing.
Along the way, we traveled through a few areas of the forest where wind storms had toppled giant trees over, making quite a mess. But the trail was clear and easy to follow, marked with blue blazes and the occasional rock pile.
Throughout the hike, we stopped several times to chat and take photos, and on the cobblestone beach on Squeaker Cove, we sat down on the smooth rocks and had a snack, enjoying the sun as it fought through the clouds every now and again.
A few nature highlights of the hike included tiny blue butterflies, which we saw several times in the more open, sunny sections of the trail, as well as a giant red-banded polypore (mushroom) that had formed on a dead tree by Deep Cove. And while the island is known for being an excellent birding spot, I only managed to snap a photo of a yellow-rumped warbler while hiking. I was too busy socializing and enjoying the views to hunt down any rare species, but that just gives me a reason to return some day. That and the many trails I have left to explore on the island.