If high-end art, village charm, and a hike along wind-scoured cliffs draws you in, Monhegan Island in Maine is the island for you.
By Cynthia Anderson
May 03 2013
A ferry departs the classic fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine, and returns to Monhegan Island.Photo Credit : Winky Lewis
MORNING: If the idea of high-end art, village charm, and a hike along wind-scoured cliffs appeals to you, then Monhegan Island —a whale-shaped bit of rock some 10 miles out to sea— may be your island. To get there, the Monhegan Boat Line in Port Clyde, Maine, offers daytrippers the most flexibility. The ferry departs as early as 7:00 a.m., with a last return at 4:30 p.m. On board the Laura B or the Elizabeth Ann, keep an eye out for seals as you make the one-hour crossing. (Or, if you choose to depart from Boothbay Harbor, make a reservation with Balmy Days Cruises for a spot on the Balmy Days II.)
When you land, stay starboard for a view of Manana, inhabited for decades by Ray Phillips, the so-called “Hermit of Manana,” and later by the Bates family, whose children were long the subjects of painter Jamie Wyeth.
It’s best to hike Monhegan—and it is hiking, so bring proper footwear— before the day heats up. More than 17 miles of trails crisscross 480 protected acres, about two-thirds of the island. Get a map at the wharfside Barnacle café (operated by The Island Inn just up the hill), where you can also score a cappuccino and a homemade blueberry muffin.
No matter which trail you choose, you’ll first climb a spur to a gravel road through the heart of the village. Monhegan has no cars; the only motorized traffic you’ll encounter is the occasional freight truck on its way to the wharf. Instead you’ll pass island kids selling cookies alongside hedges redolent of beach roses, and women on their way to buy milk. Watch for the tiny-but-lovely library on the northern end of town and, on the southern, an old wooden church where sing-a-longs are held on many a Sunday night.
Moderate hikes include those to White Head and Burnt Head, both of which level out after initially steep ascents. After walking for 30 minutes through the island’s lush interior, you’ll be rewarded with clifftop views. On your way back, look for tiny “fairy houses” constructed of twigs, moss, and stones, nestled at the feet of conifers. (To protect the habitat, visitors are asked not to build new houses.) For more-experienced hikers, the Cliff Walk offers a series of dazzling ocean vistas as you circumambulate the island. You’ll come across coves with pools filled to the brim with periwinkles and, when the trail veers inland, blackberries galore. Do allow several hours if you choose this trail: The going can be steep and the footing rough.
AFTERNOON: Back in town, it’s time for lunch. Mid-village behind The Island Inn, Carina offers a variety of gourmet groceries and sandwiches. At nearby Fish House Fish Market, you’ll find lobster rolls and homemade chowder—as well as picnic tables on a small beach from which you can watch kids rowing visitors across to Manana. The Novelty, at the base of Horn’s Hill and operated by The Monhegan House inn, serves pizza, wraps, salads, and (very good) ice cream. If you’re up for more trekking, carry your food out to sunny Lobster Cove to picnic adjacent to a shipwreck.
Now you’re ready to explore Monhegan’s flourishing arts colony. For more than a century, artists have been making pilgrimages here (see “Drawn to Islands“). As you make your way around, you’ll likely see a few folks set up with easel and paint, rendering an overturned skiff or an old shingled cottage. Many artists hold viewing hours in their studios; locations and times are posted on bulletin boards around the village. At the top of Wharf Hill Road, the Lupine Gallery sells original works by Monheganers, as well as reproductions, cards, and art supplies. A few doors down, the Winter Works cooperative offers a variety of island handcrafts. Keep an eye out for knitwear in vibrant summer hues.
If you want to stay outdoors, or if you need to cool off, head to Swim Beach in the center of town. Be forewarned, though: The water is frigid, and the tide runs hard. But if you dare, a bracing dip won’t soon be forgotten. When finally you’ve had your fill of walking, eating, viewing, and swimming, stretch out on a west-facing rock for a seaside nap before your boat departs. You’ve earned it.