There’s a certain rough-hewn romance to the prospect of life on a Maine island — the natural beauty, the close-knit communities, the relaxed pace of life that comes from isolation. When I first moved to Maine, my wife and I heard of a certain island community offering subsidized housing and other perks to young couples that fit our demographic profile and were briefly tempted by the idea of island life. In the end, the logistical hardships and the specter of loneliness put us off — and the same challenges are behind the dwindling number of full-time island communities in recent decades. But those that remain have cultures and personalities all their own, and of course, they swell in the summertime with visitors and seasonal residents. A visit to a Maine island community is in some ways more intimate than other day trips — you’re less of a tourist than a guest, but if you’re respectful, you’ll always be made welcome.
Isle au Haut
The town center on Isle au Haut shuts down in winter, and there’s not much there in summer besides a general store and curio shop. But that’s not what attracts visitors to this hilly island six miles south of Stonington — they come for craggy beaches and twenty-ish miles of forested trails in the rarely visited unit of Acadia National Park that makes up half the island.
Edward Hopper is among the legions of artists who’ve come to Monhegan to paint its dramatic cliffs and gray-shingled houses. The arts are still important to the island, and summer visitors wander among studios and galleries when they’re not hiking or beachcombing. Ferries leave from New Harbor and Port Clyde.
Peaks is inside the Portland city limits, and most of the island’s year-round residents commutes via the Casco Bay Ferry. But it’s also a great place for biking, visiting galleries, or ducking into quirky sites like the Umbrella Cover Museum or the abandoned World War II hillside fortification called Battery Steele.
The ferry from Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island brings summer visitors to quiet Swan’s Island, with its pretty lighthouse and lobsterboats bobbing in the harbor. Swan’s is a workingman’s island, and attractions like the Lobster & Marine Museum and an old granite quarry attest to blue-collar roots.
Technically, Campobello Island is in Canada, but it’s accessed (by bridge) from the Down East town of Lubec, and its primary attraction is Roosevelt Campobello International Park, the one-time summer home of Franklin and Eleanor, administered by both countries. You do need a passport, but there’s no fee to visit the Roosevelts’ cottage and wander the seaside hiking trails.