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Inviting Maine Islands to Visit This Summer

Discover how to access Maine islands like Whaleboat and Monroe, conserved by Maine Coast Heritage Trust for free public hiking, camping, and enjoyment.

Maine Islands conserved by Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Illustration by Steve Stankiewicz

Ensuring and encouraging access to cherished coastal places is an integral part of Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s mission. Show your support by making summer memories on one of these conserved islands. They all promise seclusion and natural allure, yet they’re starkly individual. Visiting safely requires advance preparation, and each preserve has specific use guidelines. Check mcht.org for the complete lowdown before you set out.

Lanes Island

Put in at Freeport’s Winslow Park at mid-to-high tide (a fee applies). It’s an easygoing paddle in well-protected waters to the island where L.L. Bean himself retreated from the business of life. Donated to Maine Coast Heritage Trust by his heirs, Lanes has sandy strips of beach and two campsites.

Malaga Island

An offshore stop on the Maine Freedom Trail, Malaga is a place to learn about the mixed-race fishing community that was forced off the island by the state in 1912. Navigating here is tricky, so for safety and heart-stirring historic insights, consider a guided sea-kayaking tour with Alice’s Awesome Adventures or Seaspray Kayaking.

Monroe Island

From Owls Head, Monroe is a mere half-mile trip (be wary of working boat traffic, though). Opt to paddle the four miles from Rockland’s Mechanic Street launch instead, and you can still be hiking shoreline and interior trails before the coffee you bought in town gets cold. Two first-come campsites are available.

Whaleboat Island

Boaters and skilled paddlers can journey five miles out from Brunswick’s Mere Point to the largest wild island in Casco Bay. A perimeter scramble at low tide reveals only a fraction of Whaleboat’s wonder. The grassy meadow’s an ideal picnic ground. And, if you reserve or luck upon a first-come campsite, starry skies will enthrall you.

“We were caretaking the island for future generations.”

— David Etnier

The Etnier family acquired 125-acre Whaleboat Island in 1950. Artist Stephen Etnier loved viewing this emerald outpost from his Harpswell home. But the family never considered the island to be theirs alone. As nature ran rampant over the remains of farmhouses and stone walls, returning Whaleboat to its undisturbed state, they always allowed others to camp and to explore.

By 1973, Stephen and his wife, Samuella, began pursuing legal protection to ensure a portion of the island would remain forever wild. “It was groundbreaking stuff at the time,” says their son, David. Maine Coast Heritage Trust, founded just three years prior, provided helpful expertise.

After their father’s death in 1984, David and his brother, John, became the island’s sole owners. David moved into the family home in Harpswell and “overlooked” the island. He posted rules and guarded against fires. He cleared the lovely field, where a shallow cove is now a popular Maine Coast Heritage Trust campsite. As the decade drew to a close, the brothers took additional steps that eventually led to MCHT’s purchase of Casco Bay’s largest undeveloped island. Their generosity, along with donor contributions and funding from Land for Maine’s Future, allowed MCHT to ensure Whaleboat’s long-term future as a public preserve.

“Generations of people have had the times of their lives out there. To be able to allow that to continue as far as the eye can see means a lot to me,” David says.

It’s been a few years, but David, who now lives in South Freeport, anticipates return visits this summer. “I’m missing the island and would like to walk the shores again,” he says. He asks all who heed the island’s call to “treat it with love. Savor the beauty as you walk slowly and partake of all that surrounds you. Take deep breaths. Smell the fine fragrances of the fern groves and spruce trees and realize how wonderful it is that we have these islands in the state of Maine.”

The Goslings

Have kayaking knowledge and experience, but not the stamina or time to make it to Whaleboat? The Goslings, a trio of islands with soft sand beaches and two first-come campsites, are a three-mile excursion from Brunwick’s Mere Point. Bring binoculars to spy on nesting ospreys and playful harbor seals.

Frenchboro Preserve

Maine DOT’s ferry from Bass Harbor to Frenchboro is the easiest best deal for day-tripping island lovers. Pack provisions, and catch it the first or third Wednesday or any Friday this summer. Walk as much of this Acadia-like island’s perimeter as you can, but don’t miss your return ferry: There are no on-island services.

Merchant Row

Choose your adventure in this archipelago, where more than two dozen islands are open to the public, 11 of them managed by MCHT. From Stonington’s Colwell Boat Ramp (no parking), Green Island is a protected, 0.6-mile paddle: a perfect starting place. Saddleback, farthest east, has beaches, a loop trail, a campsite, and a rental cabin.

Win an Island Getaway!

Visit mcht.org/saddleback-drawing to enter to win a summer 2023 stay at MCHT’s Saddleback Island Preserve. You and three companions might be spending three days and two nights in a rustic cabin on the largest of Merchant Row’s islands.

Treat Island

It’s a short boat ride from Lubec’s Water Street landing to this storied isle (but a demanding paddle, so don’t attempt it unless you’re in top shape or with a guide). History lovers relish the hike to Revolutionary War Colonel John Allan’s monument. Passamaquoddy Bay views from cobbled beaches make for legendary photos.

Marshall Island

Hike 10 miles of remote trails. Commune with eagles. Claim a first-come campsite. Evade real life. For skilled boaters, expert sea kayakers (put in at Brooklin’s Naskeag Point and battle Jericho Bay’s strong currents), and undaunted adventurers who hire guides, reaching the East Coast’s largest undeveloped island is worth every ounce of effort.