On our second day at Duck Harbor in Acadia National Park, we decided to get a taste of what it’s like to live locally on Isle au Haut. So we made the decision to hike into town, which is the aptly named Isle au Haut Town. It’s the only town on the island, and would be a solid day hike to get there and back. We knew there was a general store and ranger station near the town. We didn’t know what else there was, so we wanted to check it out! So we loaded up our daypacks with rain jackets (just in case!), lunch, snacks, and some cash (for the general store) and headed east away from Duck Harbor Campground on the service road, toward the Main Road.
There are multiple ways to get to town (and by town, we mean to the Ranger Station there). From the campground you can either follow the main road all the way to town (5.1 miles one way), or hike on the Duck Harbor Trail (4.2 miles one way). Or, like we did, a combination of both! The road is faster and easier, but the trail is more direct. A park ranger had mentioned a bog area where we could see carnivorous plants along the Main Road, so we decided to see that, but otherwise stick to Duck Harbor Trail. We saw a few cars, including the park rangers, drive through this section. If you take Main Road, watch for cars – you might not expect them.
To return from Isle au Haut Town, you can hike the network of paths. Or, as some other campers told us, you can also take the Isle au Haut Mailboat back to Duck Harbor for a discounted price (we don’t remember the exact price, but around $7/person). Thinking this was a brilliant choice, this was what we had decided to do. It’s the same boat that you take to get to Isle au Haut, but you’re only on it for the last leg from the town to Duck Harbor. The only catch is that you have to get to the dock by a certain time to catch the boat, otherwise you’ll be hiking back. The exact time depends on the day of the week, but for us it was 3:15 pm. So that was our goal, to get there by then. We started the hike around 12:30pm, so we’d have to hustle a bit.
We filled up our water supply at the ancient-looking pump (which we mentioned in our “Duck Harbor Campground” post). The water was very iron-rich, but improved a lot after we strained it through a bandanna. Once we filtered it, we continued on the fire road, then turned left onto Main Road. This route took us around Duck Harbor for a nice view of Duck Harbor Landing, where we had arrived the day before.
After about 0.3 miles, we turned right onto Duck Harbor Trail. This first part of the trail had a small bit of scrambling, and otherwise was a nice easy forested trail. We reached an intersection with the Main Road again after 0.8 miles. Duck Harbor Trail and Main Road intersect a few times as you go toward town. Since I was interested in seeing the pitcher plants in the bog, we turned right at this point to continue again onto Main Road. We hiked in a pleasant wooded area with some clearings, which was nice even though it was a fire road.
When we got to the junction with Nat Merchant Trail after 1 mile, we started looking for pitcher plants. Before this trip, K had never seen a pitcher plant, but we got to see a lot of them here! It’s basically a bulbous cone-shaped plant that tricks and eats insects. The ones we saw came in neon green, deep red, or a mix of the two. We saw glimpses of boggy areas that might have had some pitcher plants as we hiked, but we didn’t truly see them until we came to a wide open area. It was a beautiful view of the bog, with dying trees surrounded by dark water and clusters of crimson red sundews (another carnivorous plant with sticky ‘leaves’). And there, scattered around, were numerous flowering pitcher plants.
Be very careful if you try to look at the pitcher plants up close, as their environment is marshy and fragile. I tried to examine these up close, but the surrounding footing wasn’t steady enough, and we are firm believers in “leave no trace.” Additionally, there were small pink orchids growing in and near the bog. The eastern half of the Goat Trail (also on Isle au Haut), has the best carnivorous plants that we saw on our trip. The boardwalk made for easier (and safer!) photography.
After exploring the bog, we continued north on Main Road. After 1.3 miles, we turned back onto Duck Harbor Trail for more peaceful woods, and a few boardwalks. We also saw some beautiful irises and other wildflowers. There were several signs along the trail that marked the boundary of Acadia. After 1.4 miles, we reached signs of civilization, and walked right into what looked like someone’s back yard; there was even a cozy-looking hammock set up. As we walked closer, we realized it was the Isle au Haut Ranger Station. Sadly, we reached the station at about 3:30 pm, so we had already missed the last mail boat back to Duck Harbor. We’re always running late it seems!
The Ranger Station is a quaint building, and has information inside about the park. Since we had befriended some of the rangers, we wanted to sop in and say hi. Also, we were hoping they would offer us a lift back since we had missed the last mail boat…but no one was there. So we grabbed an Isle au Haut passport stamp, then continued to Isle au Haut Town. Beside the Ranger Station, there is also a pit toilet, which is a luxury when you’re hiking.
Our next stop was the Island Store, the island’s only general store. As we walked the 0.4 miles from the Ranger Station, we passed by the town landing dock, and a small souvenir store, though we didn’t stop at either. The Island Store sells basic groceries, hardware, and various other goods that residents on the island need or requested. And of course, it was more expensive than on the mainland. The best thing we found was called a Harbor Bar. It appeared to be an ice cream-cookie sandwich covered in chocolate. K coerced me into getting it, since she is allergic to dairy…
We sat out back on one of 2 picnic benches. K ate her sandwich, and I ate my Harbor Bar (a healthy lunch). The weather was gorgeous, and we had a view of the Isle au Haut Thorofare (the body of water between Isle au Haut and Kimball Island). There is even a small pier out back at the Island Store. It was all very picturesque, and a great spot to take a break and eat lunch…or ice cream.
We hiked back to the Ranger station to use the bathroom before heading back to Duck Harbor. But when we arrived, all 3 Isle au Haut park rangers were there. So we chatted with them for a bit, they were all friendly and offered information, stories, and even Oreos… mmmm. And there’s no dairy in those! Sadly, we didn’t get any offer for a ride back to camp, so it was another hike for us.
We started to head back to the campground, but took the route opposite the way we came, again using a mix of Duck Harbor Trail and Main Road. This kept things interesting, and limited the amount of revisited trail. The rangers had mentioned to look out for the local “food truck,” which we were told is referred to as the Lobster Lady. Sadly, she wouldn’t arrive until the following week. We did snap a photo of the Lobster shack, though. Someday we’d love to try this iconic Maine – remote island – “food truck” destination.
Initially we started on the Main Road, before switching to the Duck Harbor Trail at the first intersection. Here, the trail went along the coast and some rocky beaches, which was a nice change from the trail or road we’d been on. A side trail also leads down to Deep Cove, but we skipped it since it was getting late. The trail started to feel a bit long at the end (we were getting tired); the road was monotonous, and the terrain along the trail became fairly similar as we neared the end.
Before long, we arrived back at our campsite, exhausted. The hike was a lot of fun, and it was great to see a variety of plant life and Isle au Haut Town. But we really wished we had been able to take the mail boat back, and we recommend that for others doing this hike.
Isle au Haut Town via Duck Harbor Trail
Distance: 7.0 miles / 11.3 kilometers roundtrip
Type: Out and Back
Total Elevation Gain: 1155 feet / 352 meters
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate. The only difficulty is the length.
Crowds: We encountered a couple cars on the Main Road, but saw no people on the trail.
Water: There’s some marshy areas and the ocean, and a couple small streams.
Parking: In Stonington, most likely
Directions to Trailhead (Google Maps Directions):
- Mile 0.0 – First head east on the gravel service road that heads inland. You’ll pass the intersection with the Western Head road in 0.1 miles, and the water pump a bit further.
- Mile 0.4 – Once you reach the intersection with the gravel Main Road, turn left, and go for 0.3 miles northwest.
- Mile 0.7 – The trailhead for Duck Harbor is on the right side of the Main Road.
Trail Directions (via Duck Harbor Trail):
- Mile 0.0 – The actual “trail head” is here on the right side of the road. The first part of the trail goes up and down and features a small bit of scrambling.
- Mile 0.8 – You’ll arrive at the intersection with the Main Road again. Continue straight across (or go on the road, if you’re feeling like it). This part of the trail goes near the coast, so you’ll be hiking through woods and also rocky beaches.
- Mile 1.0 – To the left, is an optional side trail to Deep Cove, if you have time.
- Mile 2.1 – Once again, an intersection with the Main Road. Continue straight across, for the last leg of the hike. This one goes through a few marshy areas so there’s some board walks, but is otherwise fairly straightforward (and a bit monotonous at this point).
- Mile 3.5 – You’ve arrived at the Isle au Haut Ranger Station! Stop in and say hi, and then check out the town. Then go back the way you came (or take the mail boat back. Or hike on the Main Road back.)
Highlights: Seeing the town and ranger station. Carnivorous plants, if you’re a nerd like I am.
Notes: The directions are for using Duck Harbor Trail only, but as our post detailed feel free to make detours on the Main Road.
Duck Harbor Trailhead | 44.030184, -68.651364
Duck Harbor Campground | 44.028130, -68.652953
Isle au Haut Ranger Station | Acadia National Park, Isle Au Haut, ME 04645
The Island Store | 3 Main St, Isle Au Haut, ME 04645 | Hours vary depending on season | (207) 335-5211
Lobster Lady (Facebook) | Location varies on the island | She’s only there during the summer
Bog on Main Road | 44.042623, -68.634540