We like to go off the beaten path, so it’s only natural that we would go to Duck Harbor Campground. It’s a primitive, remote campground on the sparsely populated island of Isle au Haut, and boasts hiking trails, bogs, and mountains to explore. About half of the island is part of Acadia National Park. What’s not to like?
Our journey to Isle au Haut began in Bar Harbor, where we had just gone kayaking and checked out of Blackwoods Campground. We headed to Stonington, a small town on Deer Isle off the Maine coast. Stonington is the “gateway” to Isle au Haut, since a mail boat travels between the two. It’s an easy 1.5 hour drive to Stonington from Bar Harbor. There aren’t many grocery store options in or close to Stonington, so we grabbed everything we needed along the way at a Walmart.
We planned to stay in Stonington for one night, before catching the mail boat to Duck Harbor the next morning. Our lodging for the night was at Boyce’s Motel, a quaint spot on the coast, that we would heartily recommend. The room was small, but it was clean and well-maintained. The price was right, and our room even had a fridge to store some goodies for our trip.
Since we desperately needed to do laundry, the proprietor of Boyce’s pointed us toward Island Laundromat on Deer Isle, about 10 minutes from Stonington. Bring quarters! We also brought detergent in single-use boxes, but there is a machine that will dispense some as well. Check the hours – it isn’t open very late. If you go, set aside extra time, and be aware that the machines are pretty old. Some of our clothes were sopping wet after the wash cycle, and needed additional dryer time. It was a bit annoying, but in the end the laundromat served its purpose. We stopped by the laundromat again after returning from Isle au Haut.
Next stop: dinner. There aren’t many restaurant choices in Stonington (surprise!), but we had researched options beforehand using Yelp and other sources. We didn’t know quite what to expect, but we decided to check out Fisherman’s Friend, a restaurant located on the pier and walkable from Boyce’s. K got the fish tacos, which were amazing. She really liked the remoulade sauce, and she ordered extra (naturally). I got the fish and chips, which were good too. They have outdoor seating, but we ate inside since it was a bit chilly that evening. We had a partial view of the pier from our table. Also, they had hard cider and a decent selection of craft beers, which was a nice treat. Overall, good food and service, and decent prices. K says, GET THE FISH TACOS!!! (Note: Fisherman’s Friend is now closed, and will be re-opening as Stonecutter’s Kitchen).
A few days later, we wanted to eat here again after returning from Isle Au Haut, but found out that they were closed on Wednesdays. Instead, we went down the street to Harbor Cafe. The food was simple but surprisingly good. K got the fried haddock sandwich, and I had the turkey club. Both meals came with fries. The hostess and server was both very friendly. The beer selection was limited, but overall, this was what we needed after 3 days of camping. A piece of blueberry pie didn’t hurt either.
After our dinner at Fisherman’s Friend, we wandered around town, taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere of a quintessential Maine fishing town. We also wanted to locate the mail boat dock, since we planned to arrive there early the next day. We eventually found it, only 0.2 miles from Boyce’s. Stonington was a highlight of our trip; it is a relaxing, quaint town that we’ll remember for a long time.
The Mail Boat to Isle au Haut
We woke up early the next morning to catch the mail boat at 8:00 am. We made some oatmeal, packed up our gear, and headed to the dock to get there at least 30 minutes ahead of time. Originally, our boat was supposed to leave at 10:30 am, but the company switched the times due to problems with one of their boats. Thankfully, the National Park Service had emailed us a few weeks ahead of time to notify us of the change. The earlier departure time was actually a boon in the end since we had fewer people on our boat (more groups arrived on the afternoon boat).
After getting out the door, we drove to the nearest convenience store (next to Fisherman’s Friend) to get ice for our cooler. Our fresh food properly refrigerated, we drove to the Isle au Haut Mail Boat dock. There, we bought two roundtrip boat tickets for $40 each – you can’t reserve them in advance. We were then directed to park our car on the dock, where we could leave it for three nights. The dock had a cart that we used to load our luggage onto the boat. And we were ready to hit the waves and head to Isle au Haut!
At this point, we were the only ones at the dock. By the time the boat left, one other couple had arrived to make the journey with us. But that was it, so it was a quiet ride. The boat set off from the dock, and we were on our way. Our boat passed enumerable little rocky islands, many with trees, some with houses, all surrounded by lobster traps. We took endless photos, but at some point we just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.
After about an hour, the first stop was Isle au Haut Town on the northern end of the island. We could have departed here, and backpacked the approximately 4.0 miles to the campground, but had chosen to go directly there. We would visit the town later on a dayhike during our stay. The other couple got off here, so we were now the lone passengers for the remainder of the ride to Duck Harbor.
It’s a quick 20 minute boat ride to Duck Harbor from the town. Along the way, we saw Robinson Point Lighthouse – a beautiful sight on the rocky coast. The captain of our boat informed us that you can actually stay there at Keeper’s House Inn… for $450 a night! That’s a bit beyond what we’d be willing to pay personally, but would make for a neat stay. Soon we rounded Eben’s Head, a rocky outcropping just before Duck Harbor. And there, at last, was the Duck Harbor Landing pier! Several people were waiting there, including a Park Ranger who would greet us, and other visitors waiting to take the boat back to Stonington.
Isle au Haut Mailboat | 37 Seabreeze Ave, Stonington, ME 04681
Boyce’s Motel | 44 Main St, Stonington, ME 04681
Fisherman’s Friend/Stonecutter’s Kitchen | 5 Atlantic Ave, Stonington, ME 04681
Harbor Cafe | 36 Main St, Stonington, ME 04681 | Open 6 AM to 8:30 PM
Island Laundromat | 44.21609, -68.68925 (There’s no address that I could find) | Open 8 AM to 6 PM