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An Epic Travel Guide to Deer Isle, Maine

This post is produced in partnership with Downeast Acadia Regional Tourism. While I was compensated for my time, I only work with brands and destinations I’m passionate about, and I work hard to ensure I bring you the best information and share genuine reflections of my travel experiences.

Deer Isle, Maine sits quietly in the shadow of Blue Hill, Camden, and the always-popular Mount Desert Island. But despite its relative lack of renown, it’s well-worth a detour away from the mainland. Deer Isle is the kind of place where inn owners know lobstermen, and even if you’re from out of town, you’re likely to bump into someone you know at the Thursday night wine bar.

It’s the kind of place where someone might actually offer to show you around or take you out on their lobster boat. When you take your time to enjoy the slow pace of the island, savor its natural beauty, and wander without any particular plans, you never know where your adventures on Deer Isle will take you.

Keep reading for an introduction to this beautiful island in Downeast Maine, along with some suggestions for what to do while visiting.

Lobster boats in the harbor off the coast of Stonington, Maine

“All I knew about Deer Isle was that there was nothing you could say about it, but if I didn’t go I was crazy.”

— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

Where is Deer Isle, Maine?

First things first: Deer Isle is the name of both the island and one of the towns on the island, which can be a little confusing. To add a little more to the mix, there is a smaller island called Little Deer Isle, which you drive through to get to the larger island.

This post is about the entire island of Deer Isle, which includes the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington (and these towns include several small villages).

When I say “on” Deer Isle, I’m referring to the island, whereas “in” Deer Isle refers to the town. To help clarify things, many people say “Deer Isle-Stonington” when talking about the towns.

Deer Isle is located in Hancock County in what is known as Downeast Maine. It’s accessible by bridge from the end of the Blue Hill Peninsula in the Penobscot Bay.

Okay, but where is that exactly?

It’s about one hour and 15 minutes south of Bangor. And while Deer Isle is only about 10 – 15 miles away from Mount Desert Island, where you’ll find the majority of Acadia National Park, it takes about 1 – 1.5 hours to drive to the park over land. Head to the bottom of this post for a custom Google Map with everything listed in the post! (You can save it to your own Google Maps for reference.)

Recommended: Get a DeLorme Maine Atlas before your trip and an island map from the welcome center on Little Deer Isle. These two maps together (plus asking locals for directions) should provide sufficient detail to get around.

How to get there

Accessible by bridge, it’s fairly easy to get to Deer Isle. You can simply take Route 15 south from Bangor and follow it all the way onto the island. There are a few turns along the way, but continue following signs for Route 15 and you’ll end up on Deer Isle.

Or you can take the scenic route and explore the Blue Hill Peninsula a bit on the way, taking Route 175 from Orland, Route 199 from North Penobscot, or Route 175 from Blue Hill.

Do you need a car? Yes. (Though you can certainly bring or rent some human-powered modes of transportation, like kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, or bicycles!)

Driving time from Portland International Jetport: 3 – 3.5 hours*

Driving time from Bangor International Airport: 1 hour 20 minutes*

*Traffic may be heavy, especially in coastal towns on the way to Deer Isle, during peak summer months.

Recommended stops on the way:

  • Penobscot Narrows Observatory Bridge and/or Fort Knox in Bucksport.
  • Caterpillar Hill Scenic Turnout for stunning views of Penobscot Bay, the Camden Hills, and surrounding islands as you come down Caterpillar Hill Road towards Deer Isle. Stay for awhile at the Cooper Farm nature preserve located here, especially if it’s blueberry season (generally late July into August, depending on the year).
  • If you want a photo of the suspension bridge, stop at Bridge End Park immediately on your right after you cross.
  • Pick up maps and get recommendations at the Deer Isle-Stonington Welcome and Information Center, located just after you cross the big suspension bridge onto Little Deer Isle.
Penobscot Narrows Observatory Bridge spanning across the Penobscot River in Maine
The Penobscot Narrows Observatory Bridge is the tallest bridge observatory in the world.

Deer Isle weather and when to visit

One of the biggest things to consider when planning a vacation in Deer Isle-Stonington is that not everything is open year round.

Some businesses are only open during the height of summer, and some (like the Isle au Haut mail boat) have a limited schedule outside of peak months. However, there are at least some lodging and dining options open year round.

Warmest temperatures

July and August bring the warmest weather in Maine, which is why they’re the most popular months around the state for tourism. (As an added bonus: wild blueberry season typically falls in late July and the first few weeks of August, which is a divine time to visit Downeast Maine.)

Although Deer Isle is much quieter than those mountains and other islands you can see in the distance (I’m looking at you, Camden and Mount Desert Island), it’s not as quiet during these months. Some locals I spoke with said the parking in downtown Stonington can be challenging at this time of year, while others said they never feel like things are truly crowded like they are elsewhere on the coast. If you’re looking for a really quiet getaway, this is something to keep in mind.

Mild weather, quiet pace, and most things open

The shoulder season of May, early June, and September is a great time to visit Deer Isle. By late May, most businesses are open and spring weather is in full swing. (I visited most recently in early May, and it was still quite cool with the trees just starting to bud.)

The shoulder season is also nice because locals aren’t as busy and have more time to hang around and chat, giving you a chance to connect with local culture.

Quiet getaway

I had several islanders tell me that it’s well worth visiting Deer Isle in the winter. I couldn’t help but think it would be a perfect time for a romantic weekend, and I’m sure it would be equally amazing as a relaxing solo trip to clear your head.

History and Culture

Deer Isle is located in the traditional territory of the Penobscot Nation, which is one of four Indigenous groups in what is now known as Maine. These groups collectively make up the Wabanaki Confederacy, which means “People of the Dawnland.”

The beautiful islands that dot Maine’s coast and today attract visitors from around the world were once important summer resources and canoe routes for the Penobscots and other tribes. Today the Penobscot Nation’s land base, Indian Island ( north of Bangor on the Penobscot River), is a fraction of the millions of acres that is their ancestral territory.

For those curious to learn more about this history and present-day Penobscot culture, here are a few resources and sites you can visit:

  • The Penobscot Cultural and Historic Preservation Department has several great resources available on their site, including a tribal timeline, general facts, and thoughts about Thoreau’s writings.
  • The Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor is the only Smithsonian Affiliate in Maine and has been transformed in recent years through collaboration with Wabanaki Nations in Maine. The museum aims to center Indigenous people in the telling of their own histories and to correct harmful representations of the past.
  • The Penobscot Nation Museum is located on Indian Island and run entirely by the Penobscot Nation. While not located in Downeast Maine, this could make a good side trip on your way to Deer Isle.

Europeans arrived on the Maine coast as early as the 1500s, but the first settlement on Deer Isle wasn’t until 1762, and the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington were incorporated in later years. This was a prized area during granite boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the archipelago that stretches out to sea from Stonington became known as Merchant Row.

A bridge was built in 1939 to connect Deer Isle to the mainland, making what feels like the edge of Maine easily accessible by car.

Still, the island way of life seems to have persisted over the past century, evidenced in a hard working culture, dependence on natural resources, and a pace of life that changes with the seasons.

As you drive around Deer Isle, it’s not long before the lobster traps adorning front yards and buoys hanging from garages remind you that the sea remains a vital resource and industry here. In fact, Stonington is the biggest producing lobster port in Maine.

It’s not just the ocean that islanders prize—you’ll find a commitment to preserving the natural beauty of the landscape here in the many land trusts and preserves.

Deer Isle has also become a beloved destination and home to many artists—from the world-renowned Haystack Mountain School of Crafts to numerous galleries and studios that dot the island.

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Things to Do in Deer Isle and Stonington

1. Walk to an island at low tide

There are never-ending nooks and crannies to explore on Deer Isle, including many nature preserves managed by Island Heritage Trust.

One of these is Barred Island Preserve, which was on my Maine bucket list for awhile, but I didn’t think I’d get to make it happen due to weather on this trip. When several different people told me it was one of their favorite places on the island, I decided to squeeze in a visit during my last few hours in Downeast Maine.

Hiking path with roots and green mossy forest at Barred Island Preserve in Maine

The one-mile hike takes you through a boreal fog forest (which is the scientific term for “enchanting mossy fairy tale where mythical creatures probably live”) to a sometimes-covered sand bar that leads out to Barred Island. For about three hours before and after low tide, you can walk across the sand bar and explore the peninsula-island, but at mid to high tide, it gets covered and Barred Island truly becomes an island.

I’m not sure if it was the early-spring lack of green elsewhere that made this hike so magical, but I can vouch that the locals who told me to go here were spot on.

Sandy and rocky beach looking out to the ocean and an island with pine trees in Maine

Barred Island Preserve details and tips:

  • Pick up a map at the Deer Isle welcome center or Island Heritage Trust nature shop.
  • The parking lot and trail are adjacent to private land, so be sure to respect these landowners’ property so that this beautiful trail can continue to be open to the public.
  • The parking lot is marked with Nature Conservancy signs. (Don’t do what I did. Instead of asking a local about where the trail started, I went against my better judgment and used Google Maps, and it took me past the parking lot down dirt roads that made it hard to get turned back around.)
  • There is only one parking area for the trail with 8 parking spots. If it’s full, do not park elsewhere as you may damage flora and/or be trespassing. You’ll have to find another adventure and come back to the preserve another day.
  • No dogs are allowed on this trail in order to protect the fragile ecosystem.
  • You may spot wildlife like bald eagles, ospreys, black-throated warblers, or hermit thrushes. Make sure to give them (and their nests) plenty of space, and respect any trail closures.
  • The trail is well blazed and has markers every 1/10 mile. It is a fairly easy trail, but be prepared for lots of roots (typical of hiking trails in Maine). It took me about 25 minutes on the way back out at a quick pace and not stopping much for photos.

2. Grab coffee and hang out at 44 North

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to find good coffee in a small town. And this picture-perfect coffee shop (now expanded to 2 locations on the island) isn’t just there for tourists. As I hung out for an hour or two on a rainy day in early May—when there is a distinct lack of outsiders present—the door seemed to be rotating with regulars who were each greeted by name.

This women-owned business is the realized dream of Megan, who is local to the area, and Melissa.

In true Downeast Maine fashion, they work with other businesses in the community—whether selling locally-made hand pies on Fridays, serving as the pickup location for locally-sourced takeout meals made by Chef La, or hosting a raw bar popup with a nearby woman-owned oyster farm.

They’re proud of having built this business into something that provides several year-round jobs in this small town. That might not sound huge, but in a community where lobstering is the main source of employment, and looking ahead to what some fear may be a downturn (or eventual collapse) due to warming waters in the Gulf of Maine, diversifying skills and developing other businesses is important.

3. Learn how maritime history and art collide at Marlinespike Chandlery

Marlinespike Chandlery is the perfect stop for historically curious travelers who want to learn a bit about maritime culture while admiring an uncommon art form. While this shop was opened in 2008, it’s easy to imagine a traditional chandlery in this very location, overlooking the waters of Stonington Harbor.

If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering: What exactly do marlinespike and chandlery mean?

I could list out the official definitions for you, and I realize you can just head to Google to figure it out. But it’ll be much more interesting for you to stop into Marlinespike Chandlery and find out for yourself—perhaps getting lost in a conversation with Tim Whitten, the owner and artist—than it will be to read it on the internet.

But here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll find there: fancy rope work that’s rooted in maritime history, plus an assortment of local antiques and interesting artifacts.

Assorted maritime-inspired goods and antiques inside a shop in Stonington, Maine
A map serving tray on top of maritime maps inside a shop in Stonington, Maine
Working studio of Marlinespike Chandlery owner and artist
Storefront of Marlinespike Chandlery  in downtown Stonington, Maine
Man holding open The Ashley Book of Knots

4. Visit the most remote part of Acadia National Park

If you thought Deer Isle was quiet and peaceful, head 14 miles out on the water to Isle au Haut (pronounced eye-la-HO) for a day trip that really gets you away from the crowds. Isle au Haut is one of more than 50 islands scattered off the coast of Deer Isle. This archipelago is known as Merchant Row, long prized for the abundance of beautiful granite found here.

Morning view of the ocean and ferry to Isle au Haut from Stonington, Maine
Rocky island with small sandy beach and evergreen trees off the coast of Deer Isle, Maine

Lobster boat named "Barbara Anne" with a pile of lobster traps and a house on top of a hill in the distance in the harbor at Isle au Haut, Maine

And while two-thirds of these islands are now conserved and many are open to public use, Isle au Haut is unique in that it’s home to both year-round residents and a portion of Acadia National Park, land that was donated in 1943.

The Acadia National Park half of the island covers 2,700 acres and has 18 miles of beautiful hiking trails.

This part of the park only receives about 7,000 – 9,000 visitors per year, while the rest of Acadia sees more than 3 million. Since the island is residential and its ecosystem is fragile, the number of daily visitors allowed to visit is limited. It really is a spectacular place to get away.

Apart from a store in town, a seasonal lobster roll stand, and primitive campsites in the park, there aren’t many tourist amenities on Isle au Haut.

(But that’s kind of the point.)

Isle au Haut general store

On my trip in early May, I took my bike on the mail boat to the town landing and biked the 5 miles to Duck Harbor on the southern part of the island.

Here I came across two park rangers who were cleaning up winter’s downed trees and getting the campsites ready for the season. One of them told me I was only the third person she’d seen in the park so far that season.

I was definitely the only person out on the trails that day.

As I hiked away from the campground and the buzz of their chainsaws was swallowed up by the forest, I spent the rest of the day enveloped in the sounds of nature—creaking trees, chattering birds, and waves thrashing against the cliffs.

On my day trip to Isle au Haut, I had sufficient time to do the Western Head and Cliff Trails, which boast incredible ocean vistas, stopping for a picnic lunch and plenty of photos.

People inside a ferry with a bike on the back deck
Mountain bike on a dirt road and the ranger station in Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut
Rocky cliffs overlooking Atlantic ocean on a sunny day on Isle au Haut, Maine
Picnic lunch on the rocks on Isle au Haut, Maine
View of the barred island, Western Ear, from Isle au Haut
Western Ear is another barred island, where you can walk across a sandbar at low tide.

Recommended: Hiking Acadia National Park Falcon Guide has a nice section on Isle au Haut hiking trails. You can also get a map on the mail boat. (I used both in conjunction.)

Isle au Haut amenities and getting around

There are two boat landings: the town landing and Duck Harbor landing. Duck Harbor drops you right in the heart of the park where the most scenic trails start, while the town landing allows you to see the town before going into the park.

From town, it is about 5 miles on rough and hilly roads to Duck Harbor, so I recommend a mountain bike and a dash of grit if you are getting off at the town landing.

Camping: The 5 primitive lean-to campsites at Duck Harbor are open mid-May through mid-October by advance reservation only. Reservations can be made starting April 1st, and they book up very quickly. No pets allowed.

Water: There is a drinking water pump on Western Head Road about 1/4 mile from the campground. It is marked on the park map.

Bathrooms: There are composting toilets at Duck Harbor Campground and at the ranger station near town. Whether you arrive at the town landing or at Duck Harbor, you’ll find a bathroom close by.

Duck Harbor sign in the woods in Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut
Composting toilet at the start of the hiking trails and near the campsites on Isle au Haut, Maine
This composting toilet is in the heart of the park. To the right, you’ll find the campsites and boat landing. To the left, road to several of the trails.
Rustic campsites in Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut
Sign pointing to Site 4 through the woods in the Isle au Haut section of Acadia National Park
Refillable stainless steel water bottle on a bench by the water pump

How to get to Isle au Haut

There are two ways to get to Isle au Haut (apart from a private boat): the mail boat or Old Quarry Ocean Adventures.

The Isle au Haut Mail Boat offers regular year-round passenger service to the town landing and seasonal service (June – October) to the town landing and Duck Harbor. Pets, bikes, kayaks, and canoes are allowed, bike rentals are available, and on-site parking is available at the dock (additional fee for all of these, except Fido).

This is what locals depend upon for transportation to the island, and it operates on a very consistent basis. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Parking tip: Ask around to make sure you are not parking in a local’s rented spot. These were not clearly marked, but thankfully I had a local let me know I was in someone’s spot before I got on the boat.

Isle au Haut mail boat, "Mink," as it approaches the town landing on a sunny day
Isle au Haut mail boat as it approaches the town landing

The second option is Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, which is an adventure company that offers seasonal service from approximately Memorial Day – Labor Day.

Their fees are similar to the mail boat’s, but they only go to the town landing (per park regulation). I did not use this option so can’t elaborate on their services, but I was told when I called that customers should make reservations at least a day in advance to ensure that a boat will be going.

5. Kick back after a day of adventures at Lily’s Wine Bar

Whether you’re flying solo or traveling with friends, the wine bar at Lily’s House is the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy a relaxing evening. You may even run into folks you’ve met around the island!

It’s open on Thursday nights from 4 – 7 PM (May through February) and serves top shelf wine and fresh, local food.

Round wooden table with four teal chairs around it and a large white candle, inside Lily's Wine Bar
Jar of yellow bush cuttings next to a wine bottle at Lily's Wine Bar in Deer Isle

Homemade tomato soup with croutons, a cloth napkin with a spoon, and a glass of red wine on a wooden table at Lily's Wine Bar in Deer Isle

Couches and a table with candles inside Lily's Wine Bar in Deer Isle

6. Take in a show at the Stonington Opera House

The historic opera house that’s perched above the waters of Stonington Harbor wasn’t always the year-round community gathering space that it is today.

The original opera house was built in 1886 during the granite boom but burned down in 1910 (ironically, on the first night the town’s fire hydrants were operational).

It was rebuilt in 1912 and over the years served as a home for theater performances, basketball games, film showings, rollerskating, and the town hall. However, with changing technology and a fluctuating town population, the building eventually fell into disrepair as it sat unused for years in the 90s (apart from a family of raccoons who declared it “home”).

Thankfully, the building had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the nonprofit Opera House Arts purchased it in 1999 with a vision for a new future.

We are committed to the vitality of downtown Stonington and enriching the lives of all who pass through, no matter the season.

2018 Opera House Arts Annual Report

The Stonington Opera House was restored and essentially rebuilt, and it celebrated its 20th season in 2019.

The summer season brings live theater, music, and dance performances, but the opera house is open year round with movie showings and community events—so there’s something to do even in the depths of winter.

Black and white photo of the Opera House in Stonington, Maine

7. Experience Maine’s quirky side at Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies

Maine is the kind of place where an architect might start a side business as a chocolate maker. Or you can shop for wedding dresses in the same store as fishing tackle.

Or you could stumble across a jam and jelly shop with a sculpture village made of found objects. Or is it a living history museum? A place where the Old West meets the Mississippi Delta meets Maine island life?

Even Peter and Anne aren’t sure how to describe it—only a visit can show you the magic of this peculiar roadside stop.

Two animal art figures made of wood and metal on a porch at Nervous Nellie's on Deer Isle
Colorful tables and chairs inside the Mountainville Cafe at Nervous Nellie's on Deer Isle

8. Take a day trip around the Blue Hill Peninsula

While Deer Isle offers many things to do, a day trip inland is a fun way to see more of Downeast Maine. The coastal villages around the Blue Hill Peninsula range from tiny to bustling, and exploring them can easily take up a whole day.

Below are some ideas that you can mix and match to plan your day, but make sure to leave room for turning down unknown roads to follow interesting signs, stopping into a bean supper, and taking locals’ suggestions for what to do.

Grab picnic food at the Blue Hill Co-op in Blue Hill. This grocery store has plenty of healthy, organic, and local options—both regular groceries and deli items you can grab and go. They have gluten-free and vegan options in their cafe, so this is a great option for those with dietary restrictions.

Front of the old Blue Hill Co-Op community market in Blue Hill, Maine
In the summer of 2019, the Blue Hill Co-Op got a new location with more space, but here’s a look at where it used to stand—a community staple for many years!

Witness the rare phenomenon of reversing falls at Blue Hill Reversing Falls. Maine’s rocky coastline combine with dramatic tides to form reversing falls (also called tidal falls) in eight locations where freshwater meets saltwater. In fact, Maine is the only place on the East Coast of the United States where you can witness the rapids reverse as the tide changes—sometimes waves, whirlpools, and “waterfalls” form as well. 

The best time to visit Blue Hill Falls is within a couple hours of high tide (before or after), although I visited an hour before low tide and it was still incredible. There is a small pull-out spot by the road on one side of the bridge, which you can see on the map at the bottom of this post.

Browse the shelves at Blue Hill Books. If you’re in need of a vacation read, stop into this independent book store to get some local recommendations.

What’s a visit to Downeast Maine without some seafood? Enjoy a fresh, local lobster roll from Fish Net. (Grab it to go if you want to find a picnic spot on the water to enjoy ocean views while you eat.)

Reversing falls going under a bridge and rocky shores in Blue Hill, Maine
Outside and inside of Blue Hill Books
Woman holding a lobster roll in front of the ocean in Blue Hill, Maine

Stop into Brooklin General Store bright and early for fresh donuts. This classic New England general store has had a face lift in recent years, but it still has the same small town charm.

Brooklin may seem like the kind of place you’ll miss if you blink, but it’s home to the well-famous Wooden Boat School. If you have more time than just a day trip, you can book a course with them on anything from boat building to sailing to watercolor painting.

Head down the road to Naskeag Point Boat Launch if you’re looking for a quiet picnic spot on the water or just want to watch the tide. There’s a view of the harbor and some islands, a pebble beach, and ample parking.

Outside of Brooklin General Store, plus an inside table and fresh donuts
Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine

Drive by E.B. White’s home. Fans of Charlotte’s Web will be intrigued to know that this famous author lived in the tiny town of Brooklin, Maine—the barn that was the setting for his beloved children’s book still stands on the saltwater farm.

Ask a local where you can find the home, but note that it is privately owned—so please be respectful and don’t stop or take photos. A simple drive by it on the way to your next Blue Hill day trip stop should satisfy all the bibliophiles and curious kiddos!

Wander around historic Castine, one of the oldest towns in New England. From a lighthouse to a historic walking tour to a classic Maine waterfront, this coastal village has a lot going on.

Green jeep in front of Castine Emporium storefront
Bench made out of lobster traps in front of a market in Castine, Maine
Front of the historic Pentagoet Inn with an American flag waving in the wind in Castine, Maine
Seaweed and rocks on the beach in Castine, Maine

Stop into the Saturday market at Four Season Farm. If you’ve ever experienced a Maine winter, the thought that a farm could keep growing things year round here is pretty surprising. (But I struggle to keep things alive in the summer, so I might not be the best person to ask about what’s possible.)

Farmer Clara Coleman taking care of plants inside the greenhouse at Four Season Farm
Eliot’s daughter, Clara Coleman, manages the farm

This farm has become a nationally-recognized model of sustainable four season agriculture. Owners Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch are well-known organic farmers and writers. In addition to selling their produce to the public every Saturday throughout the year, they sell to a couple of local restaurants (such as Arborvine in Blue Hill).

Round out your day of adventures around the Blue Hill Peninsula with a nice dinner at Arborvine.

Chefs in the kitchen at Arborvine in Blue Hill, Maine
Grilled shrimp and scallops topped with local greens and a side of vegetables on a table at Arborvine

Tip: Don’t count on having a GPS connection for navigation as you travel around Downeast Maine. I always carry and highly recommend a DeLorme Maine Atlas. (If you don’t pick one up, make sure you at least download your Google Map for offline use.)

9. Learn about lobster at the Discovery Wharf

Looking for a rainy day activity, something to do in Deer Isle-Stonington with kids, or just curious about conservation and the fishing industry?

This interactive education center in Stonington packs several interactive exhibits into its small space. While I didn’t have the opportunity to visit here myself, my sister has stopped in with my elementary-aged niece, who loved the touch tank with marine animals. There’s also a former lobsterman who works here as a docent.

The Discovery Wharf is run by Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, an organization that’s doing excellent research and work with a mission to secure a sustainable future for fisheries and fishing communities.

Instead of keeping fishermen, scientists, and regulators all working in their own silos, MCCF works with fishermen through a collaborative approach to utilize the wealth of knowledge they hold. Their approach is one of both stewarding the ocean’s resources and protecting livelihoods that depend on them.

Blue and white lobster traps stacked high on a dock on Deer Isle

10. Drive around the island with no particular plans

I’m intentionally not giving you a Deer Isle travel itinerary.

Why? This is the kind of place you’ll want to ditch the minute-by-minute planning and embrace slow travel.

Plan some days, yes (you don’t want to miss the mail boat or get caught by an incoming tide!). But leave room for wandering. For grabbing a map, following your curiosity, and meeting locals along the way.

View of Stonington, Maine in the spring from the water

“I can’t describe Deer Isle. There is something about it that opens no door to words. But it stays with you afterwards.”

— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

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How to Travel Sustainably on Deer Isle and the Blue Hill Peninsula

Sustainable travel isn’t just about caring for the environment—it also includes supporting the local economy and engaging with culture. With that in mind, here are some ways you can be a respectful traveler and make sure Deer Isle remains a great place to visit and live.

Reduce water consumption

Lore has it that an old fisherman on an island somewhere once explained to a visitor, “What you have to understand about living on an island is…the water goes all the way around.” [1]

What’s more: the saltwater goes all the way around. The potential for saltwater to contaminate a freshwater ground supply, combined with limited storage capacity of a rocky island limits the supply of freshwater on Maine islands.

As travelers, we can do our part to not put too much burden on local water supply, especially during periods of little rain, by being mindful of water usage. (One of the best tricks I learned living in Costa Rica was to turn off the shower while sudsing up!)


Disconnecting from social media and technology is a great way to really connect with nature and the people you interact with. While you will find Wi-Fi in many places, why not take the opportunity to unplug?

Go biking

While there aren’t any bike paths on the island, there is plenty of riding away from the busy Route 15. You can find some route ideas here, or ask around locally to see if any groups are riding. (In 2019, 44 North Coffee kicked off a Friday morning biking club.)

Bike rentals are available at Old Quarry Ocean Adventure in Stonington or The Activity Shop in Blue Hill.

Allow lobstermen and locals to go about their business

If you’ve ever had your hometown crowded for an event when you’re just trying to get to work on time, you understand that having your normal routine disrupted can be frustrating.

Whether you’re traveling in New York City or a small town in Maine, it’s important to be a polite guest. I mean, you wouldn’t walk into a dinner party, grab a drink from the fridge, turn the TV on, and put your feet up on the coffee table, would you? Yet somehow, it’s easy to forget that we’re in someone else’s home when we travel.

You don’t have to tiptoe around or be afraid to engage, but try to be courteous and stay observant—like when you’re snapping photos, driving down main street, or parking on the docks.

Blue and white lobster traps with yellow and white buoys stacked on a dock on a rainy day in Maine

Visit during the shoulder season

Not only is it a more pleasant experience for visitors when things are less crowded, it also helps spread the tourism dollars out for local businesses. The only downside to visiting during late spring or early fall is that some businesses and events only run during the peak summer travel season.

However, there is still plenty to do during this time, so if you want to miss the crowds, consider visiting Deer Isle in May, early June, or September.

Pack out all trash (and pick up any extra) if you visit surrounding islands

Even if there are residents on an island, like Isle au Haut, it’s best to not put stress on island infrastructure. And picking up extra trash is just being a good steward.

Those adorable marine animals you spotted on the ferry ride will thank you!

Trash found on Isle au Haut, Maine

Respect the rules on hiking trails

I know, rules can seem like they’re all about restricting our fun.

But I promise they aren’t arbitrary, and following them means that conserved land can remain open for public use and that the beautiful nature we’re enjoying will still be around for the next generation. Whether it’s a “no dogs” rule or reminder to stay on the trail, please be mindful and respectful of trail rules.

Where to Stay on the Island

Lodging in Deer Isle, Maine

Pilgrim’s Inn has been operating since 1977, but the building’s history dates back to 1793 when it was built by a man from Massachusetts whose family owned a saw and gristmill in Deer Isle.

Front of Pilgrim's Inn, a red historic inn, with two trees on either side

Today’s innkeepers are a lovely couple from Pennsylvania, who give this 200-year-old property plenty of TLC. Since I was visiting in the springtime before the main inn building opened for the season, I stayed in one of the cottages, which was cozy and comfortable.

While the property does sit on a somewhat busy road, it’s quite picturesque and still felt very peaceful to me compared to downtown Stonington. There’s a view of the harbor across the road and a little pond in the back, along with nice landscaping and places to sit outside.

Sign on a tree pointing up the hill to the cottages at Pilgrim's Inn
Inside the living room and dining room of a cottage at Pilgrim's Inn on Deer Isle

Lodging in Stonington, Maine

Inn on the Harbor delivers on its name. Sitting perched right above the water, this cozy downtown Stonington inn combines lovely views with a great location and tasty breakfast. Some rooms have their own private balcony, but even the ones with a street view, like the one I stayed in, have access to a shared balcony via the hallway.

Additionally, this inn is open year round. If you visit during the off season, you’ll get a prime location with more affordable prices.

Front of Inn on the Harbor, painted yellow and green, in the morning light with the ocean in the background
Inside a room at Inn on the Harbor in Stonington, Maine
Berry scone on a plate with a fork, coffee, and a local newspaper on a green and white checkered tablecloth in front of a window that overlooks Stonington Harbor

Yellow door, wooden shingles, colorful welcome mat, and orange lifesaver at Inn on the Harbor

If you’re looking for something more rustic, there is a campground at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, as well as lean-to sites on Isle au Haut (reservations required, these book up quickly).

Map of Deer Isle + Trip Details

44 North Coffee: Deer Isle Location — 7 Main Street // Stonington Location (seasonal) — 70 Main Street // Follow them on Instagram here.

Discovery Wharf: 13 Atlantic Ave, Stonington, ME // View hours and information.

Downeast Acadia Regional Tourism: Get more ideas for traveling in Downeast Maine here.

Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society: 416 Sunset Road, Deer Isle, ME // Open limited hours June – September // View hours and information.

Deer Isle-Stonington Welcome Center: Located on Little Deer Isle about 1/4 mile after you cross the big bridge, the welcome center is open from mid-May until mid-October from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM. This is a great place to get maps! (There is a port-a-potty here if you need to use the restroom.)

Inn on the Harbor: 45 N Main St, Stonington, ME // Open year round // Get more information here.

Island Heritage Trust: 420 Sunset Rd, Deer Isle, ME // Check out the preserves around the island here.

Isle au Haut (Acadia National Park): Details on planning a visit.

Isle au Haut Boat Services: Find rates and schedules here.

Marlinespike Chandlery: 58 W Main St, Stonington, ME // Find out more here.

Pilgrim’s Inn: 20 Main St, Deer Isle, ME // Get more information here.

[1] Source: “Welcome to the Island” by Annie Taylor Gray and Lawrence Estey, 2018 Island Guide from the Deer Isle-Stonington Chamber of Commerce

Roaming the Americas - Naomi Liz


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