A Weekend on Monhegan Island
When the first members of the Algonquin nation settled along the jagged coastline of Maine long ago, they spotted a lonely island sitting in the fog off in the distance. Rather than overcomplicate things, the Algonquin named the island Monhegan, meaning ‘out-to-sea island’ in their language.
Today, Monhegan is a unique Maine tourist destination drawing visitors from all over the world for its rustic, nautical charm and the picturesque views coveted by artists from all over the world. With fewer than 100 year-round inhabitants, the island fosters a tight-knit community where life-long residents have been doing things their way for generations. The people are very welcoming to visitors (it’s a Maine thing) and are more than happy to share their stories about one of Maine’s most unique vacation destinations.
It’s a vacation where you can truly find yourself off the beaten path! Here’s a rundown of how to get to Monhegan and what to do while you’re there.
How to Get to Monhegan Island
Getting to Monhegan is an adventure in and of itself. Since the island is 12 miles out to sea, you have to choose between three ferry locations; Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor, and Port Clyde. Depending on which ferry you take, there could be multiple trips to the island per day. Planning your ferry rides – there and back – beforehand is important for day visitors as there’s no camping allowed on the island. If you aren’t staying at one of the rental properties or hotels, you must be on the final ferry at the end of the day. There is cell service around the island so checking ferry times and booking your spot online can be done on the fly.
The ferry from New Harbor, a company called Hardy Boat Cruises, makes two trips to the island every day: departing New Harbor at 9am and 2pm and departing Monhegan at 10:15am and 3:15pm. Rates are $38 roundtrip for adults, $20 for children and $5 per dog. If it’s a nice day with calm seas, spend the hour-long trip on the top of the ferry for incredible views of Muscongus Bay. But beware, if it’s choppy, watch out for waves sending water splashing up to the top deck.
Where to Stay on Monhegan Island
As mentioned earlier, there’s no camping allowed on Monhegan so when you show up to the ferry with bags for an overnight, be prepared to tell them where you’re staying. The most popular option is the island’s largest hotel: The Island Inn.
Built in 1816, the Inn sits atop a rocky outcrop overlooking Monhegan Harbor and next-door Manana Island. It’s smack in the middle of what would be called ‘in-town’ and is easily the largest building on the island. The rooms are elegant and well-furnished, but without much of the technology or electronics you’d find in a mainland high-end hotel room.
The Monhegan House, Trailing Yew and Shining Sails Bed & Breakfast are some other options for those looking for an overnight stay. Again, don’t expect high-tech accommodations, the island’s charm comes from it’s simple, rustic style.
You can also find vacation rental properties on the various booking sites if you’re looking to stay longer than a couple of nights. Accommodations like the Baldwin House, which overlooks Monhegan Harbor next to the Island Inn, will run you $2,500 per week in season.
What to Do on Monhegan Island
If you haven’t come to the island to paint your masterpiece, hiking is probably the number one activity on the island. Though it’s just over four square miles, the island boasts 17 miles worth of hiking trails maintained by the island’s land trust. It isn’t the most strenuous of hikes, but after a full day of exploring the trails, you’ll definitely be tired.
If you can get up before the sun, catching the rise over the island’s Eastern shore is a must.
The Wreck of the DT Sheridan
The island has several fun landmarks to check out while you’re hiking, the most popular of which is the shipwreck of the D.T. Sheridan, a steel tug that ran aground in the fog one day in November of 1948. Each year, the wreck gets pushed further up on the rocks by the tide and storms and makes for a great place to snag a few pictures.
The wreck, caked orange with rust, had its remains scattered across the rocky expanse by the crushing power of the ocean tides over the years, so spend a few minutes looking around for what’s left of the hull, the pilot house and railings.
Monhegan Museum of Art and History
You can also climb the hill up to the lighthouse. Built in 1950, the lighthouse tower is still operated and maintained by the coastguard, but the attached building is now the Monhegan Museum of Art and History. Full of local artists and their depictions of the island over the years, the museum is also a great place to learn more about the history of the island. However, plan your trip accordingly, the museum is only open from 1:00pm to 3:00pm each day.
The island has long been a home to artists who spend the summers painting seascapes and more. The Wyeth family – Andrew, Jaime and N.C., were frequent visitors to the island and Andrew maintains a home there today.
Monhegan Brewing Company
There aren’t any bars on the island, but there is a popular watering hole you can check out. Monhegan Brewing Company is probably the only place on Earth you can get a local craft beer in the middle of the ocean.
The hours change during the season, but the brewery is generally open in the afternoon until 6pm. There’s a small selection of beer to choose from and you can purchase tasting flights, by the pint, or get a growler to-go. Their flagship Lobster Cove American Pale Ale is tasty, along with the Rope Shed Red, an American Amber Ale.
Where to Eat on Monhegan
If you’re staying at the Monhegan Island Inn, the dining room is a fantastic place to enjoy the freshest Maine seafood. The dining room is open for breakfast and dinner, but the Inn will also provide lunches to go for those who want to spend the day hiking and exploring the island. The Monhegan Island Inn also operates a small coffee shop adjacent to the ferry dock where you can grab a hot coffee and pastry to enjoy while watching the waves roll into the harbor.
There are two beaches to explore, both in the main harbor; swim beach and fish beach. The latter is where you’ll find the Fish House, perhaps the best lunch spot on the island. Seating is all outdoor and the menu is chock full of all your seafood favorites like lobster rolls, fried fish sandwiches and a fish taco dish that can’t be missed. For those staying a few days, this is the place to buy fresh live seafood like clams, mussels, scallops, lobsters, fish and more.
Another popular lunch spot is The Novelty, a pizza and sandwich shop operated by the Monhegan House, another island hotel. The Monhegan House also has a main dining room which is open to the public for dinner with a reservation.
Monhegan is a place not many have been, but lots would enjoy. It’s not a fast-paced vacation for you and all the kids, rather it’s a secluded getaway perfect for disconnecting and slowing life down.
Once you’ve been, you’ll understand.