Family Hikes in Downeast Maine #2: Great Wass Island Preserve

We should all thank The Nature Conservancy for acquiring Great Wass Island in 1978. It ensured this beautiful island will be preserved in perpetuity. To say its 1,576 acres are spectacular would be a gross understatement. The shoreline consists of pink granite that’s great for walking, even for little kids. Its forests include some of the largest stands of coastal jack pine in the state, which can grow in the thin soil found here. Rare shore plants like the beach head iris, marsh felwort and bird’s-eye primrose thrive in the the harsh coastal conditions. Finally, you’ll find rare maritime slope bogs that formed on top of the coastal bedrock and support rare plants like the baked apple berry.

Typical Great Wass scenery

Typical Great Wass scenery

Great Wass juts into the Gulf of Maine about 30 miles dues east of Acadia National Park. This distance from Maine’s most popular tourist destination—the drive from Bar Harbor is about 2 hours—ensures you will have very little company on the island. During my last visit in August, we ran into maybe 6 other people the entire day.

There is a small parking lot for about 10 to 12 cars in the northwest corner of the preserve. If the lot is full, you’re out of luck as parking is not allowed on the road. In keeping with its mission to keep the island in a wild state, the Nature Conservancy built only about 4.5 miles of trails on Great Wass, but you can add mileage by walking the perimeter of the island along the rocky shoreline. Dogs are not allowed. My favorite loop is the Mud Hole Trail around Little Cape Point to the junction of the Little Cape Point Trail. Much of the Mud Hole and Little Cape Point trails are on the pink granite that hugs the water. It’s a lot less rugged than much of the rocky Maine coast I’ve hiked or fished on. It’s relatively smooth although there are enough ups, downs and areas of uneven footing that you still have to be careful. I’ve done the hike with kids as young as 7 so it’s pretty accessible to most ages.

Great Wass Island

Smooth pink granite shore near Little Cape Point

Great Wass Island

Shore grass on Great Wass

Great Wass Island

Beachcombing a bouldery beach

Great Wass Island Preserve Trail Map

You can choose to take the Little Cape Point Trail back across the island to the parking lot or, if you’re adventurous and want to do a longer hike, you can continue on down the shoreline toward Red Head. This adds several miles to the hike but it’s worth it. Around the corner from Red Head is The Pond, a large tidal inlet that’s open to the full brunt of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s as wild and untamed as the coast of Maine can get. And you’ll usually have it to yourself.

Find Great Wass on Google Maps

Great Wass Island

Looking toward Red Head

Great Wass Island

Looking back from Red Head

Great Wass Island

Swimming! The water is frigid!

No trip to Great Wass is complete without a stop at Bayview Takeout in Beals, located just before you head over the bridge to Jonesport. Their fried clams are famous and some of the best I’ve ever had. They also will give you the largest portion of ice cream you’ve ever seen. Not exactly a healthy meal but after a big hike on Great Wass there’s no better way to recharge your batteries. Throw a cold beer on top of that and you’ve pretty much had the perfect day!


Family Hikes in Downeast Maine: Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land

Downeast Maine is an overlooked gem. When folks think of Maine, it usually concerns the coast from the New Hampshire border up to Acadia National Park or the mountains of western Maine and Baxter State Park. Rarely do you hear much about the coast beyond the madness of Bar Harbor. The last few years my family and I have been doing more and more exploring up that way and it’s been a real eye-opener in the best way possible. This August we spent a week in Harrington, an ideal base to get to the best hikes of Downeast. Known as the Bold Coast from Millbridge to Eastport, this stretch is the way Maine used to be. It really is like stepping back in time. And the best thing of all is the complete lack of crowds, we hardly saw anyone on the trails. This is the first in a series of three posts about hikes on the Bold Coast.

Bold Coast Hike

Foggy Cutler Coast

Called the Big Sur of the East, Cutler Coast is wild and staggeringly beautiful. A 10 mile loop includes 4.5 miles of trail that hugs the water, sometimes on top of cliffs a couple hundred feet high. The remainder of the trail heads through spectacular meadows, swamps and groves. Wild flowers, birds—including Bald Eagles—and even whales are abundant. On my first visit here a few years ago we saw whales spouting just a couple hundred yards offshore. This year the fog was too dense to see the whales I knew were lurking out there.

Lichen, fog and cliffs

Cutler Coast Colors

There is a shorter 4.5 mile loop if you aren’t up to the challenge of the full 10. So if you have kids there are options for most ages. Just keep close to the real young ones as several spots on the trail that are perilously close to the cliffs. Dogs are allowed as well but it’s a good idea to keep them on a leash near the cliffs unless they are exceptionally well trained.

Swim if you dare - the water was about 55 degrees.

Stone beach at Cutler Coast

Between the cliffs are small coves and cobble beaches. The hiking is fairly rugged but never extremely demanding. There are even three primitive tent sites along the water if you want to stay overnight. The sites are small, to my eyes they looked like they would accommodate 2 people and one tent. They are on a first-come, first-serve basis and have no amenities. That means you carry everything out—yes, even THAT! Water availability is not reliable so you must carry it in, so it’s a pretty heavy load for an overnighter. But if you want to up the ante and make it a bit more burly trip, staying overnight is a good choice.

Here’s a few more pics to get the full feel of the place:

Through the meadow

Through the meadow

Wild flowers everywhere

Wild flowers everywhere

Where's the trail?

Where’s the trail?

Learn more about Cutler Coast Public Reserve Land here

Just where is Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land?

Trail Map (PDF)