Posted on August 2, 2020 and last updated on July 28, 2022

Monhegan Island Trails

QUICK TRAIL FACTS

  • Preserve Size: 350 acres
  • Trail Mileage: 9 to 12 miles in network
  • Pets: yes
  • Difficulty: easy to challenging
  • Sights: Open ocean views, cliffs, old woods

Almost three-quarters of the 513-acre Monhegan Island—that is, roughly 350 acres of headlands, forests, rocky shore and pebbled pocket coves—are conserved, thanks to the long-reaching vision of Thomas Edison’s son. Ted Edison bought up island land parcel by parcel in the 1920s to 1940s, and donated it to the land trust, Monhegan Associates, to protect it from development forever.

Because of his effort, and the efforts of all the trust members and volunteers who have followed him, the small island (0.7 miles wide and 1.7 miles long) is an extraordinary place to visit and walk. It has a nationwide, if not worldwide, reputation for wild, rugged beauty. I’ve heard artists talk about its distinctive quality of light.

The island is 10 miles from shore, so you can take a day ferry and spend about five hours walking between the time the ferry drops you off and picks you up. Or you can stay overnight at an inn or rental cottage. We took a day ferry and attempted to walk as many of the island’s trails as we could. We only managed to do 6.6 miles! (One source I have says there are 12 miles of trails in the island network; another says nine.)

I really recommend buying a $1 paper trail map from your ferry service or from one of the kiosks placed around the village. The money benefits the land trust. Not only is the map well made and detailed, it has short descriptions of the trails and how strenuous they are. It also helps keep you on track. While the island trails aren’t blazed, they are marked with small wooden numbers posted at most intersections. Occasionally it’s a bit hard to follow the trail, but it is always easy to find it again. A couple of walkers we ran into were trying to bring up the AllTrails app on their phones to help them make their way.

The most popular Cliff Trail, which rings the island, is about 5 miles long if you include the sections along the unpaved dirt tracks in the village. Much of it is slow going and tough walking! Monhegan Associates describes its most difficult trails like this: “narrow, rugged, and rocky with wet areas, exposed tree roots, steep climbs, sheer drops and dense growth.” And the trust recommends you leave yourself several hours to complete the Cliff Trail. But the effort is worth it: the views from the exposed bluffs on the eastern shore are astonishing. Seals bob their heads in the waters below and cormorants rest on ledges. In some of the steepest or roughest areas, the trust has created bypass trails marked 1A.

The island’s interior trails are lovely, too, alternating between shady old-growth forests and more thickety and light-filled areas. Many of them are also easier going. My sister hiked most of them, and spoke about how dark they were, making the contrast of the bright shore more dramatic when you emerge onto the rocks, some of which might be crowded with squawking, nesting gulls. 

While every spot has its charm, there are a few highlights. Monhegan Associates recommends these ones. I personally loved Pulpit Rock, Whitehead, and Gull Cove. Also, if you have time, check out the views from the Lighthouse Museum or island cemetery (these two sites are off the trail network). At the end of your walk, if you want to cool off, you can visit Swim Beach or Fish Beach, according to my sister and her two children who spent a hot July week on the island. 

Importantly, you can’t have a car on the island, you can’t mountain bike on the footpaths, and you can’t camp. And you can’t bring drones! You can have dogs on leashes.

A few more notes about some of the interior trails:

  • Walkers are allowed to make fairy houses on the Cathedral Woods Trail, using natural, non-living material found in the environs. 
  • Pebble Beach Trail starts out wooded, eventually opening on a ledge with ocean views. There is a steep side path that winds down to a beach with smooth rocks and a calm cove that is great for snorkeling!
  • Fern Glen Trail is dark and wooded, with tall pines and moss-covered rocks and patches of ferns throughout.
  • Maple Trail has a gentle grade.
  • Red Ribbon Trail has a pungent smell of pine from the pines that grow thickly here and which make the trail, littered with small pine cones, dark and atmospheric!

Directions: You can catch a ferry from Boothbay, New Harbor, or Port Clyde. Do yourself a big favor and buy a $1 Monhegan Associates walking map on the island if you didn’t grab one from your ferry service! After arriving at Monhegan’s dock , you’ll walk up a dirt road to the iconic inn and the north-south Main Street. To do the Cliff Trail clockwise, veer left and head toward Black Head Road. You’ll pass a righthand turn to the Lighthouse Museum. At the next two intersections stay straight. At the end of the road, a home will be on your left, as well as a path marked “private” straight ahead. Look for the trail slightly to your right marked with a 1 (on a small wooden block affixed to a tree). If you want to start the Cliff Trail from Lobster Cove, head right from the Island Inn. Stay straight on Main Street. When you reach a fork in the road, go left on Lobster Cove Road. The dirt road turns into the trail.

Thank you, Olivia Goldfine, for these splendid photos!

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Let me know if you have any trail updates or corrections!