Biking through the village on a breezy summer day, one has the sense of stepping back in time.

For those of us who grew up in Maine in the 1950s and ’60s, it’s a place that is reminiscent of our youth. Narrow roads with vintage cars from that same era parked in the driveways. Tiny churches, a general store and a one-room post office.

Yet, it’s only a few miles off the Maine coast on beautiful and scenic Isle au Haut.

Located on the outer edge of Penobscot Bay, Isle au Haut is a seven-mile ferry ride from the Town of Stonington. The ferry is operated by the Isle au Haut Company, and information about schedules and rates can be obtained by accessing their Web site at www.isleauhaut.com or calling (207) 367-5193. The Web site also provides a wealth of information about the island, including bike rentals, lodging and camping at the Duck Harbor Campground in Acadia National Park.

The ferry ride is a treat in itself, as it winds through the rugged islands of the Deer Isle archipelago and then makes a channel crossing into the outer bay. Passing the remote Merchant’s Row Islands, it then motors in a southerly direction and enters the Isle au Haut Thorofare, which is a narrow channel between Kimball Island and Isle au Haut.

The northern end of the village becomes visible as the ferry gains entrance to the thorofare. The ferry trip takes about 45 minutes and is strictly a passenger ferry. No vehicles are allowed. It also makes another stop at the Duck Harbor Campground, but will only drop bicycles off at the town landing.

Isle au Haut was named by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, when he sailed along its shores in 1604. The literal English translation is “The High Island.” As the ferry leaves Stonington on a clear day, the reason for its name is obvious, as it clearly has the highest elevation of any island in Penobscot Bay. At 543 feet stands Mount Champlain.

It is a 12-mile loop trip around the island, of which 5 miles are paved. Some portions of the unpaved sections are very rough, and a mountain bike is recommended. Half of the island is in Acadia National Park and the other half is privately owned. The road located inside the park is unpaved and the most difficult to negotiate.

A small general store is located a couple of hundred yards north of the town landing, where food, water and other supplies can be obtained. A short walk or ride to the store provides an excellent excuse to enjoy the picturesque village that is both a working fishing community and home to a small colony of seasonal residents.

The best choice is to ride the loop counterclockwise. This allows riders to complete the most difficult and challenging part of the ride first and then finish up with a gentle and enjoyable paved section. The road travels through the south end of the village and past the Ranger Station to the park entrance, where the Duck Harbor hiking trail begins. Mountain biking is prohibited on all park hiking trails. It is roughly four miles of fairly rough going to the Western Head Road, which leads to the Duck Harbor Campground.

Riders should consider taking a side trip on Western Head Road, which dead ends after 1.7 miles at the Cliff Trail on the southern end of the island. This area provides spectacular views of the rugged southern coastline. There is a spring fed water pump a short ways down the road, with cool drinking water.

After about a quarter mile, a hiking trail on the right leads to the campground and Duck Harbor Boat Landing. There is an information kiosk and a public toilet at the trail junction. On the left is another hiking trail that leads to the summit of Duck Harbor Mountain, which provides views of most of Penobscot Bay. While there are many good reasons to take advantage of this side trip, cyclists should be prepared for the most demanding and technical riding of the day.

The road climbs steeply after leaving the junction at Western Head Road. While it is still unpaved, it begins to widen, and the overall condition gradually improves. The park boundary is reached within two miles, where an abbreviated and hilly paved section begins. Shortly after leaving the park, the road turns north and parallels the eastern shore of the island on the right and Long Pond on the left.

After another two miles of gravel road riding, pavement is reached and continues for the balance of the trip. As the rider approaches the northeast corner of the island, sporadic views of the coastline are part of the reward. The road then turns to the west and heads towards the village. According to the Delorme map of the island, there is a trail in this area that leads to the summit of Mount Champlain. During our ride, we could not locate the trailhead.

The loop ride is completed with a gradual downward grade to the village.

Isle au Haut has much to offer cyclists and hikers. However, it is not a tourist town and offers little in the way of overnight accommodations and eateries. There are only two lodging choices, an inn and a B&B. No camping is available on the private portion of the island.

Cyclists should be prepared for the demanding and sometimes wet road conditions. Helmets, foul weather clothes and eye protection are a must. Day trippers should take a change in clothes, footwear and plenty of food and fluids.

Although a logistical challenge, the Duck Harbor Campground in Acadia National Park does provide a camping option for cyclists. Our group brought their camping gear on a small bicycle trailer and hauled it from the town landing to the campground. It is also possible to leave bicycles at the town landing, take camping gear by ferry to Duck Harbor and then hike back for the bicycles. Regardless, staying at the campground affords one the opportunity to be in the midst of a multitude of outstanding hiking trails and is perfectly situated for some great island cycling.

To obtain information on camping at Duck Harbor, access the Acadia National Park Web site at www.nps.gov/acad or call (207) 288-3338.


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