Although Cape Rosier lies only a few miles, as the crow flies, from my boyhood home in Camden, and despite the fact I’d once taken a trip while still in high school with Capt. Ralph Wooster on his boat, Betselma, to Castine, I think the first time this unique Maine treasure entered my consciousness was at, of all places, the first Common Ground Fair at the Litchfield Fairgrounds more than 30 years ago.

It was there that I was held in thrall by two heroes of the “back to the earth” movement, the iconic Scott Nearing and his wife, Helen, who were telling the story of their move from Vermont in the early 1950s to Cape Rosier. Wanting to escape the ski development in that state, they bought a homestead where they eventually built a stone house, now open to the public.

In 1954, they co-wrote “Living The Good Life,” a best-seller that became the bible for folks seeking a primer on how to live off, and appreciate, the natural world around us.

That encounter provoked me to take a trip to this still sparsely settled peninsula jutting into Penobscot Bay between Castine and Deer Isle. And it inspired me to make annual visits since then to this off-the-beaten-path beauty spot.

On the western shore of the Cape, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands manages the Holbrook Island Sanctuary, which includes a mainland picnic area and a canoe and kayak launching site, a network of hiking trails through upland forests and along rocky shores and an adjacent island. The real attraction is 115-acre Holbrook Island itself, lying a little less than half a mile from the mainland portion, and a sheltered kayak paddle. On the mile-long island, there are barely visible vestiges of the long history of human occupation. Instead, there are now open fields, dense evergreen forests, rocky ledges, sandy beaches and mud flats that invite the visitor to spend the day.

History tells us that the island was first settled during the Revolutionary War by Captain Jesse Holbrook from Truro on Cape Cod. The tall pines on the island provided the masts for sailing ships being built in Castine. The last member of the final family that occupied the island.

Anita Harris, who passed away in 1985, generously willed the island to the state of Maine, with the condition that it be maintained “as a wildlife and natural area … devoted wholly to the preservation of nature.”

In keeping with her wishes, the island has been allowed to return to its natural state, and most of the buildings have been removed. In strict compliance with her bequest, the state forbids picnic facilities, motorized vehicles, commercial ventures, road construction, fishing, hunting and trapping.

Scott and Helen Nearing would be pleased.

You can also reach the island with a somewhat longer but equally pleasant paddle from the launch site right at the public landing in Castine and out around Nautilus Island. Even if you choose the shorter kayak trip from Cape Rosier to Holbrook Island, you really should plan a visit to Castine while you’re in the area. It’ll be an immersion for you in Maine history, as Castine is one of the oldest communities in North America, having been continuously occupied since the early 1600s, and has been the site of numerous trading posts, forts, missions and permanent settlements of France — not to mention what is still considered by some historians to be the ignominious site of the worst naval defeat in United States history in 1779, when the British Fleet came down from Halifax, Nova Scotia, forced the American Fleet up the Penobscot and bottled them in, resulting in the scuttling of all the ships. The crews, which included Captain Paul Revere, ended up making their way back to Massachusetts on foot. Revere himself was court-martialed but later exonerated.

You’ll get to Cape Rosier by heading south from Bucksport on Route 175 to its intersection in North Brooksville with Route 176, where you’ll turn right and follow the well-marked directional signs to the Cape and the sanctuary. I suggest that when you arrive on the Cape you bear left so you can head around the seaward side, past the Nearing Homestead, through the village of Harborside, ending up at the spot to launch your kayak for the paddle to the island.

If you decide to start your adventure in Castine, you’ll leave Route 175 south of Bucksport in West Penobscot at its intersection with Route 166 which will take you right into Castine.

Either way, you’re in for a treat. If you’re like me, you’ll start making plans for another trip to do some more kayak exploration of the surrounding shoreline. One I’d suggest is heading up the Bagaduce River from Castine to Bagaduce Falls, a round trip of about 10 miles and a delightful paddle.

John Christie is an author and an avid, life-long, year-round explorer of the Maine outdoors. He and his son, Josh, will share this space this summer to highlight some of state’s lesser-known places to go and enjoy the beauty only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at:

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