My little car is front and center on the ferry deck, and with only a heavy chain to separate me from the breaking waves off the bow, I have one heck of a view. The 15-mile crossing from Rockland takes an hour and 15 minutes, and on the last stretch, the boat weaves through a host of small islands before entering the harbor and arriving at the terminal.

Vinalhaven Island at long last! Another box checked on the lengthy bucket list. A crewman signals me to debark and off I go up the ramp and down the road into the village. I check into the comfy Tidewater Motel (the only one), note the location of Carver’s Market (for groceries) and the Sand Bar (for dinner and drinks), and head out to see what’s what for hiking.

Since 1987, Vinalhaven Land Trust has preserved 2,264 acres through ownership and easements and has built 20 miles of hiking trails. Photo by Carey Kish

My reason for visiting this 24-square-mile Penobscot Bay island is to explore the lands and trails of the Vinalhaven Land Trust, which has been hard at work here since 1987. There’s also a handful of other conservation properties to check out under the care of the town of Vinalhaven, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and The Nature Conservancy.

Thanks to their enthusiastic, conservation-minded members – both resident and seasonal – the Vinalhaven Land Trust has preserved 2,264 acres through fee ownership and easements. Some 20 miles of trails are maintained by a longtime trail steward and a cast of loving volunteers. All told, Vinalhaven sports 27 parks and preserves, 19 with trails for a total of 30 miles of hiking.

“There’s constant development pressure. We’ve protected what people don’t want to see changed, the precious watersheds, viewsheds and wildlife habitats,“ said Andrea Hogan, executive director of the land trust. “We love our trails and depend on them. You can get away on your own and breathe the fresh ocean air, but they’re also a real meeting place for locals and visitors alike.”

The beautiful 600-acre Perry Creek Preserve is the signature property of the Vinalhaven Land Trust. Photo by Carey Kish

If there’s a signature property in the land trust’s inventory, it’s Perry Creek Preserve at the island’s north end. At 600 acres, it’s the largest single chunk of protected land on Vinalhaven, and where the land trust cut its teeth on conservation more than three decades ago. Eleven trails totaling 6 miles of hiking cross the property, which is bisected by the tidal Perry Creek.


“Perry Creek is a really good hike and a quintessential Vinalhaven experience,” Hogan said. “You can have it all on this hike: mossy green spruce woods and rocky outcrops, waterfalls and fern glades, eagles and ospreys, deer, otter, mink and snowshoe hare. The whole island is breathtaking, there’s always a water view, and you never feel landlocked here.”

Adjacent to Perry Creek is the town-owned Middle Mountain, which tops out at a whopping 216 feet, while just across Crockett Cove are the slightly lower summits of Vinalhaven Land Trust’s Tip Toe Mountain. These little peaks, plus Armbrust Hill overlooking Carver’s Harbor in town, reward hikers with fabulous, far-reaching views for a minimum of effort.

The Basin Preserve surrounding much of the basin, a 360-acre tidal embayment on the island’s west side, is jointly owned and managed by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Vinalhaven Land Trust. Each of the preserve’s four sections feature lovely trails, including the Story Trail at Granite Island Preserve, one of Hogan’s favorites (she’s also partial to VLT’s Marcuse Wetland Preserve and Starboard Rock Sanctuary).

The GPS-based VHtrails app is free, easy to use, and includes all of the island’s trails, complete with maps, elevation profiles, driving directions and photos. Photo by Carey Kish

Over the course of my three-day trip, I visited 14 parks and preserves and tallied over 18 miles of great hiking. I carried paper trail maps for sure, but relied mostly on Vinalhaven Land Trust’s amazing GPS-based phone app, which was developed and donated by a dedicated volunteer. Available for both Apple and Android, “VHtrails” is free, easy to use and includes all of the island’s trails, complete with trail maps, elevation profiles, driving directions and photos. And it works in real time or offline.

Vinalhaven is a working fishing community surrounded by a remarkably beautiful natural landscape. Wander the village streets, mingle with the island folk, drive the winding byways, hike the scenic trails, drink in the fine panoramas, and you’ll get a real sense of the authenticity of this place. The logistics of the car ferry and the dearth of lodging require solid advance planning. Make it happen, though, and you’re sure to enjoy a truly incredible Maine coast adventure.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of “Beer Hiking New England,” “AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast” and the AMC “Maine Mountain Guide.” Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and on Instagram @careykish.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.