Paddling in Stonington/Deer Isle, ME

Tapping into the collective expertise of the knowledgeable individuals on these boards… Planning a family vacation for August in the Stonington/Deer Isle area of ME to include kayaking and cycling. Two years ago we stayed on Union River Bay outside Acadia and had an exceptional time, then drove through the other areas to scope out future vacation destinations. The Stonington archipelago appealed to us, as did the stunning scenery and seclusion away from the more touristy area of Bar Harbor, etc. We’re exploring waterfront rentals now.

Any advice on must do paddles, rides, eateries, etc. that would help shape our stay/trip? Many thanks in advance!


Quick tips
- A good chance to park & launch at Old Quarry (also has campsites)

  • Join MITA so you have access the guidebook and have a listing of islands open to the public
  • A pristine area with lots of options
  • Biking: you might want to look at going out to Isle Au Haut on the mailboat or Old Quarry boat. A different experience than trying to navigate the 2-lane island roads with traffic.
  • Eateries: Fisherman’s Friend - a local joint


– Last Updated: Feb-16-10 12:31 PM EST –

You do not have to join MITA to obtain a listing of islands open to the public. You do if you wish to camp on some privately owned islands.

if you are looking for kayak friendly accommodations try finding a copy of Hot Showers by Lee Bumstead.

Some islands listed in the MITA guidebook are public land and open to anyone - but others are owned privately or by foundations, and access is available (for day use and/or camping) only to MITA members.

So, you don’t need to join MITA for access to public islands, but you do need to join MITA for access to all the MITA islands. And besides, it’s a great organization and cause. Individual membership is $45.

The areas.

– Last Updated: Feb-16-10 12:45 PM EST –

Michael Daugherty, a Stonington resident/paddler, wrote an article for SeaKayaker magazine about paddling the Stonington archipelago last year. It was published sometime in the fall of 2009. Get your hands on that comprehensive article, as it is a great guide to the area, including paddling routes, local knowledge, hazards, etc.

The Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) is also a great resource, and spending a week in that area probably warrants spending $45 on membership. You'll get good use out of the members' guide book.

I live on Union Bay in Ellsworth, and while it's a beautiful spot it doesn't have many islands, so the paddling is better out of Stonington or from the various launches on Mount Desert Island (MDI).

Stonington is remarkable for the sheer number of islands that are accessible on a day paddle, but there's a little more variety, in my opinion, in the paddling spots around MDI. More swell, more interesting navigation, sea caves, cliffs, etc. But also plenty of areas with protected water.

For general chill atmosphere, however, Deer Isle wins hands down. If you're intermediate or above paddlers, and decide you're looking for a more exciting day of paddling you could always drive over for a day-paddle out of Bar Harbor or Manset too.


– Last Updated: Feb-16-10 3:00 PM EST –

Even if staying in the Stonington area, it would be well worth the trip to MDI to paddle around the Porcupines, to go out to the Cranberries and Baker, or from Seal Cove up and around Moose, Hardwood and Bartlett. In one sense a more varied and interesting area to paddle.
That said, going out to Isle Au Haut--especially a circumnavigation--is a great trip and paddling amongst/visiting the islands off Stonington has an allure all its own which is enhanced when the windjammers congregate there. Suggest you don't just paddle about them, but take time to visit/explore places like the church on IAH and stores on IAH and Little Cranberry.

I guided in Stongington for 4 years

– Last Updated: Feb-16-10 8:43 PM EST –

until I moved from Maine last summer--old quarry ocean adventures---has guides, seakayak and camping equipment rentals, parking, showers, store, kayak sales etc---you can either hire a guide for day trips or overnights or go on your own---

I've paddled extensively in the mid coastal maine area---Mount Desert Island, Penobscot Bay, and Stonington---Stonington is the best all around--although MDI does have spectaclular scenery landing spots are limited---you can't beat all those public access islands in the Stonington area---e-mail me if you would like to talk further

BTW although some of the islands in the MITA guide are privatly owned, many are either owned by the State or by conservation groups such as Maine Coastal Heritage or Chewonki Foundation (pardon the spelling) and are open to the general public--that said you should join MITA anyway--its cheap and they do a lot to ensure continuing access to coastal islands

Swim in the old quarry!
On one of the islands, I think Greene (?), just off of Stonington there is an old limestone quarry that is now a great swimming spot. It’s a lot of fun.

The big sandy beaches near hell’s half acre are fun too, if you avoid the big schooner groups.

Leave no trace
Just a quick reminder - you speak of “we” paddling and it’s worth a heads up if people aren’t used to this. With some exceptions, the MITA public islands as well as the private ones (officially don’t land unless you are a member) are leave no trace. So no cat holes - you carry out everything that gets put out on the paddle. You may want to come prepared for that with the right equipment.

Also, be aware that the private land ownership mark in Maine is mean LOW tide. So if you do need to stop somewhere and aren’t sure where that is, pull out a chart or a fishing rod while you sort out how to get to someplace that you can land and hang around for lunch. The law says that you can stop in the tide border for navigation or fishing.

I don’t know Stonington well, but in the midcoast region there are also a number of places that locals are allowed to stop without being harassed that are not MITA islands. So if you see a family picnicking, it may or may not be a place that’ll be welcome to out of staters in shiny boats. We know of a few in Muscongous Bay, and have been careful not to use them until we were sure they were pretty much open season kind of spots, but without local knowledge you can trip over something not as friendly.

Noting All
and many thanks for the responses. When I drove through with the family last year, the area appealed greatly to us-Nellie’s Jams and Jellies…met great folks in the towns, etc. The MITA membership sounds like not only a wonderful resource, but a worthwhile pursuit to support.

Deer isle and little deer isle offers great paddling in all directions, and the islands off of stonington are just part of it - albeit a paddlers mecca. I know the area well. Make sure you pick up charts - the area can get confusing with all the islands - making it easy to get turned around. Be mindful of the lobstering folks - the only place I’ve been very nearly run over - the name of the boat will stay unmentioned.

For biking - the main roads are very twisty, narrow and generally not in good condition. Bike safely.

I was on the MITA website and they mention about having a relationship with the AMC. Can anyone tell me what the extent of this relationship is?

I believe that the AMC Knubble Bay facility is on the trail. MITA tends to partner with many coastal stakeholders, AMC, Audobon, ME BPL, Land Trusts, etc. I would call the office for specific details.

BTW: It’s all in the guidebook!

AMC Knubble Bay
cottage and beach etc is the access for AMC Beal Island, a mile away where you can camp. There are no fscilities save an outhouse there.

The cabin is timberframe sleeps 14 and is probably already booked through the summer.

The island is rarely full. The kayaking can be sheltered or if you go across the Sheepscot pretty exposed(best approach to Boothbay Harbor though!).However Lower Hell Gate Goose Rocks Passage and Little Hell Gate pretty much dictate which direction and when you go. Those races move along pretty well.

Yes Beal is a MITA island too. Its commom for MITA to have various partnerhips.


Stonington is my favorite also. I like to go there just after Labor Day: fewer crowds, lower prices.

You should have a chart of the area. It increases the fun and safety of your trips. Charts are available from (at least) Hamilton Marine on US route 1 in Searsport, and from L.L.Bean in Freeport.


charts -they’re not just for fun anymore
I’d say for a newcomer to the Stonington area, chart and compass are an absolute necessity. There are so many islands that one can easily become disoriented, and at the very least have no idea which islands are which (and at worst start paddling towards Swans Island at the end of the day.)

I’ve been there a dozen times or more, and I still get confused about what’s what sometimes.

If you forget to get a chart at LL Bean, Hamilton Marine or Mainesport–you can buy one at old quarry–but everybody here is right—a chart and compass are are really useful—even in the sunlight you can get confused with all those islands and when the fog comes in you will be lost without the chart and compass

Hmm - point above about the fog
Have you hit Maine fog in the summer before? I usually remember to mention this, but realized I had forgotten. The Stonington group may draw you out to islands that are far enough out that you can get caught in pea soup well before you hit the mainland. Those fog banks move in wicked fast.

So further on the nav stuff - a GPS with chart loaded (and good batteries) makes for a lot of peace of mind. We’ve gotten to where we can leave it in the hatch where we go each summer, but I suspect it’d be on my deck a lot more in a new location.

good idea but should have backup
of the traditional compass and chart—I’ve had enough problems with a GPS to know that they don’t always work–bad batteries, salt water corrosion etc–also be sure to bring a fog horn, either gas or manual (mouth operated type) because what can start as a perfectly clear day at 8 am can be peasoup by 10 am or even quicker.

That’s what I meant - GPS in addition
If it seemed like I was advocating replacing charts and compass with a GPS, that was a mistake. I do NOT recommend going out in that kind of area without those two.

That said, seeing your location on a charting GPS when you can’t see any land mass at all is calming, especially if you are somewhere you don’t know well.