A Complete Guide To Visiting This Enchanting Maine Island
My first glimpse of Monhegan Island was from the bow of a ferry boat on a very cold, gloomy day.
The island, which is located 10 miles off the coast of Maine, slowly took form, looking gray and barren until houses and buildings began to materialize from out of the heavy mist.
As the ferry navigated its way around large rocky masses and glided into the dock, I took in the sight of the dirt road that rose beyond the landing and the large historic hotel on the hill.
So this was Monhegan Island.
Lots of special activities are planned for the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party in December of 2023.
Table of Contents
About Monhegan Island
Never heard of Monhegan Island, Maine?
Neither had I. But when I learned that the island has no paved roads and no cars, I knew it was a place I wanted to visit.
In doing some research, I found that Monhegan Island attracts visitors from all over the world. Some of them come to paint or photograph the rugged, coastal scenery. Others want to see the migrating birds, rare wildflowers, or sea life (whales and seals).
And still other are interested in hiking the trails or just escaping for a few hours or days from their busy lives.
This small island is just 3/4 mile wide and 1-1/2 miles long, but it is a haven for those seeking beauty, quiet and a reconnection with Nature.
How To Get To Monhegan Island
If you’re wondering how to get to this magical island in Maine, you have three choices.
I spent the night in Boothbay Harbor (a town I highly recommend visiting), and took the Balmy Days Ferry II to Monhegan.
I stayed in a waterfront room at the Tugboat Inn and highly recommend it.
The 16-mile trip takes about 1.5 hours, departing from Boothbay at 9:30 a.m. and returning at 4:15, for those who are just taking a day trip.
Parking is a bit of a problem in Boothbay, so make your arrangements ahead of time, especially if you need overnight parking for a long visit to Monhegan Island.
The Ferry to Monhegan costs $46 round trip for adults and $23 for kids. Once on Monhegan Island they also offer a 2 p.m. cruise around the island for $5 cash. (We saw a whale and tons of seals, so well worth it).
Other Ferries To Monhegan Island
Altogether there are three ferries that make the daily trip to Monhegan Island, Maine.
In addition to the Balmy Days II Ferry to Monhegan, you can take the Monhegan Boat Line out of Port Clyde. Their price is $44 round trip for adults and $28 for a child. (And $7 for a pet). Since this port is a little closer, the ferry ride is only an hour.
The northern most port that has a ferry to Monhegan Island is New Harbor, home to Hardy Boat Cruises. Their ferry ride to Monhegan is only 50 minutes and costs $50 round trip for both adults and children, and $20 for pets.
Monhegan Island History
The name “Monhegan” roughly translates to “Out-at-Sea Island,” from the Algonquin word “Monchiggon.”
The mountainous island is nestled about 10 miles off the rocky coast of Maine, but was about 16 miles from Boothbay Harbor, Maine, which is where I caught the ferry.
Monhegan was first charted by the British during the early stages of expanding into North America, and various explorers—including Captain John Smith who ventured to the island in 1614.
When the British settled the colony in the early 17th century, they built a thriving fishing village and a trading post to conduct business with the Indigenous Abenaki peoples on the mainland.
It’s fascinating that many of the island’s residents to this day are descended from these early fishermen and traders.
Since the 1800s, the island’s two primary economies have been fishing and tourism. Coming from a place where apple crates are a common sight, it was interesting to see rows of stacked lobster traps lining the unpaved roads in the village.
Monhegan Island’s Artist Colony
You can’t walk far on Monhegan Island without coming across an artist working on a painting and trying to capture the beautiful scenery that abounds.
There are a number of artist studios on the island as well as the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, which is housed in the former keeper’s house on the Lighthouse grounds.
The Keeper’s House is devoted to the Island’s long history that began with the arrival of the Red Paint People 6000 years ago. Exhibits include island flora and fauna, fishing and the lighthouse.
Some Monhegan Island artists have viewing hours in their studios, times and locations of which are listed in a flier available at bulletin boards around the Village.
After visiting one of the artist’s studios, you can go home with a beautiful piece of original art to remind you of your visit rather than a traditional souvenir.
The Monhegan Island Lighthouse
Built in 1824, the granite Monhegan Island Lighthouse aided ships navigating the treacherous waters and rocky shores along the coast.
Damaged by storms, that lightouse was replaced in 1850 by the present 48 foot granite tower, with a fog bell station built in 1855 on nearby Manana Island.
Later, in 1859, a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the previous lighting system, enhancing the lighthouse’s effectiveness.
The light continues to shine from the Lighthouse, but it has not been manned since 1959 and is now automated.
According to their website, visitors are sometimes allowed to tour the tower. That would be an awesome treat.
Things To Do On Monhegan Island
Even though the island is small, there is still plenty to do.
In addition to visiting the Lighthouse or visiting artists studios, you can enjoy a cold brew at the Monhegan Brewing Company or search for sea glass on Fish Beach.
Here are some other things to do on Monhegan Island:
- Explore the art at the Lupine Gallery
- Shop for gifts at the Black Duck Emporium. (I loved this place)!
- Take a dip at Swim Beach (The beach is small and the water is cold).
- Check out the Ice Pond, where ice was harvested for more than 100 years. The last harvest was in February, 1974. This is a great bird watching spot and skating area in the winter.
- Visit the Monhegan Island Cemetery. Some of the oldest stones are from the 1700s.
- Visit the Shipwreck near Lobster Cove. (This was one of my favorite trails).
Ready To Spend The Night On Monhegan Island? Check Out Places To Stay.
More Things To Do On Monhegan Island
Monhegan Island’s Walking Trails
Monhegan Island’s walking trails are the main attraction, offering commanding views of the Atlantic Ocean from the highest cliffs in Maine.
The island has more than 15 miles of trails, including Lobster Cove Trail, Whitehead Trail, and Burnt Head Road Trail.
(I walked 10 miles in one day, mostly because I was lost, but the views were spectacular).
The trails include some steep climbs over rocky cliffs, dense forests of stately pines and rough terrain over rocks and roots.
But the effort is worth it because you get spectacular ocean, forest and meadow views. My trip in mid-June was right when flowers were blooming, which added to the beautiful landscapes.
The highest point on the island is Black Head, which towers 160 feet above the sea.
Dogs are allowed on the trails, but must be kept on a leash at all times.
See a Monhegan Island Map here.
The map shows the many trails on the island. If you’re visiting, keep your eyes open for one of the many places where maps can be purchased for $1.
Pro Tip: I wore sneakers but recommend hiking shoes because the paths are rugged. Also wear long pants because there is a lot of poison ivy.
Visit Manana Island
Another thing to do during your trip is visit Manana Island.
Located just across the Monhegan Harbor, it is where the hermit Ray Phillips built a house and lived until his death in the 1970s.
The ruins of his homemade house remain on the island.
There are also rocks on Manana Island that are purported to contain Norse or Phoenician inscriptions.
Transportation by skiff across the harbor to Manana Island can be arranged through one of the Inns or at Fish Beach.
Monhegan Island Fairy Houses
One of the highlights of my trip was the time I spent on Cathedral Trail looking at the Fairy Houses built by other visitors.
Some of them are elaborate, and some of them are quite simple. Many of them are easy to spot, but if you keep your eyes open, you will find Fairy Houses hidden in stumps and under ferns.
It gets to be quite an engrossing game to look for them.
Monhegan Island FAQs
Is There Cell Service On Monhegan Island?
Surprisingly, I had no problem with cellphone reception in the village itself. I heard other people saying they didn’t have service so it depends on your carrier. Both places I stayed also had a good Internet signal.
Monhegan Island ME Restaurants
For a place the size of Monhegan, there are a surprising amount of delicious places to eat. In fact, I really wish I could have stayed longer just to try out some dishes at other places.
Where to Eat on Monhegan Island
- The Barnacle: Down by the wharf. Grab a bite to eat or something to drink here.
- The Novelty: This is a casual lunch spot that serves pizza and sandwiches.
- Fish House: Lots of seafood dishes. I ate a Lobster Roll here that was great!
- The Island Inn: Their dining room serves three meals a deal. Great food and views.
- Monhegan House: Free breakfast and dinner with an overnight stay and open to the public.
- Nite Nite Fatty’s at The Cracked Mug: When there’s nothing else open and you want something sweet! (6-8 p.m.)
Monhegan Island Hotels
While you can definitely see most of what Monhegan has to offer in one day trip, I am so glad I stayed two nights in order to really soak in the island’s unique culture.
If you’re wondering where to stay on Monhegan Island, you have plenty of choices. Despite its small size there are lots of Monegan Island lodging options.
Here are just a few of the most popular Monhegan Island accommodations.
I am so glad I stayed at this lovely guest house that offers spectacular water views and a mouth-watering 5-STAR homecooked breakfasts by the host, Melanie.
The bed was wonderfully comfortable and getting to have a “pillow menu” to pick the type of pillow you want is an added bonus.
The Cracked Mug is one of the only rentals that stays open all year.
Melanie is also the creator of the Nite Nite Fatty’s dessert bar that takes place very night from 6-8 p.m. People line up to get a piece of her delicious cakes, pastries and Friday night pies.
Located down by the wharf, this is an iconic place to stay on the island and is the first landmark you see when arriving on the island.
The main house of The Island Inn dates back more than 200 years to when it was first completed in 1816. Known simply as “The Pink House” at the time, the structure was expanded multiple times during the early 20th century to accommodate its increasing popularity.
Its west-facing views overlook the Gulf of Maine feature stunning sunsets.
Located in the village center across from the church, this is an 1870s Inn with ocean and meadow/lighthouse views.
For an extra treat, they offer free breakfast and dinner with an overnight stay.
The massive wrap-around porch is the perfect place to relax and get out of the sun or rain. You can also grab a rocking chair and watch the foot traffic in the center of Monhegan village.
Note that most rooms do not have attached bathrooms and some rooms are very small with no air conditioning or fans.
What To Pack For Monhegan Island
Make sure you take a camera and wear sneakers or hiking shoes for the sometimes rugged rigorous hiking paths.
I’d recommend wearing warm layers for the ferry ride and consider sea sickness medication or Sea-Bands if the water is rough. (I wore Sea-Bands, just in case, and had no problems).
Other Usual Items: hat, suntan lotion, bug spray, binoculars, water bottles, snacks, cash, trail map, hand sanitizer.
If you have limited time on the island, you may want to bring a backpack style cooler with a picnic lunch and drinks to save time on sitting down to eat.
Where To Stay Near Monhegan Island
Monhegan Island Weather
If you’re like me, you have no idea what the weather is like in Maine. June is the beginning of Monhegan’s tourist season with temperate weather in the 70s.
The most pleasant months of the year are June, July and August. Summer temps range from 70 degrees to 85 degrees and there are few days during the summer when the humidity becomes unpleasant.
July is the hottest month for Monhegan with an average high temperature of 74.9°. (Ranking it as one of the coolest places in Maine).
January is the snowiest month in Monhegan with an average of 18.7 inches of snow.
Important Notes On Visiting Monhegan
One of the most important things to know before your visit to Monhegan is that there are no trash containers. It is a Pack in/ Pack out island, meaning whatever you bring with you, you will be carrying home.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking. There is a golf cart taxi service if you need to get somewhere and don’t want to walk.
Bathrooms on the island are limited. The only public restrooms available are located behind the Monhegan House and there is a fee to use them. (It would be wise to use the bathroom on the ferry before getting off).
No bikes or drones are allowed on the island.
You must clean up after your dog.
Is Monhegan Island worth visiting?
In my opinion, yes.
If you like visiting places that are authentic, beautiful and rustic as a way to relax, unplug and unwind, then this is the place for you.
Does Monhegan Island Have Alcohol?
Restaurants do not sell alcoholic beverages, but it is okay to bring in store-purchased alcohol. Most stores sell wine and the Monhegan Brewing Co offers beer and pints to be enjoyed on its patio during summer afternoons.
Wrap-Up Of Monhegan Island
Monhegan Island Maine is a true haven of serenity and natural beauty in a place that time forgot.
The pristine landscapes and sense of timelessness gives it an irresistible charm that keeps people returning year after year.
It’s so unique to find a place with such rich history and unspoiled wilderness, and where you can really feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
If you’re looking for a way to take a break from the real world and renew your connection to Nature, Monhegan Island is the place to go.