Often we pitch our columns by emphasizing just how easy it is to get to some of Maine’s most spectacular destinations. “It’s closer than you think,” we say. “You actually can get there from here.”
But sometimes the appeal of a destination is the difficulty of the journey. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to Warren Island, one of the few Maine state parks you can’t reach by car or public ferry.
Located three miles off the coast of Lincolnville, Warren Island is neighbored in the water by Spruce Island, Islesboro and Seven Hundred Acre Island. In the earliest days of European colonization, Warren was a private home to various settlers. The longest full-time residents were the Warren family, who lived there for generations in the 1800s and for whom the island is named. A few more families took up on the island over the following century but the whole 70-acre island was sold to the state in 1958. The island was sold in lieu of taxes with the stipulation it be used only for recreational purposes. Maine picked up the property for the tidy price of $1.
The island was dedicated as a Maine State Park in 1967. Since then it’s been sparsely developed into a haven for campers and boaters. Warren Island is home to three Adirondack shelters and 12 tenting sites for visitors, including three group sites. The sites go for $15 a night, and reservations can be made by phone or online for most of the sites. The exception is Site 12, a seaside spot on the island’s western shore that overlooks Penobscot Bay. That one is first come, first served, so if you’d like a prime westerly view you’d best get to the island early.
To reach these sites, you have to come by private or personal boat; there’s no public ferry service. The easiest way to get there is to take a 20-minute ride on the Margaret Chase Smith ferry from Lincolnville, then kayak the quarter-mile from the Islesboro ferry terminal to the Warren Island pier.
If you’d like to come in on a larger craft, there are six free moorings beyond the end of the pier, available on a first-come, first-served basis.
On the island there’s an information kiosk where you can register for a site if you didn’t reserve ahead of time. A hand pump for fresh water is also available to campers. The kiosk also acts as a sort of lending library for the island – clean five-gallon drums for water, courtesy carts for lugging gear, and matches, cooking gear and other sundries to borrow for free.
The campsites are laid out around the 70 acres, and there’s not a bad one among the bunch. Nos. 6 and 12 give the best views to the west, while 5 and 7 are at Warren Island’s north and south terminuses. The three group sites are in the center of the island. Firewood is available (again, for free) near all the sites, so you won’t be stuck in the cold based on your decision.
In terms of outdoor activities, once you’ve hit the shores of Warren Island, a pleasant 11/2-mile trail covers the circumference of the island. Along with passing the day use and overnight sites on the island, the trail winds past the remains of the homes of some of those early island settlers.
A beach on the southern shore looks toward Seven Hundred Acre Island. A tidal flat on the southeastern shore allows access to nearby Birch Point and Laura’s Rock for those brave enough to cross without worrying about being stranded.
A quick paddle from Warren to Spruce Island grants access to a public gravel beach on the island’s southern shore.
Back on Islesboro, the Islesboro Islands Trust maintains miles of trail all over the island’s 15 square miles. The Herbert Preserve offers two loop trails (over 2 miles) along Ryder’s Cove and access to the Day Brigham Memorial Lookout. The Hutchins Island Trail crosses a tidal sandbar to Hutchins Island, while the nearby Elaine’s Trail navigates the wetlands of Hutchins Marsh. History-minded visitors can visit Warren’s Landing, the site of both a historic lime kiln and a steamboat wharf. The newest addition to the land trust, added in 2012, is the 50-acre Broad Point Preserve. A 11/2-mile loop through the preserve affords views of Mill Creek, Broad Cove and Gilkey Harbor.
Further afield, it’s only a short trip back to the mainland to hike the dozens of miles in the Camden Hills State Park or wander around scenic Camden and Belfast.
As the only Maine State Park accessible only by boat, Warren Island demands a bit more effort than most Maine camping. But it’s worth the trouble for a truly unique back-to-the-woods camping experience.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at: