The rocky square mile of land jutting out of the Gulf of Maine called Monhegan Island is one of the most popular island destinations in the state.
Whether you’re coming for a day trip or staying overnight, this humble island colony of just 64 year-round residents is ready to welcome you with open arms to an iconic piece of Maine’s heritage.
About Monhegan Island
The name “Monhegan” derives from the Algonquin word “Monchiggon,” which roughly translates to “Out-at-Sea Island.” The mountainous island is just 10 miles offshore.
Monhegan was first charted by the British during the early stages of expanding into North America, and various explorers — including infamous Captain John Smith — ventured to the island.
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. Many of the island’s residents to this day are descended from these early fishermen and traders.
Even today, the island’s economy thrives on the fishing industry, although lobster fishing season is closed in the summertime. Additionally, the island accommodates summer overnight guests and day visitors off the ferries and tour boats.
An Artist Colony
Aside from the large volume of tourists that Monhegan Island receives each year, one of the main draws to this Mid Coast Maine island is its renowned artist colony.
Since its establishment in 1890, it has hosted many of the East Coast’s premier artistic talent, particularly landscape painters from the New York School of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Some of the colony’s most renowned alumni include Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, and Rockwell Kent.
How to Get to Monhegan Island
There are no roads or bridges connecting Monhegan Island to the mainland, and it isn’t exactly big enough to host its own commercial airport, so unless you’re brave enough to swim the gulf’s chilly water, the only way you’re getting here is by boat.
Ferry Rides to the Island
Ferries travel back and forth between Monhegan and the mainland very regularly. Your best bet is to catch one leaving from either Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor, or Port Clyde. The ride can take between 1.5 to 2.5 hours depending on where you leave from, and you can find the seasonal departure schedules online.
For a more scenic ferry route, consider taking the Monhegan Boat Line departing from Port Clyde. It not only ferries passengers to the island but also offers special charter, lighthouse, sunset, and puffin cruises. It’s the perfect option to fill out your Maine itinerary a little more!
At the time of writing, a round-trip ticket for adults is $42, and for children under 12 years, it’s $28. Unfortunately, pets don’t ride for free, so if you’re taking a furry friend along, a ticket is $7. Cars and bikes aren’t allowed on the passenger ferries.
Things to Do on Monhegan Island
While Monhegan doesn’t have a ton in the way of tourist attractions, two draw particularly large crowds each year — the Monhegan Lighthouse and the Monhegan Museum of Art and History.
Built in 1824, the granite Monhegan Lighthouse overlooks the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean. It was completed just four years after Maine became a state and has been a proud monument and icon of the island ever since.
Because the lighthouse still hosts an active Coast Guard presence, tourists aren’t allowed to climb to the top. But, you’re free to enjoy the grounds surrounding the light tower.
Monhegan Museum of Art and History
Once you’ve visited the lighthouse, you should visit the Monhegan Museum of Art & History, which hosts some of the Pine Tree State’s most significant and beautiful works from the early 19th century up to today.
Here, you can explore how this beautiful island has inspired some of the East Coast’s most brilliant artists over the years.
Monhegan Artists’ Residency
For artists, the Monhegan Artists’ Residency, which was established in 1989, was formally opened to preserve the island’s cultural legacy and nurture Maine’s artistic talent. The residency offers free boarding and a weekly stipend to successful applicants who work and create in its studio.
There’s no doubt that a stay here to hone your artistic talent and become a part of the island’s history would be a terrific way to spend your time.
After visiting the main attractions, you might want to enjoy Monhegan’s winding hiking trails. The island has nearly 12 miles of trails in all, including Lobster Cove Trail, Whitehead Trail, and Burnt Head Road Trail.
These paths were built for your leisure, but some of them offer unique challenges of their own. Along the way, you can expect to encounter steep climbs, dense forest (although the paths are mostly cleared), and rough terrain.
In return, the miles of hiking trails give you spectacular ocean views, a soothing sea breeze, and at night, terrific starry skies. Dogs are allowed on the trails, but for the safety of all the island’s guests — human or otherwise — they must be kept on a leash at all times.
First stop off the ferry, pick up the Monhegan Associates, Inc. trail map to guide you on a great walk around the island to the lighthouse, around the 17 miles of paths over rocky cliffs by cathedral pine trails, and to the highest point of Black Head, which towers 160 feet above the sea with stunning views.
Wear sneakers or hiking shoes for the sometimes rugged, rigorous hiking paths because nothing is paved.
Rugged Cliffs & a Shipwreck
Surprisingly Monhegan Island has cellphone reception, but you come here to get away from technology. See the dramatic rugged cliffs of White Head and Black Head, and the shipwreck on the southern shores near Fish Beach and Swim Beach.
Where to Eat and Drink on Monhegan Island
For a place the size of Monhegan, there are a surprising amount of delicious places to eat. A few popular options include:
- The Barnacle, a cozy café and pastry shop
- The Novelty, a casual lunch spot serving pizza and sandwiches
- Fish House Fish, which serves a wide array of seafood dishes
However, these aren’t your only dining options!
The Island Inn
The Island Inn’s dining room is probably the most popular spot on the island to grab a bite. Its terrific selection of seafood pairs very well with the ocean views. The dining room happily serves three meals a day, as well as morning coffee from 7 a.m.
Monhegan Brewing Company
Feeling thirsty? One of the most popular spots to grab a drink on the island — especially on a hot summer day — is the Monhegan Brewing Company.
This family-owned staple has been serving specialty craft beers to thirsty tourists and Maine residents alike. Many of the brewery’s beer labels were actually designed by a select few of the island’s previous resident artists.
Picnic Lunches & Dinners
If none of those sound appealing to you, one of the best ways to enjoy Monhegan Island with your friends and family is to set up a picnic lunch or dinner. There are plenty of picnic tables near the harbor to accommodate guests like you.
Or, since there are no rules on the island about bringing food onto the hiking trails, you can always pack a lunch for your walk, and find a nice, scenic place to sit and eat.
Where to Stay When Visiting Monhegan Island
While you can definitely see most of what Monhegan has to offer in one day trip, a lot of the island’s biggest fans will tell you that your trip is incomplete without an overnight stay at one of Monhegan’s inns.
The Island Inn
The most well-known place to stay on the island is without question The Island Inn. Spending the night at this little hotel is the perfect way to end your evening. It provides guests with all the loving, quintessential aspects of Maine hospitality.
The main house dates back over 200 years to when it was first completed in 1816. Known simply as “The Pink House” at the time, the humble abode was expanded multiple times during the early 20th century to accommodate its increasing popularity and volume of guests.
The Island Inn finally started taking on the form that we know and love today after its final expansion in 1924. Its west-facing views overlook the Gulf of Maine and host some of the most stunning, breathtaking sunsets you’ve ever seen.
Other Lodging Options
While The Island Inn is such a popular stop for tourists, especially in the summer months, the island has several other spots that are just as hospitable and historic. Consider Monhegan House, Trailing Yew, or John Sterling Harbor House for your getaway.
Additional Tips for Traveling to Monhegan Island
Other than remembering to plan your trip ahead of time, especially if you need to book a stay in one of the inns, the most important tip you should remember is to enjoy yourself.
Monhegan Island is one of the most popular Maine vacation destinations for so many reasons. From the second you disembark on the island’s harbor, you’ll undoubtedly understand why.