Gunkholing with Gizmo: Northeast Harbor

Gunkholing with Gizmo: Northeast Harbor

By Ben Ellison
Click to expandInner Northeast Harbor is naturally snug and well-protected. Photo by Ben Ellison
Click on image to expand.

Some cruisers prefer to stay anchored off peaceful Little Cranberry Island (discussed in the last issue), and slip into the bustle of Northeast Harbor by ferry. But not me. While it’s true that mooring availability is a mystery until you get there, the system is efficient and the rewards are great. The town—which does take reservations for the rare vacancies in its large marina (1)—contracts the management of the many swing and float moorings to a team of off-duty school teachers—they monitor VHF Channel 9 from a green skiff that they also use to cheerfully herd wide-eyed new arrivals. Picture a midday, peak-season “musical moorings” circus with drop-dead gorgeous yachts and harbor all around.

In fact, Northeast is so lovely, and free from waves and wakes, that hanging on the boat is a tempting option. But the got-what-you-want village beckons; better yet, there’s the chance to explore the rusticator spirit that’s so critical to Mount Desert Island culture. Stop first at the “Yachtsmen’s Building” (2), where the hospitable Chamber of Commerce offers information, maps, and even passes to Acadia National Park. You can go directly to the park’s famous carriage roads and alpine views using the free island bus service that stops at the Public Landing, but I suggest you take a more adventurous route.

First, swing by the Great Harbor Maritime Museum (3) for a taste of local recreational life a century ago. Then use the warren of trails that those early summer folks established to work your way north to the park. I couldn’t actually find the trailhead at the end of Main Street (4) myself, though it’s mapped, but a weathered sign on Delights Road (5) led me into the granite-and-moss sanctuary that likely caused the delight, and eventually to the better maintained park trails around Lower Hadlock Pond (6), pocket GPS recommended.

Little Cranberry Island

An easier way to experience MDI’s longtime love affair with nature is a dinghy ride to the Asticou Terraces Landing (7), which, along with the Azelea Garden (8) and the Thuya Garden (9), comprise the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve. It’s hard to overstate how beautifully each was designed in its time or how lovingly they’re all maintained today. You, too, might wonder if all our modern landscaping skills and technology could craft the stone switchback paths and stairways that climb the terraces to Thuya…when you’re not going gaga over the lookouts.

The landing is also a cruiser’s best access point to the Asticou Inn (10), which has gracefully dominated the head of Northeast Harbor since 1883. It’s still going strong, and the site of frequent weddings, but it’s not so exclusive that a summer sailor can’t drop by for a drink or a meal. Per usual, there are photos at, but nothing comes close to actually sitting on the inn’s enormous deck looking out over the manicured rusticity, the tidy boating scene, and the Maine islands beyond.

Little Cranberry IslandCourtesy Google Earth, adapted by Ben Ellison.

Charlet Key:
1 - Marina
2 - Yachtsmen’s Building
3 - Great Harbor Maritime Museum
4 - Main Street
5 - Delights Road
6 - Lower Hadlock Pond
7 - Asticou Terraces Landing
8 - Azelea Garden
9 - Thuya Garden
10 - Asticou Inn

End of this story
E-mail Ben ( or leave him a note via the form below to tell him about restaurants, parks, and the like that he can visit aboard the M/V Gizmo. Click here to travel with Ben Ellison and Gizmo on other coastal adventures on the Maine coast.