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A rockweed-covered boulder on Steves Island, in the Merchants Row archipelago off Stonington, Maine.

Island Idyll: Deer Isle Boat Camping

By Tom Richardson; Photography by Tom Richardson

Fans of the children’s book The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown will delight in knowing that tiny, picturesque islets off the Maine coast are still open to the public—whether or not you choose to bring a kitten.

The Maine Island Trail, which stretches from Kittery to the Canadian border, features over 200 such islands (as well as mainland sites) where the public is allowed to go ashore and even camp overnight. The Trail is managed and maintained by the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), a non-profit group that works with private landowners and state agencies to ensure public access to the islands. Membership to MITA is encouraged to support its efforts, but the islands are open to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis.



MITA boats beached on Steves Island.

One such spot is Steves Island in the Merchants Row archipelago off Deer Isle, Maine—one of several MITA islands in the area that are within a short boat ride or paddle of the Deer Isle waterfront. Steves features a small, sandy cove where kayaks and small boats can be beached and anchored overnight. The area’s 11-foot tides can make anchoring tricky, so plan accordingly and use bow and stern anchors. If you’re traveling by kayak, remember to drag your ‘yak well above the high tide mark.


Most islands in the MITA system feature clearings for tents.

The island’s interior is laced by walking trails and features five clearings for tent sites. Fires are permitted on the beach and wide granite ledges. Very few of the MITA islands feature latrines, so all waste must be packed out (invest in a “wag bag”).



Signage lets campers know the rules on each island.

Visitors are limited to a two-night stay on MITA islands, but that’s okay because you will likely find other available islands nearby. Close to Steves Island, for example, are George Head and Rock Islands, which are also part of the MITA system.

Visitors are allowed to have fires on the beach.

A good launch site for accessing the local islands is the stone ramp and float at the end of Seabreeze Ave., adjacent to the Isle Au Haut Ferry dock. The ramp is suitable for kayaks and small to mid-sized boats, although trailer parking can be problematic. A free municipal lot is located at the end of Memorial Lane, a ten-minute walk from the ramp. Parking may also be available for a fee at the corner of Seabreeze and Main St.

A valuable resource for visiting the islands is the MITA Trail app. The app is free to download and packed with information about dozens of Trail sites, best approaches, launch locations, pump-out facilities, and tips for safe boating and low-impact recreation. A passcode (given to MITA members) is required to access additional content about all 240-plus Trail sites.


To sign up for a MITA membership, click here.