Location: Hancock County
Distance: Approximately 1 mile
Ages: Any age
Looking for something a little out of the way? Need an island adventure to go with your hike? Have kids who can’t get enough of log bridges? Then you need to take a trek out to Great Cranberry Island, off of Mount Desert Island, and hike the Whistler’s Cove Trail.
To get to the trail, you first need to get to the island. During the summer, two ferry companies serve Great and Little Cranberry Islands: Beal and Bunker out of Northeast Harbor and Cranberry Cove out of Southwest Harbor and Manset. (NOTE: Always plan your trip carefully and ensure you leave enough time for your activities and to return to the dock to catch the ferry back to the mainland.) Once on Great Cranberry, walk straight down the main road for about half a mile until you see the Cranberry House on the right side of the road. If you don’t want to add the extra length to your hike–or if you want to give your kids a thrill–see if you can catch the Cranberry Explorer, a glorified golf cart that departs the town dock every half-hour from 10-4.
Either way you get there, take a second to appreciate the catch-all community center, home to an art gallery, historical museum, and cafe. Full disclosure, at one, less attractive point in its history this building also served as my grandfather’s goat shed and workshop. You’ll be happy to know its been moved down the road and thoroughly cleaned since then.
The trail starts behind the building and is well-marked with a large green “Whistler’s Cove Trail” sign. The trail begins humbly enough as it runs past some of Cranberry Island Realty Trust’s affordable housing, but you won’t mind because you will distracted by the impressive stretch of log bridges ahead of you.
Thoughtfully covered with chicken wire to make them less slippery on wet days, these bridges will be your near-constant companion over the next half-mile. Much of the trail is rather swampy, so the bridges help protect the fragile ground and bright green moss while keeping you from getting mucky. (Due to this swampiness, I recommend dosing up with bug spray for this hike.) My kids love log bridges and like to challenge themselves to see how quickly they can get across them. Alternately, they try to stand on one foot or hop across them. I have to admit, it is pretty fun to pretend you are participating in some sort of Olympics gymnastic competition–even if your balance beam is about 10 inches wide and barely clears a swamp.
Interspersed with the bridges are drier sections through a spruce forest. Like many islands, Great Cranberry was mostly cleared at one point in its history, so the forests are almost a new-growth monoculture of spruce. However, at this point they are so old that they are dying off and much of the undergrowth is young spruce. You could easily make a game out of finding the tiniest tree in the undergrowth; there are some fine contenders.
Old and new. And a kid.
It’s so fun adventuring across bridges and through tiny spruce that the ocean opening up before you is almost a surprise. Whistler’s Cove is a lovely curved beach, with sections varying from fist-sized rocks to pebbles, with even a little patch of sand. It was high tide when we were there, so there was only about a ten-foot width of the beach, but there was still plenty to explore. There were numerous lobster traps washed up in the area, so it clearly catches a current. At low tide, it would be an excellent spot for searching out sea glass and other treasures.
After you’ve spent some time rock-throwing and collecting shells, simply turn around and head back down the trail. While I have a bias against out-and-back hikes, preferring the new scenery that a loop provides, I found the mild concentration required to get back over those bridges to be almost meditative.
Once you get back to Cranberry House, make sure to visit the museum for a taste of past island life and grab an ice cream at the cafe before heading back down to the dock. And whatever you do, don’t miss the ferry!
Kid rating: Two out of two thumbs up
Kid review: “I liked walking on the beach.” “I liked all the bridges!”