I’m a little hesitant to write about this place – a place so ruggedly beautiful that I cannot believe it is not highlighted in every Maine guidebook.
There is not a ton of information available on Duck Harbor campground, though it’s not really a secret either. The campground is clearly listed on Acadia National Park’s website along with very specific and complicated instructions for how to reserve a spot: download a form, mail it in along with your dates and a check, and wait. Letters must be postmarked after a certain date or they will not even open them. Do not call, email, or fax, they will not respond. Nearly a month after sending in money you will receive a letter in the mail letting you know if you have successfully or unsuccessfully reserved a spot.
I can only imagine that the adherence to snail mail communication, combined with the coordination it takes to get to the campground, are reasons why this place isn’t completely booked, especially during the summer months. That, plus the limited amount of sites available, make Duck Harbor such a unique and private place to spend the night.
Upon arriving at Isle Au Haut we rushed up the hill, beating out the other campers on the boat, and selected site 4 — the site nearest to the water and closest to the dock and with a trail that led directly to the ocean. Setting up camp was a snap. We hung up our hammock and erected our tent under the wooded structure. We probably didn’t even really need to bring our tent although we were thankful we did as the mosquitoes were relentless around camp.
Our days were spent exploring the island, picnicking on the farmer’s market food we brought, killing mosquitoes, trying to pump water from the rusty well with only moderate success, hanging out in our hammock, watching the light show of the ever-changing sky, and of course building and sitting around massive campfires. We fell asleep next to the fire listening to the crackling wood and the gentle ocean waves hitting against the rocks.
Duck Harbor Campground is like a beautiful secret — one that you simultaneously want to share and keep to yourself. It’s like the luxury resort version of back country camping. Here you can sleep on a ‘remote’ island, immersed in nature, surrounded by stunning views without giving up basic comforts or worrying about limiting your pack weight. Sly and I both agreed that this was one of our favorite camping experiences ever. It is a truly a wild and special place.
Duck Harbor Campground / $25 special use permit fee, 3- 5 days maximum stay depending on season // Reservations are a bit of a lengthy process by today’s means. Reservation requests must be made by mail — send in a completed form along with a check — and must be postmarked on April 1st or later or they will not be accepted. The reservation request form can be found and downloaded online. If more than one site is needed, you must submit more than one reservation request (in a separate envelope). To get to the campground, take the passenger ferry from Stonington to access Isle au Haut and Duck Harbor Campground. There are essentially two boats that drop off/pick up at Duck Harbor so you have the option of taking a morning or afternoon boat back to Stonington. Since checkout is in the morning, you can leave your gear at the entrance of the park, hike all day, and then take the afternoon ferry back. To minimize the impact on the environment there are only a limited amount of people allowed on the island. As such, there are only 5 sites with a maximum of 6 people allowed at each site. All sites are equipped with a wooden shelter, picnic tables, and a camp ring. Water is also available via a hand pumped well located approximately .8 miles from camp (though I recommend bringing a huge jug of water on the boat with you). No showers, but near the water pump along the coast are a few shallow and calm pools for swimming or rinsing off. Chopped wood is available for free by the water pump, and in the event there is no chopped wood, there is even a antique looking automatic (!!) wood chopper. The 5 shelters share 2 solar composting bathrooms which are extremely clean and well-maintained. Attached to the back of each shelter is a metal trunk for storing food to keep away from the pesky little squirrels and chipmunks. Sites are first come, first serve, and In my opinion, sites 4 + 5 are the best ones, with a biased preference for site 4. These sites have a great view of the water and are a little more open whereas the other sites are higher on the hill and surrounded by trees. While it is considered to be ‘back country’ camping it really is somewhat of a hybrid: you get the remoteness of back country camping but have the convenience of being able to bring as much gear/food/water as you want on the boat to the campground. If you want to camp as minimally as possible you really only need to bring sleeping bags and food since a shelter already exists. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach though — the mosquitoes here were the worst we encountered while in Acadia. Without question, Duck Harbor is our most favorite campground in Acadia National Park, and one of our most favorite places we have ever camped. TIP: We saw a TON of wild blueberry bushes and raspberry canes all over the campground and on the island. Bring a container during berry season!
UPDATE | I am frequently asked which is the best campground in Acadia National Park so I wrote a more detailed description on camping in Acadia National Park . For my take on Blackwoods, Seawall, and Duck Harbor campgrounds click here.