Island Idyll: Boat Camping off Deer Isle, Maine

You can’t beat the ocean views from the campsites on Steves Island!

If your idea of heaven is having a coastal island all to yourself, you need to experience boat-camping on one of the more then 200 islands along the Maine Island Trail, which stretches from Kittery to the Canadian border. 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.

We recently had the opportunity to camp on 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.

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”).

Official beer of the Maine Island Trail!

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.

Bon fire on the beach at Steves Island. The rising tide will soon extinguish the coals.

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, but you will need to unhook the trailer from your vehicle and use two separate spaces. Parking may also be available for a fee at the corner of Seabreeze Avenue and Main Street.

Cooking corn and potatoes on a propane stove.

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 on all 240-plus Trail sites.

To sign up for a MITA membership, click here.

Tiny tide pool on Steves Island.


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