Monhegan Island's Cliff Trail
See spectacular cliffs on a day trip to Maine's fabled island
The remote island of Monhegan offers an unusual variety of trails, from easy cross-island trails that go through groves of evergreens to the Cliff Trail, which traverses the outer edge of Monhegan and takes you from spectacular cliffs down to cobblestone beaches. The following is a description of part of the Cliff Trail, from Burnt Head to White Head. It is excerpted from the book Monhegan: A Guide to Maine's Fabled Island, written and photographed by Mark Warner.
The trail from Burnt Head to White Head is less than half a mile in length. It is a steep descent down the north side of Burnt Head, but there is a bypass trail that parallels the steeper one. This side trail begins about fifty feet past Burnt Head's last ledge and angles off to the left. It is a steady, smooth descent and rejoins the Cliff Trail after about two or three hundred yards. It can be very wet going, particularly after a recent rain. Both trails lead down to a rocky "beach" where the trail winds along almost at sea level. This is a good spot to look for a variety of sea birds that come quite close to shore to feed among the nearby ledges and seaweeds.
At the northern end of this rocky area is the small, freshwater Gull Pond. This is a favorite place to observe gulls washing and preening. The common herring and great black-backed gulls can be found here. Continuing past this pond, the trail drops down farther to Gull Cove, a small cobblestone beach. Rising steeply on the north side of the cove is White Head, with its impressive height and steep cliffs. You have a choice here for the ascent to White Head. The Cliff Trail leads straight up the southern side of White Head, but if this seems daunting, you can return to the village via the Gull Cove Trail that leads off to the left opposite Gull Cove.
If you choose to continue up to White Head, there are two methods. One is to continue on the Cliff Trail past Gull Cove and begin the steep trip up to the headland. Another choice would be to take a bypass to the left that begins shortly after the ascent. This decidedly easier trail is mostly open and connects to the White Head Trail from the lighthouse and museum. Turn right and continue up to the summit of White Head.
This is one of the most dramatic scenic spots on Monhegan. White Head's cliffs, at 155 feet above the sea, are some of the highest to be found along the Maine coast. The summit is open, grassy land and ledges and is one of the most visited areas on Monhegan. Birdwatchers, artists, photographers, and people having picnics are common sights. Seabirds are often frolicking in the surging ocean below. It is not uncommon to see whales or dolphins cruising past Monhegan. On a clear day, you can see Criehaven and Matinicus to the northeast and even the Camden Hills on the horizon.
If you need to get back to the village, the well-worn White Head Trail leads west from the summit, past the museum and lighthouse, and down the hill to the school and library.
Ferries to Monhegan are available from Port Clyde, New Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor. It's a one to one and a half hour trip, depending on which ferry you take.
For more information about the book Monhegan: A Guide to Maine's Fabled Island, or to purchase a copy, click here.