Paddling to an island offers the best of two worlds: the waterborne access of a canoe or kayak and the unfettered freedom of a hike. Islands can provide a remote picnic spot, a chance to stretch your legs or nap in the sun, and a temporary escape from the bustle of the mainland. Lucky for us, islands big and small dot the waters of our region. Here are eight to get you started.
1. Cranberry Isles | Bar Harbor, Maine
The five Cranberry Isles lie off the southern coast of Mount Desert Island. Begin in Seal Harbor and paddle to the west of Bear and Sutton islands. Be wary of boat traffic on the crossing to Great Cranberry Island’s town dock. Small year-round communities live on Great and Little Cranberry, but you can follow a forested 1-mile trail to the more remote western side of Great Cranberry. Back on the water, continue to Little Cranberry’s Hadlock Cove before turning for Seal Harbor. This challenging open-water trip is recommended for experienced paddlers only; consult ocean charts before attempting.
DISTANCE: 12 miles round trip
INFO: Discover Acadia National Park, 3rd ed. (AMC Books)
2. Umbagog Lake | Errol, N.H.
The Umbagog region, in the Northern Forest of New Hampshire and Maine, is one of the most pristine, wildlife-rich areas in the two states. From the put-in on North Mountain Road, off Route 26, paddle east along the Androscoggin River. Continue past the mouth of the Magalloway River, 3 miles from the start, and drift into the northwest corner of Umbagog Lake. A cluster of islands emerges from these shallow waters; Umbagog State Park maintains remote campsites on several of them. While weaving between islands, watch for nesting eagles, osprey, and loons, all of which frequent these woods and waters. Moose are a common sight along the shore.
DISTANCE: 9 miles round trip
INFO: Discover the White Mountains, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); New Hampshire State Parks
3. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge | South Chatham, Mass.
Only about one-third of the 7,600-acre Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is land—and that includes two islands—which leaves an expanse of relatively sheltered water to explore by boat. Launch from the refuge headquarters on Morris Island and paddle southwest, toward Nantucket Sound, and around North Monomoy Island. Many species call this designated wilderness home, including endangered piping plovers, among other shorebirds, and gray seals. Tread lightly if you decide to explore the sandy shores of the latter’s habitat on North Monomoy Island. South Monomoy Island offers more substantial options for exploration, with woods, a lighthouse, and remnants of a 19th century fishing village.
DISTANCE: 10 miles round trip
INFO: Discover Cape Cod (AMC Books); Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
4. Connecticut River | Lyme, Conn.
Connecticut’s Selden Neck State Park, a 607-acre island accessible only from the water, offers some of the state’s best primitive camping. Four campsites and a 226-foot hill look out over the Connecticut River. From the put-in at the end of Route 148, near Whalebone Creek, paddle downriver for 0.75 mile and turn left into Selden Creek, which winds for 3 miles around the eastern side of the island. Return via Selden Creek rather than paddling around the rough waters off the southern tip of the island.
DISTANCE: 7.5 miles round trip
INFO: Quiet Water Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, 3rd ed. (AMC Books); Selden Neck State Park
5. Floodwood Pond | Lake Clear, N.Y.
The vast Saint Regis Canoe Area covers more than 18,000 acres in the Adirondacks. With put-ins and campsites situated throughout this network of ponds, lakes, and streams, the options for multiday trips are nearly limitless. The large island in the middle of Floodwood Pond hosts several of these sites. You can launch from the northern end of Floodwood (there’s even a canoe outfitter nearby) and explore the pond before setting up camp, or paddle south into the larger Rollins Pond and launch a multiday loop. For more paddles in the region, see “Rite of Passage.”
INFO: Quiet Water New York, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); Floodwood Pond
6. Splitrock Reservoir | Rockaway, N.J.
This narrow 3-mile-long reservoir opened to the public in the early 2000s. From the launch at its southern tip, paddle north and navigate past the large island in the middle of Splitrock to reach a cluster of smaller islands. Stop at one for a rest or weave between them, looking for birds, turtles, and signs of beaver.
DISTANCE: 7 miles round trip
INFO: Quiet Water New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (AMC Books); Splitrock Reservoir
7. Lake Marburg | Hanover, Pa.
With six boat launches, a campground, and motorboat traffic, Lake Marburg attracts a lot of visitors. But during its quietest hours, on weekdays and evenings, it has much to offer paddlers. Twenty-six miles of shoreline plus two islands, the descriptively named Long and Round, provide hours of exploration. Both islands, situated in the northeastern corner of the lake, have sandy beaches, perfect for a midtrip meal or rest. A wide variety of land and air species makes Lake Marburg a popular spot for fishing and bird-watching.
INFO: Quiet Water New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (AMC Books); Lake Marburg
8. Assateague Island | Berlin, Md.
Assateague Island stretches more than 25 miles, from Maryland to Virginia. Inlets, salt marshes, and backcountry campsites offer an array of paddling opportunities. Visitors can launch from the canoe rental shop near the entrance in Maryland. Paddle south through Chincoteague Bay and watch for the island’s marquee attraction: wild horses, which often graze on the salt marshes. Backcountry campsites are located 2, 5, 9.5, and 12 miles from the launch. Camping permits are required.
DISTANCE: 4 to 25 miles round trip
INFO: AMC’s Best Backpacking in the Mid-Atlantic (AMC Books); Assateague Island