The Cranberry Isles

The western side of Great Cranberry Island offers spectacular views of Acadia National Park.
Morning commuters catch up on the news as they head for the mainland on the Beal and Bunker Mail Boat and Ferry, the only yearround ferry service between the mainland and the Cranberry Isles.
Ted Broadwell, retired from Beal & Bunker Mail Boat and Ferry.
Great Cranberry Island’s tiny post office sits on the town dock.
A classic boat docked at Great Cranberry.
Time seems to stand still in the Cranberry Isles.
The Whale’s Rib, a gift shop and gallery.
Runner Michael Westphal, a carpenter on Great Cranberry, made national headlines when he found that continuing to compete in races such as the Boston Marathon lessened the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease.
A quiet morning on Great Cranberry.
The Cranberry Explorer is a seven-passenger golf cart that offers free shuttle service around Great Cranberry.
Great Cranberry native Norman Sanborn has captained the Cinchona for 25 years, transporting the private yacht’s owner between her summer homes in Northeast Harbor and Long Island.
The Cranberry General Store is the hub of the community on Great Cranberry.
It’s easy to imagine spending a long afternoon on the porch of this classic summer cottage.
After its longtime owners decided to retire, the iconic Islesford Dock Restaurant and Gallery (above) on Little Cranberry (also known as Islesford) was purchased earlier this year by Michael Boland, co-owner of Havana in Bar Harbor, and Northeast Harbor seasonal resident Mitchell Rales. “So many people from all over the world have enjoyed the Islesford Dock over the years that to let it close up seemed somehow just wrong,” says Boland. “We grow a good amount of our own food right behind the restaurant in our large greenhouse, source all of the lobsters from the coop next door, and otherwise follow a fairly strict local farm/sea-to-table program. Put that on top of one of the most amazing sunset spots on the coast of Maine—looking back over the mountains of Mount Desert Island— and you have a pretty special place to dine.”

The Cranberry Isles are an archipelago of five islands off the southeastern shore of Mount Desert Island, named for the wild cranberries that grow there in the fall. Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry (also called Islesford) are the largest of the group and the only ones with year-round residents, most of whom make a living lobstering, boat building, or doing carpentry. Sutton, Baker, and Bear Islands are inhabited only in the summer, and most of Baker is part of Acadia National Park.

“The whole place is one big family,” says Great Cranberry native Norman Sanborn. “I’ll go away for two or three days and leave my keys in my truck; if someone needs to borrow it, they can go ahead.” He and his wife, Kelly, are raising their two daughters, ages 11 and 9, on the island. “They’re free-range kids,” he says. “Everybody knows them, and they’ve got the entire island as their playground.”

There are a few boats that offer transportation to the Cranberries, but the most popular, and the only year-round option, is the Beal and Bunker Mail Boat and Ferry, which makes the 30-minute crossing from Northeast Harbor to Great Cranberry and Islesford. There are no hotels or bed-and-breakfast accommodations on any of the islands, but the short boat ride allows for an easy daytrip. On Great Cranberry, visitors can wander along several public trails or take advantage of the Cranberry Explorer, a seven-passenger golf cart that offers free shuttle service to popular spots around the island. On Islesford, the Islesford Dock Restaurant and Gallery is a favorite seasonal restaurant of Seal Harbor summer resident Martha Stewart, who arrives on her Hinckley picnic boat.