We hiked along the rocky shoreline through one secluded cove after another, listening to the surf break against the edge of the island. We noticed the shiny black heads with tiny dark eyes when we paused to study the waves.
The seals soon ducked under the surface of the cold Atlantic and vanished. Just another day on Isle au Haut, a little-known outpost in Acadia National Park.
The outermost island in Penobscot Bay, Isle au Haut has none of the tourist amenities or crowds of Acadia's main strip, Mt. Desert Island. You reach the quiet island on a small mail boat and stay in lean-to shelters at the primitive Duck Harbor Campground. The shelters are the only legal campsites, so you'll have to be content with a basecamp. But 18 miles of trails wind around Isle au Haut's rugged coast and crisscross its interior, offering enough hiking for a full weekend of exploring.
Along the way, you're sure to encounter some of the local harbor seals, which inhabit rocky ledges and other hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Seal pups are usually born in May, making early summer an ideal time to witness the youngsters learning to swim and fish.
Getting There Take the boat from Stonington, at the southern end of ME 15 on the coast of central Maine. For ferry information, contact (207) 367-5193 or www.isleauhaut.com.
Prime Time Late spring through early fall.
Guides New England Hiking: The Complete Guide to Nearly 400 Of The Best Hikes in New England, by Michael Lanza (Foghorn Press, 800-788-3123; $18.95). Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert Island, Isle au Haut Map #212 (Trails Illustrated, 800-962-1643; $18.95).
Contact Acadia National Park, (207) 288-3338; www.nps.gov./acad/.