Visit Great Wass Island: Jewel of the Maine Coast

Remoteness has its benefits. You may have to drive an hour for certain conveniences – but it’s only a short drive to a stunningly beautiful coastline, if you like that sort of thing!

a view from the pink granite coastline across the blue ocean at Great Wass Island Preserve

The Great Wass Island Preserve is actually part of a chain of islands, connected by bridge to Beals Island, which is connected by bridge to Jonesport on the mainland.

Great Wass Island extends farther out into the ocean than any other point in Maine, and is situated where the Gulf of Maine meets the Bay of Fundy. It gives you the feeling of standing on the very edge of the world…And what a beautiful edge it is!

A visit to the Great Wass Island Preserve is really a full-day commitment. It’s a five mile loop, but more than that, there is so much variety in the landscape that you really want to give yourself lots of time for frequent stops to take it all in and soak it all up.

The trail loops through the forest, out along the coast, and back again through the forest. The woodland portion includes mossy woods and rocky outcrops covered in weather-beaten pines and lichen meadows.

A boardwalk winds through peat bogs, or heaths, which are especially unusual because of the marine climate. Keep an eye out for Pitcher Plants. These wonderful little insectivores house a pool of clear liquid at the base of their brightly-colored leaves. It’s a pool of digestive fluid, and when hapless insects like black flies and mosquitoes wander in, they can’t escape but are slowly transformed into nutrients for these fiercely beautiful plants.

a close-up of a Pitcher Plant in the peat bogs at Great Wass Island Preserve
a close-up of a Pitcher Plant in the peat bogs at Great Wass Island Preserve

In June, the Pitcher Plants will be in bloom, sending up tall stalks with the most remarkable, tropical-looking blossoms. It is an intensely colorful coastline at any time of year, but it becomes even more splendid when summer blossoms like purple Beach Head Irises and pink roses are in full-bloom.

a bright red Pitcher Plant blossom in the peat bogs of Great Wass Island Preserve

Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your clamber along the pink granite coastline with spectacular views of turquoise water. Look out for all kinds of shorebirds, watch the harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocky islands, and take advantage of all the little beaches and tide pools to stop and explore.

a bright blue clam worm wiggles in a sunny tide pool at Great Wass Island Preserve
clam worm
a cluster of sea anemones in a sunny tide pool at Great Wass Island Preserve
bright red anemones cling to the bottom of an upturned stone from a tide pool at Great Wass Island Preserve
Sea anemones are so peaceful to watch, often gathered in a variety of colors and sizes, sheltering among the seaweed in the tranquil pools…And so fun to touch! Their tentacles feel just like velcro, gently tugging as they try their hardest to sting you and gobble you up!
Barnacles feed in the bright sunshine. They are soooooo BUSY! I never get tired of watching the barnacles, tirelessly combing the waters for their daily bread.
 I don’t know what these snails are up to, but if they were anything else I would say they were snuggling.

It really is a spectacular trail, so much to see at every turn, at the farthest edge where land meets see. You won’t be disappointed!

a view from the granite coastline across the blue Atlantic waters at Great Wass Island Preserve

Great Wass Island is an absolute gem of a preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy. To get there, take the bridge from Jonesport to Beals, and just keep going! You’ll cross from Beals Island to Great Wass Island, and take Black Duck Cove Rd to the parking area at the trailhead. You’ll pass by the Downeast Institute on your right (stop and check out their touch-tank if you can), and then the parking area will be on your left. Try to time your hike for low tide – if the tide is high, portions of the coastal trail can be submerged.

by Sydney Michalski

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