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Island tour best done on a bike and with a hungry eye

By Jeffrey Romano
Globe Correspondent / August 21, 2011

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NORTH HAVEN, Maine - Surrounded by the blue waters of Maine’s Penobscot Bay, 6,895-acre North Haven boasts incredible views, pristine beaches, abundant wildlife, and a welcoming community. Discovered by Europeans in 1603, the island was first settled by fishermen. But by the late 19th century wealthy rusticators began flocking here to escape the hustle and bustle of the Northeast’s cities. As with much of the Maine coast, both of these worlds continue to shape the town’s culture today.

While a wonderful locale to explore with a car, the most intimate way to experience North Haven is on a bike. Slowly pedaling its 30 miles of exceptionally smooth roads allows one to enjoy features too often missed at 40 miles per hour: the sight of a young doe feeding in the meadow, the feel of an ocean breeze from a panoramic hillside, the sound of pounding surf along the rocky shoreline, and the warmth of the the sun as it sets on a secluded cove.

Departing the ferry, one is quickly immersed in a world of classic New England architecture. At the base of a hill, a collection of small art galleries, restaurants, boatyards, and the Post Office stand surrounded by well-manicured residences. Here in the village you find the Waterman’s Community Center, where coffee and the latest information on island happenings are available.

Two major roads immediately welcome cyclists. To the east, the relatively level Iron Point Road winds a little more than a half-mile and includes pleasant views of the Fox Island Thoroughfare, the narrow stretch of ocean separating North Haven from neighboring Vinalhaven. It is hard not to be mesmerized by the imposing trio of rotating wind turbines visible here. Constructed in 2009, the community wind farm on Vinalhaven generates electricity for both islands.

A second route, Main Street, leaves north from the village and quickly reaches Ames Point Road on the left. Turn here and proceed to a clearing on the right. Stow your bike and ascend the obvious path that leads at first across the field, then through thickets, and eventually up rock to the 152-foot open summit of Ames Knob. On a clear day, its sweeping, 360-degree views showcase much of North Haven, as well as Vinalhaven, Isle Au Haut, Mount Desert Island, and the Camden Hills.

North of Ames Point Road, Main Street continues nearly a mile to a big three-way intersection. At this point, Pulpit Harbor Road becomes the island’s main artery as it slowly climbs left before reaching a junction with Crabtree Point Road. Here is North Haven Grocery, an excellent place for sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and other supplies. Swinging right, the pavement leads past the start of Middle Road to a bridge leading over scenic Pulpit Harbor. Across the expanse, the route bears left at a junction with North Shore Road and meanders with little elevation change, eventually ending at a cozy beach and picnic table.

Branching off Pulpit Harbor Road to the east, South Shore, Middle, and North Shore roads can be taken to complete circuits of varying lengths from 6.5 to 8 miles. Each has a different feel and highlights unique features.

South Shore Road is bordered by small farms as it ascends a series of low hills. Possible stops along the way include the Cubby Hole, Burnt Island, and Mullins Head Park. The Cubby Hole, a small secluded cove frequented by shorebirds, can be reached using a short path that begins at a grassy parking area. Burnt Island, a 74-acre expanse accessible by foot only at low tide, is located off Indian Point Road, a route that leads east around Armstrong Cove. The well-marked entrance to Mullins Head Park invites the public down a dirt road to this municipally-owned preserve that features an open area perfect for picnics, diverse habitat excellent for bird-watching, and three rocky beaches suitable for swimming or walking.

Carving through the center of North Haven’s widest expanse, Middle Road is one of the island’s quieter alternatives. It rolls pleasantly over a landscape of fields and forests. Along the way, enjoy serene views of Pulpit Harbor’s upper reaches, and glimpses of Fresh Pond, the island’s largest body of fresh water.

For the most scenic option, head for North Shore Road. Probably the most difficult ride on North Haven, North Shore Road ascends the island’s steepest inclines. However, the hard work is rewarded with incredible views of the Camden Hills and the islands of Penobscot Bay.

One final corner of North Haven worthy of discovery is Crabtree Point Road. From its junction with Pulpit Harbor Road, this route heads west as it rises up and over a series of small hills. Past sheep pastures ringing with bird calls and increasing ocean views, the pavement eventually ends (3.4 miles from the start) at Narrows Place Beach. As far as one can be from the village center, this idyllic spot is a great place to soak in ocean scenery. For a little variety on the return trip, turn left on the challenging West District Road.

In the end, whichever route you choose, you will discover that North Haven’s breathtaking scenery, friendly people, and inviting roads make for a biker’s paradise in the heart of the Maine coast.

Jeffrey Romano can be reached at www.jeffreyromano.com.

If You Go

The best way to reach North Haven is on a State Ferry that operates 70-minute rides three times daily out of Rockland, Maine, in both directions. With room for only a dozen or so vehicles, the easiest option is to park your car at the terminal and take your bike (www.maine.gov/mdot/msfs/northhaven.htm).
A number of amenities make the island an ideal location for a weekend of cycling, including two hotels: Nebo Lodge, in the village center within walking distance from the ferry, and Our Place Inn & Cottages, in a quieter locale.
There are a number of eateries, especially in summer. Nebo Lodge offers gourmet food specializing in local products and a fun atmosphere, and in the village are Brown’s Coal Wharf Restaurant and HJ Blakes Restaurant.
In most years, the island offers excellent cycling from early April to late October. Choose July and August for more amenities, but expect busier roads.
For a map and more information, go to www.northhavenmaine.org.