Vinalhaven, being an island, requires a little bit of foreknowledge as a destination. The best route in from outside New England is to fly to Boston's Logan Airport. Get in before 11:25AM and you can catch a Concord Trailways bus to Rockland (for about $35--catch the bus first, and buy the ticket at the first stop--Boston's South Station). You'll get into Rockland around 4:30PM. The bus will drop you off at the Maine State Ferry terminal parking lot, which is fortunate, because you'll have only a few minutes to catch the boat. Ferry tickets for pedestrians are $17.50. The Ferry ride is a little more than 75 minutes. But unlike the plane or bus, you're not restricted to your seat. Riders effectively have free reign on deck and on the lookout landing below the bridge. And be sure you take advantage of it. The ride is fantastic (albeit impossibly windy and frequently cold). You'll pass two lighthouses, uncountable sailboats, and catch your only unfettered view of the Fox Islands on one side and the Camden hills on the other. If you're really lucky, you might even glimpse an elusive seal (although they give the ferries a wide berth).
If for whatever reason you miss the 4:30 Vinalhaven Ferry, there is a contingency plan. You can catch a 5:15 ferry to North Haven Island. The ride is an about as long and even more interesting. When you arrive in North Haven, walk down the road to Brown's Boat Yard, and ask around for a skiff ride to the other side. People are generally friendly, and you shouldn't have a problem finding a lift. They'll run you across the sound to the North Coast of Vinalhaven. The going rate for a ride is circa $5USD. When you arrive, you'll find your cell-phone is probably useless, so there's a payphone where you can call into town and ask for a ride. If you don't know anyone in town, good luck to you--it's about a two-hour walk with luggage.
With careful logistical planning, it is possible to get a car onto the island, but be sure you have at least three days to waste each way. There are 4 automobile reservations for three of the six boats and you must get them one month in advance in person at the ferry terminal when they open or by calling the ferry terminal from which you are departing no earlier than 9:30AM. In the summer months, the reservations are gone before the earliest time you can call for them. Best advice: don't bother with it. If you MUST have a car on the island, ask a terminal employee where you should put your car to get in line. You can usually get on within 2-3 ferries of when you put your car in line. If there aren't 2-3 ferries left in the day, just sleep in you car, but KEEP YOUR CAR IN THE LINE. If you leave, you lose your place in queue. You'll get onto the first boat 90% of the time because many VH residents put their cars in line, ride the last boat home, ride the first boat back the following morning, and catch the second in their car. This means that the first of the day is the least competitive.
If all this seems like too much trouble, you can just forget about your car. The island itself is only 5 miles long by 7 miles wide (in a crescent shape), with 49 miles of paved road. This means that for any given journey, you'll never need to go more than 5 miles (or thereabouts). Despite the way the locals seem to drive, walking on the roads is a safe means of transportation. You can also rent some pretty disreputable bikes from the Tidewater (free if you're staying there, $10/day otherwise). But by and large, you'll have no trouble hoofing it wherever you need. Additionally, most of the tourist-catering business folk are perfectly happy to pick you up wherever you are and bring you to their services (and the nice ones will take you back or drop you off wherever you need).
- Lane's Island. Protected by the Nature Conservancy, this beautiful preserve is a must-see. If you have one day on the island, you want to do a picnic lunch here. There are numerous paths around the serene little island, and they are frequented by many dog-walkers and friendly "summer people." There's a sizable field for Frisbee and other such games, and picnic tables around for your use. Everyone knows about it, so don't expect the place to yourself.
- Tiptoe Mountain. At 59' high, it offers a great view of Crockett river. Off of North Haven Road. If headed north on North Haven Rd, turn left on Tip Toe Road, and continue until the road bends right. There is a small parking area there.
- Brown's Head Lighthouse. The only lighthouse on Vinalhaven. You may view the lighthouse, but stay away from the building as it is a private residence. It is right off of North Haven Road. If going north on North Haven Road, turn left on Tip Toe Road and turn right on Brown's Head Road. The lighthouse is at the end of the road.
- State Beach. A beach Island which becomes a Peninsula off Vinalhaven at low tide. Take the main road through town, Pequot road to where the remains of the Coke bottle statue are and veer right. Turn right on State Beach Road and go until you can't.
- Perry Creek. A preserve composed of a handful of trails, including one of the better kept secrets of the island. Fox Rocks is an outcropping of granite closer to the center of the island with a fantastic 360 degree overlook. Off of North Haven Road, across the street from Middle Mountain.
- Lawson's Quarry, North Haven Rd (just north of the village). One of two public swimming quarries.
- Booth Quarry, Pequot Rd. One of two public swimming quarries.
- Middle Mountain.
- The Basin. An area where there are a few trails and a great view of an inlet with rushing water. At the end of the trail, you can see a waterfall that reverses based on the tides. Go down Main Street towards the ferry dock. It becomes Sands Road. At the end, turn left onto Dog Town road, and continue until you see a small parking area on the right hand side (right after the pavement ends).
- Polly's Cove.
- Seal Island. National Wildlife Refuge, 9 miles south of Vinalhaven, out where some wild marine life might be seen. Some attractive dramatic geography.
Lobstah!. See "Eat" for more details.
Vinalhaven has a volatile economy for restaurants. If you've visited the island in previous years, don't come back expecting the same restaurants to be in the same place. This makes for some interesting exploring every time you return. But there are some reliable choices:
- The Harbor Gawker, Main St, ☏ . Good Americana food, fast-seafood, and great view in the dining room. Closest you're going to get to a fast food joint, but that doesn't mean it's fast (on the contrary, runs on island time). Well worth the patience. A BYOB establishment.
- The Pizza Pit, Main St, ☏ . Great pizza for an island. Great pizza for anywhere outside of New York, frankly. Also a BYOB establishment.
- The Sand Bar, Main St. Vinalhaven's late night eatery. It's open until 9PM. It serves pub food and drinks.
- The Haven, Main St, ☏ . Fantastic food. Great drinks. Good people. Call for a reservation (seatings at 6:00 and 8:15) in the back room overlooking the water or pop into the more casual front room open from 5:30-9:00 nightly. Open Tuesday-Saturday in high season.
- Trickerville Sandwich Shop, Water St. A great sandwich shop. Fast, friendly service at a reasonable price.
- LOBSTAH!, Main St. Ah, here it is! Do it yourself, fresh off the dock Lobster. Go to the town gas station and co-op (right next to the Ferry Terminal), and ask the attendant for lobster. Depending on the season, She might ask "Sheddahs or Hahd-shells?" Shedders are cheaper, but Hardshells taste a whole lot better. Your call. She might also offer "Regulars" or "Deluxe" (or "Select") Deluxe are more expensive, but also bigger, meaning you get more Lobster meat per pound. Again, your call. Either way, refrigerate until time to cook. Drop in boiling water. Don't worry if they scream, it won't last long. (It's actually a whistling emitted from the gaps between their shells as the air within the shells expands under the heat and bubbles up). Boil until you you can't pick them up by their feeler without having the feeler pop off. Server with lemon and butter. You can also buy crabs at the co-op for pretty cheap. The lobstermen hate them, but some keep them around instead of throwing them back for a little extra change at the end of the day.
The local Grocery store on Main street carries many common beverages. You can also find your favorite regular beers and whatnot at the Fisherman's Friend (left out of the motel, halfway down Main Street toward the ferry terminal). By and large, the Vinalhaven drinking culture is a more salt-of-the-sea, beer-drinking community. Fortunately for the more refined taste...
- Island Spirits, 32 Main St. At caters a modest selection of classier drinks than you should hope to find on a small fishing island.
Vinalhaven has little selection in its accommodations. The presumption is that in getting there, you probably have a friend or some family to stay with. There is however, a single motel
If you prefer a more personal touch to your accommodations, there are also a couple of very nice Bed-and-Breakfasts just off Main Street.
Note: Camping is explicitly prohibited anywhere on the island. There are no campgrounds, so don't think you can just rough it if you're short of cash or shy of the island accents.
- Tidewater Motel, 15 Main St, ☏ . It's nicely equipped and renovated for what it is.
- Libby House Bed & Breakfast, 8 Water St, ☏ .
- Payne Homestead, 47 Atlantic Ave, ☏ .
If you don't have a car, you can just buy a ferry ticket and walk on to any of the day's boats. If you did bring your car, getting off the island can be a little complicated.
The best way to get the car out is to get a reservation exactly one month in advance by either going to the Ferry terminal on Vinalhaven when they open or calling either the Rockland or Vinalhaven ferry terminals at 9:30AM (Eastern Time) to get a reservation. However, during the summer, all reservations could be gone by 9:30AM. If you don't have a reservation, you will need to get a line number the day before you leave. Line numbers are issued starting at 5:30AM. However, if you want to make sure you get a boat (especially the 7AM boat), you must be at the Ferry Terminal approximately 3 hours before the numbers are issued to get in line (you can sleep in your car though). Otherwise, you can hire someone to do this for about $30 - 40 if you value sleep more than saving a few bucks. Once you get your line number, you must be at the ferry terminal no less than 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time of the ferry. If you are late, people with standby numbers will be able to go in your place.
If you've seen everything you want to see on Vinalhaven, you might head up to the northern shore of the island and hail a skiff to take you to North Haven.