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Smuttynose Island Trail

Smuttynose Trail on

Three quarters of mile through poison ivy, angry gulls, rocks and bracken. And yet one of the most beautiful treks in the Seacoast. Privately owned and lovingly maintained by volunteers, this is the Isles of Shoals as it has been for centuries, perhaps millennia. We are there now. Come visit.





You can go there, if you have a boat. You must arrive during daylight hours during the summer and fall. Please don’t choke the tiny cove with anything larger than a rowboat. Have a picnic on the lawn, but no fires. No camping. There are no public restrooms, no trash cans, no water, no gift shop, no shelter. Like Gilligan’s Island, it’s primitive as can be, and enjoyable for that very reason.

No public boat tours are available to historic Smuttynose, just a few yards over the New Hampshire border in Maine. So if you can’t make it, here are a few photos, but they cannot capture the cool breeze and 360-degree view. After scrambling over the big rock in the cove, the only natural cove on the Isles, walk between the Haley cottage (on your right) and Rozzie’s cottage (on your left) to find the first trail marker. Appledore is just beyond the cove past Malago Island. Star Island is visible at the end of the lawn. All other buildings – including the site of the 1873 murder and the early 1800-s MidOcean House of Entertainment – are gone and only their cellar holes remain. Ask the steward on duty to point them out.

Just beyond the Haley family cemetery is the underwhelming memorial to the graves of the shipwrecked Spanish sailors. There is an old plaque and a cluster of stones, nothing more. This is where the real wilderness trail begins. Follow the signs and the cleared path that twists over rocks and through grass and brush. Wear good shoes, not sandals or sneakers. Never go barefoot. Be careful in the early summer not to step on gull nests that may be anywhere along the trail. And beware of attacking gulls that rightfully defend their nests with ferocity, at times. Always carry a stick over your head to trick the gull into thinking you are very tall. Gulls will attack the stick instead. This is not for the feint of heart.

Your destination is the cairn at the tip of the island. It’s further than it looks. Return on the same trail. Stay away from the crashing waves and you’re not allowed on the breakwater to Cedar Island, which is also privately owned. Rogue waves can appear at any time. Ask Mrs. Underhill, Celia Thaxter’s teacher, who was never seen again. Be sure to leave a generous contribution in the box at the cove to support the printed guides that are usually available. We are all guests here. Be sure not to disturb the natural environment, take no souvenirs and leave no evidence of your visit. Enjoy. – JDR

All photos by J. Dennis Robinson. Copyright © All rights reserved. 

VISIT OUR Smuttynose Murder section too

Rowboat in Smuttynose Cove that empties entirely in low tide (c)

Smuttnose Cove with Malaga Island and Appledore Island in the background (c)

Rozzie Thaxter's Cottage (left) and Haley Cottage (right) (c) J. Dennis Robinson/

Haley Family Cemetery (c)

Smuttynose Trail head and marker at legendary site of Spanish Sailor's graves (c), all rights reserved.

Gull nest on Smuttynose Trail (c)

The Stone Wall on Smuttynose Trail in Maine (c), photo by J. Dennis Robinson

View of stone cairn on Isles of Shoals (c)

Stone cairn on Smuttynose (c), photo by J. Dennis Robinson

Seagull attacks author (c), photo by Rodman Philbrick

Rock formation on Smuttynose island (c)

Smuttynose Trail sign at sunrise (c), photo by J. Dennis Robinson

All photos by J. Dennis Robinson
Copyright (c) All rights reserved.



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