Cranberry Islands

Last edited by:

Photo: Islesford by David Pratt

Anchoring in the Cranberries offers one of the most majestic sights in Maine – a view of sunsets over the Acadia National Park mountains from your own boat.

The Town of Cranberry Isles comprises five islands that form part of the Great Harbor of Mt. Desert boundary. They are Great Cranberry Island, Little Cranberry Island (aka “Islesford”), Sutton Island, Bear Island (at the mouth of Northeast Harbor), and Baker Island, the principal ones with commercial establishments being Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry Island. Sutton and Bear only have summer homes. Baker is part of Acadia National Park. Nearby harbors with land-based facilities, services, and establishments accessible from within the Great Harbor include Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor (both of which have fuel docks, boat services, and marinas), Seal Harbor, and Somes Sound (Somesville). Both Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry Island have passenger ferries going to Mt. Desert Island.

Approach & Cautions

Photo: Courtesy Acadia National Park

Approaching the Cranberries from the south or west is straightforward. The course takes one over the Bass Harbor Bar, close to the much-photographed Bass Harbor Lighthouse. Then out to Long Ledge lighted gong buoy #1, then northerly to the Cranberry Island Ledge lighted bell buoy #4, leaving South Bunker Ledge to starboard, and then up the Western Way to Spurling Point lighted gong buoy #8 in the Great Harbor of Mt. Desert, being aware of Cow Ledge along the way, marked by a somewhat inconspicuous nun. From the Spurling Point gong, Great Cranberry Island is the island immediately to the east, and Little Cranberry Island is farther along to the southeast. (Southwest Harbor will be northwesterly about 1.3 miles, and Northeast Harbor will be northerly about 1.5 miles.)

Approaching the Cranberries from Down East or inbound from Nova Scotia, it is easy to head for the north shore of Little Cranberry Island, being sure to stay easterly of the string of four green cans to the east of Baker Island and Little Cranberry. At night, a good target is the East Bunker lighted gong buoy #2 and from there to the Spurling Rock lighted bell buoy #2 in Gilley Thorofare just northerly of Great Cranberry, from which one can choose to head over to Great Cranberry or southerly into the Little Cranberry Harbor. If you sail into Little Cranberry from there, be sure to respect cans 1, 3, and 5 to port on your approach. And, if it’s there, especially look for a smaller, privately maintained green marker just off the pier of the restaurant dock, which marks a shallow spot.

Aerial view of the Cranberry Islands with the hills of Acadia National Park in the background.

In the high season, there are many lobster buoys scattered around the Great Harbor, many in the area of Cow Ledge in the Western Way and the Gilley Thorofare between Little Cranberry Island and Sutton Island. Many buoys have toggles attached, requiring greater concentration, particularly in the fog or at night. Also, if transiting to or from Little Cranberry, especially at night or in the fog, one must remain well to the north and east of the Long Ledge daybeacon #2A (note the shallows east of Long Ledge). Even experienced skippers miss the daybeacon in those conditions to their regret. The town dock at Sutton Island (near Fernald Point at the southwesterly corner of the island) is extremely difficult to approach and is best done, if at all, on a rising tide. Although it looks inviting, please do not assume that one can easily coast easterly or westerly between Bear Island and Northeast Harbor.

Click the chart to open Navionics.

Not to be used for Navigation.

Docking, Anchorages, or Moorings

Sunset over Mt Desert Island from Great Cranberry
Sunset over Mt Desert Island from Great Cranberry; photo by Stafford Keegin

The Town of Cranberry Isles maintains seven guest moorings available on a first-come-first-served basis. The moorings are free, and one may use them for up to three days. There are three outside the mooring fields at Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry. The seventh, which is rarely used, is near the town dock at Sutton Island. They are marked by large white balls, each with a blue horizontal stripe, and have “Town Guest” painted on them. The town’s harbormaster is Norman Sanborn, Jr. (207) 244-3624, usually on Great Cranberry, but Bruce Fernald (207) 244-5283 can help out on Little Cranberry Island if need be. A visiting yacht need not check with either of them if one picks up one of the town’s guest moorings that is not being used. With wind containing any south in it, one is probably more comfortable at Great Cranberry Island, but boat traffic between Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry can make the anchorage off Great Cranberry a little rolly (from the chart, it would appear that Little Cranberry is protected from the prevailing southwesterly, but it isn’t really). If there’s any north to the wind, Little Cranberry is favored. At Little Cranberry, there are also private moorings marked as being for rent with phone numbers on them.

There is also comfortable anchoring with good holding and ample swinging room outside the mooring field at Little Cranberry Island.

Getting Ashore

Photo: Islesford Dock Restaurant - courtesy of owner

Both of the Cranberries have town docks available for use by visitors. Great Cranberry’s town dock is on the north side of the island in an area known as Spurling Cove and consists of two floats and a dinghy dock attached to a pier extending northward from the westerly corner of the cove. The town dock is distinguishable from the more westerly private pier and floats by the town pier’s dog leg and its sizeable shed at the end of the dock. There are time limitations on the larger floats, painted on the sides of the floats. The outermost edge of the outer float is used by the Cranberry Cove Ferry serving Southwest Harbor and Manset on the mainland and Little Cranberry Island, although it is temporarily available when not needed by the ferry. The easterly side of the pier is used by the Beal and Bunker Ferry serving Northeast Harbor on the mainland and Little Cranberry Island, although it is also temporarily available when not being used by the ferry. Both ferries serve Sutton Island upon request. Adjacent to and on the westerly side of the large float closest to shore is a dinghy dock, the outside of which is occasionally used by larger boats when there is insufficient room at the other floats.

Little Cranberry’s town dock is on the west side of the island in its harbor. From north to south, there is a substantial pier housing a restaurant and art and crafts galleries (the so-called “Restaurant Dock”), next to which are the pier, dock, and lobster landing facilities of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Lobster Co-Op. The next pier beyond and southerly of the Co-Op dock is the Little Cranberry (Islesford) town dock, consisting of three attached floats parallel to the shoreline. Because docking is limited to the westerly side of the Islesford dock (although smaller vessels can and do use the shorter ends of the dock), and because of the substantial in-and-out ferry and tour boat services along this longer side, it is sometimes difficult to find space here. The afternoon southwesterly can “pin” a boat to the dock to further complicate the situation, requiring a little extra effort to get free. Due to all of this, people often use the Restaurant Dock, which can accommodate more boats, has a better setup, and sometimes has a line handler provided by the restaurant to facilitate in-and-out maneuvers. Attached to the southerly end of the Islesford town dock is a dinghy dock which is often jammed because larger Whalers sometimes use it, but one can usually find space on the back side if one is desperate.

Islesford dock with restaurant building at the near end.


Provisioning – Both Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry are small communities (with much smaller year-round communities). Their residents obtain much of their general living requirements from the mainland (including Mt. Desert Island). Great Cranberry Island lost its only grocery store to fire in December; the owners plan to rebuild, but in April it was still in the permitting process. Great Cranberry has an active oyster farm run by Lauren Gray in the GCI Pool. Her oysters are sold at the Fishermen’s Coop across the way on Little Cranberry Island, (207) 244-5438. It’s probably a good idea to call ahead to be sure they have some oysters on hand.

On Little Cranberry, there is nothing comparable to the Cranberry General Store, but, of course, the Lobster Co-Op has a wide variety of lobsters. At the head of its pier, there is a small snack bar/deli selling, in addition to lobsters and lobster delights, a limited assortment of locally grown produce and baked goods. One should dock at the town dock (or the Restaurant Dock if available) and walk over to the Co-Op and see what it is offering.

dock at Great Cranberry

Dining Out – Dining is more limited out on the Cranberries, but what there is, is quite good. The best-known eating establishment on the Cranberries (and perhaps in the Great Harbor) is the Islesford Dock Restaurant (the “Dock”), which is located on the Restaurant Dock. It has a delicious and diverse menu and a well-stocked bar, so it is apt to be crowded with folks from around the Great Harbor and beyond in the high season. Reservations are strongly advised (207) 244-7494. Also on Little Cranberry Island is the snack bar at the Lobster Co-op.

Over on Great Cranberry Island there’s Hitty’s, a lovely outdoor lunch place serving sandwiches, lobster rolls, and salads. It’s about 1/2-mile up the main road. A free shuttle service takes folks up-island from the parking lot at the town dock and stops and picks them up later.

 Repairs – A very competent boatyard on Great Cranberry, Newman & Gray, is now owned by Ed Gray’s two sons, Josh and Seth. The yard has a powerboat orientation, specializing in lobster boats and lobster yachts, Beal and Bunker, and others. Still, its excellent mechanic can also work on the innards of powered sailboats, (207) 244-0575. The dock and sheds are located east of the town dock. There are people on both islands that do scuba scrubbing and diving. Either the harbormasters or the Grays can put one in touch with them.

Other Services

  • Fuel can be obtained in Northeast (Clifton Dock) or Southwest Harbor (Hinckley Dock, Dysart’s Marina).
  • While there are EMT services on both islands (dial 911), general medical clinics are located in Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor, and the EMTs can get patients there if necessary. In Southwest Harbor, it’s the Southwest Harbor Community Health Center (207) 244-5630. In Northeast Harbor, it’s the Northeast Harbor Clinic (207) 276-3331.
  • The nearest hospital is the MDI Hospital in Bar Harbor (207) 288-5081.
  • The Post Office on Great Cranberry Island (04625) is just east of the town dock and is accessible from the town dock and General Store parking lot. Eileen Richards is the postmistress and can help with most postal matters. The Post Office on Little Cranberry Island (04646) is located at 61 Main Street, in the middle of town, not far from the church. Buying stamps on the islands helps their post offices survive.

Hikes – Little Cranberry Island is well known for its array of things to do that appeal to visitors. Within a quarter of a mile of the Restaurant Dock, one can find Acadia National Park’s Islesford Museum, the nonprofit wooden boatbuilding school teaching traditional skills, Islesford Boatworks. There are two art galleries on the Restaurant Dock, a pottery shop and a gift shop. The Ashley Bryan Pavilion showing the artwork of a highly respected island artist, and the Islesford Artists Gallery are both nearby.

On Great Cranberry, there is the Great Cranberry Museum, which is in the same building as Hitty’s. It provides an interesting perspective on the evolution of the island’s community.

Great Cranberry also has two nice hikes. One starts along the main road to the left of the tennis court and goes to Preble Cove on the Western Way, which has a lovely beach. Farther up the main road, a Maine Coast Heritage Trust trail goes through the woods out to the outer south shore. The Cranberry Shuttle can both take folks to the trailheads and pick them up later.

One can take one of the ferries over to Mt. Desert Island and easily access the trail network of Acadia National Park using the L.L. Bean shuttle service.

The Beal and Bunker passenger ferry Sea Queen
The Beal and Bunker passenger ferry Sea Queen maneuvers out of Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island around 11 a.m. Wednesday to carry people to the Cranberry Isles.


What CCA Members are saying:

We've enjoyed many a dinner at the Islesford Dock Restaurant, and it's wonderful that the town provides free moorings. But...when we were there a couple nights ago, we were rocked and rolled constantly by passing boats--fishing boats, ferries, private motor craft. We don't recall that being such an issue on previous visits, but next time we might go over to Great Cranberry instead of Little C.

Jane Babbitt

Jane Babbitt

Got some feedback or notes for this page?

Send us your input.

Subscribe to our newsletter for updates your inbox