Geologically rugged, profoundly peaceable, and indisputably remote, this handsome island of 2,800 year-round residents is a 90-minute ferry ride from the port of Blacks Harbour, which is just southeast of St. George in New Brunswick (you can’t get there from Maine directly). Despite being located incredibly close to Maine (you can see it from Quoddy Head near Lubec), Grand Manan is a much-prized destination for adventurous travelers—sometimes a highlight of their vacation. Yet the island remains a mystifying puzzle for others who fail to be smitten by its rough-edged charm. Either this is your kind of place, or it isn’t. The only way to find out is to visit.
Grand Manan is a special favorite among serious birders. Hiking the island’s trails, don’t be surprised to come across knots of very quiet people peering intently through binoculars. Nearly 300 different species of birds either nest here or stop by the island during their long migrations; it’s a good place to add mightily to your “life list,” if you’re into such a pursuit. With birds ranging from bald eagles to puffins (though you’ll need to sign up for a boat tour to catch a glimpse of the latter), you’re sure to see something with wings you’ve never seen before except in books.
It’s also a favorite spot for devotees of Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Willa Cather, who found her way from Nebraska and New York to a summer cottage here. Cather wrote some of her books while staying on the island. Her die-hard fans are as easy to spot as the birders, say locals, and something of a wild breed; during one Cather conference some years ago, several dozen got up, wrapped themselves in sheets, and danced around a bonfire during the summer solstice.