The Insider’s Guide to Peaks Island
Peaks Island is not an amusement park. Peaks Island is a place where people live and work year-round. You are welcome to visit and enjoy the island, but keep in mind that it is the full-time home for almost 1000 people and has an additional 2,000 summer residents. The island became a popular vacation destination in the late 19th century, when it was known as the Coney Island of Maine and home to many hotels, cottages, theaters, and amusement parks. Those days are long gone! Today, it is just like any other neighborhood in the city of Portland—if a little bit harder to get to.
Honestly, there is not a lot to do on Peaks Island. As many TripAdvisor reviewers have reported: “Let’s get right to the point, there is not much to see on Peaks Island except for the beautiful views and the quaintness of the island.” If you like birding, walking, kayaking, art, a little history and spectacular waterviews, you will find Peaks Island to be the perfect day trip or getaway. Big-ticket shopping, thrills, or gourmet dining? Not so much. Not at all, actually.
There are both rocky beaches and sandy beaches on Peaks Island—but not all of them are open to the general public. In Maine, beaches are private property. If you walk or sit on someone’s beach you are trespassing. Most residents will be nice about it, but not all. Your best bet is to stick to the two public beaches:
- SANDY BEACH is a charming sand beach located at the southwest tip of the island, accessible by a long wooden ramp. Kids can play at the shore, walk at low tide, swim or kayak to Catnip Island.
- CAIRN BEACH is located on the backshore. Children (and adults) spend hours here, building towers and other feats of balance and engineering from the rocks and looking for lighthouses across the water. This is not a swimming beach.
There are many places to stay if you plan ahead. Many of our adorable cottages are available for weekly rental (or longer). A longer stay allows you to enjoy island life—TEIA and library programs, events at the Fifth Maine, and more. Check the calendar for details. Pitching tents and camping is not allowed on Peaks.
There are currently two or three public restrooms on Peaks Island depending on the season, all in the Down Front area. There are two public restrooms is located in the parking lot on your right when you disembark from the ferry. There is also a public restroom in the City of Portland’s Parks & Rec Community Center (aka the Library) on Island Ave. Please make sure you are not caught backshore needin’ to go — island trails are well-traveled, especially during the summer, and privacy is hard to find.
You probably do not need or want your car. Unless you have mobility issues, the island is best enjoyed on foot or by bike. Bringing a car for the day is usually unnecessary, always expensive, and can be time-consuming, especially in the summer when rates are high and the lines are very, very long. Burn off those ice cream calories and avoid the frustration of long car lines for the ferry by exploring the island on foot or by bike! Golf cart rentals and tours are also available during the tourist season but do sell out quickly. You can also rent a kayak and enjoy Casco Bay—the backshore is best left to experienced boaters.
Parking in Portland. You definitely want to put your car in a lot. There is parking at Casco Bay Lines garage but it is pricey and usually full in peak season. (Yes, that was a pun.)
Parking on Peaks. If you decide you must bring a car there is a large (but, again, usually full) parking lot just to the right when you exit the ferry. You can park in on most streets, however. If you do bring a car over, know that pedestrians and cyclists have right of way. Also, don’t expect to drive over 20 mph.
Golf Carts are motor vehicles, not toys. Many islanders view golf carts as a menace and will report infractions to the island police—who will pull you over and ticket you, lights, sirens, and all. Please be aware that golf carts must follow all Maine traffic laws. DO NOT OPERATE A GOLF CART UNDER THE INFLUENCE. DO NOT LET UNLICENSED DRIVERS OR CHILDREN OPERATE A GOLF CART. Follow the rules of the road and we’ll all get along. Even better, take a golf cart tour. They are run by locals eager to share many interesting island facts.
A word about Dogs: Peaks is dog-friendly, and we like dogs, but because we like them, we like to see people obey the law and keep their dogs LEASHED AT ALL TIMES.
If a dog is off-leash and has an altercation with another dog, it will be the fault of the dog owner who has not leashed the dog. If a dog or person is injured by an unleashed dog, that owner could owe costly vet bills, or worse. By leashing your dog, you are keeping him safe and also being kind to islander and other visitors, as well as following the law. It should go without saying you need to pick up after your dog, even (especially) on the beach.
Docking for Boats. You are permitted a brief tie-up at the City landing next to the Casco Bay Lines ferry dock. Longer stays can be arranged at Lionel Plante or TEIA.
Fires and fireworks are not permitted without a permit and are often banned during dry spells. Fires are something islanders take very seriously for obvious reasons. Someone will definitely report your bonfire or fireworks to the island police, so check in with them first to get a proper permit.
Ferry service. Casco Bay Lines is the cheapest and easiest way to get to Peaks Island unless you own a boat (lucky you!). Regular service for the 17-minute trip varies by season so check the schedule. Tickets are first-come, first-serve, and during high season boats do sell out. If it’s important for you to make a particular boat, arrive at the terminal early. Several companies offer water taxi service and it is a fast and fun way to get across the Bay, but much more expensive. You could swim, but we don’t recommend it (unless it’s for a good cause).
By the way, cell phone use is permitted on Casco Bay Lines ferries, as long as it isn’t disruptive to your fellow passengers or crew. FROM CBL – a few reminders when using a cell phone on board —
- Please be courteous of those around you when using your cell phone
- Speak at a lower volume to avoid disturbing fellow passengers and do not use speaker phone
- Use silent or vibrate as ringer options
- Use ear buds/headphones when playing music or gaming
Where should we go when we are on Peaks Island? If you commit to the 3.7 mile loop, you will enjoy great views and Cairn Beach. Be sure you can walk that far before setting out, though, especially in hot weather. There are no shortcuts or taxis to hail to get you back to the ferry. On the route, you’ll pass the remains of the Battery Steele, the largest WWII gun battery built on Peaks Island, and one of the largest battery ever built anywhere in the United States. (It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)
A good, shorter alternate that will give you a taste of the backshore is to walk to the Fifth Maine Museum with a detour to Sandy Beach.
Or walk over to see TEIA.
For a shorter bike destination, bike to Evergreen Landing. (This is a private beach.)
WiFi. If you really can’t do without it, there is free WiFi on the ferry and at the Peaks Island Library. Even if the Library is closed, you can usually pick up the signal by sitting on the bench outside.
Where can I get…..
MORE INFO – Casco Bay Islands Alliance (CBIA)
Download their info poster CBIA Posters 85×11 final
FIRE/POLICE/EMERGENCY– 911 for emergencies, otherwise non-emergency) 207- 874 – 8575. For more info click here
FIRST AID ASSISTANCE
The Peaks Island Fire Station on Island Avenue
SOUVENIERS AND GIFTS
Take a Peak, Down Front
BEER, WINE, LIQUOR OR SODA
Hannigan’s Island Market and the Peaks Café have beverages to purchase and take out. No drinking alcohol in public, unless you are at the Cockeyed Gull, Inn at Peaks, Peaks Island Lobster House, or Peaks Café.
Cockeyed Gull, Inn at Peaks, Peaks Island Lobster House, Milley’s Skillet or Peaks Café.
Hannigan’s Island Market
Take a Peak
Hannigan’s Island Market
Hannigan’s Island Market and the Maps page on this site
Hannigan’s Island Market (or order out from island restaurants and food carts)
Covey’s Lobster Shack at the ferry dock or Island Lobster House.
Hannigan’s Island Market, or you can request delivery from Hannaford’s and Whole Foods via Casco Bay Lines.
TRASH and Other CITY SERVICES INFO
The Post Office on Island Avenue.