Maine swells with tourists in the summer. Many visitors find themselves in the eclectic city of Portland gazing out at Casco Bay, totally unaware of the islands that lie just out of sight. Travelers who do make it offshore usually head out to Peaks Island, the most populous in the area. But few people ever venture as far as Great Diamond Island—they’ve either never heard of it or think they’re not allowed. That lack of visitors, an intriguing history, and pristine wilderness make this island special.
Maine’s Best-Kept Secret
I’ve been dreaming of a tropical island vacation, but because my budget is more tolls and ferries than airfare and cruises I headed to Portland to discover one of Maine’s best kept secrets. I knew I’d picked the right island when the man selling ferry tickets congratulated me on my choice.
“Great Diamond Island,” he said thoughtfully as he printed out my $10 roundtrip pass. “That’s a good one. Most people go to Peaks Island and miss it entirely.”
The ferry ride gave me a good overview of Casco Bay. We sailed past Peaks Island and stopped briefly at Little Diamond Island before dropping me off at my stop, Diamond Cove, at the top of Great Diamond Island. Diamond Cove is a gated community that doesn’t allow cars or uninvited visitors. Most of the cove is private property, and only guests of The Inn at Diamond Cove and property owners are allowed to visit. Plenty of paths on the island lead down to palatial waterfront homes, many of which have electric golf carts or bikes parked in the driveway instead of vehicles.
This exclusivity creates a serene atmosphere. When I checked into the Inn at Diamond Cove, I was given a map that showed the various beaches and overlooks in the Cove. I chose one and took a 10-minute walk through a forest to a small beach where I spent the afternoon relaxing in one of the comfortable Adirondack chairs and watched the sailboats go by, without ever seeing another soul on land.
Getting Around Great Diamond Island
Although you can rent bikes, the island is only 416 acres, so it’s much easier to just walk. There are peaceful paths that wind through the dense forest and pop out at secluded overlooks. The beaches are small and somewhat rocky, but you will have them mostly to yourself. One of the most popular beaches is nicknamed “sea glass beach” due to the massive amounts of colorful, smoothed glass that wash up on shore. (The beach loses some of its charm when you read the signs about how it is the result of a U.S. military dumping ground.)
Tips for Visiting
If you do head here, you’ll want to take your own food and drink with you. Dining options are limited to a General Store (which serves up basic food and closes its kitchen early), the hotel restaurant, and one fine-dining restaurant. Bring a cooler or book a suite at the Inn at Diamond Cove, which come equipped with small kitchens. Visitors can also bring a picnic from Portland to embrace the scenery—you’ll find picnic tables in unexpected locations throughout the island.
Once darkness falls, socializing centers around the communal fire pit at The Inn at Diamond Cove. Enjoying a nightcap and meeting other guests is a great way to end a peaceful day, as is stargazing in the Inn’s outdoor hot tub.
When morning arrived, I was sad to leave the solitude of Great Diamond Island, but at least I know that I’m only a short ferry ride away from Maine’s best-kept secret.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Secret Mexican Islands You Can Have All to Yourself
- 9 Private Islands You Can Afford
- 10 Caribbean Islands You’ve Never Heard Of
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.