Not to be confused with the Goat Trail up Norumbega Mountain on Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut's Goat Trail is a fairly strenuous hike that follows the island's rugged southern coastline. The trail wanders past many scenic rocky beaches and small and remote harbors, including Merchant Cove, Barred Harbor, Squeaker Cove, and Deep Cove. And as its name implies, the Goat Trail has some good uphill and downhill sections as it makes its way through the various cliffs and ridgelines above the coves. If you have time for a long hike that combines this with the Western Head Trail/Cliff Trail, you will see the best of Isle au Haut.
The Goat Trail can be hiked in either direction, but it's probably most aesthetically pleasing to start on the east side and hike it southwest down the coastline. And since the coastline faces southeast, you will get more direct sunlight in the morning hours.
|Rating:||Fairly strenuous hike|
|Access:||Duck Harbor Road and Western Head Road|
|Time Required:||1 to 2 hours one-way on Goat Trail, 1 to 2 hours for approach and exit hike on roads. (Allow an extra 1-2 hours if including the Cliff Trail/Western Head Trail.)|
|Length:||2.1 miles along the Goat Trail, 1.2 miles road hike from Duck Harbor to Merchant Cove start.|
|Elevation Change:||no significant elevation gain (less than 100 feet), but many ups and downs along the cliffs|
|Seasons:||Spring through fall|
From the Duck Harbor boat landing and campground, follow the dirt road east around the harbor to the junction with the main road at the northeast corner of the harbor. Hike the road east into the woods and after roughly a mile, you will come to the first trail intersection with the Median Ridge Trail (with a signpost labeled "To Goat Trail / Barred Harbor"). You can take this trail south to Barred Harbor and the Goat Trail, or if you are interested in hiking the complete Goat Trail, walk the road a few minutes more to the second trail intersection (with a signpost labeled "Goat Trail / Merchant Cove"). This is the official start of the Goat Trail that heads to Merchant Cove. (See map below.)
Turning south from the road, the Goat Trail starts off through a dense marshy forest with several sections of wooden planks to keep you above the wet ground. Soon enough you will reach Merchant Cove, a fairly flat and nondescript cove with an overgrown shoreline. Turn right and follow the shoreline south. Although the vegetation may obscure the trail, occasional large cairns mark the way. (The trail is much easier to follow when you reach the trees.)
After passing a second smaller rocky cove, the trail heads uphill over a rocky hill and then back down to the next landmark: Barred Harbor, a larger cove with a cobblestone beach. While the trail hugs the edge of the treeline, it's fun to walk out to the beach as well. Leaving Barred Harbor, we pass a unique area of old trees covered in Old Man's Beard (a hairy green lichen). Just beyond is a wonderful section of jagged and exposed rock formations worthy of leaving the trail to explore. (It goes without saying that you have to be extremely careful here as this is remote territory and it is unlikely that any accident or injury here will get a prompt response.)
Next is the section that gives the Goat Trail its name. The trail starts its climb up the rocky cliffs, offering great views in all directions. (Be sure to look behind you to catch all of the scenery!) The trail continues back into a lush forest with more ups and downs before making its descent to Squeaker Cove, one of the coziest and most interesting cobblestone beaches on Isle au Haut. (This is also the junction with the Duck Harbor Mountain Trail.)
One more short section of trail through a dense forest brings us to Deep Cove and the junction with the Western Head Road. From this point, you can turn left (south) and continue following the coastline on the Cliff Trail/Western Head Trail or if you've had enough or are running out of time, you can hike the Western Head Road (roughly a 15 to 30-minute walk) north back to Duck Harbor.
The Goat Trail is a wonderful hike that wanders through some of Isle au Haut's best terrain and it's fun to visit all of the little coves and harbors along the way. If you have enough time for a full day of hiking, the complete Goat Trail/Cliff Trail/Western Head Trail loop makes for a wonderful adventure. And if you are a bit pressed for time, skip the Merchant Cove start of the Goat Trail and go directly to Barred Harbor start.