Want to experience the rugged coastline of Maine? In this guide we’re sharing how to backpack the Cutler Coast, located in Downeast Maine.
Backpacking has become one of our favorite activities. Being able to carry all of the gear we need to survive and hike miles into the wilderness, leaving most crowds behind, is one of the coolest, most rewarding feelings for us.
We’ve been fortunate to backpack in some incredible mountainous locations, like Alice Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and while visiting Maine for the first time, we decided to try something new and backpack on the coast.
Watch our experience backpacking the Cutler Coast in Maine!
We set our sights on the Cutler Coast, a remote area in Maine, and spent our 7th anniversary camping above the ocean, with no one else around us, and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing. It was a magical experience and definitely the best way to celebrate!
But to experience the magic of the Cutler Coast for yourself, it’s a bit more complex than just hitting the trail and finding a place to pitch a tent. And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before you go, including where you can camp, how to know if sites are available, items to bring, and more.
Looking for more things to do in Maine and New England? Check out our other New England guides:
- The best things to do in Acadia National Park (+ Itinerary options!)
- How to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
- Our favorites hikes in Acadia National Park
- Hiking the Precipice Trail at Acadia National Park
- The ULTIMATE guide to driving the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire
- The BEST things to do in the White Mountains in New Hampshire
- How to hike the Franconia Ridge Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
- 7 Day Vermont Road Trip Itinerary
- All of our New England Vlogs
- About the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land
- How to get to the Cutler Coast
- Cutler Coast Trail Stats
- When to Backpack the Cutler Coast
- Rules + things to know before backpacking the Cutler Coast
- What to Bring to the Cutler Coast
- Our Cutler Coast backpacking experience
- Where to eat after backpacking the Cutler Coast
- Where to stay before or after backpacking the Cutler Coast
About the Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land
The Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land is 12,000 acres of land that includes forests and coastline by the very small town of Cutler along the Bold Coast in Downeast Maine. The term Downeast comes from the direction that ships would sail (downwind and to the east) to get to this area from New York and Boston.
This region of Maine encompasses the area from the Canadian Border, including the easternmost point of the United States, to just southwest of Bar Harbor, where Acadia National Park is.
And similar to Acadia, the Cutler Coast has rocky shoreline, forests, and endless ocean views, but the Cutler Coast has been described as a wild version of Acadia, with no facilities, way less people, and more ruggedness. And we’d have to agree!
If you’re looking to escape civilization and experience a more remote part of Maine, we couldn’t recommend the Cutler Coast more!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
How to get to the Cutler Coast
The Cutler Coast is located very close to the US/Canada border and is far away from any major city or town. And while that means it can be a bit difficult to get to, those who are willing to make the trek will be treated to an experience that feels like an authentic, non-touristy version of Maine.
Flying to the Cutler Coast
We assume that most people visiting the Cutler Coast will do so as part of a larger Maine trip, but if you plan to fly into Maine and directly go to the Cutler Coast (or leave Maine from the Cutler Coast), the closest airport will be the Bangor International Airport (BGR), which is located 2 hours and 15 minutes from the Cutler Coast in Bangor, Maine.
This airport is serviced by American, Allegiant, Delta, and United Airlines and has nonstop service from Philadelphia, DC, Orlando, Tampa, Boston, and La Guardia.
The next best airport is the Portland International Jetport (PWM) in Portland, Maine, which is between 4-5 hours (depending on if you take a toll or not) to the Cutler Coast. This airport has nonstop flights to many major cities in the US on American, Delta, Frontier, jetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines, plus a couple more regional airlines.
The Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is the closest major airport, with nonstop flights to many cities in the US and on all major airlines, but it’s a little over a 5.5 hour drive to the Cutler Coast, with tolls.
Driving to the Cutler Coast
If visiting the Cutler Coast as a stop on a Maine or New England road trip, here is how long you can expect to drive from nearby destinations, beyond the few cities we listed for airports.
Acadia National Park: 2 hours (90 miles)
Augusta, ME: 3 hours, 15 minutes (181 miles)
Baxter State Park (Maine): 4 hours (176 miles)
Portsmouth, NH: 4 hours, 40 minutes (286 miles)
North Conway, NH: 5 hours (272 miles)
Lincoln, NH: 5 hours, 45 minutes (305 miles)
Stowe, VT: 7 hours, 10 minutes (368 miles)
Note: some of the roads and times above include driving tolls. If you want to avoid paying for tolls, make sure to turn off tolls on your Google Maps settings.
Cutler Coast Trail Stats
Elevation gain: 1,092 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The entire Cutler Coast Loop Trail on AllTrails is 11.1 miles, making it a great two day, one night backpacking trip.
The route above is a loop and includes walking through both a forested trail (Inland Trail) and along the coast. And while you can do it this way and normally we love loop trails so we can see different scenery, we’d suggest just going the coastal way there and back for a couple reasons.
First, the coastal trail is epic! It has so many viewpoints of the coast and is beautiful. We were super happy to do this trail twice! As the lighting changes and you change directions, it offers a unique experience each way.
Second, we heard that the forested trail wasn’t in the best condition during our visit. There were reports that many wooden walkways were rotted. It’s also just a walk in the woods which can be nice, but doesn’t beat the views of the ocean.
You can see our exact route, which was on the coastal trail both ways, here. It ended up being about 10 miles and 1,266 feet of elevation gain and to be honest, was a LOT harder than we expected. We were used to mountainous backpacking trips and assumed that the coast would be flat and easy, but we were 100% wrong.
The trail is constantly going up and down and is very rugged, with lots of rocky parts and roots, including a part with a small rope to help you. And while it wasn’t the hardest trail of all time, with 30lb packs on, it definitely was a workout. But the views were more than worth the effort!
Not wanting to backpack? You can also do this trail as a day hike! It will be a longer day, especially if you want to stop and enjoy the beaches and views, but it’s totally doable. You can even just go part of the way and still see lots of scenery.
There is also a trail about halfway down the coast called the Black Point Brook Cutoff that you can use to cut through to the Inland Trail if you want to do a smaller loop to Black Point Cove or go back partially through the forest.
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
When to Backpack the Cutler Coast
The Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land is open year round, but the best seasons for backpacking will be July-October, when snow has melted, bugs have disappeared (May-early July brings lots of flies and mosquitoes), and the weather is moderate. You also may have a chance to pick some blueberries and see whales!
We hiked the Cutler Coast on October 12-13, 2021 and it was pretty perfect! The weather was a bit warmer than we expected for fall in Maine (it was 70+ degrees), but it made for very comfortable sleeping temperatures. We also got to see a bit of fall foliage along the coastline, which just added to the beauty of the hike.
The summertime is the busiest time on the trail, so if you plan to hike then, be prepared to start early or on a weekday for the best chance of a campsite. Even on a Tuesday in October the campsites were all taken the night before (it was a holiday weekend), but we were the first ones on the trail around sunrise and had our pick of sites. To our knowledge, not all sites filled up on Tuesday night.
Rules + things to know before backpacking the Cutler Coast
Before hitting the trail, here are a few rules and important things to know to ensure you have a safe and fun visit, as well as ensure the Cutler Coast stays beautiful.
The trailhead has a parking lot just off the side of the main road that can fit about 20 cars, with an upper and lower parking area. We were able to fit our 22.5 foot Sprinter van in the lower parking lot just fine and we felt safe leaving it overnight when we did the hike.
No permits or fees
There is no permit or fee required to do this hike!
While there are no permits or fees, there is a logbook that you will need to sign in and out of for both day hikes and backpacking. This logbook is crucial for backpacking (so PLEASE fill it out!), as it lets those starting the trail know if any campsites will be open.
When arriving at the trailhead, you’ll be able to look at the logbook and see how many groups are out backpacking and what day they plan to return. This helps you know if any of the campsites will be open, so that you do not lug all of your gear out there for no reason.
While you will not know what campsite these groups are at or what time they plan to return, you will at least know that a campsite (or multiple) will be opening up for you to camp at.
Only camp in designated sites
Speaking of campsites, there are only five campsites along the Cutler Coast and you must camp in a designated site. Unlike some backpacking trips we have been on, where you can find a spot that has been used before, you can only camp in one of the five sites and no site can exceed 6 campers.
You can see the location of these sites on this map. We stayed at Fairy Head #1 and will share more about our experience with this site and why we did not pick the others in the “our experience” section.
Campfires are not allowed
The trailhead has a pit toilet and each campsite has a privy to use. These privies are essentially just a toilet seat on top of a box, with wire on the sides. So you can see everything in it (eeek!), but we found it to not be too bad of an experience.
If you decide to use the restroom outside of these toilets, PLEASE pack out any toilet paper and make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole for human waste. You can also bring a wag bag to carry out your waste, although not required.
Dogs are allowed
Dogs are allowed on the Cutler Coast and Kona LOVED this hike! The trail was good for most dogs, with nothing too difficult, minus a rope section that was steep and some stairs to climb up to our campsite.
What to Bring to the Cutler Coast
To see everything we recommend packing on your trip, check out our backpacking packing list, where we share everything we bring with us on most backpacking trips, including the 10 essentials. But for this specific hike, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.
LOTS of water
We were told by the ranger in advance that there are NO water sources on the trail. While some campers we met found some, they require some effort and may not have fresh water, so plan to bring all of the water you need!
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. But despite filling up two of them AND bringing an extra 1L in a water bottle, we had to ration our water a bit on the way out (and mostly ensure Kona had enough).
A lot of our water was used to cook and make coffee, so in hindsight we should’ve brought more water or less items that needed to be cooked with water.
Bears do live in the area, but when speaking to the ranger, she told us that it would be extremely unlikely we’d see one, but to still use good food storage practices, including storing scented items away from your tent. We brought our bear canister, but you can hang your food as well.
Make sure to bring sunscreen! We hiked on a very sunny weekend and some parts of the trail were exposed, increasing our risk of a sunburn. We have been using Bare Republic, which is a “better for you” sunscreen, although it may give you a nice white, vampire-esque sheen.
Our Cutler Coast backpacking experience
After spending a few days working in Maine and making our way towards the Cutler Coast, we arrived on a Monday night to the trailhead. We wanted to get to the trailhead the day before so we could sleep at the trailhead and look at the logbook to see if backpacking spots would be open for the next day.
As we mentioned above, we typically backpack in areas where there aren’t designated sites and knowing there were only five sites made us a bit nervous we wouldn’t get one. Thankfully we saw that only four groups were out, which meant that by starting early, there would at least be one open spot, with four more opening at some point during the day. Which spot was open? We had no idea, but we were just excited to know this trip we dreamt about for months would happen.
We spent the night in our van at the trailhead, where others joined us in vans or SUVs to sleep as well. The next morning we hit the trail around sunrise, filled out the logbook, and started the trek through the forest.
The first part of the trail is in the forest and is pretty flat and easy, but at around 1.5 miles in, the trail meets the coastline and we were treated to some stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, the rocky cliffs, and the waves crashing.
This was our first time seeing the coast of Maine and we stood in awe of the views for a bit. We could even see lobster boats at work! It felt like the ultimate Maine experience. And so far, we had yet to see anyone else.
We continued back onto the trail, which for the rest of our hike would hug the coastline. This part of the trail is definitely more rugged and we found ourselves going uphill and then downhill pretty often.
However, this is where the views start to be amazing! There is a mix of trees and more open areas where you could see tons of coastline, with each viewpoint being slightly different than the last. That’s one thing we love about rocky coasts is that no view is ever the same!
At about 3 miles in or so we finally came across two different backpacking groups that were returning to the trailhead. We asked them both which site they stayed at, so we would know which ones were open and they said Long Point and also Fairy Head #1. The group that stayed at Fairy Head #1 swore it was an amazing site and one of the best, which made us intrigued.
Originally we had hoped to just camp at the first site so we could set up camp and then hike the rest of the trail with lighter packs. But knowing that the couple loved Fairy Head #1 made us think we should just push on. We decided to just wait and see how we felt about the first options (Black Point Cove and Long Point) before deciding if we should hike with our gear to Fairy Head.
At about 3 miles in, the trail enters a large, rocky beach at Black Point Cove. This is a great spot to stop and have a snack! We walked across the beach to continue on the trail and to get back up to the cliffside there is a very steep “trail,” which has a rope hanging down to help you get up. It’s not too hard, but with packs on it definitely was trickier.
Once back up above the beach we were right by the first campsite, Black Point Cove. You have to climb some steps to get to the official spot, which is perched above the ocean. The spot itself has great views, but it was a bit small and didn’t offer much flat ground to camp on. So we decided to skip this one and see what was ahead.
The trail continued to offer amazing ocean scenery as we made our way to the next campsite, Long Point. This is about 1 mile further down the trail and is a HUGE site, with room for multiple tents and plenty of flat spots. It is also right above a beach, similar to Black Point Cove, and has a staircase to get down to the water, plus the best toilet view overlooking the water.
However, it was right off the trail, with not much privacy, and felt too big for just two people and a pup. We decided to skip this one as well just in case a larger group needed it.
At this point we felt like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, on the hunt to find a campsite that was just right. We continued our hike to Fairy Head, which was about 1 mile further up the trail to see if the campsite we learned about from the couple earlier lived up to the hype.
Right before reaching the campsite the trail takes you onto some rocks just above the ocean. It’s a super exposed portion of the trail, which provides some gorgeous views. Just a little bit down this rocky area we noticed a sign that said “campsite,” with an arrow to the right.
There was a small staircase and after a short walk through the forest, we had made it to Fairy Head #1. And the spot was epic! It was completely secluded from the trail, had trees to keep it somewhat private, but also openings to see the views and some rocks to go out on. Plus it was only a short walk back down to the rocky area of the trail, which we were stoked to enjoy dinner, the sunset, and sunrise at. It was perfect!
Feeling pretty tired, we set up camp, made some lunch, and relaxed a bit in our tent, before heading out onto the trail a few hours later (with a small daypack) to see what the rest of it was like.
We had a little bit less than a mile left (each way) on the Coastal Trail before it turned into the Inland Trail and just like the first part of the trail, it was beautiful! We especially enjoyed walking the trail without our packs weighing us down.
We tried to scope out the other campsites while on the rest of the trail and found Fairy Head #2, which during the time of our hike, didn’t have much signage off the trail, but there was a staircase leading to the top. This is also a great spot, but doesn’t have quite as easy of ocean access as the others. We never found Fairy Head #3 unfortunately, but according to the map it looks to be close to the Inland Trail.
After a fun day of hiking, we headed back to our campsite, made dinner by the ocean, celebrated our anniversary with some desserts we had picked up a couple days before, and enjoyed falling asleep with the waves crashing below us.
The next morning we woke up early to enjoy sunrise on the rocky coastline, as well as breakfast and coffee. Being on the east coast means that the sunrises are amazing and this one was no exception! While alone on the trail in this area, we could see lobster boats already out at work for the day.
We packed up and headed back to the trailhead. On the hike back, we hardly saw anyone, just two groups that had also camped, plus a couple day hikers heading out. That had to have been one of our favorite things about this hike.
Unlike most backpacking trips where we have other people camping nearby at night, there was no one around us for almost a mile and we got to enjoy complete silence and solitude.
Combine that with the overall untouched nature of this area and its rugged, yet pristine beauty, and you have one heck of a trip! We loved our time on the Cutler Coast and are so happy that we made the trek to experience this magical place for a night.
Where to eat after backpacking the Cutler Coast
Dining options are pretty limited in the area and we visited during the start of off season, but a few spots to check out are Helen’s Restaurant in Machias, Lubec Brewing Co. in Lubec, Morano’s Authentic Pizza in Lubec, and Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls for a sweet treat!
Where to stay before or after backpacking the Cutler Coast
The Cutler Coast is very remote and there are only very, very small towns nearby. While that was part of its charm for us, as it doesn’t feel very touristy, it can make it trickier to find places to stay. Here are a few options!
Sleep at the trailhead
We slept at the trailhead in our van and it worked great! While this isn’t somewhere you should sleep in a tent, if you have a van, small RV, or an SUV you can sleep in, we suggest this so you can get an early start.
West Quoddy Station: This property is located in Lubec, which is 20 minutes northeast of the Cutler Coast, right by the easternmost point in the US!
Eastland Motel: This motel is also located in Lubec!
Cottage with Ocean View (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This spot is SO cool and is located very close to the trailhead. We had wanted to stay here for a couple years, but didn’t make it happen this past trip unfortunately. The Airbnb has a cottage, plus a lobster BOAT lounge, all located on the water!
The River Room (Studio, 1 bathroom): This hotel room has a lot of charm, is located on the water, and features a fire pit!
Ellie’s Cottage (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): Located about 45 minutes from the trailhead is this nice little cottage with everything you need for a comfortable night before or after your hike.
Maine Tidal River Retreat (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): If traveling with a larger group, this house would be perfect! It’s not only beautiful, with tons of wood features, but it’s also close to the trailhead and has amazing views!
Cobscook Bay State Park: This state park is 30 minutes north of the Cutler Coast and has over 100 campsites.
Cottonwood Camping & RV Park: This campground is located in Columbia Falls, about 45 minutes southwest of the Cutler Coast. We stayed here for a few nights after backpacking and it was great! We had cell service, hookups, hot showers in their bathrooms, and it was one of the few campgrounds open in mid-October. They have cabins as well!
Ready to backpack the Cutler Coast?
Pin this guide to backpacking the Cutler Coast to prep for your trip!