A photo looking over the water at Rock Harbor Lighthouse, in Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.
Photograph: Shutterstock

These 10 secret islands in the U.S. will surprise you

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, these secret islands in the U.S. offer remote living, wild adventure, and solitude

Emilee Lindner

If you’re daydreaming about getting away from it all, here’s something you should know: there’s a smattering of secret islands in the U.S. just waiting for you to visit. Now, we won’t describe them all—only about 18,000 of the country’s islands have a name anyway, and even that would make for a long list. But some of the most under-the-radar islands have a lot to offer for folks who are in the know.

Depending on what you’re looking for—a 32-mile canoe trail, a secret artists’ retreat, or a remote luxury resort—the U.S. contains a copious collection of water-locked land. And if it’s the journey you’re after, you’re in luck: you’ll have to book or charter a boat (or even a seaplane) to even get to these secret (and not-so-secret) islands across the country.

RECOMMENDED: the best places to visit in the USA for every month

Secret Islands in the U.S.

Great Diamond Island, ME

A twenty-five minute ferry from Portland, Maine, Great Diamond Island is the perfect example of secluded Northeast living. Only 77 people inhabit the island, and they navigate its limited network of roads with golf carts and bicycles. Cars are not permitted here, a draw for those wanting to escape the grind of city life. Visitors can kick back at the Inn at Diamond Cove, explore one of the island's unsheltered beaches, or traverse acres of old-growth forest. Those with a writerly inclination can channel Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Harriet Beecher Stowe, two literary greats who visited Diamond Cove as an artists retreat—it made be a small population here, but you’re in good company.

Admiralty Island, AK

Southeast Alaska is speckled with beautiful, remote islands. Admiralty Island has only one settlement—650 people in total call it home. Federal protection keeps the land from development, so most of the island remains preserved in honor of the native Tlingit people and wildlife. Visit this sacred island with care, and, if you’re up for it, check out the 32-mile Cross Admiralty Canoe Route; once you start your journey across a series of lakes, streams and trail portages, there are several cabins and shelters for campers along the way. Will you encounter some wildlife, too? Most definitely. Admiralty Island has the highest density of brown bears in North America, outnumbering human residents nearly three to one. Lovely.


Cuttyhunk Island, MA

History buffs might argue that Cuttyhunk Island is the first English settlement in New England (during a weeks-long stint, it severed as a small outpost for harvesting sassafras in 1602), while some literary buffs might hold the controversial opinion that it was the setting for William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. No matter what you believe, this piece of land off the Massachusetts coast is rife with history and scant on people. The island is only 1.5 miles long, with nearly half of it set aside for a nature preserve. Only 10 people are known to live here year-round, but in the summer tourism comes to life and most visitors get around by bike or golf cart. Picnickers can enjoy spots tinged with history, like a World War II lookout, and you can get your fill on striped-bass while you’re there (fun fact: two 73-pound catches have been documented just off the island). 

Portsmouth Island, NC

Vacation homes and touristy shops dot North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but Portsmouth Island is different. The 13-mile barrier island is only accessible by boat and has no businesses, no running water, and no electricity. Load your car onto a ferry and explore the beaches, marshes, and an abandoned Plymouth village maintained by the National Park Service. You won’t find any hotels or Airbnbs, but you can camp on the beach—or in an NPS cabin—before heading back to the mainland. 


Little Palm Island, FL

Not all secret islands are rustic. Little Palm Island, located off the Florida Keys, is America’s only private island resort—perfect for the secret lives of the rich and famous. When guests arrive (by seaplane or by boat) they’re greeted by thatched-roof buildings in the style of the British West Indies. Although wifi is available, Little Palm Island markets itself as an escape from the modern world—with no TVs or phones in any of the guest rooms. What’s left to do? You can adventure with kayaks and paddle boards or go sailing in the ocean. Or, if you’d rather relax, lounge in the pool or on the beach with no kids in sight (the resort is only for adults).

Whiskey Island, NY

The Thousand Islands region of northern New York is full of secret places, and Whiskey Island, a private island with over three acres, is one of the best. Its location on the St. Lawrence River on the United States-Canada border made it a prime location for alcohol smugglers during the Prohibition; rumrunners could stash their liquor among the rocks and dodge law enforcement due to the geography of that section of the river. Now, a lodge is available for seven-night stays so you can get the whole island to yourself—don’t forget to pack some whiskey.


Isle Royale, MI

Michigan’s upper peninsula is known for its wilderness destinations, but just a bit further north is one of the state’s best kept secrets: Isle Royale National Park, one of the country’s least-visited (but most-loved) parks. Travelers can take one of three passenger ferries departing Minnesota or Michigan to reach the island, and once they arrive, they can hike or kayak along the coast. Moose and wolves wander the island, and campers can view the Aurora Borealis during their backcountry trip. And if camping beneath the open sky isn’t in the cards, there’s no need to rough it—the Rock Harbor Lodge has you covered.

Block Island, RI

New England’s best-kept secret, Block Island, is about 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Swim at Mansion Beach, hike to Mohegan Bluffs, and sip mudslides at The Oar. How to get there? By boat, of course! Board a ferry from Newport, RI, or New London, CT (there’s even a port in Montauk, NY, if you’re fancy). If you’re keen to bring your car, make sure to book your ticket well in advance. But even without a car, there are plenty of ways to travel to the beaches, hotels, restaurants, and bars. Get around the island by foot, bike or moped (relax: taxis are available, too).


Stout’s Island, WI

Built by a lumber baron as a family retreat in 1903, Stout’s Island is now a stepped-up summer destination. Rent a room in one of the island’s 10 lodges and cabins, or book the entire island for a wedding or event. You’re not stranded here: the Stout’s Island ferry goes back and forth to the mainland every hour. But while you’re there, you’ll want to stick around. You can take a hydrobike out on Red Cedar Lake, play tennis, or hike around the east island. Stop in at the restaurant in the main lodge for some midwest regional cuisine, with a menu that changes based on what’s in season—some of which is grown in the lodge’s kitchen garden.

Cumberland Island, GA

What could be better than a secluded island populated by wild horses? Georgia’s Cumberland Island, preserved as a National Seashore, is a perfect place to get away. Catch a ferry from the mainland to explore the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion and abandoned buildings that have been preserved as historic places. Spend the night at one of the five campgrounds (including three wilderness sites for a backcountry trek), or if camping’s not your thing, spend the night at the Greyfield Inn, the island’s only hotel. While you’re there, keep an eye out for wild horses on the dune meadows and other wildlife like sea turtles and armadillos throughout the island.

    You may also like
    You may also like