WARREN ISLAND — Back in 1994, Joe Dienes was a single dad in Westbrook looking to give his children a memorable summer vacation. So he let them choose the state park campground they would visit. His 10-year-old daughter chose Maine’s only island state park.

Every year since, Dienes has been coming to Warren Island in Penobscot Bay. After he met his wife, Linda, they visited together while they were dating, then spent their honeymoon on Warren Island.

“It is a hidden gem,” said Dienes, 56.

The 70-acre island, located three miles off Lincolnville, is a wild, remote Downeast ocean adventure that can be accessed by campers in southern Maine in just a few hours. From Lincolnville, the campground is about a 30-minute trip in a motorboat or an hour’s paddle.

But you don’t need to own a boat to get there. The state park rents a row boat for $20 at the town dock on Islesboro, right where the ferry from Lincolnville exits passengers.

From the mainland, the ferry to Islesboro takes 20 minutes. From there, Warren Island is a short paddle away.

It’s just a half-mile crossing, although a rower needs to handle the large rented wooden skiff, and be smart enough to avoid rough seas and dangerous weather.

On a calm day, it’s about a half hour of rowing. It can take longer, depending on how much one has to zigzag around moored boats. It also can be hard to focus on rowing given the views of forested islands: Islesboro, Warren and Spruce.

Carolyn Lyon, 38, and Matteo Lundgren, 33, heard about Warren Island from friends in Maine and came to the state for the first time to camp at the park. But their crossing wasn’t an easy one. Lyon was seven months pregnant.

“We’re not necessarily used to the ocean. We live near a big lake, but we liked the sound of rowing over. It sounded romantic,” said Lundgren, of Ithaca, New York. “When we tried to row over there were big swells and a 25 mph headwind. I was rowing and not going anywhere.”

Lyon and Lundgren waited an hour for the waves to subside and finally were lucky enough to get a tow from an Islesboro sailboat, a gesture that’s not uncommon, said Warren Island ranger Sandie Sabaka.

Once at their campsite, Lyon said the island charmed them.

“It’s just really peaceful here. We want to return when we have our baby. (Warren Island manager) Byron Crosby said he’s seen children grow up here,” she said.

The island has 12 campsites, all with ocean views and privacy galore. There are three group sites in the center of the island, all of them high on a hill.

The chance for solitude is so great here, it draws Ben Dove, 35, and his family from the next island over – Islesboro – every year.

“I grew up on Islesboro 20 years ago. It’s just a short row over. I think other people from (Islesboro) enjoy this spot,” said Jon Dove, 37.

Warren Island also has a rocky beach, a perimeter path that winds through the pine forest, and a field on the hill that’s home to cellar holes.

A century ago, the island was home to an expansive lodge owned by William Folwell, a woolen manufacturer from Philadelphia who purchased it in 1899. The lodge was completed in 1901 by his son, Nathan, with 27 bedrooms, a ballroom, expansive balcony and large stone fireplace. It was destroyed in a fire in 1919, but parts of the foundation remain.

Warren Island, a gift to the state from the town of Islesboro, became a state park in 1967.

Yet after more than 20 years of camping there, Joe Dienes calls it the best-kept secret in Maine.

Every year, Joe and Linda Dienes book the lean-to on the north side of the island close to the mainland. They motor their skiff out from Lincolnville in 30 to 40 minutes and dump their gear before mooring their boat on the island’s protected south side. Then they carry their gear just 50 yards to their lean-to and enjoy ocean views toward Camden right at their doorstep.

“We’ve visited about 10 other state park campgrounds. This one is beautiful. People are not on top of each other. It’s spread out. It’s tranquil,” Linda Dienes said.

After the work of getting their gear to Warren Island, the couple said the park’s tranquility immediately slows them down.

“You’re on island time,” Joe said.

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