October 8, 2013

Don’t Let the Government Shutdown Spoil Your Trip to Acadia National Park

Acadia Mountain national park

The government shutdown has not impeded access to Acadia Mountain, but hikers should exercise caution

The government closure of national parks, effective October 1, 2013, has affected thousands of visitors looking forward to seeing Acadia National Park this fall.  With National Park webpages also shutdown, official information is limited.  However, local experts have stepped in to share the latest information on such social media sites as TripAdvisor, where postings under “Contingency Plans” in the Bar Harbor forum are filling the gaps for worried travelers.

The Park Loop Road has been closed, thereby barring roadway access to such popular attractions as Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond House. The Hulls Cove Visitors Center is also closed.

That’s the bad news.  On the other hand, the Island Explorer bus system is running and ferrying visitors throughout the island.  In addition, as Acadia National Park Deputy Superintendent Len Bobinchock told the Portland Press Herald, “You can’t lock up trails, but you can close the roads that lead into the park.”  Because skeletal crews are not adequate to handle extensive search and rescue operations in the case of emergencies, the National Park Service is asking people to stay off the park’s trails until the shutdown is over.  However, they are not requiring people to leave, it seems.  If you do decide to hike, exercise good judgment.

Acadia National Park occupies only about one half of Mount Desert Island.  The sublime beauty of this area far surpasses any single mountain or pond, and a government closure of the national park won’t lock you out of enjoying a trip to Downeast Maine.

Here are 7 ways you can enjoy Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island, despite Congress.

  1. Hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain.  And, in fact, with no tourist buses circumnavigating the top, the summit may be just that much more peaceful.  There are trails from all four points of the compass, but the easiest to access during the closure is to the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, a long, but gradual climb 3.7 miles each way.  The trailhead is on Route 3, just south of the entrance to Blackwoods Campground.  It is a lovely hike, with spectacular views, just be prepared for the 7.4 miles of hiking and remember, of course, that you are hiking at your own risk.
  2. Choose another mountain to climb.  If you are not up for such a long hike, there are many other alternatives.  Consider Acadia Mountain, with its great views of Somes Sound and the Atlantic beyond.  Its trailhead is on Route 102 between Somesville and Southwest Harbor.  A moderate loop including both Acadia and neighboring St. Sauveur Mountain is 4.2 miles.  Another great choice is Beech Mountain.  There are also several different trails to its summit—none of which is affected by park closures.  Tom St. Germain’s excellent hiking guide, available in bookstores throughout Bar Harbor, can provide you with all of the details.
  3. Bike around Eagle Lake.  The carriage roads around the lake are just off Eagle Lake Road/Route 233.  According to the TripAdvisor posts on October 1st, cars were lined up along the roadway, indicating that the carriage roads were still open.  These carriage roads connect to others in the network, including the road that runs closely along Bubble Pond, with Cadillac Pond towering above.  The reflections of the colorful foliage of the West Face on Bubble Pond are compelling for any photographer.  Walking around Eagle Lake is also a good option. 
  4. Go sea kayaking.  “They can’t control the water, so we’ll still be open” was the message of Mark Fletcher at Aquaterra Adventures in Bar Harbor.  This operator of group kayaking tours launches from a private dock on West Street, so there’s no need to worry about park closures.  Another option is National Park Sea Kayak, also in Bar Harbor, which leads tours on the western side of Mount Desert Island, including popular sunset trips. 
  5. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Although the national park concession at Wildwood Stables will be closed, you can enjoy a carriage ride throughout Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.  The driver discusses points of interest, as well as the history of the town.  Says owner Sandi Read, “It’s a great way to experience Bar Harbor the way it was before the days of automobiles.”
  6. Visit Bass Harbor.  Although the roadway to Bass Harbor Head Light has been barricaded, you can walk a short distance to see this lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Then drive the short distance down to the harbor.  A stroll around this working lobster harbor in late afternoon is full of charms.  Walk along the shoreline and down on the pier.  Whether it’s a skiff, a pile of lobster traps, some worn-out buoys, or a Boston whaler, the scene is iconic Maine and stunningly beautiful in late-afternoon golden light.  Don’t forget your camera.
  7. Enjoy Mount Desert Island’s villages.  From Bar Harbor to Bass Harbor and Northeast Harbor to Southwest Harbor, each has its own personality.  Don’t miss Somesville, in the center of the island, with its charming Japanese-style bridge, one of the most photographed spots in Maine. 

You’ll find more tips for fall trips to Acadia here.  Have a great vacation!

Related Stories:

A Profile of Mount Desert Island’s Villages

Lighthouses and Lobster Boats on a Sunset Sail from Southwest Harbor

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast

September 15, 2013

Photo Adventure in Acadia National Park: What a Way to “See” Fall Foliage!

Fall foliage Acadia National Park

Photo by Dave Soderlund, Workshop Participant

Last March I got to go on a Lindblad/National Geographic expedition to Costa Rica that had a photography emphasis.  One of our guides was both a well-educated, local naturalist and certified photography instructor.  That combination of talents in the field—and Costa Rica is so amazing both close in and from afar—made the trip unusually satisfying.

If you’ve always wanted to participate in a photo workshop in Maine, I recommend you consider the upcoming Acadia National Park Photography Adventure that Lester Picker is offering  October 10-14, 2013.  It is conducted in conjunction with the Nikonians Academy, which is dedicated to teaching photography through hands-on practical workshops.

But I recommend it because Les Picker possesses that rare combination of environmental education and photographic know-how that I experienced on my National Geographic expedition.

Les received his doctorate in ecology from the University of Maine and used Acadia National Park for his research. Having lived in Maine for ten years, he knows the intricacies of Acadia in a way that’s rare for those offering photo workshops in Maine, and there are plenty of them.

One of his students, Thomas Wilson of North Sandwich, New Hampshire, emphasized this in his review of the workshop, “Les’ knowledge of the history and flora of Acadia enriched the experience.”  Another student, Dave Soderlund of Ithaca, New York, echoed, “His depth of knowledge of the landscape, history and biology of the island informed our photography and took us to places that most other workshops just don’t see. Les provided itineraries that were well-balanced between iconic locations (Cadillac Mountain, Bass Harbor Lighthouse) and out-of-the-way gems.”

Les’ itinerary also includes The Bubbles, Jordan Pond, Ocean Drive, Sand Beach, and Cadillac Cliffs, as well as the villages of Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Somesville, and Northeast Harbor—all places every visitor wants to see.

Each evening Les offers an optional image review and critique—an excellent opportunity since the workshop is limited to ten students.  Another Acadia workshop participant, Dr. Lew Rothman of New York City, said, “He offered solid and comprehensive shooting tips geared to our individual needs and provided insightful feedback after each shoot. Perhaps most important he provided additional opportunity to review and improve our images after we returned home from the workshop. He was genuinely interested in our progress and it didn’t end with the workshop.”

To find out more, visit the Nikonians Academy site, but  do it now.  When I was last in touch with Les, there were only a few spots left.

Related Stories:

17 Great Ways to Experience Acadia National Park

Why Visit Acadia National Park in the Fall

August 23, 2013

Join Judy Taylor’s Painting Expedition to a Private Island off Mount Desert Island, Maine

Off Mount Desert Island Acadia National Park Maine

In 2011 the Spanierman Gallery in New York City brought together the work of 24 artists, including Will Barnet, George Bellows, and Marsden Hartley, to examine how Maine had inspired them.  Entitled “Maine – An Artist’s Retreat,” the show revealed many representations of the state’s coastline and islands.  Yet, what sets Maine apart, the catalog said, is how Maine’s forests, rocky shores, marshes, and harbors always present themselves as fresh, alive, and unexplored, no matter how many times in the past artists have rendered them.

The opportunity to discover these landscapes for yourself—fresh and alive–will be available to students in an upcoming painting expedition with acclaimed Maine artist Judy Taylor.  It will take place September 3-6, 2013 off the coast of Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park in Maine.

What’s exciting about this workshop, however, is that it will truly be an opportunity to explore the unexplored because it will take place on a small private island.

According to Judy Taylor, the island, which has only one house which dates back to the 1930s, is very close to Mount Desert Island.  It has 360 views, with one side overlooking Indian Point Nature Conservancy “where the seals perch on rocks.”  Says Judy, “You can walk the entire island easily.  It gives us such flexibility to take advantage of light in both the morning and afternoon.”

Acadia National Park Mount Desert Island Maine

Lessons will all be about plein air painting, and students can work in the medium of their choice.  “Blocking in and simplifying shapes will be key,” Judy notes.  Lessons will also focus on color mixing, light and shade, composition, and atmospheric and linear perspective.

Students can register for two days for $350 or four days for $650.  They must arrange for their own housing on Mount Desert Island and bring their own lunch each day.  The day begins at 9am at the dock in Pretty Marsh where they’ll return around 4pm.

For questions and registrations, contact Judy Taylor at punchinellas@hotmail.com.

Remember, to ensure optimal attention from Judy, the class size is limited to eight students.  It’s also the capacity of the boat that will take you to the private island!  So, sign up now.

Related Stories:

17 Great Ways to Enjoy Acadia National Park in Maine

Wildlife in Maine’s Acadia National Park: Bring Your Binoculars!

August 6, 2013

Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park: A Hike that Has It All

What’s your favorite kind of hike?  A stroll alongside a pond?  A heart-pumping scramble across boulders?  An exciting squeeze through a narrow ravine?  Anything that provides the reward of spectacular views?

Hiking the west side of Pemetic Mountain provides all of these and more.

At 1,248 feet, Pemetic Mountain is only about 300 feet shorter than Cadillac, Mount Desert Island’s highest peak and star attraction for visitors to Acadia National Park.  Yet, unlike Cadillac, which is to its east, Pemetic has no tour buses obscuring the views and offers an exceptionally varied hike to its summit.

Jordan Pond The Bubbles

We started the 4.6 mile loop from the Jordan Pond House, warming up on the pleasant, well-traveled path along the eastern shore of Jordan Pond with the Bubbles in the distance.  We crossed a flat stone bridge, passing a vigorous junior hiker, then a wood foot bridge.

Jordan Pond Trail Acadia National Park

The Jordan Pond Carry Trail brought us to the Park Loop Road, where we entered the woods and started the challenging scramble across a boulder field.

Pemetic  Mountain West Side

We then came to a signpost, offering the option to hike through a ravine or across the steep, smooth granite to the right.  Even though it was wet, we opted for the ravine.  (This was not my first time through this ravine, so we had prepared with good mosquito repellant!)

Ravine Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

The ravine is not as tight as the popular Lemon Squeeze in New York’s Hudson Valley.  It has two sections, each of which you emerge from by climbing a large wooden ladder.  I think it is really fun.

Ravine Pemetic Mountain

At the summit you first get breathtaking views of deep, steel-blue Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond from Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

More spectacular views of the Cranberry Isles follow as you traverse the mountain and start your descent along the southern ridge.

Pemetic Mountain Cranberry Islands Acadia National Park

I highly recommend hiking with a detailed trail map, such as the one of Acadia published by Map Adventures.  I never leave home without it.  Acadia’s trails are much trickier than you think, even if you have prepared by studying a trail guide.

One other thing that makes a hike a favorite of mine: a stretch of trail covered by a cushion of pine needles.  It’s a great way to end a challenging hike.  And this trail had that, too.

Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

Related Stories:

Five Favorite Hikes in Acadia National Park

Four Hikes in Acadia Your Kids Will Love

If You Want to Hike Cadillac Mountain, Go in the Fall

Best Hikes in Acadia: Jordan Cliffs and Penobscot South Ridge Loop

July 21, 2013

Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie at the Quietside Café on Mount Desert Island

What are you looking for when you go to Maine?  Views of the rocky coastline, lighthouses, and Cadillac Mountain?  Lots of lobster and blueberry pie?  Hiking and biking in Acadia National Park?

I go to Maine because I also want to “get away.”

To me this means spending time in stores and cafes with a much slower pace than what I experience in New York City, where I live.  I find that a discussion about a new garden hose at the hardware store in Southwest Harbor can be more restorative than any massage or spa treatment.

That’s one reason the Quietside Café in Southwest Harbor is a favorite.  No doubt about it, we go there because their lobster rolls are fantastic.  Packed with the freshest lobster meat from the lobster pound right down the street on Clark Point Road, they’re served with delicious homemade coleslaw and chips.  Fred also loves their New England clam chowder, which is thick and creamy.

Lobster roll at Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

But I love the fact that this is a family business.  Frances and Ralph have operated it for 16 years now, with their two daughters growing up working in the business and pitching in to serve customers.  Today, as we sat outside on newly painted picnic benches, the couple continued to show pride in the new 15-year-old waitress who’s a whiz at reciting their 20-plus ice cream flavors.  That’s just the kind of place it is.

The Quietside Café is located on Main Street in Southwest Harbor on the eponymous western half of Mount Desert Island where the pace is far less bustling than in Bar Harbor where the cruise ships dock.  Parking on Main Street in Southwest Harbor is pretty easy.  There’s also a parking lot in front of the post office right around the corner on Clark Point Road.  The Quietside is diagonally across from the hardware store.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

The café itself is nondescript.  You can sit outside on picnic tables in a small village garden, which attracts battalions of butterflies to its bushes in late August.  Likely there will be a pie cooling in the window.

Inside the tiny, tidy luncheonette decorated with family photographs are a few tables, an ice cream bar, and a lunch counter that’s also jam-packed with what Frances has baked that day – blueberry pie, macaroons, and oatmeal cookies.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

Sit there on a stool at risk to your waist line because what TripAdvisor reviewers say is true:

“Blueberry pie in a class of its own, piled a mile high with the sweetest wild berries”

“Ethereal blueberry pie”

“Amazing pie well over an inch thick”

“Best pie around”

“Best key lime pie ever – I suspect it was that chocolate crust”

“The best was the apple pie – pecan streusel topping and loads of apples”

“Pie tastes like the berries were just picked…”

blueberry pie quietside cafe maine

macaroons quietside cafe southwest harbor maine

Speaking of TripAdvisor, I also liked the reviewer who said: “We camped 10 nights and visited the café 5.”  Repeat visitors and regulars are common at the Quietside.

9 of the 10 times I go, I have the lobster roll, but the crab rolls and BLTs are also my personal favorites.  Others are fans of the turkey melts and the “to-die-for” sweet potato fries – in addition to the pizza!

The ice cream also gets rave reviews, for both the quality and flavor variety.  Take Moose Track, for example.  It’s a rich vanilla studded with chocolate and peanut butter chunks.

It’s surely from another world.  And that takes me back to my first point: I go to Maine to get away from it all. Going to the Quietside is like visiting America in another time.  It’s a chance to engage with simple things: value for the money and nice people.  The way life was meant to be, as the Maine slogan states.

It’s telling it like it is when the locals on MDI refer to us off-islanders as people “from away”.

Related Stories:

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Come This Way to Café This Way

Mount Desert Island’s Most Scenic Lobster Pound?  It’s Unanimous

What Is Peekytoe Crab and Should a Maine Lobster Lover Opt for It?

June 29, 2013

Acadia National Park: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Google “U.S. national parks on islands” and, after five pages on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Channel Islands in California, you’ll find a listing about Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Shhhhhhh.  You may want to keep this discovery to yourself.  Mount Desert Island gets only one-third the visitors to Cape Cod, for example, and half of this spectacular island, which is almost exactly the size of Martha’s Vineyard, has been preserved as a national park.  Plus MDI (as it’s known) not only has sailboat-studded harbors, dramatic ocean-side cliffs, and lobster pounds, but also 24 mountain peaks.

If you’ve been thinking of visiting Maine, why not consider this island with a national park?  Here are some key facts to help you plan.

What are the most popular activities for visitors to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park?

Acadia Mountain national parkStart with sightseeing.  Cadillac Mountain, the Park Loop Road, Jordan Pond, and Thunder Hole are among the favorites of national park visitors.  Active travelers love biking the car-free carriage roads, hiking Acadia’s network of 130 miles of trails, and kayaking on both the ocean and lakes.  Swimming in ponds and lakes, such as Echo Lake, is popular, too.  There’s a variety of boat cruises to explore nearby islands, learn what a lobsterman does, and touch creatures brought up from “the deep.” Nearby miniature golfing, water parks, and attractions such as the Great Maine Lumberjack Show are popular with families.

Get reviews for Acadia trips, guides and outfitters here.

When is Acadia National Park open?  What months?  What hours?

Bubbles Acadia National ParkFrom hiking in the summer to cross country skiing in the winter, you can enjoy Acadia National Park all year long.  Ranger-led programs are featured from June through October.  Certain roads within the park are restricted during winter months, as are visitors’ centers.

In addition to the summer months, popular with families, the fall is a great time to visit.  Over a quarter of a million people visit in October to enjoy the foliage.

Get details about Acadia operating times from the National Park Service.

How long does it take to see Acadia National Park?

Maine coastline Acadia National ParkYou can spend three days to three years (and beyond) exploring Acadia National Park.  You can get a sense of the park’s great mountains, spectacular sights, and scenic drives in a jam-packed three-day itinerary.  However, after this introduction, you can invest years exploring the hiking trails, bicycling, and generally enjoying the impact of the seasons on this amazing glacially created landscape.  Around it has grown a vibrant community of restaurants, micro-breweries, and local attractions that draw back vacationers year after year.

Get itineraries for three days, one week, and two weeks in Acadia.

How are the restaurants on Mount Desert Island?

Lobster dinner Bar HarborMaine is a state of fishermen and farmers.  So, in recent years when restaurateurs have become more committed to fresh, local ingredients, Mount Desert Island has emerged as a magnet for foodies.  From traditional lobster pounds to sophisticated restaurants featuring seasonal menus, it’s an active scene that caters to a wide range of tastes and pocketbooks.  Nationally recognized artisanal ice cream producers and chocolatiers have huge followings.  You may also catch a popular chef like James Lindquist, who was featured in the 2010 cookbook Fresh from Maine, popping into the Bar Harbor artisan olive oil purveyor Fiore to replenish Red Sky restaurant’s stock of blueberry olive oil.

Check out reviews of the best restaurants on Mount Desert here.

Where should we stay when we visit Acadia National Park?

Harbour Cottage Inn Southwest Harbor MaineThe interesting thing about Acadia is that Mount Desert Island was an island of prospering villages before it became a national park in 1919.  That adds to your vacation options because these different communities (Bar Harbor, Northwest Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Seal Harbor and more) are nestled among the park and offer different activities to complement the experiences of the national park – whether you’re looking for farmers’ markets, shopping, or local art fairs.

Places to stay are just as varied.  Acadia has two popular campgrounds, Blackwoods and Seawall, within the park itself.  In Blackwoods Campground Acadia National Park Maineaddition, the local communities offer a variety of accommodations — cottage rentals, inns, motels, and private campgrounds.

Since the island covers an area of 108 square miles and a fiord-like sound divides it in half, you should plan what you want to do and factor that into the best area to settle into as your home base.  It will cut down on your driving.

Read profiles of the towns and villages near Acadia National Park.

Does Acadia National Park allow dogs?

Hiking with dogs in Acadia National Park MaineYes!  Hiking trails, carriage roads, the Island Explore buses, and even some of the most popular restaurants welcome dogs.  There are even some walking trails that allow your dogs to run leash-free.  However, the park has restrictions and it takes some planning to find the trails best suited for a dog.

Learn about the best trails in Acadia for dogs, Bar Harbor veterinarians, and more..

Does Acadia National Park have special facilities and programs?

carriage drives acadia national park maineIf you’re visiting Acadia National Park, one resource you definitely want to know about is Hulls Cove Visitors Center.  On Route 3 outside of Bar Harbor, it’s a great place to stop for questions and materials.  There’s also a terrific 3D map of the park that is a fun way to plan what you want to see.

In addition, Acadia National Park offers a broad array of fascinating and professional ranger-led programs, as well as park-sponsored franchises, that include carriage drives, walks, talks, and boat cruises.  Curious about birds?  Photography? Geology?  Stars?  There’s something for everyone.

Read more about the Hulls Cove Visitors Center.

What are entrance fees for visiting Acadia National Park?

Hulls Cove Visitors Center Acadia National Park MaineFrom May through October, the park entrance fee for a private vehicle is $20; it’s valid for seven days.  But there are also annual passes, discounts for seniors, and free park admission for active military, as well as special free days for all national parks.

Check out these ways to save, as well as the fees for certain ranger-led programs, at the National Park Service Web site.

What are directions for getting to Acadia National Park?

Mount Desert Island is located on the mid-coast section of Maine – roughly 3-1/2 hours north of Portland, 6 hours from Boston, and 10 from New York.

You can fly from Boston’s Logan Airport directly to the Hancock County Airport, just 10 miles from Acadia.  Bangor International Airport, which is about an hour from Mount Desert Island, serves national flights.

If you drive, head north on I-95 to Bangor, then drive east on Route 1A to Ellsworth.  In Ellsworth take Route 3 to Mount Desert Island.

May 20, 2013

How to Cook Lobster and More – A Three-Day “Cooking Adventure” in Maine

Lobster close upOne evening at Red Sky restaurant in Southwest Harbor, Maine, the Executive Chef James Lindquist came over to our table to describe the specials. The appetizer, he said, featured asparagus which was “in the ground this afternoon.”

Red Sky James Lindquist

James Lindquist

This focus on what’s local and fresh has been a driving force behind the success of Red Sky and James Lindquist, who was featured in Fresh from Maine, the 2010 cookbook of “recipes and stories from the state’s best chefs”. His vivid way of describing food and engaging the imagination of his diners is another reason the restaurant has received such acclaim from The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and Down East Magazine, among others.

Now, for the first time, enthusiastic home cooks are going to be able to cook with James, learning his approach, getting unique recipes, and taking advantage of the ingredients of Maine, including lobster. On June 9-12 he will lead a three-day “Cooking Adventure,” limited to eight participants.

This cooking class will take place at Ann’s Point Inn on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park. It will include three nights lodging at the scenic harbor-side inn, as well as local trips to discover the sources of Maine’s coveted ingredients.   These will include clamming and foraging edible sea plants.  Participants will prepare appetizer, entrée, and dessert courses for two dinners. In addition, the program includes a three-course dinner at Red Sky.

Ann's Point Inn

Ann’s Point Inn

This “Cooking Adventure” is the brainchild of Alan Feuer, a former Computer Science professor, who moved to Maine with his wife Jeannette to start a second career as innkeeper of Ann’s Point. Under their stewardship, the inn, which opened in 2005, has not only been certified an Environmental Leader by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but also selected as a Yankee Magazine Editor’s Choice in 2012 for “Best Acadian Escape.”

Says Alan Feuer, “For many guests at the inn, eating well-prepared food is as important as the breathtaking scenery and exhilarating physical activity Acadia offers.” The Feuers updated their inn’s open kitchen in 2012 giving it plentiful work space and a direct water view. He adds, “Kitchens are magical places. They turn raw material into delicious food, and strangers into friends.”

In addition to lodging, two dinners prepared by the class, and a dinner at Red Sky, the “Cooking Adventure” package includes three full breakfasts at Ann’s Point Inn. These feature freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit, and a main course that alternates between the sweet and savory. James Lindquist says, “Jeannette Feuer is an accomplished breakfast chef in her own right!”

The eight people who participate in the first “Cooking Adventure” collaboration will take home recipes of the two dinners they prepared together and a signed copy of Fresh from Maine. Cost for the package is $1750 for two people.

[As of this writing on May 19, 2013, six people have signed up.  If you are interested, call Alan Feuer to find out if there is still availability at 207-244-9595 or email info@annspoint.com.]

Related Stories:

Attention, Foodies: Take a Detour to Bartlett Winery When You Visit Acadia National Park in Maine

Second Life as an Innkeeper in Maine

March 31, 2013

17 Great Ways to Experience Acadia National Park in Maine This Summer

Thinking of visiting Acadia National Park this summer?  It’s the star attraction of Mount Desert Island, an island about the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but with 24 mountain peaks.  That alone expands the roster of great things to do there.

Acadia became a national park in 1919, but the first village on Mount Desert Island was founded in 1761.  Today Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the charming, postcard-perfect villages of this New England island, adding even more activities to engage park visitors.

So, what activities should you plan to include in your visit?  Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park.

1.  Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. At some 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States, and it is breathtaking. Make sure you wear a warm fleece even if it’s August.

Cadillac Sunrise

2.  Drive the Park Loop Road. You can get your best overview of Acadia by driving these 27 miles of unsurpassed beauty, created in part through the masterful collaboration of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. There are many lookouts so have your camera ready.

3.  Eat lobster. Whether you want a lobster roll, lobster stew, or a two-pounder steamed, you can find a wide range of topnotch restaurants, harbor side lobster pounds, and quaint cafes to serve you. Our favorite is Thurston’s in Bass Harbor.

4.  Go biking. Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Acadia offers 45 miles of car-free carriage roads that will lead you around mountains, alongside lakes, and into serene boreal forests.  Visit Hull’s Cove Visitor Center first, just outside of downtown Bar Harbor, where there is plentiful parking and good advice about the best bike routes for you and your family. I love their 3D map.

5.  Stroll, hike, or climb. The park boasts 125 miles of well-maintained hiking trails that appeal to all levels of fitness. The most exciting trails, such as the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs, feature rungs and ladders. A beautiful, moderately challenging hike is Acadia Mountain, overlooking Somes Sound, the only fiord in North America. If you’re looking for easier strolls, consider Asticou Trail and Wonderland – they’re lovely.

Hiking The Bubbles

6.  Have popovers at Jordan Pond House. Select a biking or hiking route that stems from behind Jordan Pond House so that you can conclude your afternoon with lemonade or tea – and, most certainly, popovers — on the lawn looking towards the Bubbles, a sight that has mesmerized visitors at teatime since 1896. It’s a favorite destination for everyone, but worth the wait.  What about popovers filled with blueberry ice cream?

Jordan Pond Popovers with Blueberry Ice Cream

7.  Go to the beach.  Sand Beach is a stunning crescent of white sand, with cliffs at each side and the Beehive Trail behind it. The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. Another option for a swim is the beach at Echo Lake on the island’s “Quietside.”

Echo Lake swimming

8.  Visit a lighthouse.  Maine has over 60 lighthouses, and one of its most beautiful is on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor.  It’s a great spot for photographers.  Afterwards, visit the working harbor busy with lobster and sail boats.

Bass Harbor

9.  Take a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Carriages of Acadia offers a number of picturesque drives within Acadia National Park, starting at Wildwood Stables and encompassing destinations including Day Mountain and Jordan Pond.  Another option is to enjoy a tour of downtown Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.

Carriage Drives in Acadia

10.  Learn from a park ranger. The National Park Service offers very entertaining talks and walks on subjects ranging tidal pools to birds of prey to the stars over Sand Beach. Scan The Beaver Log to figure out how you can fit in more than one.

11.  Touch nature – literally. There are several enterprises, including Mount Desert Biological Laboratories, The Dive-In Theatre, and the Mount Desert Oceanarium, that feature touch tanks full of lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. I always end up liking this stuff just as much as the kids do.

12.  Visit the local wineries and micro-breweries.  On Mount Desert Island you can enjoy free tours and tastings of two award-winning micro-breweries, Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company.  Venture off the island to discover the acclaimed fruit vintages of Bartlett Winery.

13.  Get out on the water. This great national park is on an island so you must see it from the vantage point of the sea. Whether you’re powering yourself in a sea kayak or the wind is propelling you on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park.

Sailing in Acadia

14.  Experience farm to table cuisine. Maine is known not only for its great fishermen, but also its farmers.  And nowhere in Maine has the renaissance of local and organic ingredients been as great as on Mount Desert Island.  A long list of top restaurants, including Burning Tree, Fathom, Red Sky, and Town Hill Bistro, awaits the discerning diner.  Make reservations!

15.  Take an art class.  If you’ve ever pictured yourself sketching or learning watercolors in an idyllic seaside location, make that fantasy a reality.  Among the many wonderful artists on Mount Desert Island is Judy Taylor, who offers workshops that include cruises to some of the most picturesque islands surrounding Mount Desert Island.

Judy Taylor Sketch Class

16.  Relax at a spa. Bar Harbor is home to a number of spas that run the gamut from sophisticated to funky.  If your idea of a great vacation is a day of outdoor activities topped off by a soothing massage, then you’ll find a vacation to Acadia perfect from the pine-scented trails to the aromas of the spa.

17.  Experience the “Way Life Should Be.”  That Maine slogan is your personal invitation to church suppers, local parades, blueberry festivals, farmers’ markets, crafts fairs, and terrific libraries.  If you pull off the road and depart from your schedule, you’ll be amply rewarded.  After all, those practical folks who invented ear muffs in 1873 just named Whoopie Pies as their “State Treat.”

public suppers in Maine

Related Stories:

5 Tips If You Want to Enjoy A Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Maine

Where to Stay on a Trip to Acadia National Park: A Profile of Mount Desert Island’s Villages

November 5, 2012

Foodies: Discover a Winery in Downeast Maine

Ann's Point Inn Bass Harbor Maine

As the sun softened over Bass Harbor, the guests at Ann’s Point Inn leaned forward to listen to the innkeeper introduce the two Bartlett wines, a semi-dry peach and a semi-dry pear, he was pouring that afternoon.  We took another nibble of Seal Cove goat cheese, then tasted.  Wine made from peaches and pears, not grapes?  It was delicious.

“I like featuring Bartlett because my guests appreciate trying wine only available in Maine,” says Alan Feuer, a computer sciences professor turned innkeeper.  “And I like supporting local businesses making high-quality products.”

These wines are the fruits of the labor of award-winning  winemaker  Bob Bartlett, who founded  Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in 1982.  It was Maine’s first winery.   Bob, in fact, had to write the legislation himself to get the license for the tasting room.  Today he and his wife Kathe produce 6,000 to 7,000 cases a year, depending on the availability of fruit.

Bartlett WineryAfter first tasting Bartlett wines at Ann’s Point, I spied the bottles with the labels that look like botanical art at wine stores and markets around Mount Desert Island.  I was curious about the winery in nearby Gouldsboro and wanted to taste more.  This cloudy October afternoon seemed just right to take a break from hiking in Acadia and go on a field trip.  What we learned was not only about wine, but also about a couple who three decades ago foreshadowed today’s local and artisanal food movements.

The drive east from our house in Somesville on Mount Desert Island would have taken about 45 minutes along Route 1, but we decided to explore the Schoodic Peninsula, stopping in Winter Harbor for some clam chowder and a lobster roll.  This part of Maine – with its white-steeple churches, harbors full of lobster boats, and quiet villages – make a town like Bar Harbor look positively bustling.  It was easy to find the winery at 175 Chicken Mill Pond Road, also known as Old Route 1 Bypass.

It’s not surprising that the driveway into the quiet wooded setting of the winery is marked by an oversized granite sculpture.  Bob Bartlett came to Maine in 1975 as a trained architect and glass artist.

Kathe Bartlett Winery Gouldsboro MaineAlthough Kathe has two employees managing tastings in the summer, we were fortunate to have her as our host today.  Friendly and articulate, she selected for our testing, which was free, seven of the 18 wines and two honey-meads they produce.   Ranging from dry to sweet, the wines are made from apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, and of course blueberries – and combinations thereof.  The fruit is brought to the Bartletts as fresh whole fruit – ninety percent of which is from Maine and “always from someone we know.”

The fruit is the key here.  “That’s what I get most excited about…when the fruit comes in,” says Kathe.  “It is so luscious.”

Bartlett wines are made totally with fruit, with no concentrates or flavorings.   High-quality honey and great fruit that is clean (to minimize the risk of bacteria) are necessary for their wine and mead, and limit how much can be produced.  Sourcing honey, for example, can be a real challenge, Kathe says, adding that honey from New Zealand might really be from China.

Fruit also played a major role in the history of the winery.  Seminal to Bob’s idea of producing wine in Maine was using Maine fruit and thus promoting Maine agriculture.  He even wrote it into the legislation.

At this point in the tasting we had moved to the wines made from blueberries, and I was trying to decide whether I preferred the medium-dry Coastal Red, a blend of local Maine apples and wild blueberries, or the oakier, barrel-aged Dry American, which Kathe says pairs with lamb, venison, and turkey and goes particularly well with rosemary, thyme, and sage seasonings – “perfect for Thanksgiving.”

At that moment a man arrayed in rain gear and totally drenched passed by the door leading from the tasting room into the winery.  It was Bob.  He looked like a very wet lobsterman, not the “dean” or “godfather” of the Maine wine industry, as he’s frequently called.  “What I do to make wine for you people,” he said happily, and then moved on.  He’d been cleaning the inside of vats.  The cleanliness of the equipment is obviously as important to him as the purity of the fruit.

It’s a big job for two people to run a venture of this size and caliber.  Says Kathe, “The longest we’ve ever been away is three weeks.”  The tasting room at the winery is open June until Columbus Day, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11am to 5pm.

Kathe and Bob seem anything but tired or complacent, however.  One of their newest ventures is the Spirits of Maine Distillery, which is also gaining recognition in international awards competitions.  American Apple Brandy and Pear Eau de Vie are two of the stand-outs.

Bartlett Winery Maine

Suddenly, we noticed it was after 4:30, and we found ourselves in a rush as Kathe packed a case of wine for us that included the Coastal White, Peach Semi-Dry, and both of the blueberry wines between which I had been trying to decide.  Before it closed at 5pm, we wanted to get to the Sullivan Harbor Farm Smokehouse – “the hottest little smokehouse in Maine” that gets raves of “delectable” from The Boston Globe and “highly recommended” from The New York Times. Kathe picked up the phone and asked if they would wait for us for five minutes.  They did, and we left very happy with smoked salmon bacon brushed with maple syrup and the best smoked salmon pâté I have ever had.  (Sorry, Zabar’s.)

Maine has always been the land of farmers and fishermen.  But, as the Bartlett Winery and Sullivan Harbor Farm prove, it is increasingly the home of culinary artisans who are adding true craftsmen’s value to what’s offered by the great state of Maine.

Next time I won’t wait for a cloudy day to visit.  I’ll bike the Schoodic Peninsula, then head over to Bartlett’s.

Related Stories:

Biking in Maine:  A Road Less Traveled in Acadia National Park

August 6, 2012

Searching for the Best Hikes in Acadia National Park?

Jordan Pond Acadia National Park

Let me introduce you to a cliff-side hike along east face of Penobscot Mountain.  Because so much of the climb overlooks the shimmering cobalt of Jordan Pond, many hikers list it among their favorites in Acadia National Park in Maine.  We do.

The 4.3-mile loop starts and ends at Jordan Pond House, so plan your hiking time accordingly.  Do you want your “reward” to be a lunch of lobster stew or an afternoon tea featuring popovers?

Rated as difficult, this hike features stone and timber box steps, iron rungs and ladders,  railings, and a variety of bridges – all to span the ravines and manage the steep terrain.

Between there are flat sections, for sure, with wonderful views.

Moreover, Penobscot’s bald summit at 1,194 feet will give you a 360-vista of Mount Desert Island.  And the beauty continues.  The descent along Penobscot South Ridge Trail is also one of my favorites because the wide-open ridge displays views of the Atlantic Ocean and islands to the south.

Ready for your reward at Jordan Pond House?  This hike, however, is truly one of those cases when the journey is the reward.

Related Stories:

Five Favorite Hikes in Acadia National Park

If You Want to Hike Cadillac and Champlain Mountains in Acadia National Park, Go in the Fall

Best Easy Hikes in Acadia National Park

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 41 other followers