Archive for August, 2008

August 20, 2008

How to Avoid the Labor Day Crowds in Bar Harbor


Beech Mountain Labor Day 2007

Beech Mountain Labor Day 2007

You want to get away to Bar Harbor. The lobster is sweeter. It’s 10 degrees cooler. And it’s so much more “pristine” than the Cape and the Islands.

The problem is that other people think so, too.

That doesn’t mean that Bar Harbor will be “crowded.” It’s all relative. What’s important to remember is that Bar Harbor is only one town among several on Mount Desert Island, which is one of the largest islands on the eastern seaboard. If you plan ahead and are just a bit strategic, you will hardly notice it is a major holiday weekend in Acadia National Park. Here are 7 tips to promote your serenity:


1. Hike the Western Mountains – Some of my favorite trails are in the Bar Harbor and Ocean Drive regions – but you won’t catch me there on a big holiday weekend. Instead I head to the western mountains (Beech and Western) or those on the western shore of Somes Sound (St. Sauveur, Acadia and Flying Mountain).

2. Try Echo Lake instead of Sand Beach – Sand Beach is guaranteed to be packed and the parking lot full. Instead you might try the sand beach at the southern end of Echo Lake on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island. Even if it’s more crowded than usual, you can get some solitude by swimming out into this beautiful glacial lake.

3. Kayak in Western Bay vs. Frenchman’s Bay – Great paddling companies operate in both areas. However, if you’re looking for a more peaceful alternative to all of the tour boats and general activity that emanate from Bar Harbor, I can tell you that I have had sublime experiences with Maine State Kayak.

4. Try restaurants in Southwest Harbor or Town Hill – One of my favorite restaurants on the planet is Havana in Bar Harbor. However, if you’re worried about parking in Bar Harbor, you might opt for the outstanding dining at either Red Sky or Town Hill Bistro for a special night out at the end of August.

5. Picnic in Pretty Marsh – In fact, you might pick up something from the new Town Hill Wine and Cheese Shop and go out to Pretty Marsh. If you’d like a more substantial dinner, there are cooking grills at the picnic area there. Enjoy the sunset from the rocky coastline on Pretty Marsh Bay.

6. Cycle around Witch Hole and Aunt Betty’s Pond – One of the most popular places to bike, and rightfully so, is Eagle Lake. However, on Labor Day Weekend, you’re likely to find the parking lot full and cars lining the roadway in both directions. Instead, consider starting your ride from Hulls Cove Visitor Center, which has a very large parking lot. Get a good topographical map from Map Adventures so you can gauge the terrain and plan any of a variety of routes. Remember, there are 57 miles of carriage roads in Acadia, so let’s spread out.

7. Make reservations now – If you’re thinking of exploring the park by horse-drawn carriage, call Wildwood Stables a week in advance to see if spots are still open. Interested in a massage to celebrate relaxation on Labor Day? Consider Bar Harbor Inn and call in advance for your spa service. Restaurants? Do a little research in advance and, as they say, call now!

It was Samuel de Champlain who named Mount Desert in 1604, saying in his journal, “The mountain summits are all bare and rocky.” On this Labor Day I hope you find that some, if not bare and devoid of visitors, are at least plentifully peaceful.




August 17, 2008

Four Hikes in Maine’s Acadia National Park You and Your Kids Will Love

kids hiking acadia national park

“How much longer?” is not what you want to hear as you take in your first refreshing breaths of spruce-scented air.  “Can we do this again tomorrow?” is more like it.

However, that’s a sentiment that, frankly, takes some planning.  In addition to your kids’ safety and fortitude, you also have to take into account how to keep them interested for sustained periods of walking.

Choosing the right hike for your family is often the most challenging part of the experience.

I have surveyed online postings and hiking guidebooks to get recommendations for the most kid-friendly treks, then I hiked all of these trails myself.  In addition, I have the experience of a daughter who thought hiking was “boring” unless a hike offered special features or rewards.

If hiking with your kids is one of the things you want to do when you visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, I’m happy to offer up these four alternatives.

Ship Harbor

Roundtrip Distance: 1.3 miles

Draw a map of a figure 8, tell your kids that’s the shape of this trail, and then ask them if they want to do the woods or harbor shoreline loop first.  Whatever the course, your outermost point is a scenic picnic spot where you can contemplate the wreck of a schooner that ran aground there in the early 1600s.  We loved the shoreline along Ship Harbor where we collected some beautiful sun-bleached shells. 

Bonus:  Nearby is Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  The kids will enjoy climbing on the rocks at its base with the headlight above and the pounding surf below.  Great photo opps.


South Bubble

Roundtrip Distance: Approximately 1.2 miles

You’ll encounter many families taking advantage of the terrain of this hike: it has some exciting elevation, yet the trail’s series of crib box surfaces make it much easier than hiking over rocks or roots.  The summit of South Bubble, at 768 feet, provides a dramatic vista southward over Jordan Pond.  Many families will be there with willing hands to take a great family shot for you.

Bonus:  Tell the kids they’ll have a chance to try and push over the famous Bubble Rock glacially transported to the top of South Bubble.


Jordan Pond

Total Distance:  3.2 miles

This longer hike will let you and your family walk all the way around scenic Jordan Pond.  Just about all of the circuit is close to the water, which can be 100 feet deep near the shoreline.  Although the terrain is flat, this hike engages my imagination because there are a bridge of flat stones, rock-to-rock hiking, a birch suspension foot-bridge, a section to tiptoe over extensive root systems, and bogwalks. 

Bonus:  At the end of your hike, pick blueberries below the tea lawn in front of Jordan Pond House.  Then have lemonade, popovers, and strawberry ice cream at the restaurant.  There’s a gift shop, too.


Flying Mountain

Total Loop:  1.5 miles

hiking acadia national parkOf all of the hikes listed here, this one probably feels the most like a “real hike.”  It’s relatively short, but there is a bit of climbing and elevation at the beginning that’s fun for energetic kids.  The views of Somes Sound, Sargent Drive, and Norumbega and Sargent Mountains are stunning.  (And mom may be intrigued by the spacious homes and lawns across the sound in Northeast Harbor.)  The return back to the car is easy along a fire road, where you can collect some dried cedar branches for the kids to make into cedar pillows. 

Bonus:The hike’s midpoint is at Valley Cove. The rock beach there is a great spot for the kids to skip rocks and play.  You may even see a peregrine soaring above Valley Cove.



It’s smart to hike with a map.  I highly recommend you pick up one of the good topographic maps published by Map Adventures  in one of the local shops.  While you’re there, look for Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park, now the most dog-eared volume on my Maine bookshelf.  It provides detailed route descriptions and maps of 59 different hikes and was the source for the walking distances here.  A pair of inexpensive binoculars from WalMart or Amazon is also a great investment. Don’t forget plenty of water and some snacks, and these walks may become a mainstay of your family vacations. 


After expending all of that energy, where are you going to eat?  Mount Desert Island offers everything from ice cream shops with delicious blueberry pie to casual wine bars that will welcome your kids.  There’s even a lobster pound that serves PB&J.  So, rest assured, there are lots of restaurants to eat with kids when visiting Acadia National Park.  If you’re renting, you can also tap local markets on Mount Desert Island for superb local crabmeat, local goat cheese, organic vegetables — and lobster.  Many of the local markets also have very good wine selections. 


What’s on the agenda for tomorrow?  A ride on a lobster boat?  What if it rains?  How about an oceanarium?  Click here for 22 great things to do with your kids in Acadia – one of which is to plan another hike!


Tips for Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Bar Harbor

Which Carriage Roads Are the Best Bike Routes for Kids in Maine’s Acadia National Park?

The Best Ice Cream in Bar Harbor Tops Lists of the Best Ice Cream in America

Best Easy Hikes in Acadia National Park

August 11, 2008

Saving the Ales and Other Things To Do If It Rains in Acadia National Park

Children can have a great time with their parents even if it’s raining in Acadia National Park.  While this kind of weather rules out whale watching, there are touch tanks and an oceanarium, a movie house that serves pizza during the show, and welcoming libraries and picturesque bookstores with waterfront reading areas. Take a look at my recent post for more ideas on what to do with kids if it rains.


This post, however, is for adults.


A book and a nap are high on my list of activities for a rainy day.  Working with that as a theme, here are three options for things to do that surely will get you in a Gene Kelly kind of mood.


1. Taste some of Maine’s best micro-brews.  Bar Harbor Brewing offers tastings of its award-winning ales and stouts at its brewery and storefront, now conveniently located at 8 Mount Desert Street in downtown Bar Harbor.  The day we went Andre Lozano was offering very generous pours to compensate for the fact that their True Blue Blueberry Ale and Bar Harbor Peach Ale were not available.  They only produce 100 cases a week, so many of the brands are in short supply, and they only distribute within 100 miles of Bar Harbor, so this was a treat.  Another day we visited Atlantic Brewing Company in Town Hill, which is in a very pleasant setting and offers tables in a garden for sunny days. Also behind the farmhouse and right next to the brewery is the tiny Knox Road Grill, which really put us in the mood for pulled pork.  Instead, though, we enjoyed an extremely interesting tour of the brewery during which we had the opportunity to smell and taste barley roasted to various depths.  Then we tasted nine different ales and stouts, as well as two sodas.  That brought us to nap time!


2. Relax with a massage.  In fact, Bar Harbor offers world-class services that may well put you into a slumber.  They will certainly help soothe some of your sore muscles from hiking and paddling.  The Bar Harbor Inn beckons you to its spa through a trellis and into a separate building, with a wicker-furnished waiting room overlooking the lawn and Frenchmen’s Bay.  Have some fruit and water before moving to a candle-lit private room (or a couples’ room) for your treatment on a warm massage table – how perfect for a rainy afternoon!  My deep tissue massage was $105.  Another option, in a simpler setting that is appealing in its straightforwardness, is the Tree of Life Day Spa.  It is operated by the owners of the Acadia School of Massage, who also provide treatments themselves on occasion.  Although my therapist exclaimed “You have knots everywhere.  I honestly have never seen so many!” she was able to work many of them out and I was extremely satisfied with the massage, which cost $95


3. Find a new novel.  We headed off the beaten path down to Bass Harbor and Bernard to explore.  This is a great thing to do on a rainy day…or a sunny one if you want to avoid the crowds.  There are a few antique shops in Bernard, but the Old Red Store (129 Bernard Road) was the only one that was open.  It didn’t matter because I found a wonderful old watercolor of loggers loading cargo on to sailing ships for $36 framed, fabulous tote bags made of recycled sail cloth, and very nice stationery.  We then headed over to Port Side, the sister bookstore of Port In A Storm in Somesville, which is also located on the water in an historic building.  I lost myself reading the reviews and recommendations of the staff – a very friendly gesture of this entrepreneurship.  I bought something by Wallace Stegner I hadn’t read, as well as Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.  We wrapped up the day with a great lobster dinner at Thurston’s before heading home to Somesville.


Of course, a perfectly good option is to just stay in, read, nap, and head out for an early dinner.  Mount Desert Island offers many great eateries from casual to elegant, from lobster pounds to tapas and wine bars.  For reviews of 12 great spots close to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA. 


Nimbus clouds today?  Let it pour!




August 5, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Maine Lobster Roll: The Trenton Tasting Tour

My parents lived on Nantucket for fifteen years, and the trip from the mainland to the island was a significant three hours. It takes less than a minute to cross the bridge from Trenton onto Mount Desert Island. Still, for me it is significant. It’s the dividing line between “need to” and “want to.”


Therefore, I celebrate the crossing over. And I start with a lobster roll in Trenton.  Why not? Regardless of the time of day, I stop at one of the local lobster pounds and order some clam chowder and this most celebrated of sandwiches to mark the beginning of a vacation in Maine.


Up until this point where I stop has been more or less random. However, there are three lobster pounds that we have frequented over the years, all situated on Bar Harbor Road right before the bridge: Gateway Lunts, Down East Lobster Pound, and Trenton Lobster Pound. These rustic shacks have drawn us by the fragrance of the outdoor wood fires simmering barrels of water for the lobster boil and the pleasant picnic tables in view of the water or in a pine grove.


Now that I’m writing this blog, however, I thought I should get a little more scientific about my recommendations. Therefore, we removed the bias of the setting from the objects under examination and set up a taste test on my porch. All three samples of chowder and lobster rolls were similarly influenced by a nicely chilled sauvignon blanc. It was very surprising how much difference side-by-side comparison revealed.


The chowder at all three Trenton lobster pounds is full of tender clams and diced potatoes, served in a flavorful milky broth. None succumbed to an overly thick cream base. I’d bet anything that Down East’s broth began by sautéing onions in butter. It was easily deemed our favorite.


Both Lunts and Down East serve their lobster salad on a nicely toasted frankfurter roll. For Lunts that’s what you get for $12.99. At Down East you also get a bag of chips and fresh, tangy coleslaw for $13.99. For $13.99 Trenton Lobster Pound serves a lobster salad sandwich on delicious white bread topped with a grape tomato and pepper garnish, as well as a side of chips. Compared with the other two pounds, Lunts offers slightly less lobster in lieu of a layer of lettuce at the base of the roll.


Flavor? On the evening of our tasting, Trenton Lobster Pound offered the sweetest lobster meat. The tasty salad was created with the slightest amount of celery and a minimum of mayonnaise. By a significant margin, it was the best. However, the sandwich presentation doesn’t live up to everyone’s expectation of a classic lobster roll. If that’s the case for you, you’ll want to try Down East’s, not only for the value, but for the pure taste of the lobster salad itself.

Whichever lobster pound you choose, you’ll be thrilled that you’re now enjoying the best Maine has to offer and in less than a minute you’ll be on one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Foodies adore Mount Desert Island, with its great harborside spots for more lobster, wine and tapas bars, and comfortably refined restaurants that specialize in organic produce and other local ingredients. For more information visit OUR ACADIA … and have a great vacation!


When the Best Maine Lobster Roll Isn’t a Roll at All

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: 2 Cats Cafe

Best Bar Harbor Ice Cream Tops Lists of America’s Best