Archive for September, 2009

September 21, 2009

Top Ten Things to Do When You Visit Acadia National Park in Maine

Cadillac SunriseKen Burns’ series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” may have piqued your interest about Acadia, the easternmost park in the system.  It’s where the mountains meet the sea, and a desire to “do everything” co-exists happily with a sense of calm contemplation.  

Acadia National Park is about three hours north of Portland, in relatively easy proximity to the metropolitan areas along the eastern seaboard.  It occupies about two-thirds of Mount Desert Island, the most well-known town of which is Bar Harbor.  The village where I live was founded in 1761.  Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the communities of this New England island. This adds considerably to the charm that captivates park visitors. 

Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park. 

  1. Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.   At some 1500 feet, it 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.
  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 for this drive.
  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 57 miles of car-free carriage roads for cycling.  There is plenty of parking at Hull’s Cove Visitor Center.  Or, if you prefer, you can take a horse-drawn carriage drive from Wildwood Stables and see the park the way Mr. Rockefeller intended.
  5. Stroll, hike, or climb.  The park boasts 130 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.
  6. Have lemonade 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 and 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.
  7. Visit Sand BeachThis sandy crescent has 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 forward on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park. 

Evenings will keep you on the run as well as you explore Mount Desert Island’s restaurant scene.  Many specialize in seafood and locally grown produce, but you’ll also find French bistro, authentic Mexican, tapas, and Cuban cuisine.  And what if it rains?  There are local breweries, bookstores, antique shops, movies, repertory companies, museums, and fashion purveyors that are sure to keep you entertained.  In fact, after a few days of hiking, biking, and kayaking, you might hope for a slight drizzle and an afternoon in the rocking chair of a local Maine library. 

For specific recommendations and contact information for guides, tours, restaurants, and inns, visit OUR ACADIA.  You can find special tips for when to visit, what to do on a rainy day, and how to pack.  It also features tips for fall trips and sample itineraries.

September 7, 2009

Under the Hood of a Maine Travel Blog

Design on my favorite new "Life is Good" t-shirt

Design on my favorite new "Life is Good" t-shirt

One of the most exciting parts of writing a travel blog is watching the dashboard of visitor stats. It provides a clear view into consumer interests, albeit one restricted by search engine algorithms. As we race from summer into fall, let’s see if my stats reveal any surprises to Maine tourism trendwatchers.

I’ve been publishing a blog “A New Yorker Talks to Herself about Maine” for over a year now. I started it when I noticed that friends and co-workers in NYC began looking for escape routes once I started talking about Maine. I wanted to talk about how fast peregrines dive. They wanted to talk about a Sabathia fastball. I wanted to talk about hiking the Western Mountains vs. the ones near Bar Harbor. They wanted to talk about Gossip Girl vs. NYC Prep. The only solution was to give myself an outlet through blogging.

So, I now have 27 posts on WordPress. The most popular post I ever published was “22 Great Things to Do with Your Kids in Acadia National Park.” It was so strong — attracting eight times more visitors than my next most popular post – that I made it a permanent page on my Web site about Acadia. Three of my top 12 posts have to do with kids in Acadia.

That just goes to prove the old advertising adage: put kids or dogs in your commercial, and you’ll get more attention.

The next most surefire way to spark interest in a Maine blog has been to write about lobster. Three of my top seven posts are about lobster – whether it’s finding the best lobster roll, defining lobster pound, or comparing hard vs. soft-shell.

By the way, I was surprised to find virtually no interest at all in locating the best clam chowder. I got only three hits and one was from my neighbor Bill in Somesville.

You won’t be surprised that the big winners among my blogs this summer had to do with what to do on MDI if it rains! Those posts accelerated into the top ten.

According to Google, people search far more for “Bar Harbor” than “Acadia National Park,” especially during the summer. So, I frequently feature Bar Harbor in the title of my posts. That’s not an automatic key to success, however — two of my weakest five had Bar Harbor in the headline.

One of the things that has surprised me most is how few people are interested in reading about eco-tourism and Acadia. Twenty times more people wanted to find out the origin of the term “lobster pound” than sought to learn how Bar Harbor helps promote eco-tourism.

That’s a prime example of paying attention to what people do vs. say.

Finally, I published the same story about Diver Ed and the Dive-In Theatre under two different headlines. One compared the benefits of going out on the Starfish Enterprise as an alternative to whale watching. The other asked, “Can Three Graduates of NYC Prep Find Happiness Looking for Starfish on the Maine Coast?” (I thought I’d try to draft in behind the popularity of this new reality show.)

 I’m happy to report whale watching won. I feel vindicated about my favorite reality show.