Posts tagged ‘kayaking’

June 5, 2010

Five Favorite Hikes in Acadia National Park

Imagine: 24 mountains on an island the size of Martha’s Vineyard.  That’s Mount Desert Island in Maine, and it should be your destination if you want to hike where the mountains meet the sea.

I’m now on my seventh summer of hiking Acadia National Park’s trails, marveling at each experience and recording it in my copy of A Walk in the Park  by Tom St. Germain.  This small volume has been my indispensable guide and should be yours.

When I started hiking in Acadia, I’d always ask locals and people I’d meet on the trails, “What’s your favorite hike?”  Now that I’ve covered 32 of the 59 Tom St. Germain lists, I’ll share my favorites.

Jordan Cliffs & Bluffs to Penobscot Mountain

This 4.3 mile loop, sections of which were constructed before 1900, makes me feel like a kid.  Stone steps, iron rungs and railings, ladders, and bridges over ravines combine with great views of Jordan Pond on the ascent.  That alone would make this a spectacular hike, but the 360-degree views atop Penobscot deliver sheer bliss.

Giant Slide Trail & Grandgent to Sargent Mountain

Also in the Jordan Pond area, I like the Giant Slide Trail along Sargent Brook and the steep Grandgent climb.  You get two peaks for the price of one: first, spectacular views from Gilmore Peak and then from Sargent Mountain.  I make the 5.4 mile loop by descending on the North Ridge Trail, which Tom St. Germain recommends for its excellent views of Somes Sound.

The Precipice to Champlain Mountain

This short, but exhilarating hike deserves its notoriety.  It’s a 1,160 vertical gain or loss, depending on how you look at it, but I don’t recommend you look down.  After all, this trail takes you up the sheer east face of Champlain Mountain.  Rungs and ladders help, but some ledges have no protection.  At the top the views of the Atlantic and Frenchman Bay are equally breaktaking.

Acadia Mountain

I’ve done this hike again and again, not only because it is my favorite way to introduce new people to Acadia hiking, but I just love it.  Both on the trail and at the peaks (two of them), there are superior vistas.  In fact, the steep descent down the eastern side of Acadia Mountain offers some of our most-photographed views of Somes Sound.

Beech Mountain

Atop this 849’ mountain is a fire tower that boosts your viewing pleasure.  And at its base is wonderful Long Pond that affords the opportunity to combine this hike with a little kayaking.  My preferred route for this hike is to go up the West Ridge and descend on Valley Trail, which is thickly wooded and covered in moss and lichen.  Another option is to descend to Echo Lake Beach, where you can leave your bikes for the trip back to Long Pond, making this a hiking/biking/kayaking triathalon.

Next to water and great hiking boots, the necessity I also recommend for hiking in Acadia is the trail map of Mount Desert Island published by Map Adventures.  It clearly shows the 110 miles of hiking trails, as well as 57 miles of carriage roads, signpost numbers included.  Believe me, though Acadia’s trails are well marked, you can take wrong routes and end up well out of your way, exhausted.  Last weekend I was stopped twice by people with less detailed maps who were quite confused.

The five hikes I’ve recommended here are all moderate to challenging.  You’ll definitely get some exercise as well as spectaculars views of Acadia National Park’s mountains, lakes, islands, bays, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean.  The good news is that you’ll be guilt-free when you indulge later in lobster and blueberry pie!  So, after you’ve planned your hike, find the best restaurants and lobster pounds on Mount Desert Island.

RELATED STORIES:

Best Easy Hikes in Acadia National Park

Best Carriage Roads for Biking with Kids in Acadia National Park

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

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June 15, 2009

How to Choose a Sea Kayaking Tour to Explore the Scenic Waterways around Acadia National Park

Approaching the Porcupine Islands off Bar Harbor

Approaching the Porcupine Islands off Bar Harbor

If you visit Acadia National Park, you have to see it from the water. 

You can take sailing trips, scenic nature cruises, and go whale watching.  But I most enjoy being close to the water and motoring under my own power in a kayak. 

The bays and straits around Mount Desert Island, of which the park occupies about two-thirds, offer the chance to see harbor seals, porpoises, eagles, and osprey.  Seeing the rocky, tree-lined coast from the vantage point of the ocean is special unto itself.  Kayaking tours not only make the experience safe and convenient, but open up your eyes to many of the subtleties of different eco-systems. Novices get lessons and a little practice before the group takes off.  Of course, all of the gear is included, and most companies offer trips of different durations. 

On the first trip I ever took a man who had kayaked with his family the day before was back alone for a sunset paddle.  That’s how impressive the experience was… 

So, how do you select a kayaking tour?

On Mount Desert Island the primary criterion is location: do you want to kayak in Frenchman Bay off of Bar Harbor or along the island’s western coastline known as the “Quiet Side”? 

Sea Kayaking Western Bay

Sea Kayaking Western Bay

This was the subject of a lively debate recently on TripAdvisor’s Maine forum.  Since I’ve kayaked in both locations myself, I’ll try to sort out the “pro’s” and “con’s” for you, but you should check out the string of posts for recommendations of several different sea kayaking companies. 

Fans of Frenchman Bay like the proximity to their lodging and touring around the Porcupine Islands, a cluster of four small, but dramatic islands.  Detractors cite the water traffic.  Kayaking tours in Bar Harbor such as Aquaterra Adventures leave directly from the dock, which is something folks also like; other guides such as Coastal Kayaking take guests along with all of the gear in vans and leave from the shoreline. 

Kayaking Jordan Pond (Bubbles in Background)

Kayaking Jordan Pond (Bubbles in Background)

That’s also the case with Maine State Kayaking Tours, which operates out of Southwest Harbor.  They paddle in the area of Western Bay.  Their fans talk about the serenity and beauty of these trips, especially those at sunset. 

I share my take on two different tours on both sides of the island at OUR ACADIA under reviews of Aquaterra and Maine State Sea Kayak.  There’s also information there about renting kayaks to explore Acadia’s glacial lakes. 

Regardless of which kayaking tour or venue you choose for your first trip, it will only give your perspective on what’s so great – and different – about your second!

The author proudly poses with her kayak in front of  Great Long Pond.  She enjoys kayaking on the ocean, as well kayak lynnas MDI’s lakes and Somes Sound.  The agenda of a favorite day in Acadia is to hike up Beech Mountain in the morning, picnic, then kayak on Long Pond.  For more ideas on how to explore the waterways, trails, restaurants, and markets of Mount Desert Island, visit OUR ACADIA.

April 7, 2009

Put away your Blackberries and turn off the video games. It’s time for family nature camp in Maine.

Why do kids have all the fun?  Surely, in this economy parents need a real break, too.  Now College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, has the perfect solution – a sensibly priced vacation of nature programs, boat trips, hiking, and biking.  It all takes place on Mount Desert Island, one of the world’s most beautiful islands.

 

whale-watch4The first big difference about this camp is that all activities are intended for the whole family.   The program is best-suited for children who are at least 5, but there doesn’t seem to be an upper-age limit.  Even the most skeptical adolescents, who dread the experience will be “lame,” seem to leave bestowing accolades. 

 

In fact, so many people end up loving Family Nature Camp that COA has designed special field trips designated for returning families.

 

Experienced staff helps plan activities for each family.  Most days are spent participating in two or three programs, including field trips with naturalists and local experts.  Activities are conducted at the college, which occupies 35 oceanfront acres, and in adjacent Acadia National Park.  What kind of activities?  Well…

 

  • Go on a whale watch 25 miles off the coast; if you’re lucky, you’ll see not only whales, but also harbor seals, gray seals, pods of harbor porpoises and North Atlantic puffins. 
  • Learn about the business and politics of the Maine fishermen.  Check out farming pens where Atlantic salmon are raised and watch your captain haul lobster traps. 
  • Go on a boat trip where the divers bring back a bag of underwater creatures such as lobsters, sea stars, scallops, sea cucumbers and other surprises – which you get to hold. 
  • Visit “active” beaver sites and get a close look at beaver lodges. 
  • Discover incredible facts about bats (some eat fish; other make tents!) and hear their ultrasound echolocation with the aid of a bat detector. 

star-fish1In addition, there’s free time for self-guided hikes, walks, and other activities.  (Sea kayaking is available for an additional fee.) Transportation is provided for most field trips, but families can be pretty independent as well.  For example, you can walk or take the free bus to the village of Bar Harbor to enjoy the shops, restaurants, art shows, and evening concerts.

 

Everyone stays in the College of Atlantic student housing on a campus that’s one of the “greenest” in America and eats in the college cafeteria.  Although the rooms and shared bathrooms are Spartan, meals include bountiful New England fare such as homemade fish chowder, chicken pot pie, and blueberry cobbler.  (If your kids have had past vacations staying in plush hotels with room service, there might be a lesson in these accommodations, too.)

 

 

Family Nature Camp rates are: Full Week – $900 for participants 16-years-old and older; $450 for children 15-years-old and under; Half Week – $500 for participants 16-years-old and older; $250 for children 15-years-old and under. These fees include housing, all meals, activities, field trips, and three boat trips! 

 

Now that’s an “eco-tourist’s all-inclusive.”

Summer 2009 Sessions: July 5-11, July 19-25, July 26-August 1, August 2-8.  For more information, visit College of the Atlantic Family Nature Camp.

For more information about Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA.

 

 

 

July 20, 2008

22 Great Things To Do with Your Kids in Maine’s Acadia National Park

Last year friends of mine from New York took their two boys, 8 and 11, out of school for a year to travel the world. Since their dad was formerly the publisher of National Geographic Kids, they had a pretty wonderful itinerary. Acadia National Park was their second stop, and after two days younger son Stefan asked if they could just stay there for the rest of the year.

 

Stefan may have a future himself in travel publishing. Even at his age, he concurs with the editors of Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler who consistently rank Mount Desert Island as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Its rocky coastline, boreal forests, spectacular fiord, and multitude of mountains apparently hold appeal for every age.

 

My daughter started visiting Acadia National Park regularly at the age of 14. She liked kayaking and the hikes with rock scrambling a lot. But what she loved was the rock climbing. Having grown up on New York City’s rock climbing walls, she felt comfortable with a 60-foot cliff and loved the fact that at its base was the pounding surf. Booking in advance for a climb or two with Acadia Mountain Guides became a standard part of our vacation planning.

 

Here are 22 great things to do with your kids if you visit Acadia National Park this summer:

 

1. Attend a ranger-led program – Offered free by the National Park Service, these are fun, interactive programs on subjects ranging from the constellations to birds of prey. (Did you know that owls and peregrines eat their prey whole and then regurgitate what’s not digestible in pellets?) Ranger-led programs include hikes, cruises, and simple drop-ins at interesting places. Find out more www.nps.gov/acad.

2. Go hiking – Acadia National Park is unique in how its mountains rise out of the sea, so hiking should be high on your “must see” list. Considering that there are over 130 miles of trail, select a hike that’s right for your family by check out a guidebook, Web site (www.trails.com), or the Park Service’s hiking difficulty sheet. You might consider Wonderland and Ship Harbor because of their flatter terrain. The Bubbles (South Trail) and Bubble Rock are also very popular with kids.

3. Learn about lobsters – On the Lulu Lobster Boat tour, kids can learn about lobstering from Captain John and look for harbor seals in Frenchman Bay off of Bar Harbor. Or, for a rainy day activity, visit the lobster hatchery and museum at the Mount Desert Oceanarium.

4. Sail on a Friendship Sloop – These graceful sloops were actually the hard-working lobstering boats of the late 1800s. Today there is no lovelier way to experience Mount Desert Island and the many islands surrounding it than from the water on one of the charters offered by Downeast Friendship Sloop.

5. Go sea kayaking – For the more athletic, get out on the water in a kayak. Maine State Kayak offers breathtakingly beautiful tours, which are also educational, on “the quiet side” of Acadia National Park. There’s only one wrinkle: each child is required to paddle in tandem with an adult and must be at least 8-years-old (and 4 feet, 8 inches).

6. Take a horse-drawn carriage drive – Another unique feature of Acadia National Park is the carriage road system, conceived of and built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. These picturesque car-free roads wind up mountains, along brooks, and through spruce forests. One great way to explore them is to take a horse-drawn carriage trip from Wildwood Stables in the park.  Try to book early enough to get spots on the sunset drive to Day Mountain, which is a favorite. Call 877-276-3622 for more information. 

7. Bike on a carriage road – Get some exercise and do some peddling! Eagle Lake is very popular and thus more crowded. I actually prefer exploring around Witch Hole Pond and Aunt Betty’s Pond, and the hills aren’t bad.

8. Go to a lumber jack show – This sounds tacky, but it gets great recommendations. The show is a demonstration of what a logging camp competition would have been in the Maine woods over 100 years ago…except the host of the show is Timber Tina (www.mainelumberjack.com).

9. Go miniature golfing – No family vacation would be complete without a couple of hours of mini-golfing. Bar Harbor’s “award-winning” adventure golf has a pirates theme (www.piratescove.net).

10. Pick blueberries – Next to lobster, this is Maine’s best edible. They grow everywhere. Pick some, have them over ice cream, and read Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, well-known for Make Way for Ducklings, who chose the Maine coast as the settings for many of his children’s books.

11. Go rock climbing – The competent team at Acadia Mountain Guides  can customize a special, affordable climb for your family. After meeting you and learning about everyone’s goals, your guide will select an area – from a lower angled climb to a cliff rising out of Frenchman’s Bay. For me this was an exhilarating experience, and my daughter loved it.

12. Visit a lighthouse – If you don’t want to do a technical climb, the kids will love rock scrambling on the huge granite boulders on the harbor side of the Bass Harbor Head Light. Constructed in 1876, the tower itself is off-limits, but the views here are wonderful – a perfect setting for the photo of this year’s holiday card.

13. Touch a starfish…and more. The Dive-In Theatre gets rave reviews (“educational,” “fantastic,” “extremely fun”). After a cruise in Frenchmen’s Bay, Diver Ed takes the plunge, explores the bay while on view on a topside LCD screen, and surfaces to provide a hands-on experience of what he has found. If the price is too steep for a larger family, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory provides free touch tank demonstrations.  

14. Explore the tidepools – Sea stars, barnacles, mussels, anemones, crabs, and young lobsters live in the intertidal zone and are exposed twice each day by the withdrawing tide. Focused, quiet observation will open up a whole new world for your kids and provide a special kind of experience that’s an interesting alternative to some of the more commercialized options. Acadia National Park provides more information at www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/tidepooling.htm.

15. Have lemonade at Jordan Pond House – Ask for a table on the lawn and order popovers and strawberry ice cream, too. If there’s a wait (which is likely in July and August), go to the gift shop and buy blueberry jam to take home. Better still, skip rocks in Jordan Pond and explore the trail around its shoreline. (There’s more about Jordan Pond House at www.ouracadia.com.)

16. Swim in Echo Lake – After a hike on Beech Mountain or Acadia Mountain, take a refreshing plunge. You can relax in the sun on a beach at the lake’s southern end or on wide granite cliffs on the eastern shoreline.

17. Build sand castles at Sand Beach – You may find it a little too chilly to swim, but the kids probably won’t. The setting itself is stunning with cliffs arching around the beach and Beehive Mountain as a backdrop. Hey, after all of that hiking and biking, pull out a paperback and take a quick doze if someone else is supervising the castle construction.

18. Let teenagers explore the island alone – If your teenagers are itching for some independence, suggest they take the Island Explorer Bus and meet the rest of the family at a given destination. Eight routes link hotels, inns, and campgrounds with destinations in Acadia National Park and neighboring village centers (for details see www.exploreacadia.com). Since the buses are propane-powered, this is nice not only for parents’ nerves, but also for the environment.

19. Take in a show Acadia Repertory Theatre in picturesque Somesville offers a children’s program in the summertime. Every Wednesday and Saturday at 10:30am they are performing “Snow White and Rose Red,” a new adaptation of the children’s classic. Another option: see a movie at Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor where, in addition to theatre seats, there are couches and recliners and, in addition to popcorn and soda, there is delicious fresh-dough gourmet pizza.

20. Go to Seawall for an evening cookout – Seawall in Acadia National Park is a natural granite and rock seawall on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. Nearby on the ocean is a beautiful, spruce-studded picnic area where you can make a fire and grill. Check out the National Park program at the nearby campground that evening. Or just watch the night sky overtake the sea.

21. Enjoy Bar Harbor at night – It’s a great seaside resort town that attracts crowds for ice cream, fudge, T-shirts, and maybe even a quick reading by the local psychic. There are also excellent shops for guidebooks and outfitters if you forgot your fleece or want new hiking boots.

22. Reward the parents with a lobster dinner – Having arranged and managed such a wonderful family vacation, you deserve a special night out. How about lobster? For reviews of two of my favorite lobster pounds, Thurston’s and Abel’s, see www.ouracadia.com. (By the way, Thurston’s even has PB&J for fussier eaters.)

 

Writing this reminds me why I love Mount Desert Island so much. You don’t need kids to enjoy these New England summertime delights. Acadia National Park is also summer camp for adults.  When’s the best time to visit Acadia?  Should you rent a cottage or stay at a B&B?  What should you do if it rains?  Get answers to these questions and more at OUR ACADIA.

 

Copyright 2007-2010 www.ouracadia.com. All rights reserved.

 

RELATED STORIES:

 

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

Tips for Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Bar Harbor

Four Hikes in Acadia National Park You and Your Kids Will Love — Easy Terrain and Big Payoffs

 

 

 

 

June 3, 2008

When’s a good time to visit Acadia National Park?

 

Springtime Rhodora on Bernard MountainAs many people visit Acadia National Park in September and October as in May and June, according to National Park data.  I’ve biked and kayaked in the park in the fall.  I hosted a memorable Thanksgiving in Mount Desert in 2006.  I’ve even dipped into Somes Sound for seawater for boiling lobsters during a visit in January. 

 

Want the pro’s and con’s month by month?  Click here.

 

But now let me tell you the wondrous reason to visit Acadia National Park in May: it lets you turn back the clock.

 

Being here in Maine always lets you turn back the clock.  The pace is more “normal.”  People seem less willing to sell their souls for the almighty buck, as my dad would say.  They even close the stores at 5pm on Sundays during a holiday weekend.

 

But the real reason for anyone from New York or Boston or Philadelphia to visit Acadia National Park in May is that you get to experience the early spring we luxuriated in four or five weeks ago…again.  The lilac.  The apple blossoms.  Maybe even a glimpse of forsythia.  Leaves are still in that about-to-spring moment.  The mountains are deep spruce mixed with that giddy lime-yellow green that only means spring.  And there are flowers, like the rhodora, we never saw during New York City’s spring.  Come to Acadia National Park in May and enjoy spring twice in the same year.

 

You’ll find many areas of the park blissfully quiet if you stay the week after Memorial Day.  Organize your hikes to avoid the crowds.  We made the mistake of doing Gorham Mountain on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and were punished with having to listen to the conversations of other hikers.  So, on Monday we took off to the “quiet side” of the island and hiked the Western Ledge Trail up Bernard Mountain and found a heavenly waterfall and pool when we came down Sluiceway. (We heard something louder and steadier than the wind in the trees off to the east.  We went off trail and made this delightful discovery.)  When visitors returned to work on Tuesday, we hiked the Gorge Trail up to Dorr, crossed east to Cadillac, and came down the Cadillac North Ridge Trail to where we had left our bikes, which we then rode back to the car parked at the Gorge trailhead.  We saw a porcupine at the top of Cadillac, which never would have been “out” in July or August.  We’d never climb Cadillac then either.

 

I remember businesses in the Hamptons being pretty ramped up for Memorial Day.  Not so in Acadia National Park.  “Pre-season” here means that most of the antique shops in Bernard were closed the short week after Labor Day.  Only two restaurants in Southwest Harbor were open on Monday night. Twice during the week restaurants we were eager to go to were closed for private parties.  So, if you want to come in May or June to take advantage of Acadia’s quiet time, I recommend renting a house so that you can cook at home a couple of nights and then plan your nights-out closer to the weekend, when they are more likely to be open.  And the best news is:  Thurston’s Lobster Pound is open!

 

Want to avoid the crowds on a big holiday weekend in Acadia National Park?  Here are 7 tips to help ensure your serenity.

 

Thinking about a particular month for a visit to Acadia?  Click here for an assessment, including temperature ranges and tips from locals.

 

 

May 18, 2008

Acadia on My Mind

It’s lonely. People are talking about Kim Kardashian, The Hills, and whether Santana is really worth what the Mets are paying. I’m thinking about the peregrines in Acadia National Park. I’ve noticed that when I’m around, people avoid any topics remotely related to New England, lobster, beautiful islands, kayaking, hiking, or biking — because the mere suggestion of any of these is enough to set me off and trap them for at least a half hour. Having my Maine Web site www.ouracadia.com isn’t enough. So, I’ve decided to do what every other obsessed American is doing. I’ll blog. And I’ll talk to myself about Maine, Mount Desert Island, and Acadia National Park.