Leah and I planned a vacation in New England that coincided with a wedding we were invited to in western Massachusetts. These posts cover the different parts of the trip.
Day 5: Entering Maine
In Portland we met up with Rachel and Hayley. They were going to the same wedding as us in western Massachusetts later in the week and we made plans to spend time in Maine—specifically in Acadia National Park—with them. The 5 of us and all of our luggage stuffed the car pretty tight, but the Kia Soul held its own.
We drove to downtown Portland to get lunch. We walked to a seafood place (Portland Lobster Co) so people could get their fix of lobster rolls. Market price put them at about $17 a pop. Here’s Leah (a vegetarian but sometimes pescatarian while on vacation) enjoying her first taste of lobster with some local beer. They really embrace the lobster mentality out in Maine. See if you can spot all of the lobsters in the photos.
After lunch we walked around a little. It was my second time in Portland but I was in a different part of the city my first time there. I think Portland has a really cool vibe and architecture—lots of cute stores and brick buildings. We stopped for potato donuts (tastes like donuts, but a little potato-y) and returned to the car. Bob was headed back to Northampton so we dropped him off at the Amtrak station and said goodbye. There was a little more room in the car after his departure.
We headed north out of Portland along the coastal route following U.S. Highway 1. It took a little bit longer but promised to provide more views and passed through some quaint coastal Maine towns. A giant lobster suddenly appeared out of nowhere and it was requested that I stop so we could take photos. Maine really embraces the lobster hype. Here’s Hayley, Rachel, and Leah doing their best lobster impression.
We also stopped in Rockland to check out the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. The lighthouse was accessible by a long walk (just short of a mile) out on a breakwater. We overheard someone mention high tide just as we started the walk along the breakwater. Might be an issue? Here we are starting the journey.
It wasn’t until the end of the walk that we started to see sections that were flooded with the waves crashing over. My feet only got a little bit wet. Here’s the front of the lighthouse.
And here’s Rachel and Leah looking back towards the mainland across the long stretch of damp granite stones.
Hayley took a very professionally focused photo of Leah and me so I have to show you how great we look. Right out of a Columbia Sportswear catalog.
Next we headed to our Airbnb in Bar Harbor, the biggest city near Acadia National Park. A good chunk of the national park is actually within Bar Harbor city limits. Our Airbnb was the second level of a cute little house just blocks from the main drag in downtown Bar Harbor.
After settling in, we headed out on a walk to find dinner. We ended up getting pizza after looking at a few menus. Pizza is always a good choice in my book. After dinner we continued down Main Street. The park in the city center was dimly lit by lamp posts and the local community band was playing under a gazebo. Leah and Rachel both agreed that it gave off a real Stars Hallow vibe. Of course I had to check out the trombones.
We finished our walk through town and headed back to the Airbnb. We made a plan to check out the main section of Acadia National Park the next day, trying to time our wake and departure with the opening of the visitor center.
Day 6 – Acadia National Park
We got ready and headed out to the visitor center to get a better idea of what we should/could do in Acadia National Park. The ranger pointed out all of the main attractions along the park road loop. I also purchased a sticker for my national park passport book. On a side note, when we got home I realized that I bought the wrong passport sticker because of course there are different versions. I was more than a little bummed out. At least it still fit in my passport book, but I feel like it doesn’t really count.
We started our day in the park by driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain. At 1,530 feet it’s the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard. The views from the top were quite spectacular.
They say that if you watch the sunrise from atop Cadillac Mountain that you’ll be one of the first people in the United States to see the sun in the morning. Apparently a lot of photographer types get up super early in order to capture this moment. We did not.
The views from Cadillac Mountain were beautiful. There were rolling hills of Mount Desert Island (the name of the island on which we were standing—though my guidebook said locals pronounce it like “dessert”) and the many glacially formed bays and inlets that cut through the land like fingers.
Here’s a photo of me and Rachel where we strategically stood so that we were the same height.
We also wanted to find the USGS survey marker for the summit. It was difficult to locate but oddly enough it was marked in Hayley’s Pokémon Go app.
The parking lot at the top of the mountain can apparently get full during tourist season. We were advised to stop at Cadillac Mountain first in order to avoid the traffic. Luckily for us we never had any issues with crowds in the park. Here’s one more shot of me, Leah, and Rachel hiking near the summit.
Next we drove down the mountain and along the park road. We stopped at a trailhead that was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting. Two rangers were stationed there with binoculars and they answered questions while we tried to spot the birds flying along the mountainside. We learned that it’s easy to spot a peregrine falcon nest because the acid in their poop kills the lichens that grow on the exposed granite. So all you have to do is look for the only white patch on the side of the mountain.
We also learned that peregrine falcons mostly eat other birds. And they kill them by flying really fast and colliding with the spine of their prey. And then they just let the victim fall to the ground. Kind of gruesome.
Luckily for us we had a few sightings of the falcons. They sat still long enough for the rangers to set up their binoculars so that we could get a better look. They were really cool looking birds.
Our next stop was Sand Beach. At this point, Hayley was not feeling well so Rachel took her back to the Airbnb while Leah and I relaxed on the beach. We suspected the potato donuts from yesterday might have upset Hayley’s digestive system. Anyways, here’s a photo of Sand Beach at one of the ends where there weren’t as many people.
Sand Beach was an odd site for a national park. It was strange, first of all, to have a sand beach form in waters this cold. It had something to do with an island just offshore—called “Old Soaker”—that regulated the currents and sediment. The beach was also packed with people that looked like they were going out for… well, a day at the beach. That’s something I don’t normally associate with national parks. The rocks and cliffs were beautiful, though, and I can see why it’s so popular.
Leah and I sat in the sand, eating lunch, and people watching. There was a quintessential young east coast couple with their faded Boston Red Sox and Dartmouth hats and their adorable kids running around. I wonder if we looked Midwestern (though Leah, being from the west coast, might take offense to that). You can be the judge for me.
Next we met back up with Rachel and headed to our next stop, Thunder Hole. It was basically a sea cave that made noises as the tide rolled in and out. We were warned by the park ranger that unless you were there during high tide (we were not) it was not that spectacular. We waited around for a few gurgles and then left. Here’s Rachel and Leah posing for a photo while patiently waiting for a loud sound.
We next stopped at a mountain trailhead to get another hike in and a view from the top. Some man along the way commented on my “lobster legs”. He was referring to the sunburn I had gotten in the white mountains. Must be a Maine thing. Here’s a photo looking back at Sand Beach—note the sandy spot in the far left of the photo and Old Soaker in the far right.
Our next stop was Jordan Pond, the location of a restaurant and lodge in the park and a great place to relax. It is also one of the main access points to the carriage roads in the park. The carriage roads (45 miles in total) were built by John D Rockefeller Jr. as a place to ride horses without cars interfering. We hiked a little loop on a carriage road. It was very peaceful but buggy. Here’s me and Leah on one of the carriage road bridges.
Here’s a photo from the edge of Jordan Pond. The lumpy mountains in the background are called the “bubbles” even though they may be more accurately described as “boobs”.
We returned to the Jordan Pond lodge to order their famous popovers with jam. I didn’t know they were famous for their popovers, but Leah had been to Acadia NP before and told us all about them. After a convoluted seating process, we ordered popovers. Leah got hers with iced tea (the classic option) while I got mine with blueberry soda.
Next we headed back to the Airbnb. Leah, Rachel, and I got Thai takeout (Hayley was still not feeling well) and then settled in for an episode of The Bachelorette. We bought tickets for a boat cruise in the morning and headed to bed.
Here’s a cute feature of the Airbnb; this duck presents you with your toilet paper.
Day 7 – Acadia National Park
Thankfully Hayley was feeling better in the morning. A boat ride is not fun when you’re nauseous. We drove to the western side of Mount Desert Island where we were getting on our boat, the “Sea Princess”.
The tour was led by a park ranger and did a loop out past some islands that make up other parts of Acadia National Park as well as private land. One of the first sights was Bear Island Lighthouse.
We passed many massive private houses along the waterfront in places where the land had not been sold to the national park. There were some wildlife sightings including seals, osprey, and a great blue heron.
The boat stopped for a break at Little Cranberry Island. The island itself wasn’t very big. There was a sheet with information about things to see on the island and the ranger made it known that we should not miss a visit with postmaster Joy. Of course our first destination had to be the post office.
As promised, Joy was a real hoot. I tried some of her gingerbread and she showed us her massive selection of stamps. She had binder after binder full of specialty stamps.
We even got to see Joy’s cat named Zipcode that she said was 27 years old.
As the real stamp enthusiasts that we (mostly Leah) are, we had to buy some stamp sheets. I think we ended up with 5 and Rachel and Hayley with 3. Joy even showed us stamps that were commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (but she couldn’t legally sell those for another week). Here’s all of us in front of the post office with our brand new fancy stamps.
We stopped briefly at the boat making building and the Islesford Historical Museum (where the same ranger we talked to at the visitor center yesterday was working). We learned that the local public school rotates location every other year between Little Cranberry Island and Great Cranberry Island (for fairness I guess).
We boarded the boat again and headed back towards Mount Desert Island. We all agreed that we could have spent more time on the island, especially hanging out with Joy and Zipcode.
The last stop on the boat cruise was a trip up Somes Sound, a fjard that nearly splits Mount Desert Island in two. I don’t exactly understand the details, but there’s technically a difference between fjards and fjords (other than the spelling, which makes it a little confusing). You can google the difference if you want.
Some of the houses along that stretch were particularly spectacular. Leah and I wished we had a family or friend connection with old East Coast money that owned one of those properties.
Once back on dry land, we headed out to a nearby hike recommended by our ranger friend at Ship Harbor. It was a pleasant loop trail that ended on a rocky section of the shoreline that was filled with tide pools.
We spent a lot of time scouring the tide pools for signs of life.
The hike was very pleasant and had interesting scenery. I’d definitely recommend it.
Our next stop was the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. It is currently being operated by the Coast Guard and the inside is private property, so no tour. But we did take some photos.
There was also a trail that led to an iconic viewpoint of the lighthouse; the focus of many postcards and magnets.
After leaving the lighthouse we decided we needed a treat so we stopped in Southwest Harbor at what appeared to be the only ice cream place. Thankfully, the ice cream was really good. You could tell it was good because Leah finished hers without even asking me to help her eat any of it.
On the way back to Bar Harbor we stopped for one more hike. It was a little mountain summit that a different ranger recommended. From the top we had views down into Somes Sound.
Rachel wanted to show off her peak bagging skills—284 feet.
We got back to the Airbnb and relaxed a little bit before dinner. There was a desire among many of us to get lobster rolls on our last night in Maine. We did some brisk shopping on Main Street while on our way to a restaurant in the harbor that we figured would have decent views of the sunset. I got a lobster roll and it was delicious.
I also felt the need to get a whoopie pie while we were in Maine since I kept seeing them advertised. Luckily for me this restaurant had a whoopie pie sundae on the menu. I was criticized by the group for placing my dessert order at the same time that we were placing our dinner orders. I thought I was just being efficient. The whoopie pie sundae was okay.
The restaurant didn’t really have a good view of the sunset so after dinner we walked to a parking lot on the bay to get a better look before heading back to the Airbnb.
In the morning we were driving to Montague, a city in western Massachusetts where our friends Jamie and Rohan were getting married. We also planned a few fun stops along the way.
Day 8 – Leaving Maine
We got an early start in the morning so that we could tackle a few important stops. First, we stopped at The Jackson Laboratory. Hayley had seen the building earlier while driving past and wanted to stop for a photo. Hayley is a scientist who has worked in labs, so she was familiar with The Jackson Laboratory. Why, you might ask? Well because they are one of the largest suppliers of mice in the scientific community. Kind of weird, right?
Apparently their main office is in Bar Harbor, Maine and hundreds of people work there in a massive building complex. And we just happened to be there. I should clarify that Hayley did not know that The Jackson Laboratory was in Bar Harbor. It was just a strange coincidence. Once she saw the sign for the building, it triggered memories she had of packaged mice arriving with a Bar Harbor, Maine return address.
Our next stop was a rushed one as we quickly jumped out of the car on the side of the road while we took photos with the Acadia National Park sign.
Then it was back on the road as we headed to Augusta, Maine so I could cross off another state capital. It was on the way back to western Massachusetts so I didn’t feel too bad making everyone detour there.
Maine’s capitol was very pretty. Like Concord it had a flag room, though not nearly as impressive. Our tour guide talked about some residual resentment towards Massachusetts dating back to when Maine wasn’t its own state but a territory of Massachusetts. She also stressed how sacred the chairs in the Senate were, to the point that we weren’t supposed to even look at them or something. Of course she was kidding, but was she?
After the tour I got my obligatory photo in front of the capitol building.
We headed to Hallowell for lunch on the recommendation of our tour guide. It seemed like Augusta was hit hard by the recession and the downtown wasn’t very lively. Our tour guide also warned us that there was a haunted antique store in Hallowell.
We arrived in Hallowell (about 2 miles south of Augusta), ate lunch, and then headed to the haunted antique store. It appeared to be closed, deserted, and full of junk; just the perfect recipe for some haunting.
The building was legitimately creepy and I could see why people thought it was haunted. Our tour guide told us a story about how she was in the store and saw a man. Then she turned away. And when she turned back around the man was now a cat. What other explanation could there be for such sorcery?
While standing outside, a man walked by and told us that it was haunted. Story checks out. He also mentioned something about Tonka trucks in the back so we walked around to the back of the building and found some creepy yard art.
It’s difficult to see from the photo, but there was in fact an arbor made out of Tonka trucks.
Hayley did some research and it turns out the antique store is haunted. Just kidding. It’s owned by some recluse who is at odds with the city on account of his poorly maintained property right in the heart of downtown.
Our next stop was at the L.L.Bean store in Freeport, Maine. It is their flagship store.
We wandered through the store and then checked out the outlet. In my opinion, the items at the outlet were not discounted quite enough. I did not buy anything. The town kind of felt like a tourist trap. But there was a comically large backpack!
And with that, we hit the road again and left the great state of Maine on our way back to western Massachusetts.