Our vacation was almost over, but we still had to get back to NYC for our flight back. Driving straight from Acadia to NYC would have taken too long so we booked a hotel near the town of Kennebunkport, Maine. Kennebunkport is known for the summer home of the Bush family, which is why it was on our radar.
The next stop on our journey was to be one of the highlights of our vacation: The Acadia National Park. We first visited it during our 2008 vacation and immediately knew that this tiny park was a must-see in the region. From North Conway we drove straight through New Hampshire and Maine and headed into Acadia late the same day.
In 2008, we arrived there heading north. On our way we had stopped in Freeport, ME, where a girl at the local tourist information had recommended a family-run motel that was a lot cheaper than the otherwise expensive hotels in Bar Harbor. Now, in 2015, this motel was still up and running and still nowhere to be found on any of the popular booking websites.
Since we had arrived late in the day, there wasn’t much to do except heading “downtown” to get a proper meal. Maine is well known for a particular local seafood delicacy: Lobster. So on our first night we went straight for the biggest lobster restaurant. Neither of us had eaten a whole lobster before, so we only ordered a single one along with another meal. This was to reduce the damage in case we didn’t like this crustacean which seems to have a Crack-like effect on most people. With the right tools and illustrated instructions on our place mats we managed to crack the lobster in no time. For the record: It was alright, but we could not understand the hype that surrounds it.
Fast forward to the next day, which we had set aside for hiking. Acadia, as I mentioned, is a rather small National Park. You can buy the entrance ticket and then take the one-way loop road through the park and arrive back at Bar Harbor after about half an hour. A lot of people seemed to do it that way. But every few hundred meters you can also park your car, get out, take a few photos and venture into the woods on one of the many very varied hiking trails.
We started out at the Visitor Center and then walked some paved carriage roads which was kind of boring since we had come to Acadia to do some proper hiking. But on our first day the weather was mostly damp, so this was not an option. That night we had dinner at an Irish restaurant where the food was just sublime.
Our second day in Acadia started out with blue skies. Last time we were in Acadia we didn’t even see the Western finger, so we took our time to drive through a number of villages on the way to our hike. We had picked a trail in advance and had no trouble finding the parking lot at the trail head. To cover some distance we wanted to hike a combination of the Valley Peak Loop and the St. Sauveur and Acadia Mountain Loop which we started at Fernald Cove near Southwest Harbor. The trail was beautiful and incredibly exhausting and it was our first real challenge in terms of hiking. It started out with a long incline through the forest but soon we arrived at an intersection. There was wooden arrow pointing left which would have taken us back to the parking lot via a very short trail. The trail going right did not have an arrow, but it pointed towards the bay so we took it. During the next hours we navigated some portions of the trail which were wedged between the water and sheer rock, had to climb over car-size boulders and go up and down steep inclines made from solid stone steps. At some point we realised that we were too far in, so we kept on pushing until we reached the summit and a nice panorama view.
Day number three saw us start out with a short drive to the parking lot at Sand Beach. A ranger had recommended a hike which sounded quite challenging, so we were keen to try it with the weather still holding up. A quick dash across the park road and a few hundred meters into the woods we had left the swaths of tourist behind us and were on our way. It wasn’t long before we came upon a large sign warning of the dangers of the trail still ahead. We had never seen a warning like that on any trail in North America, where hikers are expected to know what they’re up to on these kinds of trails. Sure enough, the trail, going up “The Big Beehive”, quickly changed pace after that. I stowed away my camera as Katrin and I had to climb over the occasional boulder. Eventually the vegetation thinned out (because of the sheer rock) and each time we looked over our shoulder we could see the parking lot and Sand Beach appear a little smaller. The last few hundred meters took disproportionately long as we had to climb over large ledges, often only made possible by iron rungs and ladders driven into the rock. There was little room for error as the path was narrow and flanked by fatal drop in most places. Incidentally this was our first trail which was only meant to be hiked uphill.
When we finally reached the summit we were exhausted from the constant tension but happy and proud to have made it. The way down lead us over the gentler northern face of the mountain and down to a small mountain lake called “The Bowl”. This was the perfect opportunity to relax for a short while before heading downhill and back to the parking lot. Before we left we took the mandatory stroll down Sand Beach. At the parking lot we saw an official notice which showed hikers on the North Face of the Big Beehive. Apparently visitors would frequently worry about the hikers on the mountain, climbing the same trail we had done earlier. Thinking the hikers were in trouble or lost, these visitors would alert the rangers. Looking at the intimidating face of the mountain it’s understandable why someone might indeed think it unwise for people to be hiking there. You can see the face of the mountain on the second photo below. If you enlarge it, you might even make out some hikers.
This was our last day in Acadia and by any measure the most exciting one. We were happy that we made it to Acadia again, this time seeing even more of Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor might be touristy but this doesn’t diminish the appeal of this National Park which always surprises with it’s density of different terrain and vegetation. It’s perfect to do some relaxing as well as some proper hiking without being too far away from civilisation.
P.S. While writing this blog-post I had the Wikipedia page on Acadia open to look up a few facts. Only the next morning I noticed that I still had the tab open and that the title photo was my very own photo from last year. Wikipedia had indeed beaten me to it ;)
On our way from Vermont to Maine we naturally drove through New Hampshire. The drive through the White Mountain National Forest was spectacular, and at nightfall we had reached our destination. We were going to stay in North Conway for two nights to do some much-needed hiking. After we had checked in, we drove downtown and had a nice burger.
The hotel we were staying in was a short drive from Main Street on a quiet road winding itself through the forest. It was run by a lovely couple who turned out to be of French origin. In the main house of the hotel they had a breakfast room and on our first morning we really appreciated the fact that they had their own understanding of a proper breakfast.
Conveniently enough, our hotel was in walking distance from some of the trail heads. Our host had recommended a particular route which we didn’t think twice about taking. From the hotel we walked for a few minutes until we entered the Merriman State Forest and embarked on the trail up Mount Kearsarge North (996m elevation). When we started, it was still overcast and downright foggy, yet I was sweating profusely after the first few steep inclines. I was so out of shape that I took off my shirt and hiked topless for the next hour.
On the way up Kearsarge North we encountered very few people. At some point the fog started to break up, either because it was dissipating or because we had reached a certain elevation. Shortly after that, we reached the barren summit of Kearsarge North. The most prominent feature there is the white wooden fire-lookout tower, anchored to the rock and open to hikers. Again, we were the only people on the summit so we took our time and went up the tower to add a line to the trail log. We then had lunch and marvelled at the fact that were being encircled by clouds from the valleys all around Kearsarge North.
Our way down was long but uneventful. At one point we met a fellow hiker and stopped to talk to him about the trail. He told us that he loved hiking (no surprise there) and that he in fact just completed through-hiking the whole Appalachian Trail (3500km) about a month earlier.
After we got back to the hotel, we went downtown to do some shopping and strolling along Main Street. We had dinner in the same place as the night before and then retired as we’d be heading out towards Maine the next morning.
After just two short days of Canada (sniff) we were back in the US. We had entered via New York and on our way back we crossed almost directly into Vermont. Although I had been to New England twice already, Vermont was the only state we somehow always missed. I had seen enough photos of the Vermont countryside to know that it has an endless supply of of breathtaking post-card vistas. On top of that, we were going in at the height of the Indian Summer so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to this state.
Crossing the border was already a little adventurous. We took the TCH into Quebec and then at some point started heading south for the border. The details are a little mushy at this point, but there were a lot of small roads through the Quebecois farming countryside. At one point we had to stop at a gas station to ask for directions. The combination of my rusty European French talking to back-country Canadian French made the inquiry somewhat demanding. When we found the border crossing it was literally just a small hut with a gate and two very friendly troopers. After they had laughed at our outdated maps and our lack of direction at this point, they pointed us towards Vermont which was just a short drive through some corn fields.
The next few hours we drove through the rolling hills Vermont and across it’s river islands. In the town of “Hero” we stopped for some lunch. The only place in sight was “Hero’s Welcome”, a white wooden family-run general store on the edge of the bay. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a general store which had pretty much everything you’d need on a daily basis: Fresh, canned, refrigerated food, all sorts of kitchen and household supplies, and a lot of stuff which didn’t fit into any particular category. Part of the general store was also the local Post Office and a gas pump. Our lunch there was yummy, we had a homemade wrap with sweet cranberry sauce and some coffee to keep us going. The rest of the day was a lot of driving through lush countryside until we reached Burlington, our first night’s stay.
Burlington is the biggest city of Vermont and home to the University of Vermont. It was also named the healthiest city in the United States in 2008, despite the many delicacies to be found in Vermont. We strolled through the small city-center of Burlington for a while and went down to the harbour. It’s hard to get a read of the city even of this size, but the people and the city itself had a very relaxed vibe to it. At dusk we located a nice little restaurant where we had stone-oven Pizza and some Ben and Jerry’s icecream afterwards.
The next day took us East, ultimately towards New Hampshire. This being Vermont, we obviously had to stop at a small road-side shop called the “Vermont Maple Outlet” to get said substance in its purest form. We also got a hearty taste of other Vermont specialties: Cheddar cheese, beer, chocolate and fudge. Heading on, the highlight of the trip was the Smuggler’s Notch pass. As we went up the mountain, fog set in, the roads narrowed down and the drop next to it became ever more menacing. At the final bend we were really going slow, yet almost missed the peak of the pass had it not been for people stopping in front of us. As we got out of the car there wasn’t a sound to be heard, either natural or from other vehicles. The mountain was covered in fog and the bright yellow foliage added that special something to the eerie atmosphere.
Coming down into the valley again, we next came upon Duxbury where we had a brief stop at the Ben and Jerry’s headquarters. Ultimately we decided against a factory tour and instead kept on driving to make better use of the daylight. In the city of Stowe we had a short stroll through the city center and looked at the historical train station. Further stops along the way were at a cemetery next to the road, because the foliage there was simply breathtaking, and at a covered bridge (another Vermont icon). A short while later, we entered the state capital, Montpelier, which is the smallest state capital in the US with roughly eight-thousand people living there. The downtown area is accordingly small and so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. At nightfall we had already reached our hotel in North Conway, NH. While we only had two short days in Vermont, we got a good idea of what makes this state special: It’s laid-back atmosphere, the remoteness and the stunning countryside which encompasses some of the very essence of New England, or at least what I imagine it to be when thinking of it.