Name the World’s Best Islands

 travel  Comments Off on Name the World’s Best Islands
Aug 052013
 

What do Oahu, Majorca, Fiji, and Mount Desert Island have in common?  Well, discerning travelers have just ranked them among their favorite islands in Travel + Leisure’s 18th annual poll to identify the “World’s Best.”

This much-anticipated publishing event occurs every August and fuels bucket lists for avid travelers worldwide.  It provides rankings not only of destinations, including cities, but also hotels, cruises, and airlines that “define the very best in travel.”  Travel + Leisure boasts 4.8 million readers, who were invited to participate in the poll from December 1, 2012, to April 1, 2013.

Mount Desert Island has appeared on every list of Top Islands in the Continental U.S and Canada during the last five years, with the exception of 2011.  In 2008 it was also ranked fifth among the Top 10 Islands in the World.

So, how did the Travel + Leisure editors organize their survey to uncover the “World’s Best”?   Islands were evaluated on five characteristics: natural attractions/beaches, activities/sights, restaurants/food, people, value.  Romance was optional! 

Natural Attractions: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea 

Maine rocky coastlineThe natural attractions of Mount Desert Island are so great that Congress protected it as a national park in 1919, the first one east of the Mississippi.  Today the park occupies about half of the entire island, which is about the size of Martha’s Vineyard.  Within its boundaries, marked by an iconic rocky New England coastline, are 24 mountain peaks, rich boreal forests, glacial lakes, rolling meadows, wetlands, and dramatic rock formations.  In 1877 Clara Barnes Martin wrote the first guidebook for Mount Desert Island, describing its unique beauty as “the only neighborhood of mountain and sea on all our Atlantic coast.  These cliffs look down not on bay or lake, but upon broad ocean.”

Activities: From Rock Climbing to Curling Up with a Good Book

Kayaking BubblesThe national park challenges travelers with an array of activities and sights.  From ranger-led lectures to sunset cruises in historic sailing sloops, days can be packed.  Travelers usually start with visits to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard, as well as other top sights:  the Park Loop Road, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and the Bass Harbor Head Light.  But then Acadia quickly lures hikers, bikers, climbers, and kayakers to explore more deeply.  A variety of competent guides and outfitters are available to lead the way.  Activities also include museums, galleries, local crafts fairs, and many settings just right for curling up with a good book.

Restaurants: Fresh from Maine’s Fishermen and Farmers

Maine lobster dinnerMaine is the state of fishermen and farmers.  So, it is no surprise that Mount Desert Island delights foodies with fresh, seasonal menus from innovative local chefs.  An exciting array of restaurants has cropped up in Mount Desert Island’s villages from Bar Harbor to Otter Creek to Southwest Harbor.  In addition, traditional lobster pounds attract everyone to sample steamers, Maine shrimp, chowders of many varieties, lobster rolls, and, of course, steamed lobster.  And whether it’s on a fresh white table cloth or knotty old picnic table, everyone has the blueberry pie.

 

People in DownEast Maine

Face of MaineMaine’s state motto is: “The way life should be.”  That means that on a trip to Mount Desert Island you’re going to encounter folks who are genuine, trustworthy, hardworking, and value-oriented.  As the joke goes, you know you’re in Maine, if you leave your keys in the car, and the car is still there in the morning.  People are also ruthlessly practical.  There’s also a joke that you know you’re in Maine when what you expect for Valentine’s is new snow tires.  So, anticipate straightforward, calm, good-natured people who aren’t necessarily going to adjust their schedule to yours.  And you may discover that the highlight of your trip may well be a visit to the hardware store.

Value

hulls cove visitors center acadia national parkIt’s a core value of locals that you need to get the right proportion of quality and quantity of goods and services for the price.  And, depending on your own personal value system, Mount Desert Island is there to deliver.  Whether you choose to stay in an ocean-side hotel in Bar Harbor or one of the campgrounds operated by the National Park Service, you can enjoy great value.  This extends to the island’s restaurants, tours, and shopping.  Best of all is the value—in terms of unique visual beauty–visitors receive for their $20 entrance fee to Acadia National Park.

 

Romance Is Never Optional

sunset downeast friendship sloopsIn recent years Mount Desert Island has become a popular spot for destination weddings.  But sunset cruises and harbor-side dinners don’t have to be reserved exclusively for newlyweds.  Especially in autumn the island seems full of hand-holding couples strolling down carriage rounds or exploring the quaint villages.   Charming inns beckon visitors to relax on their porches in summertime and read in front of the fire in chillier seasons.  Mount Desert Island is an appealing getaway for couples of all ages.

 

Related Stories:

Great Itineraries for Three Days, One Week, and Two Weeks in Acadia National Park

5 Tips If You Want to Enjoy a Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

Acadia National Park: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Maine Pie Entrepreneur Gains Bigger Piece of A Market Locals & Vacationers Love

 Food and Dining, travel  Comments Off on Maine Pie Entrepreneur Gains Bigger Piece of A Market Locals & Vacationers Love
Jul 282013
 

Maine Blueberry PieNothing typifies the Maine vacation experience more than lobster and blueberry pie.  And this year Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bass Harbor, considered by many the best lobster pound on Mount Desert Island, switched its pie purveyor to a start-up baker, who three years ago was worrying about how to pay for new siding on her house.

That’s how Mary Musson describes why she started IslandBound Treats.  “It was on a lark,” she grins.  “We were trying to think of ways to earn a little extra money for the remodeling.”

Maine blueberry pie

Photo by Michelle Perry

Today, in addition to Thurston’s, her pies are sold at Sawyers Market on Main Street in Southwest Harbor.  You’ll find them by the register of this well-known island establishment, on the counter right in front of the photo of the original shopkeeper with Julia Child.

Mary also sells the pies from her own house at 302 Main Street in Southwest Harbor, just shy of the village.  Look for a simple sign in front of a white 1950 ranch, now freshly sided.  There you’ll find pies arranged on a makeshift counter, that is, a table put across the open door.  If you go too late, you’re also likely to see a “Sold Out” sign.

Word of mouth is spreading the excitement about IslandBound Treats.  Says Maine artist Judy Taylor, “They are fresh, fresh, fresh.”  Jeannette Feuer, innkeeper at Ann’s Point in Bass Harbor, reports, “Guests returned from Thurston’s and were raving about the strawberry rhubarb pie.”

To produce 40 pies a day, 50 during holiday weeks, Mary still uses her standard household GE oven, but has added two new ones in the basement.  She doesn’t have a dishwasher, but this year hired a helper.

The energetic mother of three girls, 6, 7, and 9, Mary makes three kinds of pie—blueberry (“the classic”), strawberry/rhubarb (“kind of nostalgic”), and triple berry (“my favorite—I kept one for us over the Fourth”).

The recipes?  Well, according to Mary, it was a process to get them where they are today.  In particular, for the blueberry pie, she was looking for “juicy, not thick and gummy.”  The crust?  “Perfecting it just meant more and more butter.”

Mary grew up in Bar Harbor and her husband, an engineer, in Bernard.  They lived in Boston for five years and, when they were on their way home for visits, they’d talk about being “island bound”.  To raise their family, they decided to return to MDI, especially because of the good schools.  “Now I feel island bound in a different way.  I thought it was a good name for the business.”

If Mary keeps baking pies the way she has been, she’s bound for much more success.  Maybe a new sun room, too.

 

Related Stories:

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

Lobster Rolls at the Quiet Side Café on Mount Desert Island

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Two Cats Cafe

Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park: A Hike that Has It All

 travel  Comments Off on Pemetic Mountain in Acadia National Park: A Hike that Has It All
Jul 212013
 

What’s your favorite kind of hike?  A stroll alongside a pond?  A heart-pumping scramble across boulders?  An exciting squeeze through a narrow ravine?  Anything that provides the reward of spectacular views?

Hiking the west side of Pemetic Mountain provides all of these and more.

At 1,248 feet, Pemetic Mountain is only about 300 feet shorter than Cadillac, Mount Desert Island’s highest peak and star attraction for visitors to Acadia National Park.  Yet, unlike Cadillac, which is to its east, Pemetic has no tour buses obscuring the views and offers an exceptionally varied hike to its summit.

Jordan Pond The Bubbles

We started the 4.6 mile loop from the Jordan Pond House, warming up on the pleasant, well-traveled path along the eastern shore of Jordan Pond with the Bubbles in the distance.  We crossed a flat stone bridge, passing a vigorous junior hiker, then a wood foot bridge.

Jordan Pond Trail Acadia National Park

The Jordan Pond Carry Trail brought us to the Park Loop Road, where we entered the woods and started the challenging scramble across a boulder field.

Pemetic  Mountain West Side

We then came to a signpost, offering the option to hike through a ravine or across the steep, smooth granite to the right.  Even though it was wet, we opted for the ravine.  (This was not my first time through this ravine, so we had prepared with good mosquito repellant!)

Ravine Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

The ravine is not as tight as the popular Lemon Squeeze in New York’s Hudson Valley.  It has two sections, each of which you emerge from by climbing a large wooden ladder.  I think it is really fun.

Ravine Pemetic Mountain

At the summit you first get breathtaking views of deep, steel-blue Jordan Pond.

Jordan Pond from Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

More spectacular views of the Cranberry Isles follow as you traverse the mountain and start your descent along the southern ridge.

Pemetic Mountain Cranberry Islands Acadia National Park

I highly recommend hiking with a detailed trail map, such as the one of Acadia published by Map Adventures.  I never leave home without it.  Acadia’s trails are much trickier than you think, even if you have prepared by studying a trail guide.

One other thing that makes a hike a favorite of mine: a stretch of trail covered by a cushion of pine needles.  It’s a great way to end a challenging hike.  And this trail had that, too.

Pemetic Mountain Acadia National Park

 

Related Stories:

Five Favorite Hikes in Acadia National Park

Four Hikes in Acadia Your Kids Will Love

If You Want to Hike Cadillac Mountain, Go in the Fall

Best Hikes in Acadia: Jordan Cliffs and Penobscot South Ridge Loop

 

The Journey is the Reward: Dinner at Fore Street Restaurant in Portland

 Food and Dining, travel  Comments Off on The Journey is the Reward: Dinner at Fore Street Restaurant in Portland
Jul 142013
 

As we drive north on Route 295, more and more vehicles are racked with bicycles and kayaks.  Licenses plates decorated with chickadees and pine cones, loons, moose, and lobster increase, too.  Like kids entertaining themselves in the days before “devices” did that work, we begin counting Subarus.  It’s summertime in Vacationland.  We’re in Maine.

On this trip to Mount Desert Island, we decided to break up the 493-mile drive from New York City to our house in Somesville by spending one night in Portland.  “The journey is the reward,” I said, quoting Steve Jobs to Fred, who wanted to drive through without stopping.  I finally convinced him of the beauty of my idea by reading him reviews of the sublime wood roasted mussels in garlic almond butter at Fore Street Restaurant.  He was in.

Fortunately, we were able to get in.  In July and August you’re advised to book reservations one to two months in advance, but one-third of the tables are held for walk-ins.  We were able to snag a table for two at 7:45, for which there had been a cancellation just moments before.

Fore Street Restaurant opened in a handsome brick industrial building one block from the Portland waterfront in 1996.  By 2004 Chef Sam Entrance Fore Street Restaurant Portland MaineHayward was named Best Chef/Northeast by the James Beard Foundation.  Ironically, Hayward’s personal acclaim results from his celebration of Maine farmers, fishermen, foragers, and cheese makers through straightforward cooking approaches and preparations.

The menu at Fore Street, which changes daily, reflects this.  It is organized by the general origins of the food and preparation methods—garden, raw and chilled sea food, oven roasted sea food, oven roasted and pan seared meats, chilled meats and offal on the first page of appetizers, followed by entrees and sides of pan seared sea food, wood oven roasted seafood, wood grilled meats, turnspit roasted meats, plants and fungi, vegetables.  As with so many of Maine’s most exciting farm-to-fork restaurants, the originating locale of the food is also noted.

This dedication to the elemental flavors of the foods isn’t to say that the dishes are “plain.” The chilled seafood platter, for example, included cured Sockeye salmon with English pea puree and sliced Cape Cod scallops with chili oil. The roasted halibut filet from the Gulf of Maine was accented with roasted garlic scapes and a duck egg and mustard mayonnaise.

The July evening we visited temperatures were over 90 degrees in Portland.  Even the street entertainers seemed to languish.  I ordered a gin and tonic, the most refreshing drink I know, and began to focus on the sea food.  As I studied the menu from our coppertop table, the charms of the large, wood-filled dining room begin to distract me.  The waitress said, “You can imagine how lovely it is on a snowy night,” gesturing toward the large, leaded windows.

Central to the dining room is the open kitchen.  The line of four cooks operates in unison, with high-pitched calls keeping the beat.  With a paddle one cook removes iron-clad dishes from the large, open wood stove.  Flames shoot up.  Another mans the turnspit, roasting pork, chicken, and rabbit.

Kitchen Fore Street Restaurant Portland Maine

So thoroughly has the atmosphere of the place affected me that, suddenly, when the waitress returns, I order wood oven roasted mackerel with roasted red onion sauce and grilled hanger steak!  Fred had already declared his choices of the roasted mussels and breast of Rohan duckling with pickled cherries with black pepper and juniper.  Maybe this “game time decision,” as Fred said, was in anticipation of sharing the excellent 2007 Barbera our waitress would recommend.

After our entrees, we ordered a selection of artisan cheeses as we finished our wine.  We concluded the meal with three sorbets and glasses of refreshing moscato d’asti, preparing ourselves for the reality of the heat outside.

 

Related Stories:

Attention Foodies: Take a Detour to Bartlett Winery When You Visit Acadia National Park in Maine

Fathom Opens in Bar Harbor, Pleasing Both Locals and Memorial Day Visitors to Acadia National Park

Destination Dining at its Best: Xanthus at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor Maine

 

Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie at the Quietside Café on Mount Desert Island

 Food and Dining, travel  Comments Off on Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie at the Quietside Café on Mount Desert Island
Jun 302013
 

What are you looking for when you go to Maine?  Views of the rocky coastline, lighthouses, and Cadillac Mountain?  Lots of lobster and blueberry pie?  Hiking and biking in Acadia National Park?

I go to Maine because I also want to “get away.”

To me this means spending time in stores and cafes with a much slower pace than what I experience in New York City, where I live.  I find that a discussion about a new garden hose at the hardware store in Southwest Harbor can be more restorative than any massage or spa treatment.

That’s one reason the Quietside Café in Southwest Harbor is a favorite.  No doubt about it, we go there because their lobster rolls are fantastic.  Packed with the freshest lobster meat from the lobster pound right down the street on Clark Point Road, they’re served with delicious homemade coleslaw and chips.  Fred also loves their New England clam chowder, which is thick and creamy.

Lobster roll at Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

But I love the fact that this is a family business.  Frances and Ralph have operated it for 16 years now, with their two daughters growing up working in the business and pitching in to serve customers.  Today, as we sat outside on newly painted picnic benches, the couple continued to show pride in the new 15-year-old waitress who’s a whiz at reciting their 20-plus ice cream flavors.  That’s just the kind of place it is.

The Quietside Café is located on Main Street in Southwest Harbor on the eponymous western half of Mount Desert Island where the pace is far less bustling than in Bar Harbor where the cruise ships dock.  Parking on Main Street in Southwest Harbor is pretty easy.  There’s also a parking lot in front of the post office right around the corner on Clark Point Road.  The Quietside is diagonally across from the hardware store.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

The café itself is nondescript.  You can sit outside on picnic tables in a small village garden, which attracts battalions of butterflies to its bushes in late August.  Likely there will be a pie cooling in the window.

Inside the tiny, tidy luncheonette decorated with family photographs are a few tables, an ice cream bar, and a lunch counter that’s also jam-packed with what Frances has baked that day – blueberry pie, macaroons, and oatmeal cookies.

Quietside Cafe Southwest Harbor Maine

Sit there on a stool at risk to your waist line because what TripAdvisor reviewers say is true:

“Blueberry pie in a class of its own, piled a mile high with the sweetest wild berries”

“Ethereal blueberry pie”

“Amazing pie well over an inch thick”

“Best pie around”

“Best key lime pie ever – I suspect it was that chocolate crust”

“The best was the apple pie – pecan streusel topping and loads of apples”

“Pie tastes like the berries were just picked…”

blueberry pie quietside cafe maine

macaroons quietside cafe southwest harbor maine

Speaking of TripAdvisor, I also liked the reviewer who said: “We camped 10 nights and visited the café 5.”  Repeat visitors and regulars are common at the Quietside.

9 of the 10 times I go, I have the lobster roll, but the crab rolls and BLTs are also my personal favorites.  Others are fans of the turkey melts and the “to-die-for” sweet potato fries – in addition to the pizza!

The ice cream also gets rave reviews, for both the quality and flavor variety.  Take Moose Track, for example.  It’s a rich vanilla studded with chocolate and peanut butter chunks.

It’s surely from another world.  And that takes me back to my first point: I go to Maine to get away from it all. Going to the Quietside is like visiting America in another time.  It’s a chance to engage with simple things: value for the money and nice people.  The way life was meant to be, as the Maine slogan states.

It’s telling it like it is when the locals on MDI refer to us off-islanders as people “from away”.

Related Stories:

Best Bar Harbor Breakfasts: Come This Way to Café This Way

Mount Desert Island’s Most Scenic Lobster Pound?  It’s Unanimous

What Is Peekytoe Crab and Should a Maine Lobster Lover Opt for It?

 

Acadia National Park: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

 Food and Dining, travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Acadia National Park: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Jun 232013
 

Google “U.S. national parks on islands” and, after five pages on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Channel Islands in California, you’ll find a listing about Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Shhhhhhh.  You may want to keep this discovery to yourself.  Mount Desert Island gets only one-third the visitors to Cape Cod, for example, and half of this spectacular island, which is almost exactly the size of Martha’s Vineyard, has been preserved as a national park.  Plus MDI (as it’s known) not only has sailboat-studded harbors, dramatic ocean-side cliffs, and lobster pounds, but also 24 mountain peaks.

If you’ve been thinking of visiting Maine, why not consider this island with a national park?  Here are some key facts to help you plan.

What are the most popular activities for visitors to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park?

acadia mountain acadia national parkStart with sightseeing.  Cadillac Mountain, the Park Loop Road, Jordan Pond, and Thunder Hole are among the favorites of national park visitors.  Active travelers love biking the car-free carriage roads, hiking Acadia’s network of 130 miles of trails, and kayaking on both the ocean and lakes.  Swimming in ponds and lakes, such as Echo Lake, is popular, too.  There’s a variety of boat cruises to explore nearby islands, learn what a lobsterman does, and touch creatures brought up from “the deep.” Nearby miniature golfing, water parks, and attractions such as the Great Maine Lumberjack Show are popular with families.

Get reviews for Acadia trips, guides and outfitters here.

When is Acadia National Park open?  What months?  What hours?

Bubble Mountains AcadiaFrom hiking in the summer to cross country skiing in the winter, you can enjoy Acadia National Park all year long.  Ranger-led programs are featured from June through October.  Certain roads within the park are restricted during winter months, as are visitors’ centers.

In addition to the summer months, popular with families, the fall is a great time to visit.  Over a quarter of a million people visit in October to enjoy the foliage.

Get details about Acadia operating times from the National Park Service.  

How long does it take to see Acadia National Park?

Maine coastline acadia national parkYou can spend three days to three years (and beyond) exploring Acadia National Park.  You can get a sense of the park’s great mountains, spectacular sights, and scenic drives in a jam-packed three-day itinerary.  However, after this introduction, you can invest years exploring the hiking trails, bicycling, and generally enjoying the impact of the seasons on this amazing glacially created landscape.  Around it has grown a vibrant community of restaurants, micro-breweries, and local attractions that draw back vacationers year after year.

Get itineraries for three days, one week, and two weeks in Acadia.

How are the restaurants on Mount Desert Island?

lobster dinner near acadia national park maineMaine is a state of fishermen and farmers.  So, in recent years when restaurateurs have become more committed to fresh, local ingredients, Mount Desert Island has emerged as a magnet for foodies.  From traditional lobster pounds to sophisticated restaurants featuring seasonal menus, it’s an active scene that caters to a wide range of tastes and pocketbooks.  Nationally recognized artisanal ice cream producers and chocolatiers have huge followings.  You may also catch a popular chef like James Lindquist, who was featured in the 2010 cookbook Fresh from Maine, popping into the Bar Harbor artisan olive oil purveyor Fiore to replenish Red Sky restaurant’s stock of blueberry olive oil.

Check out reviews of the best restaurants on Mount Desert here.

Where should we stay when we visit Acadia National Park?

inns near acadia national parkThe interesting thing about Acadia is that Mount Desert Island was an island of prospering villages before it became a national park in 1919.  That adds to your vacation options because these different communities (Bar Harbor, Northwest Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Seal Harbor and more) are nestled among the park and offer different activities to complement the experiences of the national park – whether you’re looking for farmers’ markets, shopping, or local art fairs.

Places to stay are just as varied.  Acadia has two popular campgrounds, Blackwoods and Seawall, within the park itself.  In addition, the local communities offer a variety of accommodations — campgrounds acadia national parkcottage rentals, inns, motels, and private campgrounds.

Since the island covers an area of 108 square miles and a fiord-like sound divides it in half, you should plan what you want to do and factor that into the best area to settle into as your home base.  It will cut down on your driving.

Read profiles of the towns and villages near Acadia National Park.

Does Acadia National Park allow dogs?

dogs friendly acadia best trails for dogsYes!  Hiking trails, carriage roads, the Island Explore buses, and even some of the most popular restaurants welcome dogs.  There are even some walking trails that allow your dogs to run leash-free.  However, the park has restrictions and it takes some planning to find the trails best suited for a dog.

Learn about the best trails in Acadia for dogs, Bar Harbor veterinarians, and more..

 

Does Acadia National Park have special facilities and programs?

carriage drives in acadia national parkIf you’re visiting Acadia National Park, one resource you definitely want to know about is Hulls Cove Visitors Center.  On Route 3 outside of Bar Harbor, it’s a great place to stop for questions and materials.  There’s also a terrific 3D map of the park that is a fun way to plan what you want to see.

In addition, Acadia National Park offers a broad array of fascinating and professional ranger-led programs, as well as park-sponsored franchises, that include carriage drives, walks, talks, and boat cruises.  Curious about birds?  Photography? Geology?  Stars?  There’s something for everyone.

Read more about the Hulls Cove Visitors Center.

What are entrance fees for visiting Acadia National Park?

hulls cove visitors center acadia national parkFrom May through October, the park entrance fee for a private vehicle is $20; it’s valid for seven days.  But there are also annual passes, discounts for seniors, and free park admission for active military, as well as special free days for all national parks.

Check out these ways to save, as well as the fees for certain ranger-led programs, at the National Park Service Web site.

 

What are directions for getting to Acadia National Park?

Mount Desert Island is located on the mid-coast section of Maine – roughly 3-1/2 hours north of Portland, 6 hours from Boston, and 10 from New York.

You can fly from Boston’s Logan Airport directly to the Hancock County Airport, just 10 miles from Acadia.  Bangor International Airport, which is about an hour from Mount Desert Island, serves national flights.

If you drive, head north on I-95 to Bangor, then drive east on Route 1A to Ellsworth.  In Ellsworth take Route 3 to Mount Desert Island.

 

Hiking in Acadia: If You Love the Precipice, Try Beech Cliff Ladder Trail

 travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Hiking in Acadia: If You Love the Precipice, Try Beech Cliff Ladder Trail
Jun 162013
 

Summit Ladder Trail Beech Cliff Acadia

Let me tell you about a favorite hike in Acadia National Park that has historic origins and rewarding views.  It’s only a half-mile up, but it’s treacherously–and thrillingly–steep.  (So, I’ll include a tip so that you don’t have to go down the way you came up!)

Let’s go to the western part of Mount Desert Island, known for good reason as the Quietside, to the shores of Echo Lake.  From its western shore rise high cliffs, and this is where we’ll hike.  It’s called Beech Cliff Ladder Trail.

Beech Cliff Ladder Trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s.  Single men, 18 to 25, were eligible to enroll if they agreed to send $25 of their monthly $30 wage check back to their families.

You can think about this as you make your way to the back of the Echo Lake parking lot to find the trail head.  As you start ascending on switchbacks, you’ll have the help of stone steps, gifts of the CCC, and iron ladders.

The trail cuts to the left of the perpendicular wall that rises over Echo Lake.

Beech Cliff wall

Your footing will also be challenged by roots.  But cable and cedar railings will help you on this steep climb, as will more stone steps – 303 of them, according to a 1986 inventory reported in the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation’s Pathmakers.

At the upper end of the trail you’ll encounter a series of ladders to ascend the cliff face.

ladders Beech Cliff trail

Ladder Trail Beech Cliff

When you reach the top, you’ll first be compelled to look down! You’ll see the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Echo Lake Camp.

Appalachian Mountain Club Echo Lake

The view of Echo Lake’s beach from above demonstrates one of the reasons why it has been chosen by the editors of Down East magazine as one of the 12 Best Lakes for Swimming in Maine — “a wide swath of sand joins shallow clear water that extends far out.”

Echo Lake Beach Mount Desert Acadia

Enjoy the views from the open summit.  To the south, you can clearly see Greening Island Great Cranberry Island beyond.

Be sure to explore the small loop to the north and appreciate the views of Echo Lake, with Acadia Mountain rising from its eastern shore, and Somes Sound and Sargent Mountain in the distance.

Echo Lake Acadia St. Saveaur Sargent Mountain

So, now  what?  Veteran MDI hiker Tom St. Germain says backing your way down any ladder or cliff trail is “harrowing” so I recommend planning ahead and creating your own “biathlon” loop.  This means starting your day by leaving your bikes locked near the pumping station at the southern tip of Great Long Pond.

biking in Acadia

Then, after you summit Beech Cliff Ladder Trail and explore the top, hike a short distance west.  You’ll meet folks taking the comfortable walk– first described in a guidebook in 1871– in the opposite direction up to Beech Cliff from the parking area at the southern end of Beech Hill Road.  Continue south to West Ridge Trail to emerge from the woods at the southern end of Long Pond, where your bikes await.    Then bike Long Pond Road and Lurvey Spring Road back to the parking lot of Echo Lake.

Relax.  Gaze ahead for two miles as Echo Lake shimmers like an aquatic valley between Beech Mountain rising above it to the west and Acadia and St. Sauveur Mountains to the east.

Or…jump in for a swim…and make this day a triathlon of fun!

Echo Lake Beach Acadia

Related Stories:

Celebrating the Pathmakers of Acadia National Park

Five Favorite Hikes in Acadia National Park

Best Hikes in Acadia: Jordan Cliffs and Penobscot South Ridge Loop

Have you ever hiked Beech Cliff Ladder Trail?  Please add your comments!  Or tell us all about another trail and why you like it.

Why I Hope My Daughter Chooses Mount Desert Island in Maine for Her Wedding

 Food and Dining, Photography, travel, Weddings  Comments Off on Why I Hope My Daughter Chooses Mount Desert Island in Maine for Her Wedding
May 182013
 

maine destination weddingsApril showers bring May flowers, then June graduations and weddings.  And, although my daughter graduates from college in June, she’s pretty far from a wedding (although she has been dating a great guy for three years).

I was the one who began thinking about weddings recently when my online browsing introduced me to Maine wedding photographer Brea McDonald.  Her work would convince any couple to choose Mount Desert Island as the destination for their wedding!

During the last ten years destination weddings have skyrocketed like love on a starlit night. Today they represent one out of every four weddings.  Says Laura Cave of The Knot, “Our families and our friends are so far flung throughout the country.  It makes total sense that a bride and groom would want to choose a wedding site that’s beautiful for them and a lot of fun for their friends.”

Mount Desert Island fits those criteria.  Brea McDonald, whose home base is York, Maine, has photographed weddings in Maine, New Hampshire, Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Boston.  According to Brea, Mount Desert Island is a great location for a New England wedding because “it has it all — boating, fishing, hiking, shopping and, of course, eating.”

That’s particularly because Mount Desert Island is home to Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi.  Its granite-topped mountains, rocky coastline and glacial lakes attracted 2.4 million visitors last year.  And these distinctive geographical features make a stunning setting for wedding vows, whether anchored by spruce or birch…

wedding acadia national park maine

maine wedding venue harbor

…or enclosing the couple in an autumnal tunnel of love.

maine weddings fall

Charming villages are located throughout Mount Desert Island.  Their harbor-side classic inns and elegant gardens are the kind of venues brides dream about and cherish through their photographs for years to come.

asticou inn northwest harbor maine

maine wedding venue garden

One couple Brea photographed opted for the ceremony aboard a four-masted schooner and the reception in a harbor-side meadow.

maine wedding venues boats

maine wedding venues harbors

Couples who have a bent toward the casual seem to gravitate toward Maine for their weddings.  They may start with their topsiders on, but are likely to kick up (and off) their heels before long.

maine wedding venues casual

maine weddings casual

And they’re not afraid to be caught in a wedding photo tasting a lobster leg.  In fact, that’s part of the instructions.

wedding menus lobster

maine weddings lobster

That brings us to food.  Mount Desert Island is home to fishermen (including lobstermen) and farmers (including wonderful organic growers), so the culinary delights at a Maine wedding are great.  What floats your boat – clams or oysters?

Maine wedding menus

maine weddings menus oysters

A lobster bake makes a memorable menu.

maine wedding lobsterbake

So, if my daughter gets engaged and asks me what I think about a wedding on Mount Desert Island, I’m going to say: “A beautiful setting? Check.  Great food for the reception?  Check.  Fun for your friends? Check.  Memorable?  Check.”

And did I mention her boyfriend is graduating from Harvard Law in June?

Related Stories:

Brea McDonald Photography

The Knot’s Maine Wedding Albums

 

My Favorite Links This Week

 travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on My Favorite Links This Week
Apr 072013
 

 

While this week brought news about more political corruption in New York, weakening chances of gun legislation passing, and increasing tensions in Korea, my inbox – and mailbox – also offered signs of hope from individuals and organizations committed to land conservation.  Here are some of my favorites.

 

National Park List

2012 Statistics Reveal Top 10 Visited National Park Service Sites

Visits to our national parks increased by more than three million last year.  Acadia National Park ranked ninth, with over 2.4 million visitors.  See what other parks are on the top 10 list.

 

 

gift_package_imgFrom Green Gifts Purveyor: Into the Trees 

This charming children’s book written by Mike Aaron and illustrated by Baby Einstein artist Nadeem Zaidi tells the story of a child’s walk in the woods as the impetus for an ongoing relationship with nature.  Buy alone or as part of gift set.

 

 

 

Cairns

Stone on Stone – A Natural and Social History of Cairns

In an article published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Michael Gaige reveals the history of the unique Bates cairns that dot Cadillac Mountain and other bald summits in Acadia National Park, as well as some contemporary problems in cairn management facing national parks.

 

 

 

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Maine Land Conservation Conference 2013

The conference, which will be held on April 26th in Brunswick and April 27th in Topsham, provides a forum for learning about the most pressing issues facing land conservation today.

 

 

 

How to Cook Lobster and More – A Three-Day “Cooking Adventure” in Maine

 Food and Dining, travel  Comments Off on How to Cook Lobster and More – A Three-Day “Cooking Adventure” in Maine
Mar 312013
 

maine lobsterOne evening when we were having dinner at Red Sky restaurant in Southwest Harbor, Maine, the Executive Chef James Lindquist came over to our table to describe the specials.  The appetizer, he said, featured asparagus which was “in the ground this afternoon.”

James Lindquist

James Lindquist

This focus on what’s local and fresh has been a driving force behind the success of Red Sky and James Lindquist, who was featured in Fresh from Maine, the 2010 cookbook of “recipes and stories from the state’s best chefs”.  His vivid way of describing food and engaging the imagination of his diners is another reason the restaurant has received such acclaim from The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and Down East Magazine, among others.

Now, for the first time, enthusiastic home cooks are going to be able to cook with James, learning his approach, getting unique recipes, and taking advantage of the ingredients of Maine, including lobster.  On June 9-12 he will lead a three-day “Cooking Adventure,” limited to eight participants.

This cooking class will take place at Ann’s Point Inn on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.  It will include three nights lodging at the scenic harbor-side inn, as well as local trips to discover the sources of Maine’s coveted ingredients.  Participants will prepare appetizer, entrée, and dessert courses for two dinners.  In addition, the program includes a three-course dinner at Red Sky.

Ann's Point Inn

Ann’s Point Inn

This “Cooking Adventure” is the brainchild of Alan Feuer, a former Computer Science professor, who moved to Maine with his wife Jeannette to start a second career as innkeeper of Ann’s Point. Under their stewardship, the inn, which opened in 2005, has not only been certified an Environmental Leader by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but also selected as a Yankee Magazine Editor’s Choice in 2012 for “Best Acadian Escape.”

Says Alan Feuer, “For many guests at the inn, eating well-prepared food is as important as the breathtaking scenery and exhilarating physical activity Acadia offers.”   The Feuers updated their inn’s open kitchen in 2012 giving it plentiful work space and a direct water view. He adds, “Kitchens are magical places. They turn raw material into delicious food, and strangers into friends.”

In addition to lodging, two dinners prepared by the class, and a dinner at Red Sky, the “Cooking Adventure” package includes three full breakfasts at Ann’s Point Inn. These feature freshly baked pastries, fresh fruit, and a main course that alternates between the sweet and savory. James Lindquist says, “Jeannette Feuer is an accomplished breakfast chef in her own right!”

The eight people who participate in the first “Cooking Adventure” collaboration will take home recipes of the two dinners they prepared together and a signed copy of Fresh from Maine. Cost for the package is $1750 for two people. For more information, call 207-244-9595 or email info@annspoint.com.

Related Stories:

Attention, Foodies: Take a Detour to Bartlett Winery When You Visit Acadia National Park in Maine

Second Life as an Innkeeper in Maine