Sep 072015

At the top of the hill heading north out of Southwest Harbor—where a restaurant of that name served patrons for years—now stands the reincarnation of Town Hill Bistro, which closed in the spring of 2014.  Within weeks of re-opening this July, the parking lot is full and the new restaurant has climbed to the top of the rankings on TripAdvisor.  The seasoned wife and husband team, Maureen Cosgrove and JJ Zeph, are calling their new venture the Rogue Café.

Why Rogue Café?  When I visited recently, Maureen and JJ were too busy for me to ask, so I’ll have to speculate.  Is it because it’s a bit playful to change the menu daily, depending upon what Maureen has discovered in the Mount Desert Island farmers markets where she sources her ingredients? Or perhaps they were thinking of Maureen as Rogue, the Marvel Comics female superhero who, displaying her magical powers back in the kitchen, has limited her physical contact with others.  It certainly takes superhuman abilities to run such a tight operation.

When we dined, we noted that the wait staff was made up of former employees, as well as veterans from other top restaurants among Mount Desert Island’s active culinary scene. The coordination of service among the team was as if they had been working together for years.  And their enthusiasm for the new operation was palpable.  “I’m so thrilled you’re back,” I said to one server.  “That’s so nice to hear every night,” she responded.

Queso BlancoSimplicity and freshness characterize the menu.  Small plates are likely to thrill you solely with the flavor of the greens that adorn them.  To start I tried a special plate of seared queso blanco with a wonderful jalapeno jelly, but I couldn’t stop raving about the arugula.  For his entrée, my husband ordered chicken thighs lightly accented with Asian flavors.  Again, the star of the show was the quality of the chicken itself, which reminded me of how chicken tasted when I was a kid.  Large plates offer a wide variety of meat and fish, plus tantalizing options for vegetarians.

rogue cafe southwest harbor maineThe new space accommodates more diners than the cabin in Town Hill.  Although it has a pitched ceiling of pine wood that is reminiscent of the former quarters, the walls are light with brightly colored works of art.  There is a larger main dining area, with two other more intimate alcoves of three or four tables each.  It all feels open and airy.  Central to the space, physically and metaphorically, is a large bar which provides comfortable space for about eight people to dine.  As at Town Hill Bistro, I expect it will be full year-round not only with new guests, but old friends and other restaurateurs who give this establishment its uniquely intimate vibe.

I’m most excited about what Maureen’s new kitchen must be like.  I hope she’s happy!  Past patrons are.  Reincarnation never felt so heavenly.

Rogue Café, 1 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, Maine, 207-244-7101


Related Stories: 

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

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

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Aug 132014

Good Morning America, ABC News’ popular morning program, asked its viewers to identify their favorite place in America.  With nominations ranging from Chicago’s Lakefront to Alabama’s Gulf Shores, Acadia National Park came in at the top.  It’s easy to understand why.

The views are breathtaking.  Maine’s rocky coastline, rich spruce forests, and pristine lakes are set around 24 mountain peaks.  And because Acadia was created through private donations of land tracts, some of Maine’s most charming villages–think white-steepled churches and village greens–are nestled alongside the national park.

There’s not only a lot to see, but a lot to do.  Whether you are a family with kids, girlfriends on a get-away, or a couple combining adventure and romance, Acadia National Park offers many different activities.  People who love the outdoors hike, bike, and kayak.  Art lovers roam galleries.  And everyone eats lobster.

There’s so much to enjoy, in fact, that a little advance planning pays off.  Consider what you want to do most in the amount of time you have.  And remember that certain events are not offered daily.  For example, some of the Park Ranger Programs occur only once or twice a week, so check out the schedule of events and plan around it.  And remember, with Acadia National Park ranked by GMA viewers as their “Favorite Place in America,” you may want to get reservations in advance for the most popular restaurants!

Don’t miss these highlights…

If you have three days

  • Drive the Park Loop Road, taking in the key sights such as Frenchman Bay, Ocean Trail, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, and Jordan Pond.
  • Hike a trail from among the 125 miles of stunning, well-maintained routes on the island.  Consider Jordan Pond as a starting point so that you can efficiently include lunch or tea (popovers, lemonade, chowder) at Jordan Pond House.
  • Visit the “Quiet Side,” being sure to see Somes Sound, the postcard-perfect Somesville Bridge, Echo Lake, Bass Harbor Headlight, and the fishing village of Bass Harbor.
  • Have dinner at Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard on the “Quiet Side.”  

If you have one week

  • Add in a sea kayaking tour – great from Bar Harbor in the morning, Southwest Harbor for sunset — or just rent a kayak and paddle around on your own in one of the lakes.
  • Take a horse-drawn carriage drive from Wildwood Stables, an Acadia tradition.
  • Go to Sand Beach – swim if you dare.
  • Go mini-golfing at Pirate’s Cove in Bar Harbor.
  • Shop in Bar Harbor and explore the waterfront.

If you have two weeks

  • Bike along any of Acadia’s 45 miles of scenic carriage roads.
  • Get up early one morning to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.
  • Attend a ranger-led program, whether it’s to explore tidal pools or visit an 1800s farm house.
  • Take a boat ride in the Starfish Enterprise with Diver Ed  or in a romantic, historic Friendship Sloop.
  • Work in a second hike on another part of the island – the views and terrain are so varied!
  • Visit the village of Southwest Harbor to shop and have a lobster roll and blueberry pie.
  • Seek out a Maine public supper or flea market — and enjoy the company of locals.
  • Schedule a family rock-climbing expedition.
  • Visit an oceanarium with touch tanks to see marine life up close and personal.
  • Attend a tour of one of Mount Desert Island’s award-winning local breweries.

Now that you have a calendar of activities sketched out, consult OUR ACADIA for guides, tours, and outfitters.  Mount Desert Island is also the home not only of sublime traditional lobster pounds, but creative young chefs who are making the most of local seafood and produce.  Check out the restaurant reviews on OUR ACADIA and consider making some reservations ahead of time, especially during the height of summer season.

Then, after your trip, be sure to tell us what you loved the most about Acadia National Park!

 Posted by at 5:29 pm

Bird Watching on Mount Desert Island in Maine—Another Victory for the Nerds

 travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Bird Watching on Mount Desert Island in Maine—Another Victory for the Nerds
Nov 302013

Birdwatching Mount Desert Island Maine Rich MacDonaldConsider bird watching.  Once thought of as a hobby for elderly folks of the nerdier sort, in 2011 it was the subject of a comedy starring Owen Wilson.  Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are both said to be fans of this pastime that originally gained popularity in Victorian England with the publication of such books as Birds through an Opera Glass (1889), but today counts one out of every five Americans as a participant.

My interest in bird watching emerged from my passion for hiking.  If I took a guided bird tour, I reasoned, I could add to my basic knowledge and get even more out of my day hikes in Acadia National Park in Maine.  So, we signed up with The Natural History Center in Bar Harbor.

We arrived early for our 8am appointment, and with more than a little excitement, sat waiting on the bench on Firefly Lane opposite the Bar Harbor Village Green gazebo.

A few minutes later the owner of the center, Rich MacDonald, pulled up and we were off to the first of six stops on the three-hour bird watching tour of Mount Desert Island.  As we drove, Rich introduced himself.

“I grew up in western New York, the oldest son in the family.  We had a dairy farm and cheese shop.  37 types.   But I was an academic, and although I was supposed to take over the farm, my father encouraged me to pursue my passion.”

That was biology and ornithology, in particular. After ten years as a field biologist with The Nature Conservancy and a stint in consulting, Rich met his wife, Natalie Springuel, also a naturalist, who was a Master Maine Guide for sea kayaking.  They moved to Mount Desert Island and opened The Natural History Center four years ago.

As Rich parked the van at Hadley’s Point, the northernmost point of the island, the wind picked up. The yellow leaves of the nearby poplars rustled, as chickadees chirped from somewhere within the grove.  Rich positioned his scope beside the van, which sheltered us on this breezy, but bright October morning.  Although we were novice bird watchers, we knew this was not the best time of year for birding.  Sure enough, the first birds Rich’s scope picked up bobbing around in Eastern Bay were herring gulls—common to every beach and, well, garbage lot.

Rich got excited.  “What do you see?”  We peered through the scope.  Then we saw it: a bright red spot on the bill.  Only when a chick pecks it, Rich explained, does the mother regurgitate food to feed it. “That red dot is key to survival.” It turns out a Dutch scientist won a Nobel Prize for these findings about “signal stimulti.”  I knew I’d never look at herring gulls the same.

We moved on, sighting yellow legs, red-necked grebes, Canadian geese, a bald eagle, several types of ducks, and mosquitoes of avian scale.  The anecdotes about bird behavior, habitat, and history accumulated even faster than the checkmarks on the birding list. 

We saw a mourning dove, which prompted Rich to tell us the story of its relation, the  passenger pigeon.  In the 19th century a pigeon migration, in flocks numbering in the billions, was such a spectacle that John James Audubon described it as “darkening the sky.”  These pigeons are extinct today.

“I see mourning doves pecking at the gravel on the carriage roads,” I said to Rich.

“Eating little stones helps them grind things in their stomachs,” he explained.

“What kind of spruce is this?” I asked.

“Black spruce.  It’s the most common in Maine.”

It was clear we were in the company of a passionate expert.  It’s no wonder that the hedge fund elite hire him to guide extended hiking and kayaking trips.  Even more, it fits that he would be the naturalist for Garrison Keillor on the cruises of National Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Yes, birding with Rich MacDonald was another victory for the nerds. 

And I was right.  A walk in the woods is great.  When you know what’s singing in the trees, it’s even better.

The Natural History Center is located at 6 Firefly Lane, Bar Harbor, Maine, (207) 801-2617.


Related Stories: 

Wildlife in Maine’s Acadia National Park: Bring Your Binoculars! 

Fall Photo Workshop in Acadia National Park 

How to Cook Lobster and More: A Three-Day Cooking Adventure in Maine



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.

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.





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.





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.




Mar 242013

Thinking of visiting Acadia National Park this summer?  It’s the star attraction of Mount Desert Island, an island about the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but with 24 mountain peaks.  That alone expands the roster of great things to do there.

Acadia became a national park in 1919, but the first village on Mount Desert Island was founded in 1761.  Today Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the charming, postcard-perfect villages of this New England island, adding even more activities to engage park visitors.

So, what activities should you plan to include in your visit?  Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park.

1.  Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. At some 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States, and it is breathtaking. Make sure you wear a warm fleece even if it’s August.

Cadillac Sunrise

2.  Drive the Park Loop Road. You can get your best overview of Acadia by driving these 27 miles of unsurpassed beauty, created in part through the masterful collaboration of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. There are many lookouts so have your camera ready.

3.  Eat lobster. Whether you want a lobster roll, lobster stew, or a two-pounder steamed, you can find a wide range of topnotch restaurants, harbor side lobster pounds, and quaint cafes to serve you. Our favorite is Thurston’s in Bass Harbor.

4.  Go biking. Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Acadia offers 45 miles of car-free carriage roads that will lead you around mountains, alongside lakes, and into serene boreal forests.  Visit Hull’s Cove Visitor Center first, just outside of downtown Bar Harbor, where there is plentiful parking and good advice about the best bike routes for you and your family. I love their 3D map.

5.  Stroll, hike, or climb. The park boasts 125 miles of well-maintained hiking trails that appeal to all levels of fitness. The most exciting trails, such as the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs, feature rungs and ladders. A beautiful, moderately challenging hike is Acadia Mountain, overlooking Somes Sound, the only fiord in North America. If you’re looking for easier strolls, consider Asticou Trail and Wonderland – they’re lovely.

Hiking The Bubbles

6.  Have popovers at Jordan Pond House. Select a biking or hiking route that stems from behind Jordan Pond House so that you can conclude your afternoon with lemonade or tea – and, most certainly, popovers — on the lawn looking towards the Bubbles, a sight that has mesmerized visitors at teatime since 1896. It’s a favorite destination for everyone, but worth the wait.  What about popovers filled with blueberry ice cream?

Jordan Pond Popovers with Blueberry Ice Cream

7.  Go to the beach.  Sand Beach is a stunning crescent of white sand, with cliffs at each side and the Beehive Trail behind it. The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. Another option for a swim is the beach at Echo Lake on the island’s “Quietside.”

Echo Lake swimming

8.  Visit a lighthouse.  Maine has over 60 lighthouses, and one of its most beautiful is on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor.  It’s a great spot for photographers.  Afterwards, visit the working harbor busy with lobster and sail boats.

Bass Harbor

9.  Take a horse-drawn carriage ride.  Carriages of Acadia offers a number of picturesque drives within Acadia National Park, starting at Wildwood Stables and encompassing destinations including Day Mountain and Jordan Pond.  Another option is to enjoy a tour of downtown Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.

Carriage Drives in Acadia

10.  Learn from a park ranger. The National Park Service offers very entertaining talks and walks on subjects ranging tidal pools to birds of prey to the stars over Sand Beach. Scan The Beaver Log to figure out how you can fit in more than one.

11.  Touch nature – literally. There are several enterprises, including Mount Desert Biological Laboratories, The Dive-In Theatre, and the Mount Desert Oceanarium, that feature touch tanks full of lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. I always end up liking this stuff just as much as the kids do.

12.  Visit the local wineries and micro-breweries.  On Mount Desert Island you can enjoy free tours and tastings of two award-winning micro-breweries, Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company.  Venture off the island to discover the acclaimed fruit vintages of Bartlett Winery.

13.  Get out on the water. This great national park is on an island so you must see it from the vantage point of the sea. Whether you’re powering yourself in a sea kayak or the wind is propelling you on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park.

Sailing in Acadia

14.  Experience farm to table cuisine. Maine is known not only for its great fishermen, but also its farmers.  And nowhere in Maine has the renaissance of local and organic ingredients been as great as on Mount Desert Island.  A long list of top restaurants, including Burning Tree, Fathom, Red Sky, and Town Hill Bistro, awaits the discerning diner.  Make reservations!

15.  Take an art class.  If you’ve ever pictured yourself sketching or learning watercolors in an idyllic seaside location, make that fantasy a reality.  Among the many wonderful artists on Mount Desert Island is Judy Taylor, who offers workshops that include cruises to some of the most picturesque islands surrounding Mount Desert Island.

Judy Taylor Sketch Class

16.  Relax at a spa. Bar Harbor is home to a number of spas that run the gamut from sophisticated to funky.  If your idea of a great vacation is a day of outdoor activities topped off by a soothing massage, then you’ll find a vacation to Acadia perfect from the pine-scented trails to the aromas of the spa.

17.  Experience the “Way Life Should Be.”  That Maine slogan is your personal invitation to church suppers, local parades, blueberry festivals, farmers’ markets, crafts fairs, and terrific libraries.  If you pull off the road and depart from your schedule, you’ll be amply rewarded.  After all, those practical folks who invented ear muffs in 1873 just named Whoopie Pies as their “State Treat.”

Public Suppers in MaineRelated Stories:

5 Tips If You Want to Enjoy A Glorious Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Maine

Where to Stay on a Trip to Acadia National Park: A Profile of Mount Desert Island’s Villages





Figure Drawing Workshop on Islesford with Maine Artist Judy Taylor

 travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Figure Drawing Workshop on Islesford with Maine Artist Judy Taylor
Jun 262012

What’s on your bucket list?  To swim with dolphins?  See the Northern Lights?  Master the tango?

Now that you’ve moved into fantasizing mode, how about learning to draw?  If that’s always been a dream, then a true fantasy vacation would be a sketch trip to an idyllic New England island with a well-known artist who teaches around the world.

Sketching along the shoreline of Little Cranberry Island

Sketching along the shoreline of Little Cranberry Island

On July 12 at least this dream can come true!  Maine artist Judy Taylor welcomes you to join her for an all-day workshop, “Drawing the Figure on Islesford.”

Yoga instructor Mary Kate Murray will serve as the model for the sketch trip which will feature figure poses throughout Islesford on Little Cranberry Island.  Says Judy Taylor, “We’ll draw on the dock, down by the beach, on the deserted road with pines, ocean, fishing gear and rocks as our background.  I’m so excited about the compositional opportunities!”

Isleford Nude - Judy Taylor

Islesford Nude - Judy Taylor

Ms. Taylor is particularly well known for her work with figures.  The Maine Department of Labor awarded her a commission to create an eleven-panel mural depicting scenes of Maine workers, which Governor LePage ordered removed last year, stirring considerable controversy.

This year Ms. Taylor has taught workshops in New York, Venice, and Florence, as well as Maine.  Her studio, which includes exhibit space of her work, is on the “Quiet Side” of Mount Desert Island.

The fee for the July 12th workshop is $150, which includes the ferry, lunch at the popular Islesford Dock Restaurant, and model fee.  Enrollment is limited to ten.  Reserve by July 7 by calling 207-244-5545.


Boathouses on Islesford - Judy Taylor

Boathouses on Islesford - Judy Taylor


Jun 242012

Maine rocky coastline Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S.  Attracted by the vistas of where the mountains meet the sea, over 2,300,000 people visited Acadia in 2011, making it the ninth most-visited national park.

Acadia is also a great vacation option for families on a budget.  With just a little planning, you can enjoy great scenery, restaurants, and outdoor activities – without a credit card bill the next month that takes all the fun away.

Here’s how.

1.  Rent a cottage so that you don’t have to eat every meal out.  There’s a wide array of rental options available through Mount Desert Island real estate agents or online.

2.  Better still, camp!  Sites at Blackwoods and Seawall, the two National Park sites on Mount Desert Island, are within a 10-minute walk from the ocean and only cost $20 a night.

3.  Take advantage of free ranger-led programs.   You  don’t have to be a camper to join the evening festivities at the campgrounds,  which are very entertaining, especially for kids.  Other programs take place throughout the park.

Ranger talk at Seawall Campground

4.  If  you’re 62 or older, get a $10 lifetime entrance pass.  The regular pass to enter Acadia  National Park is only $20, but seniors can buy discounted passes at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center that they can use at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.

Hulls Cove entrance fees

5.  Bring  your own bikes.  It may be inconvenient to schlepp them,  but Acadia’s carriage roads offer 45 miles of car-free biking great for  the whole family around lakes, beside babbling brooks, and up  mountains.  If you want to bike more than once – and you will – renting for a family can get pricey, with rates running around $22 a day for adults and $15-18 for kids.

boy biking in Acadia National Park

6.  Stock  up at supermarkets to avoid paying higher prices in  small specialty markets.  There are large Shaw’s and Hannaford’s in Ellsworth, where we often stop.  Hannaford’s also has a large store on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor.

7.  But bring staples from home.  Pack just a few of the items you buy in bulk at home (tea bags, lemonade packets, and sweetener) so that you won’t have to stock up and then waste what you don’t use.

8.  Gas up off island.  If you forget, don’t worry.  The Somesville  One-Stop/Mobil, conveniently located right in the center of Mount Desert  Island, has great prices.  However,  prices fluctuate significantly around the island.  For example,we’ve seen prices 11 cents higher in downtown Bar Harbor.

9.  If  you’re renting a house or cottage, look for one that offers a kayak you can  use.  Tandem kayaks run $35 for three hours.  Depending on your  family size and how long you want to explore, this could add up.  Remember, places like Great Long Pond and Jordan Pond (below) offer hours of exploration and relaxation.

Kayaking Bubbles

10.  Take the Island Explorer bus around the island and save on gas.  The island is big.  You can put 130 miles on in 4 days.  And, remember, taking the bus is a great, safe way for teenagers to show a little independence and get around the island themselves.

11.  Explore options for educational activities.  Kids love touch tanks as a way to learn more about lobsters and sea life.  As wonderful as they are,  boat cruises can run as high as $43 per person.  A less expensive option is an oceanarium, which carries a price tag of $8.50 for kids 4-12.  (Good if you have a lot of them!)

Touch tanks with lobsters

12.  Substitute activities like tide pooling as a no-cost alternative to movies or shopping.  Kids love climbing the rocks around Bass Harbor lighthouse.   Blueberry picking is permitted throughout the park.  Another great activity is to walk across the sand bar Bar Harbor to Bar Island while it’s low tide.  Last time I did this I saw a baby seal.

Child tide pooling Acadia National Park

13.  Cook  out ocean-side at one of Acadia’s great picnic areas, such as Seawall (below) or Pretty Marsh,  with grills provided by the park service.

Seawall Mount Desert Island Maine

14.  When you finally splurge on lobster (as you should!), choose  a lobster pound that offers options for your kids if they prefer grilled chicken or even PB&J.

Maine lobster dinner


Best Easy Hikes for Kids

22 Things to Do with Kids in Acadia National Park

Best Bar Harbor Restaurants for Kids

ALL 207/288-5005 LL 207/288-500

Asticou Azalea Garden – A Popular Spot for Visitors to Acadia National Park

 travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Asticou Azalea Garden – A Popular Spot for Visitors to Acadia National Park
Jun 102012

Beatrix Farrand was a prominent landscape architect in the early twentieth century, who designed gardens for John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Princeton University, and the White House, among others.

A niece of Edith Wharton, she spent summers at Reef Point, her family’s estate in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she experimented with garden design in her early years and then later in life returned to develop an extensive garden which she planned to turn into a public study center.

But in 1955 she decided the project was not viable.  She donated her library and drawings to the University of California, dismantled the house, and sold the property.

This shocking end to a magnificent career does have a poignant twist.  With the financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and other Mount Desert Island residents, the plants from Reef Point were saved and moved.

And today you can see some of Beatrix Farrand’s plant collection in the Asticou Azalea Garden.  It is a worthy stop during a visit to Acadia National Park.

Just drive down Route 3 towards Northeast Harbor and you’ll find this unique and compelling Japanese style garden on your left.  With convenient parking, the garden is open from May 1st through October 31st.

Asticou Garden’s designer Charles Savage took his inspiration from a traditional Japanese stroll garden, but adapted it with coastal Maine’s native plants, particularly Mrs. Farrand’s.


Asticous Azalea Garden Northeast Harbor

Asticou Azalea Garden Northeast Harbor Maine


As you meander along the raked paths from one garden room to another, you’ll discover rhododendrons and azaleas native to the mountainous regions of the world.

Asticou Azalea Garden Acadia National Park

Asticou Azalea Garden Acadia National Park

Although the latter are the stars of the show, we found so many other individual specimens to be show stoppers, including these peonies, my favorite of the day.

Asticou Azalea Garden Acadia National Park


We also admired the handiwork of the gardeners in creating the appealing rounded symmetry of the Sargent Flowering Crabapple.

Asticou Azalea Garden Crabapple Tree


Although the Sand Garden was a stunningly serene spot, we found ourselves mesmerized by the long vistas across the Lily Pond and Asticou Pond.Asticou Azalea Garden Charles Savage

Asticou Pond

Late May may well be the perfect time to visit since the azaleas and rhododendrons are alive in so many hues at that time of year, but the Azalea Garden offers visitors great delight at every season of the year, including September and October when the garden glows with the colors of fall.  A stopover at the Asticous Azalea Garden should definitely be incorporated into your itinerary for things to do during a visit to Acadia National Park.

It will be all the more meaningful if you remember the origin of some of the plants.


Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor – Beauty that Compounds the Enchantment of Acadia