First of all, what exactly and where exactly, is Down East Maine? It is geography mixed with sailing terminology that broadly refers to the 7,000 miles of coastline – including 4600 islands – from Maine to Canada. In the days of cargo schooners, boats headed to ports along the New England coast sailed “downwind,” from Boston pushed along by the prevailing southwest winds, and in an easterly direction on their compasses. “Down East” – a terse Yankeeism – just stuck.
While the jewel of the Down East crown is indisputably Acadia National Park, there’s more to see and do in this eastern-most corner of the United States. Here’s what you can cover in 3 days… and not camp. Also, I’ve skipped the obvious attraction of the well-known resort town Bar Harbor – not really in the scope of this visit.
Day 1 – Acadia National Park.
Acadia was the first national park east of the Mississippi, created in 1919. It commands a good portion of Mt. Desert Island (MDI), other nearby islands and the Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland. From Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on Mt. Desert, you can drive around the 27-mile loop with multiple pull-offs for picnics, short or long hikes (120 miles of trails), rock climbing, or just whipping out the cell phone camera to record the views. At every point the scenery is breathtaking.
One could spend 3-4 days exploring the park, darting in and out of its 65 entrances on MDI and stopping to explore on foot. The many walking paths make for easy footing with sneakers and are very child-friendly. A great place to create inter-generational family memories.
Ship Harbor, part of the park at the end of MDI, offers a lovely path through a moss-covered pine forest to a magnificent rocky shoreline. Visit at the tide pools at “low water” for further exploration and joy of discovery – starfish, crabs, urchins (and other stuff).
Throughout the park, the visitors’ centers with informed park rangers are extremely helpful. The seasonal restrooms along the trail, often something to avoid, are state-of-the-art. Even during the high season.
Lunch Stop of the Day
You know the saying, “an army marches on its stomach” – well, the same is true for travelers. There isn’t a place to eat in the park proper, but lobster lovers know that Maine is nirvana. A string of Mom and Pop places, most with picnic tables outside, line the local 2-lane highways and fulfill that longing but beware, not all are wonderful. Ask around for recommendations; here’s one below.
Somehow, ice cream is nearly always part of the offering and nearly always award-winning or at least “world class.” Here’s one, on Route 3, on the way to Mt. Desert Island.
JJ’s lobster rolls were, indeed, world class. So much so that I forgot to take a picture. The testimonials, however, speak to its “must go” status.
Day 2 – Mount Desert Island and Acadia, Part II
MDI is a symphony of habitats – fresh ponds drain into the sea, woodlands meet the rocky shoreline, both salt and freshwater marshes play host to birds, fish, crustaceans; the ecosystem buzzes with life to the beat of the tidal metronome
It is fascinating if you know where and how to look. Which I most emphatically did not, so I booked a morning with naturalist Michael Good, to better understand the flora and fauna of the land. (What I learned is worthy of its own post, coming shortly.)
In the company of a few other visitors and under the leadership of a knowledgeable and passionate authority, I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. It’s a reminder of how precious and delicately balanced our natural world is. So, some snaps:
The Schoodic Peninsula beckoned, part of the Acadia park but on the mainland, just down from the charming town of Winter Haven. The huge rocks along the coastline, facing the open Atlantic, form a natural barrier that is split by the endless wave action. It is a great place to picnic or just clamber around the rocks.
The Schoodic Institute, an educational non-profit advances learning and scientific research in the region, works in partnership with the National Park Service to manage the Schoodic Education and Research Center campus on the park’s grounds.
Lunch spot of the day
Beal’s – an institution on MDI since the 1930’s, is the hands-down favorite. After a hard morning bird-watching, learning about local ecosystems and wildlife habitats, it just seemed fitting to enjoy a bit of the coastal bounty.
Dockside, of course!
Didn’t have lobster for lunch at Beal’s, but will definitely come back! (Beats flax seeds any day.)
Day 3 – On up the Coast for more Down East Maine
A day trip up the coast to the eastern-most corner of the United States: Lubec, Maine and close-by Quoddy Light. I was aiming to cross into Canada to visit the Roosevelt summer cottage, Campobello, but a forgotten passport upended that plan.
(Silly mistake; here are passport alternatives for frequent travel to Canada/Mexico, under the auspices of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Worth knowing about.)
On a cloudy, rainy day the haunting beauty of the Quoddy Light, dutifully keeping ships off the rocks since 1808, underscored Maine’s literary reputation as the setting for ghost stories, and inspirational to horror author (and Maine native) Stephen King.
The visitor’s center is modest by most destination standards of today but seemed in keeping with the setting: no fuss, no flash. Just a few simple souvenirs and an excellent historical account of the peppermint stick lighthouse.
The town of Lubec is charming and old-school. Like the lighthouse, there’s no glitz but an earnest welcome and friendly conversation. There is enough to do for a few days (bike rentals, whale-watching, beach-combing, local artists’ galleries), with tasty local fare scooped up from the sea and surrounding farms.
In visiting Quoddy Light I discovered a refurbished former U.S. Coast Guard Station, transformed into guest accommodations called, fittingly, West Quoddy Station. It has me thinking seriously about booking for a few days in summer, 2017, as a launch into the Canadian Maritimes (with passport).
Lunch spot of the day
In Lubec, you’ve missed something if you don’t stop into the Sunrise Cafe. Local everything, and all made right there, even the cinnamon buns. Just sayin’.
And so, refreshed and revitalized, here’s a toast to Down East Maine, with the intention that 2016 was not my last visit.
As is the custom with 3 Score destination posts, here are a few book ideas – guides, ghostly thrillers and mysteries and a bit of Stephen King.
- Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine
- Maine Outdoor Adventure Guide
- Maine Lighthouses Illustrated Map and Guide
- Dead Down East (Jesse Thorpe Mysteries)
- Different Seasons (Stephen King)
What’s your favorite National Park? With a record number of visitors expected during the Centennial Year, many of you must have stories to tell… please share in the comments section below, and…..
© 2016 3 Score & More
Photo Credit: Jane Trombley
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