Depending on the main purpose of your next vacation, we may have an ideal location to recommend.
If you’re looking for scenic seascapes, succulent seafood, majestic mountains and a friendly music- and-ice-cream kind of family feel, Maine is a main attraction.
A couple of things to remember before you jump in your car, RV or book a flight – Maine’s tourist season is shorter than a lobster’s (lobstah) in Maine-speak) tail fins.
We’re talking July 4 through Labor Day here. Some businesses don’t even open until the fireworks fly.
We ventured east in our 23-foot motor home in late June. It turned out to be a nice shoulder-season time – yes, a few businesses had yet to start their season, but the crowds were manageable, even in tourist areas like Bar Harbor (Baah-Haahbaah in Maine-speak).
If you’re traveling from Michigan, you’ll want to cut through Canada for your shortest route to Maine. Going through customs in Lewiston, New York will likely save you lots of time over opting for the Niagara Falls border crossing.
If you’re hungry, consider dining at the waterfront Silo Restaurant on the Niagara River. Food is cheap in this open air restaurant and the view is unbeatable. If you order a kids’ meal (adults can, too), you’ll get plenty to eat, plus a free drink and ice cream cone from the on-site ice cream caboose.
Stroll through the waterfront park as you lick your ice cream cone. There’s a statue that pays homage to the Underground Railroad days, and a local Lewiston man who helped slaves cross the river in his rowboat in the dark of night, en route to freedom. Definitely worth the short walk to experience this moving monument.
As you travel through New York, keep in mind that the turnpike rest stops are not only open for gas and food, but for overnight camping if need be.
If you can plan your route to arrive in the Portland, Maine area, it’s known for its gastro-pubs and breweries. It’s a prime shipping and sea-faring town, so lobstah is plentiful.
Take Highway 1 north through many scenic coastal towns, including Kunnebunport, the summer home of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States.
You’ll find antique markets, quaint shops, ice cream and lobstah stands galore en route to perhaps Maine’s main crown jewel – Acadia National Park.
For a “can’t miss” lobstah dinner, pull into the unassuming Capt’n Hook’s Fish Market and Takeout in Wells, Maine. You can order a variety of seafood items inside, including tasty fried clams, or venture out back to the lobster bake shack.
Dining is outdoor only – on picnic tables with colorful tablecloths and umbrellas. Pets are welcome. Kids, and pets, have plenty of room to romp and play after dinner.
I ordered a live “soft shell” lobster (lobsters shed their skins ever few years, and grow new soft shells). The soft shell version reportedly has sweeter meat and can be cracked with your hands. Who knew?
The experienced chefs cooked the lobster just until tender, and served it up on a platter with melted butter and lemon wedges, and all the oyster crackers you could eat, all for slightly less than $9.
I was hooked on Maine from that moment forward.
We stayed at Hadley’s Point Campground, which has full hookups, a pool complete with diving board, shuffleboard, camp store and free shuttle service to many area attractions.
Speaking of attractions, they are many.
We booked an MDI Tour. Matt, the owner, took us and another couple in a Suburban tour of Mount Desert Island, including a trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain. If you want to save yourself a lot of drive time and admission to Arcadia National Park, we highly recommend this tour.
Best part is, Matt is a native, and knows all the secret byways to see amazing sites without bumping into heavy traffic.
Don’t forget your camera. The scenery is amazing – from lighthouses to pond bridges to rugged Maine coastlines.
You can hike or bike 51 miles of carriage roads donated by the Rockefeller family. Many of them still live on the island, which has 10,500 residents and attracts four million visitors each summer.
While you’re in the Bar Harbor area, plan a a few hours to stroll through downtown. Grab a cup of lobstah chowder and pick up a few souvenirs.
If you have young ones along, book a cruise with Diver Ed on the Dive-In Theater. Ed gears up in a dry suit and dives down to bring up treasures for the youngsters to experience – including lobsters, sea cucumbers, sea stars, crabs and more. His dive is broadcast on a large-screen TV on the boat, complete with audio.
Be sure to check the schedule of events while you’re in town. Music festivals abound. We caught part of Celtic Music Festival at a local park.
Just a short drive north of Bar Harbor, and a quick customs stop into Canada, is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt summer cottage on Campobello Island. Admission is free. So is bridge crossing into Canada.
It’s a fascinating tour through the lives of Franklin, Eleanor and their children. All but four pieces of the sprawling home are originals. Even FDR’s hat and pipe reside there.
En route, in Columbia Falls, you’ll pass a large blueberry-looking building. Yup, you read that right. You can’t miss it. Big, blue and round. Stop and treat yourself to still-warm slice of blueberry pie made from fresh Maine blueberries at Wild Blueberry Land.. Any blueberry-esque souvenir you can imagine resides here. The kiddos can even play a free game of miniature golf at this stop.
Route 1 north of Bar Harbor in my opinion isn’t nearly as scenic as Route 1 south of Bar Harbor, so if you’re short on time, definitely opt to spend it in the seaside towns to the south.
As you venture back home, reluctantly leaving the land of fresh lobstah, you still have a few fun stops you can add to your itinerary.
Plan on at least a half-day in Franconia, New Hampshire, where you can ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway up a mountain for amazing views any time of year. You won’t be the first – this ride has been hip since it launched in 1938. I remember it as a kid. Cannon Mountain is a prime ski area, but summer and fall offer majestic views, too.
Added bonus – the Appalachian Trail slices through it.
“It’s the easiest way to get about 4,000 feet, especially for someone who can’t hike or climb,” said Greg Keeler, tram marketing director.
Just a short drive away you’ll find the Flume Gorge, a walking trail/boardwalk/step system to a thundering waterfall.
The New Hampshire Franconia Notch State Park system offers Discovery Pass discounts if you want to experience both the tram and the gorge.
If you choose to stay a while, nearby Echo Lake offers a beach and boat rents. There’s also plenty of opportunity for fishing, hiking and camping.