With its rugged rocky coast, crashing waves, and soaring sea gulls, there is no place my husband and I enjoy more than the rocky coast of the Great State of Maine. We have many beautiful memories of Downeast Maine from recent journeys as well as from our past time of living near the coast.
Recently, we stole away to Maine for a few days and enjoyed an absolutely delightful vacation. One of the highlights was watching the sun rise over the North Atlantic at Acadia National Park. Visiting during the off season means that many restaurants are not open (including all three of our favorite lobster pounds!) but the advantage is that there are no crowds. With the park essentially to ourselves, we enjoyed brilliant blue skies and heavy surf from a far-offshore storm. Thunder Hole, which is usually overrun with tourists, was in all of its glory. The waves crashed and burst into the air in a spectacular show of force and sound. Thunder Hole is a great spot for everyone because the park has installed stairs and a railing allowing safe access for the more timid. For the more adventurous, there are innumerable locales along the park loop road to stop, journey out onto the rocks, and find your own little spot to meditate on the wonders of nature, watch the sea birds, and become mesmerized by the ocean waves.
Many years ago, my husband Harry and I lived in Maine for a year while he was part of a team researching pitch pine and jack pine trees on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. While we all have a tendency to want to climb new trails or see new vistas, because of Harry’s research we became intimately acquainted with Cadillac Mountain by climbing the same trail over and over again to gain access to his research site. We saw Cadillac during its glory days of perfect blue skies and gentle winds and its darker side of swarming, voracious black flies and scorching heat. Although the trees are ancient on top of Cadillac Mountain, the harsh conditions keep them stunted so that there is no cover of shade to be had under them, and across much of the mountain there are large expanses of exposed granite bedrock. Acadia is truly a magical place and I encourage everyone to visit.
But if you can’t find your way up to Mount Desert Island, there are many delightful natural areas and coastal towns in Maine, along with some spectacular spots inland, and the following books will help you decide where to travel to find adventure, solace, and a taste of Maine:
Always a great starting point, Fodor’s Maine Coast with Acadia National Park provides the solid base we’ve all come to expect from Fodor about places to stay, where to eat, and what to explore.
The Insiders’ Guide: Maine Coast also provides an overview of restaurants and accommodations but adds an interesting historical overview of regions and many towns. It also has an excellent section on sight-seeing for lighthouses.
Moon Handbooks’ Acadia National Park and Acadia: the Complete Guide by James Kaiser are both absolutely superb travel guides for any Acadia National Park visit. With handy maps, numerous photographs, and tips for travel, both books take you one step beyond the usual where to stay and what to eat.
Acadia: the Soul of a National Park by Steve Perrin is a hefty, exhaustive, and intimate look at Acadia divided by the seasons. As Perrin writes, “My plan was to hike one of Acadia’s trails each week, and tell about it, not simply as a route from here to there, but as a chapter of my lived experience. Acadia National Park is alive, after all, and its trails lead in and around vital parts and organs. I wanted to explore a few of those parts chosen at random, opening my life to their life, sharing what happens”.
Islands Down East: A Vistor’s Guide by Charlotte Fardelmann takes you on a tour of the islands from Casco Bay to the Cranberry Islands, and you’ll find all of the major islands covered in this charming book. Each entry includes a map, general information, and a brief history of the island.
Deep in the Maine woods, you’ll find another spectacular adventure waiting: Baxter State Park. Harry and I have had the pleasure of visiting Baxter State Park on several occasions, and each time we stand in awe at the majestic beauty of Maine’s highest peak, Katahdin. In Katahdin: An Historic Journey, author John Neff relates the legends, explorations, and preservation of this wonderful mountain.
Any trip to the Maine backcountry should include a reading of The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. This classic gem will take you along Thoreau’s excursions in the watersheds of the Kennebec, the Penobscot, and the St. John Rivers. The book relates three trips taken by Thoreau to Maine: the first at age 29 in 1846, the second in 1853 at the age of 36, and the final trip in 1857 at the age of 40. It wasn’t as easy to get around Maine 150 years ago, and so each story begins by relating his need to travel by rail, steamboat, and then coach before hiring a guide to set off on his adventure. Today’s explorers can find all of the guides that they need in the stacks at OWL!
The Story of Mount Desert Island by Samuel Eliot Morison is a short little book on the history of the island that was published in 1960. A devoted, life-long summer resident, Morison was a distinguished seaman and naval historian. The book is a tribute to his favorite place … and one that will become yours if you dare to sample the island’s dramatic landscape and wonderful villages.
Before you leave Maine, be sure to stop by the beautiful coastal city of Portland. It will charm you with its history and entice you with its growing artistic presence and ocean views. To learn more about historic Portland, you will find Portland edited by Martin Dibner to be a wonderful guide with ample photographs that focuses on the historic buildings to be found in this wonderful city.
Ann Marie is the Library Director at the Oliver Wolcott Library and believes that “a little further” is a great mantra for the intrepid tourist.