When I was a child I remember my aunt, uncle and parents taking a road trip to Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada. They returned home with interesting stories and eventually amazing photographs after they were developed. I always wanted to recreate the trip and eventually in the summer of 2008 it was time to venture north and try to recreate some of their experiences on my own Maine road trip.
Day 1 – New York, NY to Freeport, Maine (Approximately 6 hours, 323 miles)
Before the trip the car sat parked in front of the house in New York with a full tank of gas and clean with enough room in the backseat to lean the front seats back to take a power nap. To travel north there are many ways that one can drive and to be honest it really depends on the time and construction patterns so it’s best to plan accordingly. Eventually you will need to end up on Interstate 95. The majority of the trip will be driven on I-95 from New York to Maine.
After driving through Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire we were welcomed by signs from the state of Maine. We drove directly to Freeport, Maine. You can’t go to Maine and not go to the L.L. Bean Store! If you are an outdoor enthusiast you could spend an entire day wandering through the entire complex. There is the flagship store and a number of hobby specialty stores. With discretion I only picked up the few small items I lacked for the camping ahead. I could have easily went into credit card debt, but at least I would’ve at times been getting up to 75% off! In town there are also a host of other outlet stores that turn this part of town into a commercial shopping district. If you’re a shopaholic I’m sure you can find a deal at one of the many designer stores.
Eating – After a long drive up to Maine and shopping at the outlets it was necessary to refuel the body. Along the road was Gritty McDuff’s, a local watering hole. The establishment was a great welcoming to Maine. The regulars’ beer mugs and steins were hanging from hooks above the bar. The waitress had a thick New England accent and only called the soup “chowda”. The sampler was amazing. I write this almost 6 years later and still have a few coasters for nostalgia’s sake. It was that good of a place!
Lodging – Sometimes a room is just a room and in Maine the cheapest room available at that time of night cost less than $100. Preplanning would have saved us little at the time. It was a typical motel. The beds were rock hard, the conditions just clean enough. I had no issues with the conditions, but my girlfriend at the time said in the car as we drove away the following day to, “remind her to never stay at an EconoLodge again.”
Day 2 & 3 – Freeport, Maine to Camden Hills State Park (Approx. 1 hour 45 min, 75 miles)
We preplanned to take the more direct, but slightly longer route up the coast to eventually hit the Coastal Highway. It allowed us to see more coastal scenery along the way. U.S. 1 North is a single lane road with many small towns along the way. This causes the trip to be a slightly longer drive, but can make up for it visually. Traveling this route also allowed us to venture to Camden and Camden Hills State Park. After checking in at the campsite we wandered into the town of Camden. We explored some local shops and the harbor before dinner back at the tent. During our second day we decided to take a hike in the park. At 1385 ft (422 m) Mount Megunticook is the tallest peak in Camden Hills State Park and also the second highest coastal mountain on the Atlantic coast. Although it felt more like a large hill it was a beautiful day with amazing views along the hike to the peak.
Eating & Lodging – We camped here for two evenings. Basic, but adequate facilities. The second night it rained. Actually, it poured. Eventually, water permeated the flooring of the tent and soaked some of our gear. Experience and equipment did little to stop the amount of water that was falling from the sky. It forced us to jump into the car. At the time it seemed like a more realistic and drier option. In the morning it appeared that every other site got equally waterlogged and everyone was doing damage control.
Day 4 – Camden Hills State Park to Bar Harbor, Maine – (Approx. 1 hour 45 min, 75 miles)
We drove up Atlantic Highway. This was a very scenic drive with many small towns along the way selling lobster, serving lobster, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. There were many small low elevation bridges over water with views of the coast and islands along the way. Shortly after noon we arrived in Bar Harbor.
We were able to check into our hotel room and quickly made our way into town. It so happened that as we passed the Bar Harbor Brewing Company a daily tour was about to begin. The tasting was with the Brewmaster. He was knowledgable and personable. Their beer is made in such limited quantities that they do only local distribution with very little regional distribution making it a better option for customers to purchase their spirits on site.
Afterwards we walked to the piers conducting tours and stumbled across Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company. We were able to register for a Boat Ride with Bird/Whale Watching & Lobstering tour that coincidentally departed within the hour. I would recommend their company. All aboard had an enjoyable time on the ride. Although it was not whale season there were many seals, a few bald eagles, various sea creatures to play with on the boat. I was actually most interested in watching the process used to catch the lobsters that are a staple of Maine and integral part of their local economy and culture. After the tour we went back to the hotel room and got ready for dinner.
Eating – Bar Harbor Club – It was my birthday and I was treated to a meal at what many consider the best restaurant in town or most expensive restaurant in town Call it what you want. The most memorable part of the meal was the appetizer. I had a cold seafood sampler that was locally caught minus the Alaskan King Crab. It was certainly a fine dining experience. Many of the guests from the hotel were at the restaurant as well. Although out of my element I can eat with the best of them and this was one to remember. If price is no option I would recommend this to anyone especially seafood lovers.
Lodging – Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina – I was once again spoiled with a night at the nicest hotel in Bar Harbor. It was a very nice establishment and well beyond my pay grade even for a day. It was an elegant hotel with top notch accommodations and services around the board. Again, if price is no option I would recommend this to anyone looking for the comfiest bed in town that isn’t staying at a bed and breakfast.
Day 5 – Acadia National Park – Park Loop Road
Visitors to Acadia National Park have two options: explore independently or go on a guided tour. With the option to drive along Park Loop Road and hit all the highlights in the park it was the easiest and most time efficient thing to do. I advise purchasing the CD from the park. The audio guide gave descriptions of what you were about to see during the brief drives between each location. Remember, your donations keep the park alive. For that reason and since I did this a few years ago I have not looked into other audio options, but I could only assume there are options with apps and other sound sharing files to obtain guides for free and use an iPod/iPhone. This would be a good option for those riding bikes. Visitors have the opportunity to explore at their own pace and wander on a trail if they wanted to only to continue the driving tour later. The park was beautiful and I recommend it to anyone within driving distance of the park to make the trip.
Eating – Stewman’s Lobster Pound looked like it had some of the freshest lobster in town. We were in Maine how could I not eat lobster at every opportunity? You could watch the staff go outside to collect locally caught fresh lobster that were being stored in cages roped to the docks behind the kitchen. (Somehow I did not take a photograph.) Steamed with sea salt and lemon in a huge pot and served with butter the preparation is simple, but efficient. Considering their prices and the quality of the product I don’t know how I didn’t order more. If you are looking for a good lobster meal at an affordable price I would recommend checking this place out. The rest of the menu looked very standard, but I’m sure as long as you were eating local products you were having a good meal.
Lodging – The second night in town we stayed at a much more affordable lodging in town, the Bar Harbor Villager Motel. The entire complex was dated and I’m sure in the 1970’s this was a much nicer and stylish place. For our purposes the room was more than adequate. It was in the center of town making exploring the specialty shops and eateries especially convenient. Michael Phelps broke a record or two in China that night as we prepared to go out for the evening. When you combine the cost and location it’s actually a great option for the budget traveler in a very expensive town.
Day 6 – Bar Harbor, Maine to Kennebunkport, Maine (Approx. 3 hours 30 min, 203 miles)
Driving on I-95 from Bar Harbor back south is actually much faster than meandering up and down along the coast. If time is of the essence it is the faster option with a vehicle. By late afternoon we made our way to Kennebunkport. Once in town we needed to find lodging and ended up on Ocean Ave Drive. Talk about lifestyles of the rich and famous. So this is how the other half lives. Each home was more ridiculous than the last. I have to be honest. I got a little jealous. Along the way we drove past Walker’s Point a residence of former President Bush.
Lodging – The Landing Hotel & Restaurant – Before I begin let me just say this place doesn’t even have their own website or a preset location on Google maps. It is that much of a hole in the wall. So after a long drive we pulled into Kennebunkport and began to look for somewhere to stay. We drove around in circles for hours only to get told that their is either no vacancy or a vacancy for anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a night with an average somewhere floating around $400 after taxes. Then after almost giving up we saw some waterfront restaurant that had lodging. It is a motel more than a hotel. We found a room it was actually very affordable and we really had no other option, but to say yes. The room was small and it had what felt like two twin beds on opposite walls, but it had a shower and that was enough.
Eating – Federal Jack’s Restaurant & Brew Pub – After having some difficultly in acquiring a room for the evening I was so hungry anything would have sufficed. It wasn’t difficult finding the local brewery. Once again the sampler and the food was good. Interestingly, my one complaint would be that there were too many families with small children, but maybe it was still early in the evening.
Day 7 – Kennebunkport, Maine to New York, NY (Approx. 4 hours, 300 miles)
It was time to continue our way back home. After less than an hour on I-95 it was approaching lunchtime and we were both ready to eat.
Eating – As we entered Portsmouth, New Hampshire there were signs leading travelers directly to the The Portsmouth Brewery. At this point it felt like the car was on autopilot. Once again the sampler and the food was good.
After lunch we jumped back on the road for the rest of the three and a half hour trip. During our drive through Massachusetts we passed Lowell, which played a significant role during the Industrial Revolution and the home of the American Textile History Museum. This was a folly on my part. I blame it on poor planning. I did not realize that Lowell would be on this route and also didn’t realize this on the trip north. Had I made this realization I could have accounted for this. I only planned for Maine. It only dawned on me as I saw highway signs that appeared as the city approached. Sadly, it was Sunday afternoon. With traffic looming, time against us, and unaware if anything was even open at that time it was easiest to keep driving. I teach about Lowell in school. It would have been a nice stop to see some of the roots of the American Industrial Revolution and bring back materials about the mill girls and the conditions they worked and lived in. I was new to teaching and not as aware of the possibilities in intertwining my occupation and my desire to travel. (I just did the research and the museum would have been closing as we pulled into the parking lot. Another time.)
After a few more hours and pockets of traffic at all of the expected tolls and congestion areas along the road we eventually made it home well after the summer sunset. The car pulled up to the house back in New York filthy with a gas tank quickly approaching empty.
Conclusions & Lessons Learned
It was a great trip. I feel like I was able to recreate a number of the experiences my family did over twenty years ago and make many of my own along the way. The week went by very quickly and we honestly spent too much time driving. It would have been nice to stretch out the trip over the course of ten days. Camping could have helped save some money on lodging particularly when in a place as beautiful as Maine, but plan accordingly based on the weather. It would have been nice to explore Acadia National Park beyond just the Park Loop drive and spend an additional day or two there. Camping is available at the park, but book your reservations early or you will not be able to camp there (cough). I would have liked to have stopped in Lowell and in the future need to make sure to research points of interest along travel routes between major destinations. You don’t want to accidentally skip over a hidden gem because of ignorance. Looking back it would have been nice to have been able to extend the trip, conduct deeper explorations and make more memories. Until the next adventure…