Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Acadia National Park Off Season

Bar Harbor, Maine

Over 2 million people visit Acadia National Park in a year; most come in the summer or for fall foliage. My photos from last week’s April break don’t just give an illusion of emptiness. Visit Acadia off season if you want to commune with nature in solitude and skip the entrance fee.

Otter Cliffs, Acadia National Park

Our first day was foggy with rain expected, so we kept to the coastal paths of Mt. Desert Island. You can actually see this view (above) from your car. Most visitors to Acadia don’t bother to step far beyond the Park Loop Road. They are missing a lot. The Rockefellers put in miles of carriage roads, perfect for mountain bikes or easy walking. I’ve heard that they are also great for cross country skiing.

Somes Sound from Mt. Acadia 

To escape the crowds and to get the best views,
climb a mountain.
The view from the bald peak of Acadia Mountain
is well worth the effort.
It is an effort.
My kids (above) are
not standing recklessly at the edge of a cliff.

Here's the trail (photo to left.)
This type of hiking is called scrambling.
Honestly, this is a teenager's idea of fun.
We encountered no one on this mountain, curiously!

Adjacent to Acadia Mountain is Mt. St. Sauveur.
It also has spectacular views without the scramble.
We hiked the two together in one day.
It was only 4 miles, but it took us 4 hours to do the loop trail.
Guess who slowed down the pace?
Other visits we’ve hiked Beech Mountain,
my favorite trail off the beaten path.
There are hikes for all abilities.

View from Mt. St. Sauveur of Greening, Sutton and the Cranberry Islands

After hiking, enjoy Bar Harbor. Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium sells homemade fudge and ice cream, including lobster flavor. Eat pizza while watching a movie at  Reel Pizza. The newly opened Side Street Café has live music, cocktails and tasty veggie burgers and tapenade. For the more gourmet experience, try Mache Bistro, started by a former chef of Havana. Sadly, Havana with its delicious Cuban accented food is closed off season, like most of town. We stayed at the Graycote Inn, which is open year round and discounted off season. The innkeepers serve up a delicious two-course breakfast and homemade cookies with hot cider in the afternoon. Hiking builds an appetite!

Sherman's Book Store, established in 1886, is a must browse.

My vacation reading: Life of Pi by Yann Martel. If you are one of the few who haven't read this Man Booker Prize winning novel, it's about a 16-year-old boy stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger from his father's zoo. Pi must tame the tiger and his fear to survive. He turns to his knowledge of animals and his 3 faiths (Hinduism, Islam and Christianity!) My teenaged son loved it, but my tween daughter didn't. It was published as an adult book in 2001 and is often assigned at school. Adults would appreciate the philosophical nuances.

Life of Pi can be very gory, but I appreciated the realistic portrayal of animal behavior and respect for nature. Both Pi and the tiger are great characters and the writing is sublime. Critically, it didn't really hook me until the second part. Then it was hard to put down. Much of the backstory in the first part could have been woven in as flashbacks, but who am I to criticize a contemporary classic?

Closest to it: The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (a favorite from my childhood) and The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh (literary fiction, one of my favorites now.) 

Blog Watch: I've recently started following Steph Su Reads, written by a Swathmore College student who reviews young adult and middle grade literary fiction. Steph had a brilliant post on What's Missing in YA Lit? I'm encouraged because my YA novel covers a lot of that missing ground, although it isn't published yet. Author Beth Kephart encouraged Steph to submit this article to the NYT Books Section. It really is that good. 


    Les said...

    Fantastic that you could escape to an area notorious for crowds and not encounter a crowd. We were advised by our Maine friends to avoid the park in July, which we did. Even with the crowds I regret not seeing it. When you are the lone nature boy in a car full of indoor types, you often have to yield to the majority. Ond day, I will return.

    Keri Mikulski said...

    Beautiful!! :) Thanks for sharing the pics.

    Alyson | New England Living said...

    Such traquility. Ive heard such great things about Acadia. I think that has to go on our list this summer. Your photographs are a beautiful advertisement!

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Les, I have never been in Acadia in July, but friends who spend the summer there say you can escape the crowds by hiking. It isn’t too crowded in mid June or early September. I do hope you get a chance to return.

    Keri, thanks!

    Alyson, you would love Acadia. I thought of you when I heard a lighthouse’s foghorn. Welcome back to the blog world; you've been missed!

    septembermom said...

    I feel serenity coming over me just looking at those pictures! Thanks so much :) It's a pleasure to visit you here.

    tina said...

    Gosh, it is just SO wonderful. I love these trips with you each week. My parents are down visiting and my son left to go back to Maine this very morning. It was nice having them here but I know they can't wait to get back to this beautiful state!

    Anonymous said...

    I absolutely loved Life of Pi, and love the pictures, keep up the great work!!

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Septembermom, happy to oblige!

    Tina, how nice that your family visited. They picked a good week to miss Maine as it’s been mostly cold and wet. Everything is blooming now, and the sun is shining.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Ryan, thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for Life of Pi and my photos. It’s so nice to connect with a follower!

    cynthia newberry martin said...

    Nice to see pictures of your vacation. My favorite is that top one of Bar Harbor with the red boat--all the different muted blues and then that red. Loved the shot of the real live bookstore too. The Life of Pi is in my tower of books. Maybe one of these days...

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Cynthia, the contrasting red color was what caught my eye too as there were several boats in the harbor. When you get to Pi, let me know what you think. I think you’ll love the lyrical prose and strong imagery.

    A Cuban In London said...

    I saw someone sitting next to me on the flight back from KL, who was reading 'Life of Pi' and I thought: 'You're a brave fellow!'. A novel about a boy stranded ona boat after being stranded in real life in KL is definitely taking it a bit too far. :-) Still the book is my 'to-read' list.

    I appreciate so much when someone else visits a natural park off season. You're so right about the atmosphere being different and having the space almost to yourself. I derive the same pleasure from walking along less trodden paths. As usual, your photos are amazing, but that first one, oh, my God, it just took my breath away. I must visit your neck of the woods someday.

    Many thanks for your comments on my thread, too. Much appreciated.

    Greetings from London.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    ACIL, it is good that you finally got back, and readers are more pleasant traveling companions than tigers! I think you’d appreciate the philosophical sections of Pi. Foggy days often produce better photos than sunny days, especially at Acadia. I have that image on my desktop because it is so soothing. Thanks for hosting a discussion on feminism.

    Paul C said...

    Those rocks look like Precambrian, Canadian Shield, that spilled into the U.S.? Wonderful place.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Paul, welcome to my blog! Thanks for sharing your geological knowledge. Maine does appear to share a lot with Canada. I enjoyed visiting your blog too.

    Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

    So many gifts in this post Sarah! The photographs are stunning. The tips about apres-hike activities are great, as are the recommended books ... and the link!! A big thank you!

    Andrea said...

    Hi Sarah, i've been out for sometime and did some trekking (UNESCO Heritage sites) like you and to learn Backpack Photography. How i wish i can get some photos like yours, so serene, elegant and mystical. As usual they are always inspiring. thank you so much.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Bonnie, thank you! I do hope your snow melts soon without more damage.

    Andrea, how fun! The challenge of backpacking photography is reaching the summit at midday when the light is at its worst. A polarizer on a DSLR helps a bit. The foggy days make for better photography but slippery hiking. I actually took the lead photo from a wharf in town using a zoom lens. I hope you’ll share some photo tips on your blog.

    Bee said...

    I want to come to Maine and do that hike, and then eat at the Graycote Inn. I'd also like to fit in some ice cream (but not lobster flavored!) and book browsing. This may be my ideal of the perfect day.

    I abandoned Life of Pi after the first couple of chapters. It is one of those books which I mean to attempt to again . . . when the mood is right.

    Unseen India Tours said...

    Beautiful,lovely and fantastic shots !!This is so beautiful and lovely !!Great post !!

    Victoria said...

    Spring is my favorite time Acadia. Love the early bike rides on the carriage trails. Peaceful and beautiful.

    Hilary Nangle said...

    Thanks for the reminder that Acadia is a four-season park. ANP is gorgeous anytime of the year, and it's also possible to escape the crowds, even in July and August.

    Sure, downtown Bar Harbor can be crazy busy, but walk a mile out of town to Compass Harbor, an isolated section of the park, and there's rarely another soul there.

    I've hiked Great Head on July 4 weekend and encountered only a half dozen or soul other hikers on the trail.

    Head to the island's west side, and the crowds truly disappear (it's appropriately tagged the Quiet Side). Re the Carriage Roads: The farther you get from the Visitor Center and Jordan Pond House, the fewer people you'll encounter.

    Rose said...

    Sarah, I am so envious of all the beautiful parks you have! The scenery here is spectacular; I have seen Acadia listed many times as a must-see park. One of these days I'm finally going to make it to New England! But I don't think I'll be doing any "scrambling" up the mountains:)

    Kelly H-Y said...

    Your pictures and commentary are always so very inviting ... it makes me want to hop on a plane and come experience it myself!

    vicki archer said...

    Beautiful shots Sarah and thank you for reminding me about, 'The Life of Pi'...I had forgotten and it has been a book on my wish list for a long time, xv.

    Angie Muresan said...

    Those photos are so serene. I know I would love Acadia National Park. I've just been talking to my husband about visiting as many national parks as we can this summer. I wish we could go off season, but that isn't an option.

    Life of Pi is a favorite of mine. How old was your son when he read it? I know my son would love it, but wonder if it isn't too mature for him.

    troutbirder said...

    A big advantage of retirement for us is traveling to touristy places in the off season. Yes we have an awful recollection of Bar Harbor and Acadia in August. We couldn't even find a place to park for a picnic on the "loop road." After you beautiful pictures we'll add them to our revisit list in the spring.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Bee, I was not convinced about the lobster ice cream. I ordered caramel cheesecake flavor. My daughter also abandoned Pi in the first part, and I read it very slowly. The pace really picks up in part two.

    UR, thank you!

    Victoria, welcome to my blog and thanks for adding your spring comments!

    Hilary, welcome to my blog! Good point about hiking away from the crowds at any season. Thanks for the hiking tips. I missed the popovers at Jordan Pond but not the crowds they attract.

    Rose, you would love the natural beauty of New England, especially the summer wildflowers in June. I’d sooner hike than scramble too.

    Kelly, yes, come visit!

    Vicki, it’s reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one who hadn’t read Pi yet.

    Angie, the advantage of summer is you could camp with the kids and swim. My son was probably 11 when he read Pi, but he had already jumped from Harry Potter to adult fiction at age 10. My daughter gave up on Pi at 11. I wouldn’t recommend it for most kids under 12.

    Troutbirder, how frustrating! Yes, do come back off season, which is actually called “quiet season.” I wish my husband could have joined us, but he teaches during the kids’ week long February and April breaks.

    TBM said...

    Oh, I am bookmarking this post for future holidays. I love off peak travel! As always, thank you for the breathtaking photos, Sarah.

    PS Not so sure about the lobster ice cream. I like lobster and I like ice cream, but...

    Sarah Laurence said...

    JAPRA, I feel the same way about your vacations in Europe. I'm also not convinced about lobster ice cream, even though I love the ingredients separately.

    Barrie said...

    Oh, this looks like a dream day for me. Hmm....well, maybe with less hiking. and I don't really like ice cream. But, some hiking in that beautiful scenery + lunch+ bookstore. Wow!!! Re: Life of Pi: I had a hard time with the ending. We must talk about that sometime.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Barrie, I would have discussed the ending except I don’t do spoilers. I’m not a big fan of post modern endings, especially ones that undercut the realism of the story.

    Alyssa Goodnight said...

    We'll be visiting during high season, so no doubt it will be crowded. Thank you for such wonderful suggestions!

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Alyssa, as Hilary suggested, try the more remote carriage trails (away from Jordan Pond) to escape the crowds. There are excellent popovers at Jordan Pond House but expect a long wait at lunchtime. Have a fabulous time with your family!

    Cynthia Pittmann said...

    What a lovely hike! The views are worth the effort, I'm sure. I remember how much I yearned to go outside and connect with nature when I was a teen. The change of seasons as well as the brief feeling of each made me not want to miss anything! Your kids seem nearly grown! How wonderful that they enjoy family outings, Sarah.

    Sarah Laurence said...

    Cynthia, hiking is something we enjoy together as a family. It’s much easier not having to carry anyone. My “baby” is almost a teenager.