Since I can remember, I have always wanted to go to Maine. Perhaps because as a child I had an elitist palate and declared lobster as my favorite food or maybe it is because the state seems like a foreign country, it being on the opposite side of this continent. Whatever the reason, the day we drove to that strange northern land was like Christmas day.
Acadia National Park is located a couple hours north of Portland and most of the park is Mount Desert Island, where small fishing towns dot the coastline and inland is an array of hiking trails, old carriage roads, picturesque ponds, and wetlands. The main hub of the island is northeast near Bar Harbor, the largest town in the area, while the other side is considered the 'quiet side'. The entire island is like something out of a storybook, so it really is hard to go wrong anywhere you stay. We had booked our campsite on the quiet side of the island to stay near our friends, Christy and Cary (Story is Our Way Home). Smugglers Den is just a few miles north of Southwest Harbor, one of the many tiny harbor towns made up primarily of Bed & Breakfast's, a few restaurants all boasting 'The Best Lobster', and numerous knick-knack gift shops. It was the perfect little spot for being near conveniences, but not in the middle of crowded touristy areas.
One of the best things about Acadia is the collection of hiking trails, all of which are relatively short but connected to other trails, creating a sort of 'choose your own adventure' trail system. The day after we arrived, we chose Acadia Mountain Trail, which was only a couple miles from our campground and led to the top of Mount Acadia. The description of the trail indicated it was strenuous, but being only 3 miles long, we decided to take Jenga along to get some exercise as well. The trail ended up being mostly scrambling up huge boulders and rocky terraces. Every so many feet, I would have to lift Jenga up one of the obstacles and hand him off to Shaun. After over a mile of this, we finally reached an open area with a large cairn in the center to mark the summit and a viewpoint offering panoramas of the entire park and a horizon that dipped into the Atlantic. It really was breathtaking. After lingering for a while at the peak, we made our way down and enjoyed one of the many connector trails to allow Jenga an easier route back. The trail was really fun, but I definitely recommend reconsidering bringing a dog unless you're looking for a good upper body workout too.
Our next trek was a trail that I was conflicted about attempting. Precipice Trail is considered one of the most adventurous hikes in the park and even one of the most dangerous of any trail in the National Park system. After some nervous debate, we all decided we were fit enough and brave enough to at least give it a try. The ascending trail is only about a mile, but it is the longest mile you'll ever hike because it is literally straight up, as the path is basically up a sheer cliff. There are plenty of sturdy metal ladder rungs to assist the climb up and most of the daunting maneuvers on the trail are not over the biggest drop-offs. Once at the top, we were all glad to be alive and to be taking in the views before us.
A jagged coastline, laced with ocean wave spray, and surrounded with the colorful forests stretched out in either direction. We stood in absolute awe, while all agreeing how worth it was to have struggled our way to the top. Once you are at the summit of Mount Champlain from the Precipice Trail, you have a few options to get back down. Go the way you came, take the route to the south another few miles and end up on the Beehive Trail, or make your way north and climb down the Mount Champlain trail. We opted for the third and leisurely made our way down the trail glad we weren't climbing rungs back on Precipice.
I won't lie, I couldn't get my hands on some lobster fast enough when we arrived in Maine. The first night we arrived, we immediately made our way to town and tried some 'lazy man's' stuffed lobster. This was basically just butter, bread, cheese, and lobster chunks... I learned my lesson. The lazy man's way is not my way. Needed to up my motivation and go for the good stuff. Our next lobster experience was at one of the many lobster pounds on the island. These are casual road-side food stands that all serve the same items: lobster rolls, crab rolls, a collection of fried seafood, and whole lobster with drawn butter. We went with Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound, as it was on our way back from visiting the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. Charlotte's is a quirky little food stand, but the seafood is fresh and you can amuse yourself with Charlotte's collection of backyard oddities. There is a miniature goat named Grover that roams the yard, where you can enjoy your food on the scattered picnic tables. A strange wooden structure with wood dividers that almost looked like a bookcase on it's back, sat near us and we inquired to its purposed. To our delight, our inquiry was met by Miss Charlotte herself and she shared her ritual of having the lobsters purchased from market each week to battle it out for their lives every Sunday. The winner of the weekly lobster race was then released back into the ocean and allowed to live another day. We munched on lobster and crab rolls while thoughtfully considering the idea of a lobster Hunger Games.
The real lobster experience on Mount Desert Island is Thurston's Lobster Pound and we saved it for one of our last days in the park. Thurston's is a relatively famous spot, but they definitely don't let the fame go to their head. Located in a ramshackled building overlooking Bass Harbor, Thurston's is about as casual as it gets. In the bar area, plastic sheeting serves as window coverings and the dining room is a collection of plastic lawn furniture.
But don't let the decor deter you from ordering the best lobster in the area. When you enter Thurston's, you're immediately greeted with large plastic bins filled with live lobsters below a wood board menu above the ordering counter. The menu has your standard lobster pound offerings, but the whole lobster offerings ask you to choose your pounds and the type of lobster you prefer - hard shell or soft shell. We had no idea what we were doing, so of course we went for the most expensive option. A huge hard shell guy. We met our lobster on the scale, offered our condolences, and made our way to the bar to have a beer in his honor. Only a few minutes later, he came out on a tray, red and ready for eating. There is no delicate way to eat whole lobster, so we got in touch with our beast selves and set to work. The meat was salty and fresh and exactly what lobster should be. I was happy.
One of the most memorable experiences was the morning we woke up in the dark hours of the morning and packed ourselves into the truck to drive the 30 minutes to the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise. As we approached the turn-off for the road up the mountain, a long line of headlights met us at the turn, and we joined in the dozens of vehicles winding their way up to the summit. Luckily, Christy had done her research and knew it would be packed, so we arrived early enough to nab a parking spot, albeit not an entirely legal spot. Wrapped in our wool blankets with thermoses of coffee in hand, we wove our way through the crowds an secured ourselves a small stone outcropping for the viewing. We didn't wait long before the small glowing orb peaked its top over the dark line of the ocean. Slowly, light began to work its way up the side of the mountain and we turned our faces to soak in the warmth, for we were in the place where the sunlight hits the United States first and we were thrilled to meet that day.