A perfect long weekend in Acadia

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The National Parks are more popular than ever this year, due to COVID worries and a desire for wide open spaces, and for those of us in the Northeast the most popular and accessible park is Maine’s Acadia National Park.  Just 4 ½ hours’ drive from Boston, Acadia can easily be done in a long weekend, it offers attractions for all ages, and it’s equally enticing in spring, summer and fall {while the park remains open in winter, many of the roads are closed, and it wouldn’t be the best time to visit}  

I recently spent a few days exploring the area with my daughter, and here are our tips on how to plan the perfect “escape” to Acadia National Park:

woman sitting and admiring the rocky beach of Acadia National Park Maine

You do need to plan ahead

  • Entrance passes for the park should be purchased online before the trip, and if you’re travelling during peak leaf-peeping season (the first half of October) you’ll need to make timed reservations for certain sections of the park. 
  • Some of the key sights/experiences are very dependent on sunrise/sunset times and on the high/low tides, so you’ll want to be sure to check those times before you plan out your days. 

Where to stay

The park is on an island (Mt Desert Island) and, while you can save some money by staying along the coast nearby (in Ellsworth or other towns) it really is better to stay on the island itself rather than driving back and forth. Bar Harbor, on the eastern side of Mt Desert Island, is the main town. There are lots of hotels, inns and B&Bs. The west side of the island, near the town of Southwest Harbor, is much quieter, with a handful of charming B&Bs and guest cottages. Sprinkled around the island you’ll also find campgrounds and rental properties. 

To me, the main decision was whether to be right IN town, in Bar Harbor, so that we could walk to shops and restaurants or to be just outside town, away from the foot traffic. In this COVID world, since we knew we wanted to stay away from crowds, we opted for the Hampton Inn Bar Harbor. It was the perfect choice – a five-minute drive from town, with an included breakfast, a pool, and free parking – and it’s very popular with families.  In another time, if I were traveling with my husband and wanted to be able to stroll to bars and restaurants in the evening, I would probably have chosen the West Street Hotel on the waterfront, the Harborside Hotel, or the Balance Rock Inn. 

Where to eat

Local dining is normally the highlight of a vacation for me, and probably the part that I spend the most time planning, but that was not the case with this trip. Due to the pandemic, we were not comfortable dining in any restaurants, so we stuck to takeout meals and picnics. The meals that we ordered from Side Street Café, Rosalie’s Pizza, and Leary’s Landing Irish Pub were all perfectly good, but I don’t think they were a fair representation of Bar Harbor’s restaurant scene.

exterior of Thurstons lobster shack in Bar Harbor Maine

That being said, we did try the obligatory lobster roll from Thurston’s Lobster Pound, and it was delicious!

What to see and do

You’ll find plenty of “must do” lists online, and they all tend to include the same things – sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, popovers at the Jordan Pond House, hiking the Beehive Trail, etc.  We combed through those lists, crossed off the things that were not COVID appropriate or were too ambitious for our timeframe and/or fitness level, checked our sunrise and tide tables, and then grouped our wish list by geography so that we wouldn’t be crisscrossing the island back and forth all day. 

Here’s what our itinerary ended up looking like:

to-go food on a blue blanket with the sand, sea and pine trees in the background a picnic on Seal Beach in Maine

Day 1 –  We arrived late in the afternoon, checked in, picked up a to-go dinner, and headed to Seal Beach for a sunset picnic.

Day 2 – We hiked the Gorham Mountain Trail, did a scenic drive along Somes Sound, stopped at Echo Lake, explored Southwest Harbor, visited Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, got a lobster roll at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, and made it back to Bar Harbor in time for the late-afternoon low tide so that we could walk out to Bar Island. NOTE: we did not leave enough time to get out there and hike around the island before heading back, so I would give myself more time next time.

mother-daughter hiking trip up Gorham Mountain in Acadia National Park Maine
The views from Gorham Mountain
Serene and beautiful, Echo Lake is worth the stop

Day 3 – Today was entirely planned around sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, and it was more than worth it.

sunrise over Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Cadillac Mountain Maine

We had read online that you need to get to the peak an hour before sunrise, so we were there by 4:30 am and it was magical. We sat in the dark and the cold, wrapped in blankets, watching the first rays warm up the sky.

People were still streaming in at 5:30 am when the sun was already risen, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had missed the best part! Plus, they had to contend with traffic and parking issues. We avoided all of that, and were already driving back down the mountain before 6am. Afterwards, we visited Sand Beach and hiked along the Ocean Path to Thunder Hole, and then drove the rest of the Park Loop Trail. That afternoon, we walked the scenic trails at Ship Bottom and Wonderland.

woman looking over the rocky bay and evergreen pine trees along the Ocean Path of Acadia National Park Maine
Enjoying the views while hiking along the Ocean Path
rocky beach stones, green pine trees against a bright blue sky in Acadia National Park Wonderland
Bright blue skies, dark evergreen trees and sandy stones painted a perfect picture in Wonderland

Day 4 – We had planned to do the Jordan Pond Loop Trail, and stop at the Jordan Pond House for the famous popovers, but were reading online reviews about crazy crowds and lines, and we opted to just have some breakfast and get on the road back home to Rhode Island.

Overall, we had a fabulous time. And I think we packed a lot into a quick three-night stay. We definitely got our fill of outdoorsy activities and gorgeous scenery, and were – for the most part – able to maintain social distance.

seating over the harbor with the harbor in the background at Thurstons in Bar Harbor Maine

The town of Bar Harbor itself was too busy for our purposes, but I would LOVE to go back there some other time, when crowds don’t feel so scary, so that I can really enjoy the shops, bars and cafes.

In the meantime, if you want some help planning your own “escape” to Acadia National Park, let me know!

Hit The Road!

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It’s no secret that the travel landscape in 2020 looks very different from years past. We’re not jetting off to Europe or the Caribbean this summer, and I suspect many of us will be resurrecting an “old school” summer vacation — the classic road trip.

Luckily, here in New England, that means scenic landscapes, lush forests, and fresh country air — all of which is just what we need after a few months stuck at home. So get ready to pack up your car and explore some hidden gems. Here are our suggestions for some of the best things to see and experience via the open road!


vermont green mountain highway
Misty Green Mountain Byway [Photo Credit: Sam Burriss via Unsplash]

A road-trip through Vermont offers country stores, hiking, fishing, and even an epic cheese-sampling adventure! The Green Mountain Scenic Byway (Route 100) is the perfect route to meander up through the state and has something for every traveler. This 217-mile road goes through the center of Vermont and skirts the edge of the Green Mountains.

colonial house in woodstock vermont

Wind your way through forests, meadows, farmlands, and quintessential New England towns.

[Woodstock, VT- Photo Credit: Craig Tidball via Unsplash]

A northbound road-trip on Route 100 begins with Wilmington, a remote town on the edge of the Green Mountain National Forest. With clear mountainside lakes, this is the perfect spot for swimming, sailing, paddling, and fishing against a stunning backdrop.

Continue upstate onto the Vermont Cheese Trail. There are 50 cheese-makers in Vermont producing more than 150 varieties of cheese (more cheese-per-capita than any other state!) The Vermont Cheese Council has created this handy map of the best spots to sample these delicacies.

[Photo Credit: Kevin Jarrett via Unsplash]

This route takes you through towns like Weston with historic buildings from an era before electricity. Sample fresh cider and doughnuts at the cider mills, and stop to view the roadside waterfalls.

You can follow the route all the way to Canada, but we recommend stopping in Stowe and using it as a home base for the rest of your adventure. This small town is connected to an excellent series of hiking trails through forests, along rivers, and up mountains. Go trout fishing from April-October or take a short scenic drive along Route 108 through the Smuggler’s Notch tree tunnel — one of the best places to view fall foliage in the country!

Best Places to Stay:
Woodstock Inn & Resort – Located halfway between Wilmington and Stowe in the charming town of Woodstock, VT. With farm-fresh cuisine at their four restaurants, Vermont-inspired treatments at their spa, and a myriad of activities from golf to falconry — this is a perfect spot to relax on your Vermont road-trip.

Trapp Family Lodge – With a fascinating Sound of Music backstory, this Austrian-inspired lodge has everything. In the mountains just outside of Stowe it offers a range of accommodations from rooms and suites to villas, and even some pet-friendly options. Three restaurants, a spa, and its own on-site brewery makes this lodge a home-base you won’t want to leave.

New Hampshire

A Peaceful New Hampshire Lake [Photo Credit: Brian Yurasits via Unsplash]

A New Hampshire road-trip is all about the lakes or the mountains.

You can start with the lake district. Lake Winnipesaukee is the state’s largest lake and a perfect home base for your New Hampshire road-trip. At 21 miles long it sits at the foot of the White Mountains and boasts over 250 islands. You can begin by circumnavigating the lake — following the Lake Region Byway, NH-11.

Here you can enjoy activities such as kayaking, boating, sailing, swimming, and fishing (and ice fishing in winter!) Hike the nearby Ossipee range to dry off and get a birds-eye-view.

[Photo Credit: Michael Travis via Unsplash]

If you’re looking for a little more elevation with your adventure, consider heading northwest to the Lost River Gorge where you can explore polar caves. Or head northeast along the Three Rivers Scenic Drive (NH-16). Where you can check out the White Mountain National Forest with its 48 peaks (including the highest in New England, Mount Washington.) Ride the cog railway (or drive the auto road) up Mt Washington, follow well-marked hiking trails to scenic overlooks and waterfalls, and end your days at local restaurants and pubs.

overlooking the top of a mountain in New Hampshire

Enjoy the stunning views, fall colors, and even stop to take a gondola ride.

[Photo Credit: Wendy via Unsplash]

Best Places to Stay:
Wolfeboro Inn – Right on Lake Winnipesaukee, this sprawling New England hotel is in the lake-side town of Wolfeboro. Offering a classic New England Tavern, a small private beach and close proximity to Wolfeboro’s boutiques and galleries, this is your quintessential New England lake-side experience

Wentworth Inn– Nestled in the White Mountains of Jackson, NH, Wentworth is a charming country inn. An idyllic forest setting, farm-to-table dining, and plenty of outdoor activities let you relax, unplug, and unwind.


The Rocky Maine Coast [Photo Credit: Liz Picurro]

If a rugged, yet charming coastline is more your road-trip cup of tea then we suggest heading even further north to Maine. Maine’s mid-coast US Route 1 heads through peninsulas and pine forests, meandering along rugged cliffs and through Victorian fishing villages. Utilize this route to see a number of Maine’s 65 historical lighthouses or to sample every lobster roll you can find at the harbor-side cafes.

Many of Maine’s lighthouses date back to the heyday of shipping in the late 18th century. Starting with the most famous Cape Neddick lighthouse just over the New Hampshire border. Continue along to Bar Harbor and try to see them all!

[Photo Credit: Frank Mckenna via Unsplash]

This stunning coastal route offers classic seaside views with fjord-like bays, steep cliffs, and islands claimed by sea lions. Start at the very south of the state in York, then cruise along the coast stopping in quaint towns like Portland, Waldoboro, Rockland, and Kennebunkport — all of which boast delicious seafood, historic buildings, and cozy atmospheres.

Also known as the Lobster Trail, Route 1 takes you past the best lobster shacks in the country. You can see the lobster coming straight off the boat and into the restaurant!

[Photo Credit: Karl Magnuson via Unsplash]

As you continue north you’ll merge with the Schoodic National Scenic Byway. It passes through the mainland section of Acadia, and you can enjoy lobster boats, wooden piers, lighthouses, and wildlife. Consider staying in one or two different towns overnight to go on sailing, whale watching, or puffin spotting tours.

Best Places to Stay:
Captain Lord Mansion– This incredibly charming B&B in Kennebunkport is a perfect stop on your way up Route 1. Luxurious rooms, an intimate spa, and extensive gardens await you in this quiet historic gem. Still only steps from Kennebunkport’s activities and attractions.

Samoset Resort – A sprawling oceanfront Resort in Rockport is the perfect northern stop. The newly renovated resort boasts ocean views, luxurious rooms, and plenty of activities around the nearby Penobscot Bay. Relax by the pool, get active at their sports facilities or head out into the bay for a lobster tour; this resort has a little something for every type of adventure.

A quintessential New England road-trip is certainly good for the soul. Whether you’re excited to get out into the stretches of forest and enjoy the fresh air or you’re ready to go antiquing in all the country stores and little towns along the way, a road-trip through Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine is a perfect way to spend a long weekend or weeks-long vacation. Let us know when you’re ready to start planning!

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