Acadia National Park is a national treasure. If you haven’t made the trek, then put it on your bucket list. I first made the trip over thirty years ago and have been there almost every year since. During those trips my family and I have visited many other places beyond the park and the tourist destination of Bar Harbor. Here are a few recommendations – with links to informational websites.
1. Roque Bluffs State Park
We stumbled on this gem while on a drive up the coast. Located just over an hour north of the turn off to Acadia (Ellsworth, Maine) this secluded spot is perfect if you want some peace and quiet. The beach sits surrounded by islands and peninsulas, so the surf is gentle. Sit in your beach chair and let the beauty of nature heal you. Bring some water shoes because the rocks near the ocean can be sharp if you want to get your feet wet. Swimming is permitted, but the water will be cold. Across the road, adjacent to the parking lot are picnic areas as well as a pond suitable for warmer swimming. Kayaks for the pond are also available to rent. A series of rough walking trails take you around the pond and into the woods nearby. Another trail winds through a field that may be yielding blueberries if you are lucky. Be aware, there is a small entrance fee requested as it is a State Park.
Portland could be a vacation by itself. There are many shops and restaurants that line the waterfront, and boat tours of all types are available. Walk along the Eastern Promenade to enjoy views of both land and sea. A very nice children’s museum is located in town as well as a chance to ride a narrow-gauge railroad along the coast. If you like minor league baseball check out the Sea Dogs, the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. So many things to see and do here!
3. South Portland/Cape Elizabeth
If you like lighthouses, then the area south of downtown Portland is your spot. Bug light is a small lighthouse that shares a park with a monument to the great shipbuilding history of Portland. A bit further south you can visit the Spring Point Ledge lighthouse that is accessible by walking across the breakwater located on the grounds of the Southern Maine Community College. The remains of Fort Preble are also here. Continuing further south you will come to Fort Williams, home to the iconic Portland Head lighthouse. Finally, the area known as Cape Elizabeth has Two Lights State Park – with two more lighthouses to visit!
4. Old Orchard Beach
Located along the coast about a half hour south of Portland, Old Orchard Beach, or OOB, is a great place to visit if you have young ones to keep entertained. The area boasts three great family attractions. First is the Palace Playland, billed as the country’s only beachfront amusement park. A small set of rides and lots of arcade style games are located near a public beach. A walk along the beach will bring you to the pier. This historic landmark juts 500 feet out in the Atlantic and is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. Finally, located just a few miles inland near Saco, ME is the Funtown Splashtown USA water and amusement park featuring over 30 attractions.
5. Boothbay Harbor Area
If you are traveling up Route 1 and want another side trip then head out towards the coast just past the lovely little town of Wiscasset to the Boothbay peninsula. There is much to visit here including the Maine State Aquarium. But for us, when our kids were little, the highlight was the Boothbay Railway village. A circular set of narrow gauge railway tracks surrounds a set of historic buildings. The kids can ride the train then run between the buildings after a long car ride.
6. Pemaquid Point
If you turn towards the coast north of Portland you can make your way down the Pemaquid peninsula to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse park. The lighthouse was built in the 1850’s and is still in use today. There is a small fisherman’s museum on the grounds as well as a nice picnic area. If you are interested in geology the rocky coast is remarkable for the folded igneous rock formations.
Bucksport is located along Route 1 just south of Bangor along the Penobscot River. Your destination here is the combination Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory and Fort Knox. The bridge spans the Penobscot River and boasts an enclosed observatory atop one of its towers that offers a 360° view of the area at a height of 420 feet. Signs will help you find local landmarks and on a clear day the view is spectacular.
Right next door and bordering the river is Fort Knox. This incredibly well-preserved landmark was built after the war of 1812 to protect the area against another incursion by the British. Small garrisons of troops occupied the fort during the Civil War even though it was unfinished. A great place to learn some history and enjoy great river views.
8. Campobello Island & Quoddy Head
If you want to venture even further north then head up Route 1 a couple of hours past the Acadia region to the town of Lubec. There you can visit two iconic lighthouses and learn the history of the Roosevelt family retreat on Campobello Island. Take the turnoff south of Lubec to visit Quoddy Head State Park and see the iconic red striped lighthouse that sits on the easternmost point of the continental United States. If you have your passport then cross over the bridge in Lubec onto Canada’s Campobello Island. This island was the summer home of many prominent New York families, including the Roosevelt clan. You can tour some of the houses, including FDR’s, and take in the history of a time past. Explore other parts of the island including another iconic lighthouse, the red crossed Head Harbour Lightstation that sits on the northern tip of the island. Picnic areas, trails, and coastal views galore.
A fan of outlet stores? Freeport has you covered. The most famous one is, of course, L.L. Bean but you can find just about anything in this town located just north of Portland. Shop, dine, and if you need a nature break visit nearby Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and look for osprey along the water.
10. Schoodic Peninsula
This one is a bit of a cheat since the Schoodic area is part of Acadia National Park. However, to get to this part of the park you will have to either drive around or ferry across Frenchman’s Bay from the Bar Harbor area. The trip is worth it. Located just outside the town of Winter Harbor, the Schoodic Peninsula boasts the rocky coast and crashing surf that epitomizes Maine. If you sit and watch you will see lots of seabirds, boats of all sorts, and very possibly a seal or porpoise cruising the area just offshore. There is even a lighthouse just offshore on tiny Mark Island!
Picnic tables dot the drive around the area, but the best spot is Frazer Point which lets you watch lobster boats and pleasure craft navigate the waters around Winter Harbor. Hiking trails and a new campground are also available. I recommend dinner at the Pickled Wrinkle!
Written by: Christopher Walters – a retired educator, part-time circulation assistant, and prog-rock fan.