Having been to 49 states, I set my sights on Maine for number 50. I timed the trip around a few events: quitting my job to go to business school, my cousin’s college graduation and a friend’s wedding in New York. Additionally, I wanted to visit Maine during the beginning of the summer when things were open but not overly crowded.
I wanted to make my visit to the final state a special one so decided to spend a full week in Maine.
My final day of work was Monday May 20thand I was on the red eye to Boston that night.
May 21, 2019: One of the Best Moments of My Life
I landed at Boston’s Logan Airport at 6am and immediately got into my rental car. The journey north on Interstate 95 took me through a lot of Massachusetts and a small 10 mile sliver of New Hampshire.
In New Hampshire, I found an epic rendition of America The Beautiful on YouTube and decided to play in through the car’s sound system. Just before the final chorus, the song crescendoed. Right at that moment, I reached the Piscataqua River Bridge and saw the Maine state line sign. I lost control of my emotions and sobbed tears of joy. The song ended when I reached the Maine side of the river. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect moment for reaching this milestone and life achievement.
A few miles from the bridge, I stopped at a rest stop and had another motorist take my picture in front of the ceremonial state line sign.
An hour later, I reached the town of Biddeford and the home of my friend Cheno. Cheno is from the UK, but 50 years ago her American grandparents bought a series of three wooden homes on the coast. The homes do not have proper insulation for the winter, so they are only occupied during the summer. Cheno happened to be in town and was nice enough to let me nap for a couple hours in a spare bedroom.
The two of us then road tripped to the town of Freeport, the home of L.L. Bean, Maine’s most famous retailer. The L.L. Bean headquarters is more than just a store, it’s a village. In addition to the flagship store, they have a ski shop, home furnishings store, and a hunting store. For some reason, all the stores are open 24 hours. The stores were all very beautiful and very spread out. I ended up buying a headlamp.
Right across the street from L.L. Bean is an outlet mall – presumably the other retailers wanted to capture some of the L.L. Bean traffic. Not to be out-foxed, L.L. Bean opened their own store in the outlet mall, bringing up the total number of L.L. Bean stores in Freeport to five. The items in the outlet store are cheaper than the other L.L. Bean stores across the street, but the selection is smaller.
Cheno had to head home for lunch and I kept going north. An hour later, I reached Maine’s capital, Augusta. My first stop was for lunch at the Red Barn for fried seafood. While seafood appears to be plentiful (and delicious) in Maine, eating seafood is not cheap! It might even be more expensive than seafood outside of Maine. My plate of clams, scallops and shrimp was $25! The price of seafood was one of the biggest surprises of the trip.
The main(e) reason for going to Augusta was to visit the state capitol. State capitols are one of the things I try to visit when going to a state – the others are the highest point and National Park Service sites. There’s no good reason for choosing these items, but I have to set travel goals. The Maine capitol was small and simple compared to others I have visited.
Since it was midweek, the legislature was in session and the capitol was packed. The House was debating a bill to allow midwives to perform abortion. I later learned that it ended up passing making Maine the second state in the US to have this sort of law. In the rotunda, a group of Somali and Kenyan immigrants were telling their stories to a small crowd.
I walked into the Senate president’s office and ended up befriending his chief of staff. She was inspired by my story and was determined to make my visit to Augusta a memorable one. She gave me official State Senate pins and took my picture with the official Senate gavel. She also tried to introduce me to the Governor, but the Governor was in a meeting- presumably to discuss the abortion bill.
Across the street from the capitol, I also visited the state museum which gives a good overview of the history of Maine. Augusta has a historic fort, but it was still closed for the winter.
From Augusta, I then drove two more hours northeast and eventually reached the town of Surry. The town’s only restaurant- a lobster shack- was still closed for the winter so I ate some snacks for dinner and then promptly passed out in my AirBNB.
May 22, 2019: Acadia National Park
Surry put me only an hour from Acadia National Park, Maine’s premier attraction and the northeast’s sole National Park. The main part of the National Park is on the108-square mile Mount Desert Island. Mount Desert Island is one of the few places on the eastern seaboard that has coastal mountains. The highest mountain, Cadillac Mountain stands 1,528 feet above sea level.
Unlike many other National Parks, Acadia was not wilderness before the designation. In fact, there has been a permanent European presence since 1613. Today, there are 10,000 people living on the island in four towns. The National Park Service has carefully separated the park from the rest of the island through a series of roads. When driving on the park roads, it feels like you are in the wilderness.
After getting a quick breakfast in Bar Harbor, the main tourist town, I headed into the park. My first stop was the Beehive hike. The trail up the Beehive was steep – so steep that metal ladders were installed into the mountain. At the top, I got a great view of the surrounding peaks and the water.
From the top, I continued another half-mile and reached a lake. From the lake, I climbed another mountain, skirted under some epic cliffs and then hiked down to the coast. At the coast, I cruised back to my starting spot for a nice 5 mile hike.
I then kept driving and saw some more beautiful coastline!
By lunchtime I reached the southern edge of the island. Luckily, this was the location of the park’s famed lunch spot: Jordan Pond House. I ate a bowl of lobster and a famous popover (like a warm bread roll in muffin form).
Then, I set out to hike around Jordan Pond.
On the far side of the pond, I found a trail going up to the top of a nearby mountain. I followed it and was rewarded by an incredible view. Hiking down the rocky top of the mountain was one of the nicest walks of my life.
It was now dinnertime, so I headed into Bar Harbor for a lobster roll.
While the lobster roll was really good, I was generally disappointed by the town of Bar Harbor. Even in late May, most things in town were closed. The stores that were open were all tourist traps. While obviously in vastly different climates, Bar Harbor reminded me of the kitschy beach towns in Florida: Key West, Fort Myers Beach.
I camped in the park’s only campground- Blackwoods. Pro tip: make reservations really early here. Having walked over 11 miles that day, I slept for nearly 11 hours that night.
Day 3: North!
Before leaving Acadia, I had to stop at the park’s most famous landmark: Cadillac Mountain. A lot of people go to watch the sunrise. During the winter months, Cadillac is the first location in the US to see the sun. But in the summer, that title belongs to one of two mountains in far northern Maine. The sun in late May rose at 4:53 AM so I decided to sleep in and instead arrive around 7:30 AM. 7:30 was too late for sunrise traffic but too early for day trippers. As a result, I had the mountaintop all to myself.
The summit is too flat for any 360 degree views like on the smaller peaks, but you can really appreciate the scale of the island from up there.
From Cadillac, it was only 1 hour 15 minutes inland to reach Bangor, Maine’s third largest city. While well-located in the center of Maine, Bangor itself doesn’t offer much to the tourist. The town’s biggest attraction is the home of America’s most famous horror novelist: Stephen King. He lives in an 1858 home with a spiderweb and bat wrought iron gates. The house isn’t open to the public, but you can – and they do- stand outside to take pictures. Spooky!
Downtown Bangor has an impressive array of medium-sized buildings, but felt empty. The University of Maine has a small art museum. My favorite part of Bangor was a micropark next to the art museum.
20 minutes north of Bangor is Orono, home to the University of Maine. The miniscule downtown is about two miles from the campus. It has about three restaurants. One of them – Pat’s Pizza- is an 88-year old landmark. Pat’s is now a chain with 20-ish restaurants around Maine. However, they are all franchised except for the Orono location which is still owned by Pat’s family. Pat’s granddaughter (now a middle-aged lady) made my pizza.
The UM campus itself was very large!
As I continued north, I began to lose cell coverage. Maine is known for having one of the worst cell-coverage networks in the US. An hour later, I reached the town of Millinocket, the main adventure town in northern Maine. At the visitor center for Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument- the volunteer told me that all the outdoorsy parks are still closed for the winter. I would be able to drive across the borders to the National Monument and Baxter State Park (which I did) and I would be able to drive along some of the logging roads (which I also did), but hiking anything worth hiking is out of the question.
As I drove the remote roads and caught views of Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak, I got a wild and honestly refreshing vibe. In most outdoorsy places I have visited in the Northeast, you drive on a paved road up to a cute wooden cabin decorated with Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes on the value of nature. From there, hand-painted wooden signs lead you hike on a well-developed stone trail to your destination. But here in the Maine Northwoods, the roads were dirt and the signs were metal. The only other vehicles were logging trucks. It reminded me of Alaska and the West.
My original plan for the trip was to camp in Baxter State Park and then climb Katahdin the next day. However with everything closed, I decided to head even further north since there was nothing for me in Millinocket.
In Linneus, I got an incredible country dinner at a place called Grammy’s. I was close enough to Canada that poutine on the menu. Having never had poutine, I ordered it and was pleasantly surprised.
I then started to look earnestly for lodging. An inch of rain was supposed to fall overnight so I ruled out camping. There were very few hotels in the area and all of them were expensive. I looked on AirBNB and found that the cheapest options- by far- were all over the border in Canada. One option stood out among the rest. For 80 CAD (about $65 USD), I could get a private room in a farmhouse AND a homemade breakfast. I booked it and headed north across the border at Houlton.