Kaitlin first published this post about her magical trip to Maine almost a year ago. In a recent escape to nature (and different circumstances, with masks and conscientious crowd avoidance), I also took a cautious road trip to Maine this past week with Justin, guided by my sister’s post. I discovered more spots, experiences, and tips to share, so we’re publishing our first ever travel post update! With two Type-A planners/sisters having contributed to this post, I think we’ve go all your bases covered for a future fall trip to Maine. We’ve kept Kaitlin’s original post the same, and my updates are in the marked boxes. Enjoy and stay safe!
Cool temperatures, sunny days, and crisp, colorful leaves? It’s time to make a break from Tri-state existence to VACATIONLAND: aka Maine!
In this post, I’ll share my guide for what to do in Maine: what to see, what to eat, and some tips along the way!
The Best Vacation Destination?
I’m convinced that Maine may just be one of the best vacation destinations possibly EVER. There’s forest, coastline and beaches, bustling cities, and quiet towns, all a couple hours’ drive away from each other.
When I found out that Mainers fondly refer to their home state as “Vacationland,” I was ready to cross state lines. What’s more, it’s one of the best places to enjoy fall, which is, in my opinion, the best season.
The Best Time in Maine for Fall Leaves
As I was planning this trip, there was a point at which I very obsessively tracked the Maine state government foliage tracker.
My conclusion and pro-tip? Later in October is generally better for destinations in southern and coastal Maine. The grainy photo above was taken sadly on one of our last days in Maine, with leaves still showing as low/moderate.
Maine autumns are becoming increasingly mild, as is the case with many places where strange weather patterns are becoming more commonplace. It’s generally taking longer for the leaves to turn those signature red and orange hues.
As we hiked through Acadia National Park, we saw lots of signs asking folks to send in their photos of the fall foliage so research teams could track patterns and progress!
We went the last week of September and first week of October, which was too early for really strong foliage. I recommend mid-to-late October.
Of course, there’s always a natural risk of a frost or storm coming in and wiping out leaves. We heard this happened in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, a stop we made on this trip.
A fellow hiker mentioned that we were about a week too late for peak New Hampshire foliage! But the equivalent time for Maine was too early. What can ya do, right?
Fall 2020 saw the fastest foliage season in decades, according to Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. Leaves in coastal and southern Maine peaked within a period of a week, right before our trip (Oct 10-18).
That said, we still saw some beautiful leaves across Maine, and on the drive back home, the trees were at peak color in Massachusetts! Long story short, like Kaitlin is saying above, it’s hard to time these things exactly right.
Take it from an obsessive planner who can sometimes short-circuit a little when things don’t go according to plan. Enjoy the journey, whatever it is!
Another bonus of going in mid-to-late October is that Maine is PACKED in summertime. Many people we encountered on our trip noted the summertime mobs had cleared out, making our travels much easier and more enjoyable.
Planning What to Do in Maine
I went on this trip with my good friend Niki (Everyone say, “Hi, Niki!” for her official Woks of Life debut!), and as we planned the trip, we realized Maine is a deceptively large state, with lots of ground to cover.
It was a bit challenging to navigate the different pockets of nature and cute towns to isolate the best plan. Plus the best spots to eat all the lobster. And the most efficient route!
But after all was said and done, I think this trip was an excellent route, with a great balance of sand, city and forest.
Here was the rough itinerary coming from good ol’ (non-Vacationland) New Jersey:
- Head north, north, north until you hit Kennebunkport and pause for a reprieve from driving (took us about 5 hours to get here).
- From there, stop by the iconic L.L. Bean mega-town in Freeport.
- Then keep going north for Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park—this is the farthest north you’ll go.
- After that, mosey back on south, in the general direction of home, to Portland.
- In a wild card move, with Portland as a home base, cut across state lines and head into New Hampshire for the day.
- Return home, driving south—and maybe stop through Connecticut for lunch.
In addition to this post, head to our Instagram and check out our Maine story highlight!
We mostly re-traced Kaitlin’s route from last year on our trip, with some key differences to avoid people and crowds. This fall season in Maine looked a bit different than it has in years past, with more visitors.
I’ll talk about alternative routes and activities throughout this post!
Stop #1: Kennebunkport
After about five hours of very early morning driving, Kennebunkport made for the absolute perfect stop to do a little shopping, have lunch, and stretch our legs.
Right before we hit town, we stumbled upon Snug Harbor Farm. It was the most idyllic and charming gift shop, plant nursery, and farm, rolled into one.
The pictures speak for themselves. This was our “WE’RE ON VACATION!!!!!!” moment.
From there, we headed into Dock Square and ate at the iconic Clam Shack. It was our first chance to have a delicious lobster roll and THE BEST *HOMEMADE* fried clam strips I’ve ever had. The line was long, but moved quickly.
The lobster was tender and sweet with a combo of butter and mayo on a non-traditional round potato roll. (You can also get either butter or mayo, but we ain’t countin’ calories.)
PLUS, I cannot remember a time when I have had homemade clam strips. I’m suspicious that they all generally come from the same factory. While I normally love those, these were on another level.
As you can see, maybe I enjoyed the clam strips a bit more than the lobster roll. Just beware the ravenous seagulls as you dine shoreside under the umbrellas!
From there, we walked around to take in the town, shop, and grab some ice cream around the corner. Parking was a bit challenging, and it cut our wandering short, so keep that in mind when you go!
We arrived at the Clam Shack around 11:00 AM, and while it was busy, there wasn’t a long line. Taking the advice of many commenters on this post, we ordered the whole belly clams. They were delicious, though to be honest, I still love a clam strip.
We found the lobster roll here was just okay. Definitely the least amount of lobster for the price of any roll we tried, and the bread was kind of dry. I’ll chalk it up to an off day. When you have a minute, check out my Dad’s Lobster roll recipe with an Asian Twist!
Ultimately, we thought the real prize was the fried scallops. Perfectly breaded, big, juicy, and sweet.
Stop #2: L.L. Bean Town in Freeport
You can’t go to Maine without stopping into an L.L. Bean. I had gone with the family when we were younger, and the giant moose diorama features extremely prominently in my memories of Maine. I might go so far as to say I don’t remember much else!
The L.L. Bean flagship isn’t just one store, but a mega complex of hunting, fishing, camping, and boating, plus clothes and home goods.
I picked up a warm fleece and windbreaker, which ended up being a godsend later in the trip. (Low to mid 50s in Maine is MUCH colder than it sounds!) Frolic in the craziness of it all!
There’s also a bunch of outlet stores in the vicinity if that’s your cuppa tea, with a heavy emphasis on outdoor clothing brands.
This was day 1 in Maine, and we left Freeport to drive the final 2-hour leg to Bar Harbor, landing late at our Airbnb.
One more stop before we move on! 35 minutes further north of Freeport (I too broke down and purchased a fleece that I wore on the entire trip) is the town of Wiscasset, ME.
On Route 1, right on the water, is a little lobster shack known as Red’s Eats. This humble shack is home to what many say is the best lobster roll in Maine.
The line may look long, but we’re all 6 ft. apart so…
Who am I kidding? The line was very long.
We waited for 1 hour and 45 minutes. It can be anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on the day. While waiting on line is a bit of a bummer, I deeply respect this level of food dedication.
The verdict? The lobster was PERFECTLY cooked, extremely succulent, and ABUNDANT.
Seriously, there was a TON of fresh lobster on this thing. It was definitely enough for two people to share. The giant chunks, piled in a humble paper takeout container, were something to behold.
Honestly though, I like a lobster roll to have a good balance between bread and lobster. If I could do it over again, I would’ve still ordered it with a side of both mayo and butter…
BUT I would’ve asked for half of the lobster to come separately (even if just on the other side of the container). That way, we could’ve enjoyed the roll itself without the bread becoming soggy. It only takes seconds for the moisture from all that lobster to soak into the bread!
Then we would’ve dug into the rest, dipped in butter.
Just my two cents on what I know is a Maine classic! All that said, this lobster roll was worth the wait and the $25 price tag. It was truly delicious.
Note: Red’s is Cash Only!
Stop #3: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor is the main town just outside of Acadia National Park. It has all the cute, small coastal boutiques you could possibly imagine (e.g., do towns like these ALWAYS have an olive oil store?), which was a great way to wind down the day after tackling morning hikes in Acadia.
Here’s a wooden wares store that had a giant rocking horse. Why? Who cares! You’re on vacation!!!!!
Here’s what we did:
Acadia National Park
One of the biggest challenges of Acadia National Park was figuring out the best mix of easy/moderate/intermediate hikes. Acadia is a great park with lots of really rewarding rocky and coastal hikes for those looking for a challenge!
This website focused on Acadia National Park was incredibly helpful, as is this Joe’s Guide to Acadia National Park site, but share your favorite Acadia hikes in the comments if you’ve been, as I will definitely be going back!
We ultimately landed on:
Jordan Pond Path/Jordan Pond House
3.5 miles | flat/level | 1-2 hours | Loop
Jordan Pond Path is a finished path made of wood slats that circles around Jordan Pond. It was completely flat and makes for a good activity to kill time if you’re looking to have lunch at Jordan Pond House.
Pro-tip: make a reservation to have their excellent popovers, which are legend! We didn’t have the wherewithal to plan that far ahead, but about five people told me that the popovers were a must-have.
2.8 miles | 500 ft. elevation gain | 1.5 – 2.5 hours | Loop
This hike had incredible views and was a moderate climb to a great view of the valley below with surrounding foliage.
It was a satisfying trek, and just the right amount of exertion to be challenging for Niki as a national parks first-timer.
2 miles | 500 ft. elevation gain | 1-2 hours | Out & Back (or semi-loop with Cadillac Cliffs spur trail)
Climb to a lookout point on the cliffs for beautiful, unobstructed coastal sunrise views!
We woke up so early that it was almost completely dark outside when we arrived at the parking lot, and had to wait for enough sunlight to peek over the horizon to start the hike. (Bring headlamps to start the hike earlier!)
With that 4:30 AM wake-up call, by the time we got to the lookout, we had timed sunrise perfectly and were ready to head back down to town for pancakes!
The best part? We were completely alone when the sun came up (though it did make capturing the picture below a bit tricky—our photographer was a rock and an auto-timer).
Cadillac Mountain is the most popular sunrise destination in Acadia, but because it’s accessible by car, it’s a very crowded lookout spot that’s congested with traffic.
A friendly ranger tipped us off to this, and we couldn’t have been happier that we went with the Gorham Mountain Trail.
When we were in the park, you needed timed vehicle reservations to access the Cadillac Summit Road (that Kaitlin referred to) and the Sand Beach Entrance (where you can get to Ocean Path, Gorham Mountain, Thunder Hole, and the Beehive Trail).
Be sure to check whether you need reservations when you plan to visit!
Also, if hiking Gorham Mountain after sunrise with ample daylight, consider hiking the short Cadillac Cliffs spur trail on the way up. It’s a bit steeper and rockier than the Gorham Mountain trail, which is why it’s better to do on the way up rather than down.
It breaks off from the main Gorham route at the Waldron Bates memorial plaque and meets back up with the trail up to the summit. (Just make sure you don’t turn the wrong way and go back down the hill. We may or may not have made that silly mistake…)
Though our view wasn’t at sunrise, it was still pretty spectacular! Also note that the Gorham Mountain Trail is covered in wild blueberry bushes, which is definitely a plus in summer!
2 miles from Sand Beach to Otter Point, 4 miles round trip | flat/level | 2-3 hours | Out & back
When we parked at the Gorham Mountain Trailhead, we noticed a clear path that ran along the road more at sea level. This was Ocean Path, which is a fairly easy walking path that also offered coastal views, following the Great Head Trail via Sand Beach.
You can access it from the Sand Beach parking lot, but you can also hop onto it from parking lots at Thunder Hole, Gorham Mountain, and the other end at Otter Point.
While we didn’t do Gorham Mountain at sunrise, we did experience Ocean Path and one of the most popular areas of the park in the early morning hours.
We parked at the Sand Beach lot around 6:45 AM, and from the beach area…
…we walked the entirety of Ocean Path.
While the path starts right on the road and may not seem worth walking, we really enjoyed the small spurs down to the cliffs and the incredible views along the entire 2 mile walkway.
I would definitely suggest doing this early in the morning, as this whole area starts to get mobbed by cars and people after 9:00 AM.
Note: The Gorham Mountain Trailhead is just past Thunder Hole. Here, you can hear the waves crashing in (best experienced 2 hours before high tide).
Of course, these were just the hikes we picked. If you go, be sure to chat with a park ranger to get their tips and the latest information on the weather conditions and trail closures!
An important omission here is the Beehive Trail, on which my mom took a nasty tumble last summer, and expressly forbid me from attempting.
But in another world, I definitely would have checked it out. It’s a bit dangerous, as the craggy “beehive” boulders are easy to lose your balance on, but it’s one of the most popular hikes in the whole park! As I say with any hike, no lazy steps!
A note on tide pools: As a tide pool lover, I spent much of the trip chasing excellent tide pools. However, I was a bit underwhelmed by the ones accessible in Acadia and Bar Harbor. After asking around a bit, I discovered that many tide pool spots had actually been closed off to visitors and removed from maps and park guides to help the natural flora and fauna recover. So while I’m usually first in line for a good tide pool, it’s important to remember the importance of preservation! I’ll have to stop through aquariums in the future to get my fix of kelp, sea urchins, and crabs instead.
Kaitlin’s about to talk about Bar Harbor next, but before we get to that, we explored some lesser known (and much less crowded) areas of Acadia that were definitely worth visiting.
Bass Harbor Head Light/Echo Lake/Beech Cliffs
Near the famous Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Echo Lake Beach was empty (though judging by the size of the parking lot, it can definitely be crowded during the summer).
From Echo Lake Beach parking, we hiked the Beech Cliffs Trail. It’s one of Acadia’s classic ladder hikes, though much less harrowing than the Precipice or Beehive trails.
The view from the top isn’t bad either! (Also, if you want to hit Thurston’s Lobster pound, which Kaitlin mentions in the next section, this would be the time to do it. It’s just 9 minutes from Bass Harbor.)
Another area we visited was Schoodic Peninsula, east of Mount Desert Island. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive there from Bar Harbor. Perhaps that’s why few people make the trek.
We found it to be a magical drive with lookouts galore! And blissfully, very few people.
A few of our days in Bar Harbor were rainy, which made it tough to take on more hikes in Acadia. As it turns out though, one of the best parts of this vacation was being forced to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
Earlier in our drive, we had stopped through an antique mall, where I’d picked up a hodgepodge of paintbrushes.
A quick stop in a craft store to grab watercolor supplies afforded a zen afternoon of painting and sipping horchata in a local cafe.
Because we spent a handful of days in town, a lot of our shopping and relaxing was interspersed with the hikes I mentioned above. Here are some of the places we recommend checking out:
Breakfast at Two Cats
We had a delicious spread of Maine blueberry pancakes and a delicious smoked haddock and horseradish omelette with home fries and a biscuit. Endless coffee was perfect after waking up at 4:30am to catch sunrise on Gorham Mountain.
Bar Island at Low Tide
When low tide hits, you can walk from the main street of Bar Harbor right across the inlet to Bar Island. It’s a fun way to stretch your legs in the morning. Just be careful not to get stranded by the tide!
From Bar Island, we wound our way through Agamont Park, taking some of the walking paths on the Bar Harbor side of the inlet to check out shops tucked around and behind the main drag.
Dinner at Cafe This Way
This was a cute spot tucked away on a side street serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had some great small plates and an improbably delicious lobster curry.
My eating philosophy in Maine was to eat lobster whenever I wanted, and in whatever I wanted. It did not disappoint—from lobster rolls to lobster curry to lobster linguine! Yum.
Taking a tip from Kaitlin, we also had lunch at Galyn’s. We really enjoyed their Sautéed Scallops, served with wild rice, mushrooms, and sherry.
Can also confirm their lobster bisque and crab stuffed mushrooms were tasty (though a bit light on crab). This was our first time dining out at a restaurant in 8 months, and we enjoyed it!
Where else to get lobster:
Some other popular lobster spots we didn’t hit are:
- Thurston’s Lobster Pound (near Bass Harbor Head Light)
- The Happy Clam Shack (a bit of a drive outside of Bar Harbor, but very no-frills, straight from the ocean)
- And Mama Dimatteo’s for Italian (lobster mac n’ cheese, anyone?).
Before we travel back south to Portland, I’ll tell you more about the area Justin and I stayed in, far from the hustle and bustle.
Our Airbnb was a secluded cottage on the water in Orland, 1 hour and 15 minutes west of Bar Harbor.
Here, we encountered very few people. We could cook all our own meals, and took a couple days to enjoy Maine like locals. We looked out on the water, explored the beach at low tide, played board games, cooked, and watched Halloween movies.
Our Airbnb host even hooked us up with fresh lobsters from a lobsterman she knows, who also threw in a mountain of crab claws!
As any self-respecting food blogger, you know we took full advantage of this bounty. Here’s Justin, showing them off to my dad on FaceTime:
We had them dipped in butter, made them into lobster linguine, simmered the shells to make lobster stock, and whipped up a lobster risotto. We even took the crab claws and made crab stuffed flounder!
If you’re a novice at shelling cooked lobsters, see step-by-step instructions and a video on how to do it on our own Lobster Roll recipe.
I know I referred back to it as I was cooking these babies up!
I don’t think we would’ve been able to pull off multiple seafood feasts like that without our local contact, and some time away from the tourist track.
15 minutes south of where we were staying was the delightful town of Castine, on the Blue Hill Peninsula, home of the Maine Maritime Academy.
It was also home to this awesome bakery, MarKel’s Bakehouse, where we got a surprisingly tasty lox sandwich.
It was in this quaint little seaside village where we experienced the highlight of our trip.
A nighttime sea kayaking tour in bioluminescent Castine Bay.
We went out with Castine Kayak Adventures (our guide John was great!), and lucked out with the perfect dark, clear night.
The water was glassy and calm, and the Milky Way was out in full force. We saw some truly incredible meteors (shooting stars), and the bioluminescence in the bay was SO. COOL. I won’t spoil it further, but it was our favorite activity on the trip.
We also recommend exploring the rest of the Blue Hill Peninsula and nearby Deer Isle. Some say the small coastal towns here are what remains of “old Maine.”
Another spot we loved on Deer Isle was Barred Island Preserve.
Here, you can hike a short 1-mile trail through a mossy boreal bog forest that feels like something out of a fairytale.
The trail leads you out to the coast, where at low tide, the waters recede to reveal a sandy path to “Barred Island.” You can walk across this exposed sand to explore the island on the other side.
Just make sure to time it right so you don’t get stuck on that island. At high tide, the pathway back gets covered by 5 ft. of water!
If you’re looking for more to do in the area, another nearby place to visit is Holbrook Island Sanctuary.
Ok, on to Portland!
Stop #4: Portland
By the time we got to Portland, we had relaxed HARD in Bar Harbor. Maybe too hard, given that we got rained out of more hiking and spent half the time in a very grandma-vibes inn with flowery wallpaper and velvet pincushion chairs. Getting to Portland was a welcome change of scenery!
Things to Eat in Portland, ME
There are tons of great restaurants in Portland, with many calling it one of the hottest food scenes in the country. I wish we’d had had more meals during our stay! Here are some of the places we went to, and other recommendations I received from friends:
We were able to score a table at Eventide for clean and briny oysters on the half shell. We also ordered a kelp salad, and of course, a Maine classic: whoopie pies! It’s normally crazy busy in the summer, but we were able to get a seat right away for an early-ish dinner time!
Holy Donut for breakfast and coffee was an excellent stop, and some of the best donuts I’ve had. They’re made with sweet potatoes, yielding an incredibly moist, cakey donut with a dense but also light crumb.
There are tons of flavors, and the 194 Park Ave. location is usually a lot less crowded than the downtown spot in Old Port!
Street and Co. is a lowkey standby of the Portland food scene. Other trendy places we stopped into were packed with diners who’d managed to score hard-to-get reservations, but Street and Co. keeps ⅓ of tables open for walk-ins, and we quickly got seats at the bar.
The staff was incredibly friendly, and the restaurant was cozy and not too loud. We had a great whole branzino with wild rice and saw lots of folks eating their classic breaded, fried, and buttered filet of sole with potatoes. If I lived in Portland, I’d definitely be a regular!
Some other restaurant recommendations we got include:
- Boda for Thai food (or their sister restaurant, Green Elephant, for a fully vegetarian menu)
- Minato for Japanese food
- Central Provisions for trendy small plates
- Silly’s for brunch
- Hut Suppah for brunch
- Bayside Bowl for bowling, bar food, and craft beer
- Fisherman’s Catch (which is about a half hour outside of Portland, but boasts the best lobster rolls in the area)
- Treehouse for American / seafood
There’s also a vibrant brewery scene with plenty of choices for beer lovers.
Some more things to eat in Portland!
Tandem Coffee + Bakery
A tip from a reader! This place is famous for their biscuits and other James Beard Award-winning pastries.
The sweet biscuit was a bit overwhelmed by a very thick layer of butter (might ask next time to have the butter and jam on the side), but their savory biscuit, with cow/goat’s cheese, honey, and black pepper was delicious.
Another awesome tip from a reader, and a great place for breakfast and lunch. Their hash browns are THE thing to get (especially if you’re not-so-secretly obsessed with tater tots like I am). Don’t miss out on those.
They also did a very good biscuit breakfast sandwich with pulled ham:
And their blueberry muffin with blueberry jam was heaven.
We also got a sweet potato/boursin croissant, which we enjoyed immensely for breakfast the next day.
Another vote for Street & Co.
I have to agree with my sister that this was a super delicious seafood restaurant. This was our second and final time eating out during our trip (outdoor dining).
We ordered the Scallops in Pernod (and lots of cream) and Linguine with Clams, and were super happy with both orders.
The food came out in hot cooking pans, which helped it stay warm as we sat on the chilly outdoor patio.
Bite Into Maine
A food truck stationed in Fort Williams Park, this was the best all-around lobster roll we had in Maine. They have a few different styles, including the Connecticut roll (just lobster and butter), and the Maine (cold, lightly dressed in mayo, with chives).
The lobster wasn’t quite as good as Red’s. But as a whole package, it was a great balance of buttered bread and fresh, crunchy, sweet lobster.
Portland Farmer’s Market
The Portland Farmer’s Market in Deering Oaks Park is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM, rain or shine. (Note that 7:00-8:00 AM is reserved shopping time, and this outdoor market runs from May-November). It’s definitely worth a visit.
It was raining when we went, but there were still a few vendors out, and we had a blast buying root vegetables, fresh flowers, pumpkins, eggs, cheeses, honey, maple syrup, and meats to take home with us!
Things to Do In Portland
In terms of things to do, we stopped by the Fort William Lighthouse, which was a beautiful spot with lots of plaques with free information, accessible without tickets. (Though there is paid parking, $4 for 2 hours).
We also spent lots of time in the Old Port and downtown area, pausing in antique and thrift shops like Flea For All.
We also spent an afternoon at the Portland Museum of Art, which had a beautiful exhibit on works from the local Wyeth family.
If you want a bigger hit of American art, you could plan for the Farnsworth Art Museum, which is in Rockland, Maine.
On Kaitlin’s recommendation, we did hit the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland on the way to Portland. We highly recommend it!
The museum focuses on Maine artists, and had timed entry with a one-way path through the museum to help maintain social distancing.
If you do stop there, be sure to also stop at Home Kitchen Cafe for some incredible breakfast/lunch food. Their reuben was DELICIOUS.
They’re only doing takeout at the moment, so we ate in the car down by the nearby boatyard/ferry stop!
Stop #5: New Hampshire: White Mountains National Forest
Portland is Maine’s most up-and-coming city and food scene, but it’s actually pretty small! This made it a perfect home base for a day trip into New Hampshire to check out White Mountain National Forest.
We woke up early and set out on a 2.5 hour drive across state lines for a day of hiking. As with Acadia National Park, White Mountain National Forest is LARGE and for ardent and experienced hikers.
It was a bit tough to find trails that weren’t advanced and wouldn’t take a whole day. I decided to go out on a limb and picked two hikes that ended up taking up most of our day, going at a pretty good clip.
They were almost an hour’s drive apart, but I can say after having spent the day there, I wouldn’t have changed anything we did.
Is it weird that one of my favorite Maine days was in New Hampshire?
So first things first, White Mountain National Forest is REMOTE. So when you hit the small town on the drive in, make sure to get supplies for the day ahead. We stopped by the last restaurant before entering the forest.
It happened to be a bagel shop called Bagels Plus on White Mountain Highway. We grabbed a couple of bagels apiece—one for breakfast and some hearty bagel sandwiches for later in the day. As a bonafide Jersey bagel snob, I can say these bagels were excellent!
The shop-owners checked if we were headed into the mountains, and packed pickles on the side to avoid soggy sandwiches. If that’s not a winning bagel shop, I don’t know what is.
We also ran our hiking plan by them to make sure we wouldn’t end up as that evening’s news headline (“2 hapless New York girls air-lifted out of the White Mountains at significant local headache and expense!”).
On the way to the trail, we stopped by the Crawford Notch State Park visitor’s center alongside the Saco River to check out some of the local literature.
From there, our first hike was the Mount Willard Trail Head, a great warm-up with a truly incredible payoff view. At about 3.2 miles, it’s considered a moderate hike and took about 3-4 hours to complete.
There were a few steep portions, but the trail was easy to follow, and the final lookout point was truly amazing with panoramic views of Crawford Notch. Plus, we actually saw some of our best fall foliage at the lookout and at the foot of the mountains.
When we came back down, we paused for lunch at the train station where the trail began.
Roast beef with horseradish on an oatmeal bagel? Yes, please.
From there, we headed to the next trail, Welch-Dickey Loop Trail. This hike was rated as Moderate/Difficult, with an elevation change of 2650 feet. It took about 3-4 hours to finish, but promised great views of the southern White Mountains and Mad River Valley.
There were lots of contradictory descriptions of this hike: “family-friendly,” “out in the open,” “a joy to walk,” but also “it’s not easy” with “rock scrambling and ledges.”
In short, all of the above ended up being true. This is why, looking back, I describe Mount Willard as a “warm up.”
Welch-Dickey Loop was probably one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done (and that includes some of the doozies from Yellowstone, Zion, and other national parks we’ve visited!), but it was truly incredible, and the rock scrambling was fun, as long as we were able to find the trail markers.
Niki and I nearly had tandem heart-attacks when I thought I found the bright yellow trail marker, and it ended up being a yellow leaf clinging to a rock!
At points, the trail was incredibly narrow, or would give way to a vertical rock scramble, and a pretty sheer uphill climb on smooth granite, eliciting lots of, “This can’t be the trail! CAN IT?!!!”
The climb made it challenging at points to track down the trail markers, but our cooler heads prevailed, and we were able to find our way through with minimal backtracking.
All in all, the views were spectacular, and we had the trail to ourselves. My word of caution would be to watch the weather radars closely, especially if you are visiting in the fall.
We finished just in the nick of time to avoid a light rain. Getting caught on those slick rocks in the rain would have been a recipe for disaster, and we picked up our pace towards the end to make it back safely.
New Hampshire was an incredible highlight of the trip and a great way to kill two birds with one stone without needing to shuffle accommodations too much.
Stop #6: Indian food in Connecticut
As our days wound down in Portland, we packed up the car and headed back home, and timing-wise, we ended up in Connecticut just in time for lunch. We paused for a quick bite of Indian buffet at Coromandel, a great restaurant where my aunt and uncle used to take us when they lived in the area.
I could argue that me and Niki work so well as friends simply because we are both always down to eat Indian food. And she’ll let me drag her up and down a mountain with a rainstorm chasing our tails…
But all kidding aside, I truly loved Maine. I’m already planning on a retirement cottage there—emphasis on ALL KIDDING ASIDE.
Vacationland, we <3 you!
My parents would like everyone to know, that on THEIR trip to Maine (yes, I’m the last in the Woks of Life family to have a Maine adventure), they had an incredible fried seafood platter at The Eagle’s Nest in Brewer, ME.
Though neither my sister nor I were able to make it up there, if you find yourself in the Bangor area, definitely check it out!