The best wildlife safari

The moose-crossing signs on I-95 always crack me up. I’m convinced they are only there to get some oohs and ahhs out of innocent tourists who are heading north. Of course, precautions should always be taken, and there are certainly better chances of seeing moose on a Maine rural highway than in New Jersey, but the chances are slim to none of seeing one on a main drag.

Take the Waterville exit and head North to Jackman, and moose sightings are almost guaranteed. As you pass Caratunk and head into rafting country in The Forks keep your eyes peeled for the lumbering giants of the north. Keep going on to Jackman and your chances of seeing a moose – or many – grow exponentially.

While you’re up there you might as well choose from one of the many rafting companies to guide you in running the class 3-4 white water of the Kennebec River. Crab Apple stands out as the best in my mind.

The best meal in the woods

Foodies agree that Portland, ME has reached an all-time high as one of the best cities in the US for amazing food. This culinary blossoming has been covered by all the media biggies, such as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and The New York Times, and has brought a record-breaking number of gourmet tourists to the state.

This foodie wave has spread far past Portland. Spring Creek BBQ in little Monson is a bustling example. The front-porch-with-rockers, backyard-smoker, tin-can hot spot has gathered a following in the 680-person town, to say nothing of the outdoor crowds passing through on their way to some of the best hikes in the state.

Get yourself to nearby Borestone Mountain for a quick day hike (the longest trail is only 3.5 miles roundtrip), then reward yourself with a messy and mouth-watering dinner at Spring Creek.

The most rewarding day hike

Photo: Dana Moos

Right next door to beloved Popham Beach lies a little hike through coastal forests that rewards you with a view, without you having to sweat it up thousands of feet in elevation. The trail over Morse Mountain is only about two miles long and skirts the edges of the 600-acre Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area. The old road trail is wide and easily managed by kids and newbies, as it winds its way through forests and wetlands.

But the end of the hike is what makes this trip a must. You arrive at Seawall Beach, a long stretch of pristine protected waters. This beach is not for those who immediately seek out the concession stand. The area’s beauty is partly because it is part of the Maine’s conservation acreage, and management has made a huge effort to keep hikers well informed of what this means for their behavior and for the land. So, as long as you don’t feed the seagulls, chug some beers and pitch a volleyball net, the almost always empty shoreline is as close to the perfect Maine beach as you will find.

The best cocktail with a view

Inland is where the number of out-of-state tourists drops dramatically, and where you’ll find the locals on vacation in typical Mainer style — upta camp. The lakes are lined with rustic cabins which often are part of old family traditions. Nowadays it’s hard to find a spot on a lake without paying an arm and a leg for it, but that’s what Kawanhee Inn and Restaurant are there for.

This place has all the character of an old log cabin, but the updates of a gourmet, fine dining restaurant. Grab your drink of choice and find an Adirondack chair on the state’s best back porch, to enjoy the view of Webb Lake and great dining. It’s just like being upta camp, but with the welcome addition of a bartender serving your drinks.

The best swimming hole

This spot is hardly known, even by those who live in the area. If you can find it, then it’s usually all yours. A funky woods trail, lined with weird signs, abstract artwork, and even a little dog house winds through Eastman Park in Phillips, to the Sandy River. The giant boulders make a perfect base camp for the day’s exploration, shaded by the trees and tucked beside the flowing current. Pick your spot.
The Sandy has carved out smooth divots and holes over thousands of years, creating hundreds of crystal clear swimming pools. Rock hop your way up shore and jump in for a natural water slide downstream. Choose your route wisely. Rocks can suddenly appear.

The best of Mount Desert Island

Photo: Jeff Gunn

If you’ve always wanted to check out Mount Desert Island, take just a short break in Bar Harbor. While the little seaside village has some great food (Morning Glory Bakery bagels are worth a stop) and some awesome pubs (The Lompoc is a must-do) you’ve got the rest of the island to see.

Continue on rt. 3 to find The Burning Tree Restaurant, whose vegetables and herbs come from their own greenhouses. Go a few miles further and search for Little Hunters Beach — an almost always vacant cobblestone beach at the end of a twisting forest path. Explore for a peaceful while, then drive on to Northeast Harbor for the famous donuts at Colonel’s Restaurant. If you’re feeling energized and want to keep going, swing through Southwest Harbor.

The best museum

If you’re planning on visiting Baxter State Park, be sure to stop in next door for one of the state’s best museums of local history. You’ll learn things you didn’t know, i.e. aside from lobsters, lumber is one of Maine’s biggest exports and has been since the early 1600s.

The Patten Lumbermen’s Museum details the work of the loggers, who would float the year’s harvest of logs down the Penobscot River all the way to Bangor to be shipped all over the world. This rich history is exemplified at the museum with old-timey photos and artifacts that pay homage to this piece of Maine’s heritage. The humble, unassuming museum is worth the stop if you’ve made it that far north in the state.

The best music festival

Arootsakoostik, The best music festival in Northern Maine has lined up some well-known names on their small, hand-built stage which lies in the middle of sloping fields and looming mountains. The steadily expanding festival just celebrated its 10th-anniversary last summer. Rumor has it they might be taking a break for a while, or maybe just adjusting the sails, but in the meantime, check out Eureka Hall Restaurant in the neighboring town of Stockholm for good food and to catch a live show. Eureka is home to Arootsakoostik’s founder, Travis Cyr, who manages the music line up for the popular spot.

The best eco-friendly spa

Nurture Through Nature, a spa resort with an eco-twist will help you get your body and mind out of the city (way out of the city), and encourage you to reconnect with the earth and your inner self.

The cozy yurts and cabins come complete with organic teas and coffee. There are yoga classes, guided meditations, a traditional Finnish sauna and Swedish massage – all of it designed to be in harmony with its natural setting.

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