A Day on the Trail in Maine
Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Country Walkers for a Guided Walking trip in Maine’s Acadia National Park. As someone who spends his days helping put together Country Walkers award-winning trips—working with hotels, reserving rooms, etc.—it was a real pleasure to experience one for myself. I’ve always had a very specific perspective on these itineraries, one more focused on spreadsheets and rooming lists than panoramic views and sumptuous meals, so it was great to savor one from a guest’s point of view.
The first thing I noticed was how much more it was than memorable accommodations and delicious dinners. Our guides, Ron Lucier and Randy Judkins, did a great job bringing the history, ecology, botany, and culture of coastal Maine to vivid life on a series of unforgettable walks and experiences. All were great, but maybe my favorite was the day we headed out to Little Cranberry Island. Here’s how the day went:
8:00 a.m. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the Asticou Inn, a historic, turn-of-the-century clapboard lodge with amazing views of the Atlantic. As we ate a typical New England breakfast of pancakes and eggs washed down with good coffee and juice, the guides prepped us for the day's adventures.
9:15 a.m. After departing the hotel, we headed out to Northeast Harbor, a lazy labyrinth of lobster boats, dinghies, and sailboats surrounded by lobster traps and tackle shops due south of the National Park. Here we boarded something rare—a genuine mail boat, which still makes daily trips from Mount Desert Island to the Cranberry Isles. As we sliced across the gentle chop of the harbor, a cool breeze in our face and the scent of fresh ocean air filling our lungs, we saw hundreds of lobster buoys dotting the water, as well as the occasional fishing boat. Gradually, our destination came into view: the town of Islesford on Little Cranberry Island. With a year-round population of only sixty five, and a downtown that consists of little more than a restaurant, museum, library, and school, it’s a town completely forgotten by time.
10:15 a.m. Pulling into the dock, we were greeted with a wave and a smile by a lively woman in a striped, collared shirt and baseball cap. This was Stefanie Alley, a resident of the island and one of the few full-time lobster women in the region. She welcomed us aboard her boat and gave a fascinating explanation of the lobstering trade. With her apprentice, Bee, working beside her, she demonstrated the way the traps work and gave an impromptu lesson on lobster biology. All in all, it was a compelling snapshot of a bygone trade.
12:00 p.m. After saying our farewells to Stefanie, we broke for a picnic lunch (sandwiches, clementines, and San Pellegrino) at a row of picnic tables overlooking the water. When we’d finished, we had time to breeze through the nearby Islesford Museum to learn a bit about the history of the island. Interestingly, its first settlers date all the way back to the 1760’s.
12:45 p.m. Fully satisfied from lunch, we set off on a walk across the island, taking in the scenes of island life along the way. Hands down, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. As we strolled through the tiny town, I was charmed by all the unique details on display—hundreds of lobster traps stacked outside of someone’s house, a unique mini-golf course set up on someone’s front lawn, 15 mph street signs. We were able to chat with locals as well; It turned out that the mini-golf course had been created for charity; each hole had a playful name and silly obstacles such as an inflatable penguin or Spongebob Squarepants. I was struck by the fact that, of the cars on the island (of which there weren’t many), few bothered with a license plate.
1:30 p.m. Our guides led us to a long, rocky beach with a spectacular view of the ocean. We spent time here enjoying the view, talking about our day, and feeling the cool breeze off the water. Later, we stopped at the Islesford general store. This old-fashioned general store and post office had all of the necessities—from socket wrenches to sliced turkey. Evidently, you have to carry a bit of everything when you’re the only game in town. We sampled some of their fresh, homemade ginger bread while the owners shared stories with our group about the island.
2:15 p.m. Back in the harbor, we waited for our mailboat to return. The afternoon sun made the water bright blue and gulls circled in the distance. We’d have a bit of free time before dinner, perfect for a bit of reading or a quick nap. I was already thinking about what to eat when Little Cranberry Island delivered one last idyllic vision of Maine life: a lobster boat chugged into the dock, its traps laden with a fresh catch of wriggling, fresh lobsters.