Now that the elections are finally over, we can turn to other, less intensive discussions, such as the Longs’ summer vacation in New England. I’d previously provided a long-winded essay on the first half of that trip, describing the drive out to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. I left off at the end of our visit to Boston, a city we enjoyed much more than we thought we would. A return trip some day is definitely in the cards.
From Boston, we traveled north to Salem, about an hour’s drive. There is so much lore surrounding this community, all centered around the short period of time when the Salem Witch Trials occurred. And though Salem was a very important seaport, and has a rich history, the reason to visit is to learn about the tragic witch hunt of 1692. I suggest taking a self guided walk around town, and then finishing with the Salem Witch Museum, which has a very well done show that explains why the witch hunt began, who was involved, and what ultimately occurred. Kids will learn all they need to know from this one show, and you can avoid some of the other touristy attractions that are generally a waste of time.
We traveled on in a northeasterly direction about another hour or so to Gloucester, Massachusetts, on Cape Ann, which is home to the famous Fisherman’s Memorial Statue, and remains a hard working fishing port. Some of you may also recall that this is the home port for the crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, whose tragic loss at sea was the basis for the book and movie, The Perfect Storm. Just standing next to the statue is worth the trip, but be forewarned that there isn’t much else, unless you can time the return of the fishing boats to see them unload the daily catch. Gloucester does have a fairly active whale watching tour business, so if you plan to run out to the Atlantic to see the whales at summer play, this is one of the spots to book a tour.
The real gem of Cape Ann, however, is Rockport, which is situated on the coastline, has a classic, beautiful harbor, wonderful natural terrain, and is one of the most charming little towns in Massachusetts. Many great shops, a long jetty out into the harbor filled with small stores, many good restaurants, and some good museums as well. We all felt like we’d stumbled onto a hidden gem after our visit there. Cape Ann is a must visit to get the true feel for the northern Massachusetts coastline, which is beautiful, and easily accessible from Boston.
From Rockport, we ventured north into Maine. We deliberately bypassed Portsmouth, though we read that it was a surprisingly nice city, with a thriving nightlife, excellent museums, many artists, and the best restaurants in Maine. However, we had shopping on our minds, and headed straight for Freeport, the outlet mall capitol of New England.
Freeport is the home to LL Bean, which remains the dominant store in this shopping mecca. However, there were stores representing every major manufacturer, and then some, all wrapped up in a nice, easily accessible package. I definitely recommend a stop here, though like anywhere else, you have to look for the best deals. One recommendation: LL Bean’s home store is fabulous, but the best deals are in its discount store, which is off the main drag. Just ask, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
From Freeport, we headed to Camden, which is considered the quintessential Maine seaport. The most beautiful harbor, the best restaurants, etc….you get the picture. The views did not disappoint, the town is wonderful, but the prices are high, as are the crowds. Its best to really study the best hotel deals prior to arrival. As usual, AAA and Frommer offer the best information as to where to stay and eat.
Maine really is a beautiful state, and well worth the visit, but if you travel to Camden, then it is essential to head just one hour north to New England’s only national park, Acadia. Located just outside another great port/town (Bar Harbor), Acadia is heavily visited, but very much worth the effort. Acadia is 47,000 acres in size, with granite- domed mountains, woodlands, numerous lakes and ponds, and beautiful shoreline. While it has some terrific views, great hikes, and a town in Bar Harbor whose food and ambience can’t be beat, the best part of Acadia are two easily-done activities: the drive around the Park loop road, and mountain biking the carriage trails.
The Park Loop Road traverses the entire park, providing many panoramic vistas, and giving the visitor a great feel for all of Acadia’s many beautiful sites. You can drive the road in just a few hours.
The other attraction, and our favorite, was a bike ride on the carriage trails. These trails were constructed by Acadia’s great benefactor, John D. Rockefeller, around the turn of the century, and were intended for horse carriages. Made of crushed stone, they are an engineering marvel, and traverse over 45 miles of the park. Their easy grade make them perfect for a family mountain bike ride. You can pedal through some of the most beautiful areas of the park, past ponds and lakes, through lush forests of pine and fir trees, and over meadows full of wildflowers. Our family, basically non-bike riders, found this to be the best part of the entire vacation. The bikes are easily rented in Bar Harbor for a reasonable price, and you can ride right into the park from the town. This is a must for anyone visiting the park who is in some semblance of physical shape.
From Acadia, we traveled north and west through the countryside of Maine, backtracking our way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Our first stop was Mount Washington, which has two great reasons to visit: 1) The highest recorded wind speed in the world was recorded here, an amazing 233 miles per hour! The mountain averages hurricane force winds over 100 days per year. 2) The Mount Washington Auto Road.
The Auto Road was constructed just after the civil war, and has been in continuous use ever since. It is a white-knuckle drive to the top of the mountain, and requires you to stay in low gear throughout. However, once at the summit, you are at the highest point in New England, with a potential view of six states, amidst a mountain that has arctic like terrain, and generates its own weather. In fact, we left a sunny, warm day in the 80s below to find a sometimes foggy, windy 48 degrees at the summit. The kids loved the trip, and I certainly considered it one of our highlights. Mount Washington, for the record, is at the confluence of two major jet streams, which makes its weather highly volatile, and leads to the incredible winds.
We stayed the night in North Conway, NH, which proved to be an even better outlet mall destination than Freeport Maine, basically because the choices were very good, and the prices were far lower. I would strongly suggest this location as a destination for any New England trip, if just for the shopping and the trip to Mount Washington.
The next day, we headed for Burlington Vermont. The route out of North Conway took us to the Kancamangus Scenic Byway, one of New England’s most beautiful drives. There are numerous pullouts along this 40 mile roadway, where you are a short hike from granite gorges and waterfalls galore. The entire road is heavy with pine forests, and is worth taking the time to drive. Just north of the “Kanc” is Franconia Notch, home to the Flume Gorge. The “Flume” is a state-run park, and is an easy, beautiful hike to views of steep granite walls and the flume itself, which is a great gorge thrust into the side of Mt. Liberty in the White Mountains. It is very much worth the hike and the price.
From here, we headed across Vermont to Burlington. This was a classicly beautiful New England drive, one which was gorgeous in Summer, and must be indescribable in high Fall season. The drive takes you near Stowe, which is Vermont’s most famous ski resort.
Burlington is home to the University of Vermont, and its best features are the long walking street upon which are set numerous sidewalk cafes and shops. Burlington sits astride Lake Champlain, which has all sorts of water activities, and is just beautiful to look at. Burlington is also a mere hour and a half from Montreal, Canada, and so is a good jumping off point for a visit north of the border. We had to save that for another trip, however.
We enjoyed Burlington, though it wasn’t as special as the other venues we visited. Part of the reason was that we were somewhat burnt out on gorgeous New England landscapes.
The next day, we drove all the way back to Ft. Wayne, traveling through upstate New York, including the Ft. Ticonderoga region. Upstate New York was surprisingly pretty, especially along Lake Champlain, and we could see why it is such a popular destination for visitors. The drive took us 15 hours, too long, really, but it was enjoyable, and capped off another great vacation for our family.
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