Family Travel: Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mount Desert Island
Gorham Mountain rises directly from the Atlantic. Fog is common and produces haunting views. Photo by Bruce Edward Litton

When I thought of Maine, I usually imagined places that were inaccessible to my family and me. Since we are often constrained by limited time, a tight budget and don’t own an SUV, the backwoods Brook Trout Pond, located in the interior and western sections of the state my son and I would have liked to fish, remained off limits. Nevertheless, we have trekked up from New Jersey near the Maine coast twice in recent years. The environments we’ve explored were no less than stunning.

One of our family’s favorite destinations is Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine. Though Mount Desert Island receives nearly half a million visitors each year, solitude isn’t difficult to find. Hiking Bubble Mountain’s double peaks in the middle of the afternoon, we ran into few other people. When we did, pleasant greetings made the encounters positive. When we left Mount Desert Island for a day to visit Isle au Haut — transported by mail boat — we met only one other family on Duck Harbor Trail.

Acadia National Park encompasses 2728 acres of this magnificently remote, 7424-acre island. Dozens of smaller islands are in view from rocky shores studded with smooth stones that look like dinosaur eggs. To get there and hike is an effort most Acadia visitors don’t exert, and at least with regard to quiet, one of the very best anyone can make. The Black Dinah chocolate shop is a treat, too.

Mount Desert Island
Seawall is strewn with sea-worn stones that fascinate for their regularity. Photo by Bruce Edward Litton

Acadia comprises 47 square miles of Mount Desert Island, and though every town and village is worth a visit, Bar Harbor is a world class destination. Restaurants in villages like Southwest Harbor, Manset and Northeast Harbor offer unique menus in homey venues. We even ate at a fire station lobster bake in Somesville. Art galleries everywhere double as residences, adding to the quaintness of this seaside area. Mount Desert Island is worth a van trip for the art alone.

It’s a place like no other on the planet for photography. Rather than lug a tripod and heavy camera bag hiking many miles of terrain, places like Otter Cliffs, Seawall and Ship Harbor involve a mile walk at most. Photographers strive to catch light at dawn, sometimes with thin fog, resulting in world-renowned images. Nothing beats being within the rugged contours of blue spruce and white and pitch pine, which flourish like coppery flames, flushing away any awareness of nearby travelers.

My son reminded me of what I knew as a boy. We drove to Seawall and I commenced photographing Matt in action. My family had encountered perhaps two other people I don’t distinctly remember. Matt reached for a sea urchin in a tidal pool. I saw calm, pellucid brine give way to his hand sinking only wrist-deep, and I experienced an awakening. The little things that you have to slow down and look for stick in your memory even more than awe-inspiring vistas. The big places tend to get reduced to stereotypic expectations, if already viewed in half a dozen photographic representations before visited.

Mount Desert Island
Matt Litton reaches into a tidal pool to fetch a sea urchin. Photo by Bruce Edward Litton

However, what I recommend is not as simple as to pick and choose among the blueberries and belladonna — avoid the latter! Belladonna is deadly poison. To give a benign example, the central town attraction is named after a muddy bar exposed at low tide entirely spanning Bar Harbor proper, the deep briny environment where ocean liners moor near the mouth.

We didn’t know that at first. For all we knew, Bar Harbor derived its name from the classy joints along the streets. Though some of us would like America to be more hip, we end up facing the reality that towns derive names from geographical features before partyer’s venues. My family stumbled on the bar at low tide and immediately abandoned all other plans to venture out. Matt got muddy up to his thighs from venturing out on soft bottom and into water. We found starfish, one of them bright bluish purple, another orange about a foot in diameter. We examined the water line closely and made many interesting finds including urchins and large periwinkles. The best mussels huge, I selected each specially. I filled my light jacket’s deep pockets — very chilly that evening — with mussels we later steamed. They were delicious.

We found this starfish while walking at low tide the bar at Bar Harbor. Photo by Bruce Edward Litton

As we hiked Day Mountain, I found a distinctive piece of pink granite, which is beautiful to photograph. Pink granite can be seen almost anywhere on Mount Desert Island. Quarries extract it for sale on down the East Coast. It was even used for the Congressional Library, the Philadelphia Mint and the Brooklyn Bridge. The thought can give you pause, considering how close to nature our cities really come.

Mount Desert Island’s largest peak, Cadillac Mountain, is almost entirely formed of pink granite. I found a whole mountain made of this beautiful rock an awesome image, yet rather than take in a mountain at first glance, look at your feet. Absorb yourself in whatever eventually interests you. It’s play. Something will surprise the mind for its significance. After a few episodes at ground level, larger vistas become more present for the wholesome qualities they do, in fact, hold.

It’s a process. Limit to yourself to little things and you’ll do no better than a cursory look at the sea. The likes of anything that draws attention inward will release perception back outward to take in larger scenes more for what they are: comprised of lots of little pieces.

If You Go

Eden Village Motel & Cottages:

Bar Harbor Maine Vacation Rental:

Bar Harbor Maine Vacation Rentals: Summer House:

Cabins & Cottages—Acadia Magic: www.acadiamagic/acadia–lodging/cabins_cottages

The Hancock County—Bar Harbor Airport:

Author Bio: Bruce Edward Litton lives in Bedminster, New Jersey, with his wife, Patricia, and son, Matthew. He and his family make every opportunity to travel.



Previous articleCharming Châteaux: The Best of the Loire Valley, France
Next articleStone-Walled Paths to Discovery in San Sebastian