Exploring Around Mount Desert Island
Down one peninsula of the eastern lobe of the island is the staid, prosperous village of Northeast Harbor, long a favorite retreat of well-heeled folks. You can see shingled palaces poking out from the forest and shore, but the village itself (which consists of just one short main street and a marina) is also worth investigating for its art galleries, restaurants, and general store. One of the best, least-publicized places for enjoying views of the harbor is from the understated, wonderful Asticou Terraces (www.gardenpreserve.org; tel. 207/276-3727.). Finding the parking lot can be tricky: Head a half-mile east (toward Seal Harbor) on Route 3 from the junction with Route 198, and look for the small gravel lot on the water side of the road with a sign reading ASTICOU TERRACES. Park here, cross the road on foot, and set off up a magnificent path of local stone that ascends the sheer hillside, with expanding views of the harbor and the town.
Continue on the trail at the top of the hillside, and you’ll soon arrive at Curtis’s cabin (open to the public daily in summer), behind which lies the formal Thuya Garden, which is as manicured as the terraces are natural. This wonderfully maintained garden, designed by noted landscape architect Charles K. Savage (he summered here) in what was once an apple orchard, attracts flower enthusiasts, students of landscape architecture, and local folks looking for a quiet place to rest. The lawns lead to a pavilion and reflecting pool; the gates were hand-carved of cedar. It’s well worth the trip.
Finally, don’t miss the wonderful azalea garden 100 yards down Route 3 (toward Somesville). Run by the same organization as Thuya Garden and the Asticou Terraces, it’s a groomed, Japanese-style wonder of water and plant life—one of my favorite places on the island to wander without getting a cardio workout. There’s no admission charge to any of these three lovely stops, but donations are requested—drop a few bucks in. There’s limited free parking in a lot at both the terraces and the azalea garden.
Head for the Cranberry Islands
From Northeast Harbor, visitors can depart on a seaward trip to the beguilingly remote Cranberry Islands. You have a couple of options: Either travel with a national park guide to Baker Island, the most distant of this small cluster of low islands, and explore the natural terrain; or hop one of the ferries to either Great or Little Cranberry Island and explore on your own. On Little Cranberry there’s a small historical museum run by the National Park Service that’s worth a few minutes. Both islands feature a sense of being well away from it all, but neither offers much in the way of shelter or tourist amenities; travelers should head out prepared for the possibility of shifting weather. Beal & Bunker (tel. 207/244-3575) runs mail boats to the islands from Northeast Harbor, while Cranberry Cove Boating Co. (www.downeastwindjammer.com; tel. 207/244-5882 or 207/460-1981) runs a regular ferry schedule from Southwest Harbor and Manset. Figure on $25 to $32 round-trip per adult, $15–$20 for children. Be sure to check boat schedules carefully before setting off to the Cranberries to ensure that you don’t miss the last ferries back to Mount Desert; there are very limited accommodations out here.
When leaving Northeast Harbor, think about a quick detour out to Sargent Drive. This one-way route runs through Acadia National Park along the shore of Somes Sound, affording superb views of the glacially carved inlet. On the far side of Somes Sound, there’s good hiking and the towns of Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor, both home to fishermen and boat-builders. Though the character of these towns is changing, they’re still far more humble than Northeast and Seal harbors.
In Southwest Harbor look for the intriguing Wendell Gilley Museum of Bird Carving (www.wendellgilleymuseum.org; tel. 207/244-7555), on Route 102 just north of town. Housed in a new building constructed specifically to display the woodcarvings, the museum contains the masterwork of Wendell Gilley, a plumber who took up carving birds as a hobby in 1930. His creations, ranging from regal bald eagles to delicate chickadees, are startlingly lifelike and beautiful. The museum offers woodcarving classes for those inspired by the displays, and a gift shop sells fine woodcarvings. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm June to October, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm in late May, November, and December. The museum is closed January to April, when it offers craft workshops. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children 5 to 12—but free Saturday mornings in July and August, and all day on Wendell Gilley’s birthday (Aug 21).
Sports & Outdoor Activities
CANOEING: Mount Desert’s ponds offer scenic if limited canoeing; most have public boat access. Canoe rentals are available at the north end of Long Pond (the largest pond on the island, at 3 miles long) in Somesville from National Park Canoe & Kayak Rental ([ww.nationalparkcanoerental.com; tel. 207/244-5854). The cost is about $37 for 3 hours, $22 if you go out for sunset, or $61 for the whole day.
GOLF: The Northeast Harbor Golf Club (tel. 207/276-5335; www.nehgc.com) is an attractive choice for golfers. Greens fees range from $45 to $85 per person for 18 holes; to find the course, drive all the way through the small downtown, then turn right on Manchester Drive, which takes you to the course. Alternately, a few miles north of town as you come south on Route 3/198, exit right onto Sargent Drive and continue 1/2 miles to the course.