If asked to name the two most important attractions of the state of Maine, most visitors would answer – in my recent experience – that they were (1) Acadia National Park, and (2) L.L. Bean. The famous discount shopping outlet had its birth in Freeport, where its original store is a vast, multi-floor structure with every conceivable product, as opposed to the several, smaller, ground-floor outlets in other Maine cities, where clothing – outdoor clothing – is almost the only stock in trade.
Whether in the original store or its offshoots, the bargains are staggering (and I am not a relative of the Beans, with no conceivable interest in their success). On a recent vacation in Maine, I purchased a pair of chinos in an L.L. Bean outlet at an on-sale discount of 50 percent off the original marked-down price of $29.99, thus paying only $15 for a pair of trousers. Half the“Mainers” I have seen on this trip (both men and women) were obviously attired in the rough-and-ready clothing of that famous emporium.
But enough of these crass reasons for visiting Maine. Acadia National Park, the ninth most popular in the U.S. national park system, and the first to be created east of the Mississippi, is a more worthy explanation for the 2 million or so Americans who explore it each year. Blanketed with virtually impenetrable forests, dotted with giant lakes leading to the sea, flanked by awesome mountains with dome-like tops, and easily visited on free buses that take you from place to place, it offers a memorable contact with pure nature.
Many visitors make the trip by boarding one of those free buses from the village green in nearby Bar Harbor, Maine. Often the visit is limited to major lookout points, like at Jordan Pond with a historic outdoor restaurant serving – to accompany nearly every dish – luscious “popovers” smeared with jam and butter. More ambitious Americans go hiking on a multitude of trails through the awesome forest, or go biking on a few of those trails. Camping is confined to two major campgrounds, and visitors are dissuaded from camping on their own within the woods.
The Acadia Park should be seen; it is nearly on par with Yosemite in terms of its sheer beauty. It is found on the sea-surrounded Mount Desert Island in “downeast” Maine, and also extends to a second, smaller and adjacent area across a bay and near such delightful towns as Winter Harbor and Prospect Harbor. The thoughtful tourists will lodge themselves in a rented bungalow in one of the many small villages outside or near to Acadia National Park, and not in the more heavily populated Bar Harbor or Ellsworth.
The State of Maine has a large land area, but a population of only 1,300,000 residents, making it the most lightly populated U.S. state east of the Mississippi. That sparseness lends it a relaxing atmosphere often unavailable to Americans in more crowded areas. And if Acadia and L.L. Bean aren’t sufficient lures, you might also keep in mind its culinary highlights of endless lobsters (they’re emphasized and served everywhere you go, often at remarkably low prices), clams, blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins. While Acadia satisfies the mind and L.L. Bean the purse, lobsters et al. will enchant your worldly tastes.
Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.
Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.