Two travellers, one dog and a 2006 Roadtrek camper van: Josephine Matyas and Craig Jones hit the road to explore the upper New England states.
The fall foliage has been uncooperative. Or perhaps it’s our planning that’s a few weeks out of whack. In any case, our camping trip across the New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine has gifted us with sweeping panoramas of (green) forests with nary an orange, yellow or red leaf in sight.
But—as a writer and musician—we are nothing if not creative. Quick change of plan. The upper New England states are worth a visit year round for parklands, history and regional culinary specialties (ice cream and seafood were calling to us).
Travelling west to east (the first leg of our fall trip to Prince Edward Island) it was unthinkable to cross Vermont without making stops at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory and Cabot Creamery, both just north of the small village of Waterbury. Ben and Jerry are the tie-dyed duo who turned a $5 correspondence course in the craft of making ice cream into one of the nation’s largest producers of the addictive cold treat. They’ve since sold the company to a larger corporation but the tasty ice cream and their leftie social justice agenda seems to have lived on.
A few kilometres north of Ben & Jerry’s is the Cabot Creamery, a cooperative of Northeast farm families who band together to produce a dizzying variety of cheese. In-the-know visitors arrive on an empty stomach and graze around the tasting bar where cubes of cheese are piled in little bowls for sampling. Like others, we tasted, selected, bought and stocked our fridge with enough cheese to clog our arteries.
Tucked into the northeast corner of the state (just outside St. Johnsbury) is Dog Mountain, a popular tourist attraction aimed at dogs and their faithful owners. Dogs are welcome to roam the hillside, fields, pond and walking trails. Dog Mountain was once the studio location of the artist, author and woodcarver, the late Stephen Huneck, known for his series of colourful books featuring Sally, his beloved Labrador retriever. Our highlight was the small, hand-crafted chapel—light streamed in the stained glass windows, with every square inch of wall space covered in hand-written notes and photographs; scraps of memories and emotions written from visitors to their canine companions. They are called the Remembrances of Dogs Loved and Lost. We left with tears in our eyes.
New Hampshire lights up the eyes of Canadian shoppers dazzled by the state’s zero per cent state sales tax. Shopping is near the bottom of our to-do list but we were enthralled by the wilderness and the opportunities for outdoor activities like canoeing, skiing and hiking. It seems the signs warning of moose encounters on the roadways outnumber the speed limit signs. Despite the prolific signage, we cannot report any sightings of alces alces.
Northern Maine is also known for its population of moose (still no sightings). Dejected by strikeouts on both the fall foliage and the iconic Maine wildlife, we decided to switch to our sure-fire defaults: more ice cream and a healthy dose of politics and history. Maine serves up all in spades.
Gifford’s Ice Cream is a Maine institution. Diners have to dig deep to face the caloric count (portions are huge but prices are not). We managed to “research” two of the state’s five Gifford’s ice cream stands (in Skowegan and Bangor); they’re all family-owned, scooping more than one million cones each summer.
There was a little border hopscotching involved to stop in at Roosevelt Campobello International Park. The coastal island park is actually in New Brunswick but accessed by a small bridge from the Maine shoreline. Funded equally by the U.S. and Canadian governments, the park preserves Campobello, the summer “cottage” and setting cherished by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, social activist Eleanor Roosevelt.
The 10,237-sqft cottage has been meticulously restored, complete with many original furnishings and artifacts, including FDR’s trademark hat and pipe. This was the summer home the future president knew as a child—after his polio diagnosis at age 39 he rarely visited—but it was also a summertime home setting for Eleanor and their five children.
The short film, archival photos and documents as well as the excellent docents brought us up to speed on the Great Depression, FDR’s New Deal, the challenges of the era and the radical commitment to civil and worker’s rights and social justice embraced and championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Wanting to know more about this ground-breaking first lady, we sat in on the morning “Tea With Eleanor”—orange pekoe and ginger snaps served—where the docents entertained and informed us about the first lady’s life, beliefs and her greatest accomplishments (of which there are many, not least shepherding the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
NEXT: Acadia National Park
It was a challenge leaving behind Campobello, but we had one more must-do stop: Acadia National Park, a short drive to the south. Back over the small bridge—goodbye New Brunswick, hello again, Maine—south along the Coastal Route 1 until we reached the tourist town of Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia, one of the National Park Service’s smaller properties but one near the top in visitation.
Bar Harbor has its own long list of attractions worth a stop: lobster boat tours, more ice cream shops, seafood restaurants aplenty, lighthouses and the excellent Abbe Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate focusing on the history and ever-evolving culture of the Wabanaki nations.
Although throngs of people visit Acadia National Park in high summer, things slow down considerably in the shoulder season. The park is made up entirely of land donated by socialite families like the Rockefellers, many of whom maintained family summer homes in the area. Visitors come in late summer to pick the low bush Maine wild blueberries and hike the rocky coastline and the many forest trails. In the fall the park’s ash and maples splash the hillsides in red and orange. Alas, not yet for us. Maybe next time.
If you go: www.visittheusa.ca for planning information
Check out Josephine and Craig’s website devoted to their travels and writing: www.travelswithrigby.com. It includes information on RV travel, how to buy an RV, dog-friendly travel, food and music destinations.