Mount Desert Island – Acadia National Park, Maine (part I)

After a wonderful week exploring maritime Canada, we crossed back into our home country for the final few days of our vacation. Our destination – Acadia National Park, located on the east central coast of Maine. This relatively small park has three disconnected sections: Isle au Haut, the Schoodic Peninsula, and Mount Desert Island. Mount Desert Island is the largest, most developed, and by far the most popular section of the park. This is where we went.

We only had 2 days to spend in Acadia, and I can say with certainty that this was not enough. Not even close. Acadia is beautiful, and it quickly became apparent to me that I needed to plan multiple additional vacations to Maine.

(This was 4 years ago. Currently, the vacations are planned but have yet to be executed. Oops.)

Anyway, after a 5-hour drive from New Brunswick, we entered Mount Desert Island from the north, which is the only way to reach the island by car. A long bridge connects the mainland to the tiny Thompson Island (home to a visitor information center) and then Mount Desert Island.   Continue reading

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Snails and seashells and kelp, oh my! – Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

After our wonderful adventures on Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island, it was time to head back to the Canadian mainland and explore another park.

Fundy National Park is located in southern New Brunswick on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. In addition to being a neat area, the Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides. The difference between high and low tide is nearly 40 feet (12 meters)! Naturally, this is the main attraction of the park.

We weren’t actually there for long enough to witness the difference, but we were out on the coast during low tide and could clearly see far above our heads the lines marking the edge of the water during high tide.

We set up camp at Chignecto Campground. There are campgrounds on the bay that are often enshrouded in fog, but Chignecto is back from the water a couple miles and supposedly less foggy. That may have been the case, but everything was still covered in dew in the mornings. Continue reading

Highland Adventures – Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia (part II)

After an incredible hike the previous evening, we were excited to see what the rest of the Cape Breton Highlands had in store for us. And so we packed up camp and set off along the Cabot Trail. That night, we’d be camping on the opposite side of the island, so we had a bit of a drive.

Our first stop was up on top of the Highlands at a bog. I’d spent a few minutes at a bog in Indiana the previous summer but this one was very different. The one in Indiana was much marshier. Of course, it was also in the Midwest rather than atop some bluffs in maritime Canada. This one – the French Mountain Bog – was much less marshy and was home to one particularly interesting species of plant: the pitcher plant. These plants actually catch and eat bugs, much like the Venus fly trap. We didn’t get to see any of them in action, but we did get to take a bunch of pictures of them as we walked the short (0.3 mile) boardwalk loop around the bog. Continue reading

Skyline – Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia (part I)

If Prince Edward Island was near the top of the list of places I never thought I’d go, Nova Scotia was a close second. Before planning this vacation, I didn’t know anything about Nova Scotia except that it’s way out east and the capital is Halifax. But once I saw pictures of Cape Breton Island – the easternmost part of the province – I knew I had to go there. The red sand beaches of PEI were very unique, but Cape Breton was my favorite part of this vacation.

Our ferry from PEI docked in Caribou, Nova Scotia and – after a quick grocery run and super classy picnic lunch on the trunk of my car in the Walmart parking lot – we headed off towards Cape Breton Island. It’s only disconnected from the mainland by a thin stretch of water, but it’s an island nevertheless.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park covers a substantial portion of Cape Breton Island. Traversing the island’s perimeter is the Cabot Trail, a 300-mile road that’s been labeled one of the most scenic in Canada. It’s easy to see why. The road hugs the coast for much of its journey, cut into the side of the bluffs that rise out of the sea forming the Cape Breton Highlands. Continue reading

Red Sand, Green Gables, and the Meeting of Tides – Prince Edward Island

When it came time to start planning summer vacation 2013, we didn’t really know where to start. We knew we wanted to take advantage of me being on the east coast, as this was an area we’d never gotten to explore. But since we weren’t very familiar with the area, we didn’t really have a list of places we wanted to go.

Somehow, we ended up honing in on the Canadian maritime provinces. And thus, our trip was born.

First up: Prince Edward Island (PEI). With traffic and customs, it’s supposed to be about a 12.5-hour drive to PEI National Park, located on the northern coast of the island. When sheets of rain are falling from the sky, however, it becomes a 15-hour drive. And, with the change into the Atlantic Time zone, it may be dark when you arrive. Which is precisely what happened to us.

We headed north out of Connecticut, stopping at rest areas in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine so my sister could put her feet on the ground in these states for the first time. We also stopped at the New Brunswick Welcome Center just across the border from Houlton, Maine, where we got to place the first (and only) map pin in Montana! From there, we followed the Trans-Canada highway through New Brunswick and across the 7.8-mile Confederation Bridge that connects PEI to the mainland. From the bridge, there are supposed to be wonderful views of the Northumberland Strait. Thanks to the rain, we saw absolutely nothing. Continue reading

Summiting a Real New England Mountain – Monadnock State Park, New Hampshire

In June 2013, my roommate (who had just graduated and moved to Massachusetts) called me up to invite me on a camping trip with her fiancé and 3 of their friends. The destination: Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire.

So I packed up what little gear I had and headed up to her house on Friday night. From there, we all crammed into 2 cars and headed up to Monadnock State Park. We arrived fairly early in the day, too early to check into our campsite, in fact. But that wasn’t a problem because we were planning to summit the mountain first.

Interesting fact – Mount Monadnock is actually one of the most summited mountains in the world. Probably due to its fairly central location within New England and the fact that it’s not excessively tall (elevation 3165 feet, prominence 2150 feet) and therefore relatively simple to climb.

Don’t get me wrong – it was still a steep hike. But there isn’t any mountaineering involved, and there are a variety of trails for people of different fitness levels. Continue reading

How To: avoid an awkward encounter with a bear

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’re probably well aware that I love my home state. I’ll defend Montana until the day I die. Well, most of the time. I’m not proud of the fact that we top the list for number of drunk driving-related deaths. I don’t always agree with the majority of the state in terms of politics.

And I’m also not proud that we have such a widespread misconception that one must bring a gun into the backcountry as protection against bears.

Now, I have nothing wrong with people owning a shotgun or going hunting, and this post isn’t meant to start a dispute over gun rights. My point here is that defending oneself against a charging bear by using a gun rarely works. There’s research to back me up on this. One bullet isn’t usually enough to stop a bear and, in the heat of the moment, the chance of actually sinking the bullet into a place that will severely wound or kill the bear is very low. It’s more likely the bear either won’t notice the bullet or you’ll mildly injure it and upset it even more.

Bear spray has a much higher success rate and is therefore a much better option. But of course, doing everything you can to avoid a bear encounter in the first place is really the place to start. Continue reading