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Moon Handbooks: Acadia National Park

Author : Hilary Nangle
Published : 2012-05-22

The winter months are a great time to research next summer's vacations, and if you're considering Acadia National Park, well, Moon Handbooks has an updated guide for you to use in conjunction with Traveler's own mini-guide to the park.

Written by Hilary Nangle, a Maine native, this is the fourth edition of the guide. Receiving promotional billing from the PR department are "three-day" portraits of the best the national park has to offer, a section on how to keep kids happy on Mount Desert Island, a tour of artists and art galleries, and a curious section dubbed "Lobster, Lighthouses, and L.L. Bean."

Having written a book about national parks and kids, I must admit the section on keeping kids happy at Acadia is a bit disappointing. Not only is it limited to just one page, but it tries to lure you out of the park and to commercial enterprises, candy stores, and even an improv. While this page does mention some good family hikes, it does so in passing, without any details.

The section on "Lobsters, Lighthouses, and L.L. Bean" provides an itinerary that allows you to "hit the three L's in the Acadia region." The itinerary covers seven nights and eight days and takes you from the national park to L.L. Bean's factory store with, of course, some lighthouses sighted along the way.

This approach, though, seems to feed right into our overwhelming ADD epidemic. Do we really want to be told to do the following on Day 1: "Make your first stop on Mount Desert the Acadia National Park visitors center to purchase your park pass, pick up a copy of the Beaver Log, and chat with a ranger. In the evening, head to Thurston's Lobster Pound for the Real Thing, a lobster dinner with all the fixings"?

Or do we want some deeper insights to help navigate and enjoyably explore the park over the course of a full day? This approach likely isn't the fault of Ms. Nangle, but rather the approach Moon and other big guidebook publishers take with most, if not all, of their guidebooks. (I speak from experience).

The "Three-Day Best of Acadia National Park" also is shallow. It points you in various directions, but gives short shrift to the underlying reasons for visiting these places. Can you really adequately outline a three-day itinerary to this wondrous park and its island in four paragraphs? What's to be found in the Abbe Museum at Sieur de Monts Springs, Thunder Hole, or the Jordan Pond House? The answers lie further into the book, but why make the reader jump around?

Page past these contrived sections and you'll find the deeper, richer content that travelers seek in exploring new destinations. In-depth sidebars, such as one on John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his carriage paths, are sprinkled throughout the chapters. Here's a snippet from the page-long sidebar on the carriage paths:

Distinctive feaures of the roads are 17 handsome rough-stone bridges (with single, double, and triple arches; no two are alike), 16-foot-wide broken-stone roadbeds that required more hours of labor than anyone could count, and tasteful carved trail markers. A holdover from Rockefeller's previous carriage road experience was the use of roadside borders of squared-off granite coping stones -- known at Acadia as "Mr. Rockfeller's teeth."

That's the kind of colorful and insightful detail travelers should have.

The guide's hiking section also is well-done, with at-a-glance information on the distance of a hike, how long it might take you, whether there's any elevational gain, effort required, and where to find the trailhead. This information is followed by a short, but concise, description of the hike.

Appropriately, the sidebar here focuses on Friends of Acadia and their fund-raising efforts to pay for trail maintenance and the park's Ridge Runner program that helps maintain the trails.

Sections on lodging and dining in and around the park also are informative and help you choose between family-friendly eateries and higher-end, more romantic spots for just the two of you.

The book grows beyond Mount Desert Island to take in surrounding communities, such as the Blue Hill Peninsula, Ellsworth and Trenton, and Deer Isle and Isle au Haut.

In short, this is a good guide to orient you to the ins and outs of Mount Desert Island, the park, and the supporting communities. Just don't buy it if you think it has all the answers for keeping your kids entertained.

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