Fun Things to Do on a Vacation Visit to Rockland, Maine

 Posted by on August 29, 2013  Comments Off
Aug 292013
 

Rockland, Maine is a delightful vacation destination on Maine’s mid-coast that is the process of being transformed from a fishing and shipbuilding hub to a family friendly tourist hot spot.  Just a block away from the waterfront, warehouses and commercial buildings are being turned into boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.  The highly regarded Farnsworth Art Museum occupies several buildings in the downtown.  The Museum features American art and is home to the one of the country’s  largest collections of the paintings of the Wyeth family.  Daily ferries run to Vinalhaven and to North Haven from the Maine State Ferry Terminal located on the Rockland waterfront.

Grey seals and lobster boats are common sights in Rockland Harbor

Grey seals and lobster boats are common sights in Rockland Harbor

We were in town to take a windjammer cruise aboard the Schooner Isaac Evans, but arrived a day early to check out the scene.  We were delighted by the quality of accommodations, food and things to do.  The high point of our land-based explorations was taking a walk on the 8/10th of a mile long Rockland Harbor Breakwater that connects the mainland and Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light.

The Rockland Breakwater extends 4,300 feet into the harbor

The Rockland Breakwater extends 4,300 feet into the harbor

The Rockland Breakwater was built with over 700,000 tons of granite at a cost of $750,000 and took 18 years to complete between 1881-1899.  It was built because  several nor’easter storms in the 1850s caused a great deal  of damage to the inner parts of Rockland Harbor and the city needed to offer a more sheltered environment to encourage growth of its fishing and shipping businesses.  The breakwater is made of enormous granite blocks that were cut precisely to fit and were placed end-to-end in water up to 70 feet deep. Depending on the tide and weather the waves may be washing over the breakwater, or lapping placidly at the sides 20 feet below the top.

Watch your step when hiking the Rockland Breakwater

Watch your step when hiking the Rockland Breakwater

It took us about 25 minutes each way as the gaps between the granite blocks are wide enough that it is wise to pay attention where you are walking to avoid tripping.  For kids, tweens and teens it offers a fun activity and a good way to burn off some energy.  If they go faster than mom and dad they can chill on the rocks that surround the lighthouse before heading back.  We are told it is also a good place to fish although we didn’t see anyone catch anything the day we were there.

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse seen from the water

We stayed one night at the Ledges by the Bay motel, which is located in the town of Rockport just over the border from Rockland — about a 5 minute drive to downtown.  It was clean and our oceanfront facing room had a lovely view.  Each room has a fridge and the motel offers a free continental breakfast.   Upscale travelers and golfers might enjoy the Samoset Resort in Rockland, the expansive grounds looked very inviting.  We also had time to enjoy a couple of meals in town.  We particularly enjoyed the Fog Bar and Café for dinner.  It offers very creative and tasty American cuisine.   For breakfast don’t miss the Home Kitchen Café .  The ice cream and gelato at Lulu’s are amazing.

Don't miss the ice cream and gelato's at Lulu's in Rockland, Maine

Don’t miss the ice cream and gelato’s at Lulu’s in Rockland, Maine

Rockland and nearby Owls Head were fun stops on our mid-coast tour, we could definitely have stayed longer.  We paid our own way and none of the businesses list above knew they would get mentioned here.  If you visit let us know what you think.


Cape Cod Family Fun by Land and By Sea

 Posted by on May 27, 2013  Comments Off
May 272013
 
The Great Island Trail at the Cape Cod National Seashore

The Great Island Trail at the Cape Cod National Seashore

For families with teens and tweens that want to combine a beach vacation with lots of active outdoor  fun, Cape Cod   in Massachusetts is hard to beat.  With more than 550 miles of coastline, including dozens of ocean and bayside beaches, active families will find unlimited opportunities to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, fish and explore – and don’t forget the beautiful beaches too!

For starters, the Cape Cod National Seashore spans 40 miles along the Outer Cape from Eastham to Provincetown including six swimming beaches with lifeguards.  The Salt Pond Visitor Center near Eastham has exhibits and films on the Cape’s geology, history, and landscape and is a good place to pick up maps and information about hiking, biking and other activities.

Hiking is one of our favorite things to do on a Cape Cod family vacation with teens and tweens.  The National Seashore includes some amazing hiking trails that go well off the beaten path.   They range from easy half mile strolls on boardwalks such as the Red Maple Swamp Trail to strenuous beach hikes such as the 6-mile roundtrip Great Island Trail in Wellfleet, where it is important to keep track of the tides to avoid being stranded on sandbars!

The 1900 acre Nickerson State Park in Brewster also has many miles of hiking and bike trails and connects to the Cape Cod Rail Trail which runs 22 miles through Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet.  It is mostly flat, paved and well marked,  and is a fun way for all members of the family to get some exercise.  Barbara’s Bike shop has bike rentals in Brewster and Dennis.

More interested in getting out on the water? Families can rent canoes at Jack’s Boat Rental at Flax Pond in Nickerson State Park.  Cape Cod Waterways has canoe, kayak and electric paddle boat rentals at Swan Pond in Dennis Port.   Great Marsh Kayak Tours offers escorted kayak trips on the Parker River in West Yarmouth and in the Nauset Marsh at the Salt Pond Visitors Center in the Cape Cod National Seashore.

For less strenuous voyages, HyLine Cruises offers daily departures from Hyannis to Martha’s Vineyard as well as tours of the Cape Cod Canal and deep sea fishing trips.  Whale watches depart from Barnstable with   Hyannis Whale Watch Cruises.  The Dolphin Fleet sails whale watches from Provincetown.  The Monomy Island Ferry offers a number of cruises and naturalist tours to see the seals at the Monomy National Wildlife Refuge, located on a small island off the coast of Chatham.  It is a pretty amazing sight.

If teens and tweens are involved in your Cape Cod family vacation plans, be sure to get off the beach and explore the Cape by land and by sea.

Photo courtesy the Cape Cod National Seashore

 

Sep 022012
 

Boston is a highly walkable city with parks and promenades opening up pedestrian access to many parts of the city.  Teens and tweens are the perfect age to enjoy Boston’s more ambitious walks including three of our favorites:

The Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail, marked by a red stripe, follows a 2.5 mile route past many of Boston’s most important landmarks from the Revolutionary War.   It is easy to pick up the trail anywhere along the route but if you want to walk it start to finish the best place to begin is on the Boston Common at the Visitor’s Information Booth on Tremont Street near the Park Street MBTA stop.  From there you will quickly pass by the State House, several famous burying grounds and churches, including the Kings Chapel and The Old South Meeting Hall where the Boston Tea Party originated.

Old Noth Church on Boston Freedom Trail

The Old Noth Church on Boston’s Freedom Trail

From there the trail continues past the Old State House and the site of the Boston Massacre, through Faneuil Hall, and on to the North End — which is home to the Old North Church and a bronze statue of Paul Revere.  Continue down narrow side streets past Copps Hill burying ground and over the bridge to the Charlestown Navy Yard, the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument.    The whole route can take most of an afternoon if you stop to examine every landmark, but it is a great way to bring history to life and get familiar with some of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods.

Paul Revere statue on Freedom Trail

Paul Revere statue seen on Boston’s Freedom Trail in the North End near the Old North Church

The Boston Harborwalk

The  Boston Harborwalk celebrates the restoration of the city’s waterfront following decades of work to reduce water pollution and the completion of the controversial Big Dig project.  The Big Dig  removed an unsightly elevated Expressway that had cut the waterfront off from the rest of the city and provided land for new downtown greenspace.  As the waterfront has shifted from commercial fishing to more residential and tourist friendly activities, the city has made a point to guarantee pedestrian access at many points stretching from Chelsea Creek to the Neponset River, through East Boston, Charlestown, North End, Downtown, South Boston and Dorchester.

Boston Coast Guard Station seen from Harbor Walk

Boston Coast Guard Base seen from the Harborwalk

We recently visited part of the Harborwalk in the North End where is comes within a block or two of the Freedom Trail.  We enjoyed the views of Charlestown across the harbor and stopped for a drink at the waterfront Fairmont  hotel on the recently completed Battery Wharf – next to the still active Coast Guard Base Station.  In addition to purpose-built walkways in areas like the North End, the Harborwalk also connects to existing  trails and open space parkways, including the Emerald Necklace system, the Charles River Esplanade, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway.   It is almost impossible to determine exactly how long the Harborwalk actually is because of the way it meanders and connects with other trails, but, for as long as you care to explore it will offer you lots of options.

The Emerald Necklace

The Emerald Necklace, originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, stretches from the Boston Common and the Public Garden to Franklin Park.  In between it visits many of the Boston’s most beautiful, but not always well known, green spaces including the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway (home of the Muddy River), Jamaica Pond and Harvard’s renowned Arnold Arboretum.

The Emerald Necklace begins on the Boston Common

The Emerald Necklace begins on the Boston Common

The full trail is about 7 miles long and it can be biked or walked.  A visitor center offers tours of sections of the park.  It is located in the Fens areas in the renovated, former Old Stony Brook Gatehouse, designed by H.H. Richardson.  Several areas of the Necklace are accessible via the subway for those who don’t want to explore the entire trail.  If you do decide to travel beyond the Back Bay you will be rewarded by an introduction to many parts of Boston that are not on the regular tourist trail.  Consider renting a boat to sail Jamaica Pond, take a side hike through the Arboretum to see some of the 4,000 different varieties of woody plants and 15,000 trees, shrubs and vines housed there, and don’t forget to check out the zoo in Franklin Park.

Bring Your Walking Shoes to Boston!

Regardless of whether you and your teen are visiting Boston for just a day or longer, try to make time for at least a short walk around town.  And if you have longer, any of Boston’s extended walking explorations provide a great way to get your exercise and see a different side of the city.  And don’t forget that you can rent bikes all over town via the Hubway bike sharing system.  However you get around, let us know what you discover!


Jul 242012
 
Balancing Rock at Bryce Canyon

Balancing Rock at Bryce Canyon

Our recent visit to southern Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks lasted just a few days, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, including side trips to Las Vegas and Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park.  For families that enjoy the outdoors, southern Utah and the surrounding area offer lots of opportunities for exploration at whatever pace works for your family.

So, whether your group involves teens, tweens, grandparents or younger kids, visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks will be remembered for a long time.  Using the Zion-Springdale area as a base camp here is our list of the Top 10 things for families with kids, teens and tween to do.  Visit the links to see our more detailed articles about most of these activities:

  • Start your visit to Zion riding the shuttle buses from Springdale or the Zion Lodge to the end of the Zion Canyon Road.  The quiet propane-powered buses will take you to all the major landmarks while providing a sense of the peaceful setting discovered by the Canyon’s original settlers.
  • Explore the Riverside Walk trail at the end of the bus ride.   The lightly paved Riverside Walk begins at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop.  The trail follows the Virgin River until it disappears into the river itself.  It is a this point that the sides of Zion Canyon quickly close in and the Narrows Trail begins, allowing adventurous hikers to walk through the water for miles deep into the narrowest parts of the canyon in the summer when water levels are low.  The Narrows requires solid preparation and appropriate gear and pay attention to weather reports as flash floods are common.
  • Explore the Emerald Pools.  The trailhead is located just across the road from the Zion Lodge.  It connects to a series of pools and waterfalls.  The first .6 mile length of the trail takes you to the Lower Emerald Pool where a waterfall provides a cooling break.  Those that want more of an adventure can continue onwards and upwards to the Middle and Upper pools before winding their way back to the Zion Lodge.
The Emerald Pools Lower Trail is accessed via a footbridge over the Virgin River located opposite the Zion Lodge

The Emerald Pools Lower Trail is accessed via a footbridge over the Virgin River located opposite the Zion Lodge

  • Walk or bike on the Pa’rus Trail.  A fairly recent addition to the Zion National Park trail system, the Pa’rus  connects the Campgrounds near the Visitor Center, the Human History Museum and the Canyon Junction shuttle bus stop.  Bikes can be rented in Springdale.  This is the only trail in the park that also allows dogs.
  • Enjoy the local ambiance in Springdale.  We loved the small restaurants and the walkable village feel.  Although we stayed in the Zion Lodge, families that want more amenities might do better in Springdale.
  • Don’t miss the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway  and Tunnel and the amazing formations such as Checkerboard Mesa that lie on the other side of the Tunnel.  The switchbacks require a steady driver and those with RVs need to check out the tunnel height restrictions and escort regulations.
  • Budget enough time to see all that Bryce Canyon has to offer.  We fell short here since we only had one day to spend at Bryce Canyon.  We were able to enjoy the major ampitheaters and overlooks and did travel all the way to Rainbow Point at the end of the road, but wish we had the time to hike some of the under the rim trails.
  • Make a side trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park if you are approaching the Parks via Las Vegas.  The park’s 42,000 acres include about 10 miles of paved roads that provide access to a number of highly eroded and unusual features formed from shifting sand dunes millions of years ago.  We particularly enjoyed the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.
Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Elephant Rock in Nevada’s Valley of Fire

  • Make another side trip to visit the Capital Reef National Park, also in southern Utah.  We missed this one and later heard from friends that we should have made the time.  The Park’s defining feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a  nearly 100-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that exposes layers of rock that have been pushed upward along fault lines.   It has one very steep side in an area of otherwise nearly horizontal layers of rock. The rock layers on the west side of the Waterpocket Fold have been lifted more than 7000 feet  higher than the layers on the east.
  • Las Vegas McCarren International airport is a great jumping off point for visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks but, beyond getting the rental car and a quick meal, our advice is to minimize your family time in Las Vegas.  Although there are many fancy hotels, shows and shopping, we still are not convinced it is a great place for kids.  After seeing all of nature’s wonders in the National Parks, the manmade wonders of Las Vegas look like cheap thrills.

It is no secret that we are fans of the National Parks.  Southern Utah offers an amazing collection of great family destinations within a relatively short drive from one another, so, get out the maps, program the GPS,  lace up those hiking boots, and go explore Zion and Bryce Canyon National parks and the surrounding areas soon!


Jun 112012
 

After spending several days amid the beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, we almost skipped the side trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, located about an hour’s drive outside of Las Vegas.  We are glad we decided to take the turnoff at Exit #75 off Interstate 15 and spend a couple of hours among this park’s red sandstone formations.

Welcome to Nevada's Valley of Fire

Welcome to Nevada's Valley of Fire

The park’s 42,000 acres include about 10 miles of paved roads that provide access to a number of highly eroded and unusual features formed from shifting sand dunes millions of years ago.  There is an interpretive visitor center with bathrooms available, but food and water are limited so plan to bring a picnic lunch and make an afternoon of it.

Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

The park also houses petroglyphs from when the Anasazi people lived in the area.  Be sure to climb the metal stairs at Atlatl Rock to get a good view.

Petroglphys at Atlatl Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Petroglphys at Atlatl Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Remnants of a Civilian Conservation Corps work site from the 1930s can be found down a side turnoff.

Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Nevada's Valley of Fire

In mid-April the temperatures approached 90 degrees and the limited available shade was very welcome.  We arrived at the time that many of the wildflowers were blooming along the sides of the roads and trails, adding some color to the bright red landscape.   Even the park’s hardy lizards and ground squirrels were out and about.

Lizard taking in the April sun in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Lizard taking in the April sun in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water when you visit here.  Unless you really like it hot, the park is probably best visited during the winter, spring or fall as summertime highs easily top 120 degrees on many days.

Shade is limited in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Shade is limited in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Camp sites are available as are day use picnic areas.  Lake Mead is nearby but we didn’t get that far this visit.  We had to hit the road to get to Las Vegas in time for the Cirque du Soleil show “O” which features a dozens of swimmers cavorting in a 1.5 million gallon pool – talk about a contrast with the arid Valley of Fire!

The road to Nevada's Valley of Fire

The road to Nevada's Valley of Fire

We hope you enjoyed these photos, we will link them to the next Delicious Baby Photo Friday.


May 092012
 

The Pa’rus Trail at Zion National Park is a recent addition (1995) to the park’s trail system. It connects the Campgrounds near the Visitor Center, the Human History Museum and the Canyon Junction shuttle bus stop.  Since private cars are not allowed to stop along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from April through October, families staying in Springdale generally grab the town shuttle to the Visitor Center than hop on a Park Shuttle for the ride deeper into the Park.  The Pa’rus Trail offers an accessible, dog and baby stroller friendly option to begin or end your visit with an hour long  1.7 mile one way stroll criss-crossing Oak Creek, Pine Creek and the Virgin River.   Bikes can be rented from Zion Outfitter located near the Visitor Center, sharing a parking lot with the Giant Screen Theater.

Zion National Park's Pa'rus Trail criss-crosses the Virgin River and nearby creeks

Zion National Park's Pa'rus Trail criss-crosses the Virgin River and nearby creeks

The word Pa’rus means “bubbling, tumbling water” and this walk definitely lives up to its name.   This lower section of the river is more controlled than the upper reaches seen on the Riverside Walk.   A trailside exhibit points out the remains of an old dam and explains how water from the river still supplies nearby Springdale.    The design of the trail keeps the water in view as you navigate several footbridges along the way.

Strolling the Pa'rus Trail

Strolling the Pa'rus Trail

Due to the fact that there is little shade, this is a trail best done on cooler days or in the morning or evening on hot days.   We visited in the late afternoon on a warm spring day and found the trail almost empty except for a few very polite bike riders.  We are told it can be pretty busy on a summer morning however.  As with all the trails in Zion National Park, the Pa’rus offers one stunning view after another.  The cliffs at this end of the canyon are not as steep or as sharp as those closer the Narrows but are beautiful in their own way.

Along the Pa'rus Trail

Along the Pa'rus Trail

Depending on your plans and energy levels, you can opt to walk a short section of the trail as far as the Museum, keep going to the end of the trail or turn around and stroll back to where you started.   For one way walkers, the shuttle bus stop at the end of the trail offers access to the rest of the sights and trailheads along the Scenic Drive, as well as the option of a quick return to the Park entrance when you are done for the day.

If you have walked on the Pa’rus Trail let us know your thoughts.


May 032012
 

During our recent visit to Zion National Park we explored some of the easier hiking and walking trails including the Emerald Pools Lower Trail, the Pa’rus Trail and the Riverside Walk.  The level, lightly paved Riverside Walk begins at the  Temple of Sinawava shuttle bus stop, the last one along the Canyon road.  The trail travels a mile along the banks of the Virgin River until it disappears into the river itself.  It is a this point that the sides of the Canyon quickly close in and the famous Narrows Trail begins, allowing adventurous hikers to walk through the water for miles deep into the narrowest parts of the canyon in the summer when water levels are low.  In the Spring, the Narrows are off limits but the Riverside Walk is a pleasant jaunt.

The easy Riverside Walk trail provides access to Zion's famous Narrows Hike

The easy Riverside Walk trail provides access to Zion's famous Narrows Hike

Unlike the strenuous Narrows Trail, the Riverside Walk is welcoming to hikers of all ages and abilities.  We enjoyed it in the early evening and had it almost to ourselves.   Lush riparian vegetation such as cottonwoods and elder flourish along this trail due to the reliable water supply and the abundant shade provided by the towering vertical cliffs that can rise 1,000 feet or more overhead.  There is even a small area that qualifies as a swamp.  The impact of a recent spring storm was evident as waterfalls and springs still flowed at some points along the almost sheer Navajo sandstone cliff faces.

Towering Riverside Walk waterfall at Zion National Park

Towering Riverside Walk waterfall at Zion National Park

In areas where the water flows frequently the cliff faces sport multi-color bands of color, the result of moisture leaching different minerals from the red rocks.  Hanging gardens of plants growing right out of the sandstone are common along parts of the trail.

Hanging Gardens on the Riverside Walk

Hanging Gardens on the Riverside Walk

Along there way there are several river access points where you can take off your shoes and dip your toes in the frigid waters if you want to be able to say you walked in the river.

Whatever time of year, the Riverside Walk at Zion National Park offers a pleasant opportunity for families with kids of all ages to explore the Canyon.