Once we decided to skip camping in New Hampshire, we entered a sweet and gentle world meandering through New England on our way to Portland, Maine. As much as we loved the gorgeous hardwood forests that surrounded us at Jeanne and Alan’s place, we were beginning to notice that traveling through these beautiful forests is like driving through what Jeanne and Alan and their New England friends call the “Green Tunnel”.
The trees are beautiful, a brighter shade of green than our somber western conifer forests, and yet there aren’t many places along the highways where you can see much of the landscape, and the expansive views are few and far between. This morning driving from Vermont through New Hampshire and into Maine was the first time we longed for a bit of open space to actually see some of the worlds around us.
210 miles of a meandering green tunnel and 3 states.
The morning was gorgeous, the temperature was just right, and the skies opened up as we drove into a beautiful sunny day. As we approached the eastern edge of Vermont, we reached an iconic location, the Vermont Country Store. I have received those little newspaper print catalogs for years. Of course we would stop! The problem was that when we arrived it was only 9:30 and the store didn’t open until 10.
I wandered the grounds a bit, took some photos through the windows, and went back to Mo saying, “I really need to visit this store, let’s wait”. With an easy 210-mile day ahead of us, it was a simple decision.
The grounds are beautiful with a historic covered bridge relocated at the property and a working water wheel that once operated a grain mill.
Once the store opened, we wandered the rooms filled with all sorts of goodies that are featured in the catalog. The fluffy nightgowns, flannel jackets, cute shirts, and dresses were wonderful, and I succumbed to purchasing a cute dress and a gorgeous tee shirt. Not made in China!
We perused the tools, the kitchen section, the entire wall of Vermont maple syrups, and another entire room of Christmas goodies. It was a great stop and one we hadn’t planned even though it was often mentioned in “things to see” as one travels Vermont.
Blurry window shot of our crossing into New Hampshire.
After this lovely morning stop, we continued on our way east. We crossed the Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire before I could get a photo of the state sign. We can now officially add the New Hampshire sticker to our map on the MoHo. Our personal rules don’t require an overnight stay in a state to put it on the map. This was a good thing since it took us about 20 minutes to cross Rhode Island a few days later and there was no way we would camp there.
New Hampshire was a bit of a blur, with curvy, narrow roads for much of the distance to Portsmouth, and then a mix of freeways and tollways that added a bit of confusion to the drive. Somehow we missed the correct lane and instead of going through the lane that said cash accepted with the green x we went through an EZPass lane. Oops. We don’t have an EZPass. I thought we were in Maine and called the number on the roadside signs, and after a long wait was told they had no record of us passing through a toll booth in Maine and that maybe I should call New Hampshire. I did register our license plate on the website, and somehow this registration worked for another toll pass much later in the trip and just a couple of days ago we got a charge for $5.50 for a mail-only toll in Illinois. Not bad!
The Piscataqua River is the boundary between New Hampshire and Maine at Portsmouth, but when we crossed it I had no clue it was a tidal river only 12 miles long. It seemed very big. Our destination was a lovely private campground on the edge of the beautiful Scarborough Marsh, in the town of Scarborough, just 7 miles south of the city of Portland. We learned about Wild Duck Campground thanks to Laurel’s wonderful post about their visit to Portland, Maine. Laurel and Eric always travel slowly, savoring all that an area has to offer. I loved reading about all they did, but we had to make an attempt to see the very best of what we could. We had only two nights and one full day to enjoy Portland.
We settled in for the evening, with a collection of brochures about what to see and do in Portland. Our internet worked perfectly for a change, allowing us to do even more research. How to see everything? What to do? After a bit of discussion, we decided that visiting the downtown part of Portland might be more than we could handle because what we really wanted to see was the rocky Maine coast, the lighthouses, and the marsh.
I had an epiphany while reading. We were on the East Coast, with the sun rising over the Atlantic. I found the sunrise time, checked the maps, and determined that we would need to leave the campground by 5:45AM to be at the lighthouse for sunrise. For us, living most of our lives in the west and watching Pacific Ocean sunsets, this was a big deal. It was worth getting up at 5 and donning windbreakers and hats to face the early morning chill.
We arrived at the park in plenty of time, meandering through winding roads and neighborhoods of gorgeous homes and huge trees. Arriving at Fort Williams State Park on Cape Elizabeth, we discovered a locked park entry gate. Panic!! Now what? There were a few people around at that early time of day, and we continued north along the road to discover the actual entrance to the winding road leading to the Portland Head Light. Sheesh!
It was a special moment for both of us, and a highlight of our trip east. Watching the sun rise and illuminate the historic lighthouse and the rocky coast was such a thrill.
Next on our list of things not to miss in the area was a visit to the Holy Donut. Famous for their gourmet potato donuts, we found a storefront near our campground in Scarborough. They were delicious, although I might not need to return and pay $24 bucks for 6 donuts. We had to try all the fall offerings, including the cider donuts and the apple cinnamon donuts. They were big, fluffy, and filling and we could barely eat one!
Our plan for the day included time at the Marsh, with a visit to the Audubon Center located just across the marsh from our campground. Sadly, the center was closed for the season, but there were a few bits of information about the largest salt marsh in Maine, and the bike trailhead just a mile east was filled with cars.
We noticed that Portland seems to be a place where people love to walk, run, and bike. What a great place to live! At least in the summer. I could easily see spending an entire summer and maybe some of fall in Portland, with time to slow down and enjoy all that it has to offer. Not sure I would want to live there in the winter with snow, blizzards, and occasional hurricanes.
After wandering along the roads through the marsh, we started looking for beaches. Our main destination was Old Orchard Beach, rated best for families and dogs, and on this early fall day, we didn’t expect it to be terribly crowded. We were rewarded with gorgeous sand that made Mattie very happy.
While traveling the beach route, we discovered the well-reviewed Lobster Shack at Two Lights on the Rocky Shores at Cape Elizabeth. Not only did it have a fabulous view of the dark blue Atlantic it was also in the vicinity of two of the lighthouses that we planned to visit.
The line for ordering wasn’t terribly long, and once we ordered, the wait was another half hour or so. When we first arrived the place was very busy, with full tables, and by the time we finished our lunch around 3 or so, it was nearly empty.
I had a lobster roll, only the second one I have had in my life, first one was in Bar Harbor Maine a dozen years ago. This was delicious, and the lobster was sweet and tender done the traditional way with toasted white bread and lots of mayo. Yummy!! Mo isn’t a lobster fan and had fish and chips which was just OK. Nothing like my lobster roll! We had hoped for a beer to accompany our lunch, but the place sells no alcohol.
It was windy and a bit chilly, but we lingered to enjoy the view.
Cape Elizabeth Light at Two Lights State Park
Visiting the lights at Two Lights was an easy drive from the shack, although neither light was open for tours. The Cape Elizabeth Light was visible from the parking lot of the Lobster Shack where Mo and I decided we should return for lunch. Somehow I didn’t get a good photo of the second light in that location. It was in a residential area and getting photos wasn’t easy to do.
After lunch, we traveled back toward South Portland to visit two more lighthouses. Our goal for the day was to see all five lighthouses on the rocky coast near Portland.
The “Bug Light” was the cutest of all of them, located on the southern edge of Portland Bay at a huge grassy park where people relaxed and played fetch with their dogs. We could see the city from our vantage point and knew that our original plan to continue into downtown Portland after visiting this light might not be the best idea. Mo and I had both been to the Commercial District in Portland on our New England cruise a few years ago, where there are great restaurants and delightful shops.
View of Portland from Bug Light Park
Our day had been perfect, and we had no need to eat or shop. Instead, we meandered through the gorgeous Scarborough neighborhoods toward home.
It was time for some relaxation and a campfire. The day was beautiful and despite never getting to downtown Portland, we were happy with our choice to focus on the natural beauty of the Maine Coast during our one precious day in Maine.