The car headed north, weaving along the rocky coastline. We’d chosen the scenic route, rarely a bad choice, unless kids are involved. But on this day, they were amenable. Maybe it was the soothing evergreen forests or the glimpses of the foggy sea that kept them at peace. More likely it was the snacks. Our hour-long drive took us through small towns with working waterfronts and seemed to transport us back to a slower, gentler time and place. We eventually reached the edge of the Earth, or at least our small section of it, as we ventured as far east in the U.S. as our car could take us.
This day, this trip, happened to be my favorite of our entire vacation. Filled with a mix of new explorations and simply soaking in the beauty of our surroundings, along with excited attitudes from our crew. It culminated in a day of pure magic. Not perfection, far from it, but incredible and memorable nonetheless.
Here were a few of our favorites from our most northeastern exploration:
Though the forecast had not called for rain, when we pulled up on the spit of land that is the Easternmost point of the contiguous United States, a soft shower surrounded us. Undeterred, we hopped from the car and headed toward the cheerful candy-striped lighthouse that beckoned us to the ocean’s edge. The nice thing about visiting in a shoulder season, going further north than most ventured, and braving the elements was that we had the place almost to ourselves. West Quoddy Head Lighthouse offered us a glimpse into the past, imagining life in 1858 when the brightly-striped tower and the light it shone was the only thing keeping ships from an ill-fated meeting with the treacherous rocks below. Though the lighthouse museum wasn’t open, we enjoyed exploring the grounds; the kids asking questions about lighthouses and taking silly pictures. Through the mist, the Gulf of Maine seemed to expand endlessly, the Canadian cliffs of Grand Manan Island shrouded in the distance.
Wandering through the wetness, we came upon the Coastal Trail within Quoddy Head State Park, which snaked along the rocky ledges, overlooking stunning ocean views with slim waterfalls cascading from the cliffside. I thought I would have to convince the kids (and my husband) to brave the weather, but as a happy surprise, everyone happened to be up for a hike. And it was well worth it. Hiking is my happy place, and this short but sweet one was one of my favorites ever. The rain made it exciting and magical, elevating the overall sensory experience. The sound of raindrops hitting the rocks, the feel of the cool wetness on our skin as we climbed and damp moss beneath our curious fingertips, the taste of the salty air, the smell of evergreen trees coming to life, the sight of bright green contrasting the cool grey and soothing blue. Circling back towards the car, we ventured through a stunning peat bog that looked like something out of a fairytale, with its intricate moss and meandering streams. But the best sights and sounds of all were the kids: laughing, jumping, climbing, dancing, and showing off new tricks as we made our way down the trail. Their energy was infectious and reminded me of the truth of the old adage: “There’s no such thing as bad weather.”
2. Stepping into History at Roosevelt Campobello International Park
From Quoddy Head, we headed north to a small, unassuming bridge, the border between the U.S. and Canada, to cross onto Campobello Island in NewBrunswick, Canada. Once only accessible by boat, the The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge was constructed in 1962, and Eleanor Roosevelt herself was the first passenger to cross over, going back to her family’s beloved summer home on the island. Today, the former homesite of the president’s family is the impressive Roosevelt Campobello International Park. The park is free and open to the public, offering a variety of tours, activities, and experiences for visitors to learn about a different side of this famed family’s life. We enjoyed taking a tour of the Roosevelt Cottage, preserved with countless historic elements, that amused and confused the kids. The provided the kids with a fun scavenger hunt that transported us back to life a century ago. Our favorite program by far, though, was Eleanor’s Tea. Hosted by the most friendly and knowledgeable guides, we were served delicious homemade molasses cookies and King Cole tea, while learning about the life of Eleanor Roosevelt as the hosts told unheard stories and interesting anecdotes. The little girl in me loved the tea party experience, and it was so fun to share that with my own daughters. They were elated to plop sugar cubes in their tea and eat seemingly endless cookies. We didn’t realize that the program was a full hour, so the kids weren’t as interested in the learning portion after a while. But the staff was wonderfully patient and accommodating even with our squirmy littles. And did I mention it’s entirely free? Always a win in our book.
3. Picnicking at Herring Cove
On Campobello Island, there’s no shortage of stunning scenery, and it’s easy to see why the Roosevelts fell in love with the majestic beauty and calming nature of the place. Driving around the island, we pulled off at Herring Cove Provincial Park to enjoy the picnic we’d packed. Another nearly deserted spot, we found a platform perched over the beach with expansive views of the Bay of Fundy. With the overpowering sights of jagged rocks and towering trees and sweeping shorelines, it can be easy to overlook the beauty in the details. But at Herring Cove, the details came to life in the delicate yellow of the wildflowers and the distinct blue-green of the water and the swaying of the seagrasses. It was an ideal spot to simply watch and witness. Though I would have been happy to sit and watch the changing tides for hours, the kids were restless, so fortunately there was a fun playground too. The park also offers camping with a handful of new rustic shelters that have me yearning to return for an international camping trip.
As we headed to the furthest point of Campobello Island, we came upon a small gravel parking area, looking out towards a white lighthouse painted with a bright red cross in the distance. Head Harbour Lightstation, also known as East Quoddy Head Lighthouse, is the Canadian sister to the lighthouse we’d visited earlier in the day, West Quoddy Head. Head Harbor, however, is only land accessible by foot at low tide. (And I have a newfound obsession with low tide land bridges). With a little bit of planning and a lot of luck, we managed to make it to the lighthouse trail with an hour to explore before the tide made the journey untenable with the rising water. The hike out to the lighthouse was somewhat treacherous, especially with a thirty pound sleeping toddler strapped to my back. But our older kids managed it like champs. Across narrow bridges suspended high in the air, down and back up steep stairs that were really more like ladders, over slippery rocks and slimy seaweed. But the hike was well worth it to be out on the small islet surrounded by water and looking out through our binoculars towards the great beyond. We lingered as long as we were allowed, basking in the tranquility of the place, imagining again life as a lightkeeper. And of course, we were the last to leave, the staff chasing us out to ensure we wouldn’t become stranded.
5. Dining at Water Street Tavern
After a day spent exploring, we were ready for a good meal. On the recommendation of our incredible AirBNB hosts, we’d made reservations at Water Street Tavern, back stateside in Lubec. The interior of the restaurant was lively and lovely, but with the kids we opted for outdoor dining, and I’m so glad we did. Thanks to the threat of rain, we had the small back patio completely to ourselves. Our older kids decided to dine at their own table, gifting my husband and me (and a fortunately content toddler) the rare experience of actually enjoying our meal. The view from the patio was incredible, looking over Johnson Bay and back towards Campobello Island and Mullholland Point Lighthouse. It was a unique experience to have dinner overlooking another country and the kids would exclaim, “I see Canada!” The serenity of the waterfront was palpable, complimented by great food. We enjoyed all the dishes, and of course the seafood was superb, but the star of our dinner was the chef’s special Moqueca – a Brazilian seafood stew in a base of tomato and coconut milk broth. It was perfectly rich and warming on a cool, damp evening. After dinner, we ended the day with a stroll down the sleepy Main Street of Lubec, Maine. Though most places had already closed for the season, the quaint community feel of the town remained, calling us to come back again.