Fall in New England & Canada

Thank goodness I’m not employed as a travel writer. I’d be broke at the rate I get around to writing about the places we go. It’s been more than a month since we got back from our adventure in New England and Canada. Our first week was spent road-tripping from Tennessee to Ohio to Niagara Falls to New Jersey. The second week was spent a bit more leisurely. We took a 7-night Carnival cruise out of Manhattan to the ports of Boston, MA; Portland, ME; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and St. John, New Brunswick.

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Angie having fun on board the cruise ship.

This was our 4th cruise and the first that wasn’t destined for tropical isles. Cruising the Northeast is a very different experience. First, you rarely see anyone wearing their bathing suit on deck. It’s just way too cold! There are also fewer college kids and more retirees. This makes for a more crowded attempt to dine early but also means the arcade and sports bar are usually pretty empty and you’re all but guaranteed to have the ping-pong table all to yourself. Or course, being close to (early) retirement age ourselves, it was also much easier to find someone to talk to, about a wide assortment of interesting topics.

Boston, MA

Our first port of call was Boston, one of the oldest cities in America (founded in 1630). There’s obviously a lot of history in Boston – the Boston Tea Party, the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, and more – but for television nuts like us, Boston was the backdrop for a lot of our all-time favorite shows – Cheers, Rizzoli and Isles, and Boston Legal. We couldn’t help but walk the streets thinking of Sam and Diane, Norm and Cliff, Denny and Alan and the histories of our own lives growing up with these characters. The day of our visit to Boston it was pouring rain but that didn’t stop us from walking the Freedom Trail and taking a slight detour to a tiny bar where everyone knows your name.

Portland, ME

Straight off the boat, we both fell in love with Portland. I’m not sure if it was being immediately greeted by the Harborwalk Trail or the quaint shops along cobblestone streets or the flavor explosion we found in a bottle of blueberry soda or even the lobster roll we purchased from a hot dog cart. It might also have been the bin of fresh Swiss Chard marked FREE that we walked past in Old Port or the amazing shop called Nomads where we found ExOfficio anti-insect socks on the clearance rack. Or maybe it was simply all of the above.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

After experiencing Niagara Falls, Halifax was a bit of a disappointment. It’s your typical cruise port destination – a mecca for shopping and overpriced dining, with the true sights so far away that you either have to book an excursion, pay for an expensive taxi, or skip them altogether. We chose the latter. Instead we perused the tiny Farmer’s Market and took a long walk along the harbor.

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The most photographed lighthouse in all of North America.

St. John, New Brunswick

The best thing about St. John is the Harbour Passage, a gorgeous 2-mile walk along the water that leads from the cruise terminal to all of the main sites of the area. We took our time getting to the Reversing Falls and still somehow managed to make it there before the folks in the excursion group.

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Glamping in Niagara Falls

The first stop on our October road trip (besides an overnight in Toledo, Ohio) was Niagara Falls, Ontario. Crossing the border allowed us to officially mark “visit another country” off of our 2017 Happiness Project Bucket List. Crossing the border also gave me a chance to update a negative experience with a new, more positive, one.

When I first visited Canada in 2006, I was detained by immigration. After 30 minutes of explaining why a District Manager from TN would be visiting a sales rep in Ontario for anything other than a work visit – I was actually there to take the rep to dinner and present him with an award – they let me go. This time, I was on vacation, so we sailed through our border crossing.

If you’ve never been to Niagara Falls, I highly encourage you to add it to your list. The place is amazing! The weather was near perfect the entire time we were there (60-70 degrees F) and the scenery – the fall foliage, the white water rapid, and of course, the falls itself – was stunning.

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Off season accommodations are relatively cheap in Niagara Falls but instead of a hotel, we opted for a Kamping Kabin at the KOA on Lundy Lane. It’s outside of the tourist area but still within a short drive to all of the attractions. Of course, there are plenty of things to do at the campground too – an indoor pool, mini golf, a game room, a playground, and more – and right across the street is a delicious place to have dinner – Boston Pizza.

The KOA also sells Adventure Passes, which include a 48-hour bus pass on the WeGo and admission to select attractions. We chose the Hornblower Cruise, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara’s Fury, and the White Water Walk. We enjoyed each of the attractions but I think Angie’s favorite part of the Adventure Pass was the WeGo. I’m not sure if she loved it because it was convenient or because she found $20 at one of the bus stops. Seriously though, for hopping on/off and navigating without the hassles of driving and parking, the WeGo is definitely the way to go even if you don’t opt for the Adventure Pass.

We spent 4 days exploring the Niagara Falls area. In addition to the attractions on the Adventure Pass, we had a picnic at Niagara Glen, walked across the Rainbow Bridge to explore the American side of the falls, briefly ducked into a casino, explored the shops in Clifton Hill, and enjoyed some downtime at our campground.

My favorite part of the trip though was seeing Niagara Falls at night.

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One of my biggest concerns when planning this trip was having cell reception in Canada. Sadly, Boost Mobile doesn’t have international service in Canada BUT we were able to get limited reception near the falls and along Niagara Parkway. We were also able to use WiFi calling through Google Hangouts when we had a WiFi signal (though not at our campground – they limited the use of their WiFi signal to only certain applications). Cell phone woes aside, we now rank Niagara Falls, Ontario among our favorite vacation places.

Rock Island State Park

After getting lost on the way to Stinging Fork Falls, we decided to try a few more easily accessible waterfalls for our next adventure – Twin Falls and Great Falls, both of which are located in beautiful Rock Island State Park.

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Great Falls
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Twin Falls

Rock Island State Park is also home to approximately 30 letterboxes. We hiked the Bluff Trail, which is a moderate 1.7 mile lollipop loop, and found 8 boxes and a hitchhiker along the way. I have a feeling we’re going to be back this Fall to find some of the others.

Rock Island State Park is very easy to get to and while the route is quite scenic, it’s no where near as treacherous as getting to Stinging Fork Falls. In addition to 13 miles of hiking and biking trails, the park offers some great places to picnic and two swimming holes, appropriately named the Cold Hole and the Warm Hole. Camping is also available for both tents and RVs.

Our High Country Adventure

This past weekend we decided to travel to Ocoee, TN to take advantage of a really cheap whitewater rafting offer on Groupon ($32 for 2 people). The drive took us through the heart of Tennessee’s waterfall country and past several of the more well known falls in the state – Cummins Falls, Rock Creek Park, and Fall Creek Falls.

We’ve been in TN for more than 2 years now and taking the state’s “waterfall tour” has been on our bucket list for all of that time. In 2015, we visited Rutledge Falls in Tullahoma, TN and it was absolutely stunning, like something you’d see in a movie, so when the opportunity came up to chase another waterfall, we were all in. Being the adventurous types though, we opted for a lesser known, and supposedly stunning, area known as Stinging Fork Falls.

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Rutledge Falls (2015)

First let me say, when folks talk about the “hills of Tennessee”, I’m sure they are speaking of some of the little towns in East TN along the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. We followed our deranged GPS (affectionately named Carmin) up, up, and up some more winding gravel roads, complete with switchbacks that allowed you to see the road below, until we came to something with a little bit of pavement. The road, by the way, was called Shut in Gap Road. If you travel it, you’ll know why it is called that. NO ONE would want to go in/out of their home if they had to drive this white-knuckle one-laner every day!

But I digress –

The hike to/from the falls is 1.7 miles. The first half mile in is completely flat. The next section is an area of wooden stairs (most of which are still intact) and narrow ledges. We made it almost all the way to the end but a series of large downed trees prevented us from getting to the actual swimming hole at the bottom of the falls (and obscured any attempt we made at taking a photo). Angie said the waterfall was beautiful but I never really got close enough to see it in all of its glory.

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After climbing our way back out and using Google to find a better way back to the highway, we set off for Ocoee and our first ever primitive camping experience. High Country Adventures is the outfitter that we used for our rafting trip. Behind their main building they have a rustic campground and offer the option to add lodging to your trip for just $6 per person.

I’d love to say that we spent an enjoyable night by the campfire before retiring to our tent, where we watched the stars until we fell asleep but that didn’t happen. After dinner, it started raining buckets and it didn’t stop until about an hour before we left to go rafting the next day. As I told my sister when she asked me if we had fun on our trip, fun is a relative term. Some folks might have called this a disaster but we had a blast!

Rainy Campsite

We’ve watched about a dozen YouTube videos of folks traversing the country in tiny cars like ours and actually sleeping in them along the way. We’ve always teased about trying this but never have…until now. Yes, we slept in our little Chevy Spark. Surprisingly enough, the front seats actually lay flat into the backseat. It wasn’t the comfort of a pillow top mattress (or even the air mattresses that were inside the tent we never got to use) but it wasn’t terrible.

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As for rafting, we loved every minute of it – even though it was only 72 degrees outside when we left and the water was quite cool. After the first splash though, your body quickly adjusts and it’s just fun from that point forward. I’d love to share photos of our rafting adventure but we opted to paddle instead of using the water camera and well, those pics they take along the way are great but we’re way too cheap to buy them.

Angie and I both paddled the Colorado River before we met but this was our first rafting trip together. We hope to make this an annual adventure (provided we find another Groupon next summer LOL) and most definitely recommend High Country Adventures. Their staff was awesome and even though we didn’t get to fully enjoy the campground, it was very peaceful and we’d gladly go back (and maybe sleep in the tent this time!)