Exploring Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is the crown jewel of America’s east coast and it’s rugged beauty attracts millions of visitors every year. Granite peaks give way to pine covered forests that transition into dramatic cliffs and rock strewn shores, the surrounding bays dotted with emerald green islands are the picture of tranquility. Bar Harbor, located on Mount Dessert Island in northeastern Maine, is a bustling tourist town that serves as the gateway for Acadia and can be quite crowded during the summer or whenever a cruise ship pulls into town but you’re never less than thirty minutes from finding solitude once you veer from the well worn tourist paths. The park occupies not only a good swath of Mount Desert Island but also parts of the nearby Schoodic Peninsula, and the more remote Baker Island and Isle de Haut. Mount Dessert Island served as a summer getaway for the well heeled in the mid 1800’s transforming the once sleepy island of farmers and fisherman into a popular tourist destination. Charles W. Eliot and George B. Dorr were instrumental in preservation efforts that eventually led to Acadia becoming the first national park east of the Mississippi River in 1919 and John D. Rockefeller Jr. helped created the park’s 45 mile carriage road system, originally designed to navigate parts of the island by horse drawn carriage that now serves as popular hiking and cycling trails.
Acadia’s Park Loop Road is the easiest and most popular way to explore some of the park’s most stunning and varied scenery and can easily be done in a day. If you’re visiting in the high season of July and August be prepared for traffic and crowds but your efforts are definitely well rewarded. Shortly after entering the Park Loop you’ll be greeted by by serene bay views and you’ll begin to understand why the 19th century 1% chose this area as their summer playground. As you continue along the loop you’ll begin to notice an increasing number of cars parked along the shoulder and I highly recommend you join them, the Ocean Path trail that stretches between Sandy Beach and Otter’s Point is easily one of the most stunning vistas on the east coast. The flat, cliff side path follows the park loop with ample vantage points to stop and admire the increasingly picturesque panoramas; use caution if you decide to walk out on the cliffs as they can become slick when wet and it’s a long way down. At 154 feet high Otter’s Cliff is one of the highest points on the entire Atlantic seaboard north of Rio de Janiero’s Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s easy to be mesmerized by the churning seas as they dramatically crash into the granite wind-worn cliffs and this was hands down my favorite section of the loop.
Next on the agenda was a stop at Jordan’s Pond, a glacially formed lake capped at its north end by twin peaks given the cutesy monikers of the North and South Bubbles. No swimming is allowed here but there is canoe and boat access at the north end of the lake.This is also the site of aptly named Jordan Pond House, Acadia’s only onsite restaurant where you can partake in the tradition of enjoying popovers and tea. If lakeside popovers and tea are your thing you should definitely call ahead and make reservations, due to a two hour wait we decided to skip this in lieu of a little walking around the lake. The majority of the lakeside trail is actually a narrow, raised path as the shores of the lake can become pretty soggy . A better option would be one of the many carriage roads leaving from Jordan Pond.
Cadillac Mountain is arguably Arcadia’s most famous landmark and would be our final stop along the Park Loop Road. Towering at 1530 feet high it’s the highest point along the Atlantic seaboard and dominates Maine’s Down East landscape. During the winter months Cadillac Mountain receives the first rays of sunlight in the United States and many people wake up early to drive to the summit to witness the sunrise. That was originally in my plans but with cloudy weather throughout our stay we opted to sleep in. The views are no less spectacular the rest of the day though and again its worth the traffic to get up to the summit for panoramic views of Bar Harbor and the surrounding islands.
Want to break free from the crowds near Bar Harbor? Head to the western side of Somes Sound which is know to locals as The Quiet Side of Mount Desert Island. A quick 15 minute drive from the sleepy fishing village of Southwest Harbor brought us to Acadia’s southern loop offering up spectacular hikes with a bit more solitude. The Wonderland trail was our first stop and this trail lived up to its name. An easy walk through maple and pine forests ends at a rocky cove and while I was initially disapointed with the day’s foggy weather it ended up making for some of my favorite photos from all of Acadia. Artfully arranged piles of stone known as cairns serve as trail markers in this section of the park.
Ships Harbor was another quick Quiet Side hike and was equally as stunning. The trail leads to a perfect crescent shaped cove, its water smooth as glass with barely a ripple. The morning’s silent fog gave an almost mystical quality to the area which was far more perfect than the brightest sunny day would have been. A quick stop at the Bass Harbor Light, one of Maine’s iconic lighthouses, ended our day before the skies finally opened up to a steady rain shower.
There’s far more to Arcadia National Park and we barely scratched the surface during our two days there. There are multiple campsites throughout the park as well as a variety of hotels, inns and vacation rentals in Bar Harbor and the surrounding areas.To reach Acadia you can fly into Portland, ME with a 3.5 hour drive or Boston, MA which is 5 hours away. Acadia National Park is open year round with summer and fall being the busiest seasons though some services and trails will be closed for the winter. Check out this post for a great 3-day itinerary for Acadia National Park.
The following prices are good for 7 days.
Private Vehicle (15 passengers or less)- $20
Pedestrian or Hiker-$5