It’s arguable, but Acadia is the jewel of the East Coast’s National Parks. It is one of the 61 National Parks Proper - large tracts of wilderness that include unique features and landscapes worth traveling an entire day or longer to see. Acadia certainly has several jaw dropping features that are hard to find anywhere else. Some, like the network of Carriage Roads were built by man. Other features such as Thunder Hole and Sand Beach were put there by God alone.
Acadia encompasses 49,000 acres of coastal wilderness and primarily located on Mount Desert Island, about halfway up the coast of Maine. The park receives over three million visitors annually and guests can camp in one of three park-owned campgrounds, as well as hike, swim, kayak and cycle. For those that cannot enjoy the more strenuous activities, the park offers a number of ranger-led programs like peregrine falcon bird watching or evening talks and lectures at the campground’s amphitheater. There is even a stable where guests can reserve a private horse-drawn carriage ride through the park’s impressive network of carriage roads.
Acadia has a large network of trails for the adventurous as well as for those that are seeking a short nature walk. Most of the mountain trails have exposed summits, making for excellent views of Frenchman Bay and the surrounding landscape.
- The Precipice Trail is known for being the most psychologically challenging, with multiple points of exposure and steep drop-offs. At several points along the trail, the park has placed iron rungs to serve as handholds and steps where it would otherwise be classified as technical rock climbing. If you are confident in your abilities, this trail will reward you with stellar views and a sense of accomplishment. But be warned, it is not for everyone. Do not try to coax your spouse of kids into doing this trail if they are not feeling confident.
- Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail is a popular ascent to the summit of the highest peak in Acadia. It is 7.5 miles out and back and is appropriate for families, provided that a long day is the expectation. The auto road leading to the top of Cadillac makes the summit experience a bit anti-climatic, as it is usually packed with tourists. Don’t expect anything peaceful or serene at the top. However, there are restrooms and a small store that sells snacks and ice cream, which can be nice.
- The Ocean Path Trail is a great option for getting in a hike along the coast, while at the same time visiting some of Acadia’s main attractions. Visitors can park at Sand Beach and access the trailhead from the parking lot. After 0.7 miles of easy terrain, hikers arrive at Thunder Hole, an ocean cave that produces thunder-like sound effects on the incoming tide. Visitors will have to time their arrival precisely in order to enjoy Thunder Hole at full storm. Hikers can then proceed to walk another three miles along the coast, turning back whenever it feels right. At the end of the hike, grab your swim suit and beach chair and lounge at Sand Beach.
- The Bubbles are a pair of picturesque peaks that are most popularly viewed from nearby Jordan Pond. The trail to the summit of South Bubble is a very popular, easy hike with views of the pond and Bubble Rock, a glacially deposited boulder that appears to balance on the edge of a steep cliff. The trail is less than a mile long, family-friendly, and in July has plentiful blueberry bushes along the way for the picking.
Acadia has three park owned campgrounds, not including Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut which we won’t cover here. All of them are popular and will sell out in the summer, so be sure to book as early as possible at recreation.gov.
- Blackwoods Campground is the most sought after as it is closest to Park Loop Road and the most visited attractions at Acadia. It is also closest to the town of Bar Harbor and probably the most convenient of the three campgrounds. Nearby is the Otter Creek Inn and Market that sells camping and grocery essentials. They also sell breakfast and deli sandwiches, and boiled lobster with all the traditional accompaniments. This is an excellent option at the end of a long day on the trail, when you just don’t want to cook or go to a restaurant. The market will do all the cooking while you grab a six-pack and eat out on the picnic tables. No frills, no fuss.
- Seawall Campground is located on the other side of Mount Desert Island in the town of Southwest Harbor. Although the campground will still be filled to capacity during the high season, Southwest Harbor and the the portion of Acadia that is located on this side of Mount Desert Island is considerably less crowded. Hiking trails are certainly less congested, and the town has more of a small fishing village atmosphere as opposed to the mass tourism of Bar Harbor. Casual lobster is found on this side of the island at Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound, where Charlotte is trying to legalize cannabis use on the lobsters prior to cooking so that they don’t care about being boiled alive. Because as Temple Grandin once said, “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.” It’s not legal quite yet, so if you have any reservations about eating lobster that’s been baked before it’s boiled, don’t worry about it.
- Schoodic Woods Campground is located on the mainland east of Mount Desert Island. There is a section of Acadia on the Schoodic Peninsula that features several hiking and biking trails. However, if you plan on frequenting the main attractions at the park, be advised that this campground is a 45 minute drive from Bar Harbor and Park Loop Road.
Sand Beach is the primary spot for ocean swimming. Like most major attractions in Acadia, it gets crowded during peak summer season, which makes parking a bit difficult. Plan to arrive early to avoid the frustration of finding a parking spot, or jump on the Island Explorer, Acadia’s fare-free bus line that visits all the major points in and around the park. Water temperature is a bit chilly with an average of 55℉ in the summer.
If you want water that is a bit warmer, then head to Echo Lake Beach. It’s not that much warmer, but every degree counts. Lifeguards are on-duty at both beaches in Acadia.
Bring your bicycles and enjoy Acadia’s network of carriage roads that were financed by John D. Rockefeller in the early 20th century. Originally developed for peaceful horse-drawn buggy rides, these gravel roads make excellent bike trails for those that like flat, easy terrain. All together, the network totals 57 miles of vehicle-free trail. The roads are kept in pristine condition and are also host to 16 granite bridges that are all works of art in their own right. This is an excellent opportunity for young families to get out there and pedal together.
Visitors to Acadia can also enjoy the roads as they were intended to be used. Carriages of Acadia provides guided one and two hour horse-drawn carriage tours around the park so guests can mix in a bit of indulgence along with all the camping and hiking.
Acadia's carriage roads have 57 miles of well kept gravel for incredible family biking.
Cross Country Skiing is available during the winter months on the Carriage Roads.
Acadia has 16 ornate stone bridges dispersed throughout the Carriage Road network.
Jordan Pond House
The Jordan Pond House began as a mill house in the mid-19th century, but as summer tourism grew, the location was converted to a restaurant. Over the years, Jordan became well known for their tea and popovers served on the lawn overlooking the pond. It continues to be a tradition today, with 4,000 - 6,000 popovers baked daily during the summer. The popovers are served warm with butter and strawberry jam and taste like bite-sized clouds of fruity, gluten-filled goodness. Once you are able to get a table on the lawn, it’s easy to spend time here in relative luxury. You may have woke this morning in a tent and spent the past few hours hiking up and down a mountain, feet sore now and covered with a light coating of dried sweat. That’s great, too. Nature and exertion cleanse the soul, but feasting on freshly made popovers with a cold drink at the ready really will make you feel like a Rockefeller. You won’t want to leave.
You’re probably going to want to head into town at some point, and this is the place to go. Bar Harbor has all the tourist trappings that you could want including restaurants, T-shirt shops, and ice cream concessions. Tour operators and outfitters are also found here for whale watching, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, and fishing charters.
Questions and comments are welcomed below. Where is your favorite place to go in Acadia?