Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
Webpage: National Park
General Description: There is a lot to explore at Acadia National Park so plan on spending more than a day when visiting. Consisting of over 47,000 acres, Acadia offers a lot for any outdoor enthusiast. Most of Acadia is the majority of Mount Desert Island just off the coast of Maine, but also includes Isle Au Haut and Schoodic Peninsula. Charles Eliot, the landscape architect, is credited with first proposing the idea which was then supported with land donations from George Dorr and Charles’s father, Charles W. Eliot (the president of Harvard). It first attained national status when President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 set aside a small area called Sieur de Monts National Memorial. With additional land donations it became Lafayette National Park in 1919, which was changed in 1929 to Acadia National Park. It is the largest national park in the nation that was created solely by land donations. Other major contributions to the National Park included the 51 miles of carriage roads, financed, designed, and construction by John D. Rockefeller from 1915-1933. He envisioned these roads to be the best way for visitors to view the park without using their automobiles. The park includes mountains, the highest of which is Cadillac Mountain (1500 feet tall), extensive rocky ocean shorelines, woodlands, and freshwater lakes created by glaciers. There are many opportunities to hike, bike, kayak, canoe, or simply enjoying the many scenic views that can be driven to or accessed by the free Island Explorer Shuttle Buses operated by the National Park Service.
1) WOW!! There is certainly a lot to see and do at Acadia National Park. The Hulls Cove Visitor Center is located just off Maine Highway 3 before you enter Bar Harbor. There are a lot of stairs you have to climb up to get to the Visitor Center (they do have a small disabled parking lot at the back side of the Visitor Center that misses the steps). Be ready for a crowd as this is a very popular National Park. We were there at the end of June and it was already very busy, even during the middle of the week. They have 2.7 million visitors a year, the vast majority being the three months during the summer. The entrance fee is $25 for a 7 day pass, however with our Interagency Pass there was no cost.
2) L.L. Bean has graciously provided the funds (along with private donations) to operate a fleet of shuttle buses that can take you just about anywhere you can drive, except to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which you have to drive to yourself. Unless you get there very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you will not be able to find parking at the most popular spots, so I would suggest riding the shuttle bus so you don’t have to worry about it. It is also a great way to hike since they will drop you off at most of the trailheads and then you can get picked up at the other end of your hike without having to walk back to your car. Most of the main Loop Road is one-way traffic, but is two lane which means you can park anywhere you want in the right lane. However, this lane will also fill up quickly at the more popular locations meaning you could have to walk a distance.
3) The parking lot at the Visitor Center is very large and was not filled up during the day in late June. I suspect even it could be filled during the height of the season in July and August. From there we caught the Loop Road bus to take us to the more popular locations.
4) Our first stop was Sieur de Monts, which was originally the center of the park. Back in the early 1900s it was the site of many outdoor concerts, lawn parties, and other social gatherings. George B. Dorr built the Spring House over the natural spring in 1909 and carved “The Sweet Waters of Acadia” prominently on a nearby rock. The Spring House was used to protect the spring and provided a cool location to store perishables during the summer. Also at this location is a small Nature Center with exhibits of the plants and animals in the park, the Abbe Museum which opened in 1928 as the first Maine museum devoted to Maine’s Native American heritage, and the Wild Gardens of Acadia. We especially enjoyed exploring the Wild Gardens of Acadia which has separate sections planted with plants, shrubs, and trees representing all of the ecosystems found in the park. Along with small signs giving the name of each plant it was an excellent way to learn much of what we will be seeing in the park and across Maine.
5) We then caught the bus and traveled on around to Sand Beach, which is a very popular location as it is one of the only truly sandy beaches in Maine. Even though they had an interpretive panel describing the reason for the sandy beach, it did not make much sense. However, the beach is a magnet for visitors to sun and frolic in the ocean waves.
6) We were not there for the beach, however, but rather a hiking trail that begins on the far side of the beach. After climbing up a series of ledges from the beach we were on a well marked trail that took us around Great Head for some spectacular views of the waves crashing on the rocky shoreline from over 100 feet above the water.
7) On another day we again rode the Loop Road bus to Otter Point, where you can get close to the ocean crashing on the rocks and then follow the Beach Road back to Thunder Hole. This trail parallels the Loop Road, but you have easy access to a number of great opportunities to sit on the granite boulders and watch the waves.
8) Thunder Hole is another popular location since around an hour before high tide, the incoming tide slams into a shallow cave creating a loud booming sound, thus the name Thunder Hole. Even though we arrived at the best time for the “thunder” the ocean did not cooperate for us and all we heard were some soft thumps as the waves entered the cave under the rocks.
9) We then caught the shuttle bus again and continued on to the Bubbles, which is a trail that ascends to a narrow pass between the North and South Bubble, which are 870 and 750 feet high, respectively. However, once we got to the pass we elected to climb up the 0.2 miles to the summit of South Bubble where you can access the rock for which the mountains got their name. While this trail was steep and it took us a while to make the climb, the view was worth it!! From the summit you can look up at Cadillac Mountain or down to Jordan Pond or view the ocean in the distance. Instead of descending back down the trail we came up, we decided to continue on the trail that descended the south side of South Bubble, even knowing from the map it was steeper. We did not realize how steep it was!! For the next 500+ feet we climb down from one ledge or rocky outcropping to the next, sometimes having to turn around to climb down the rocks in reverse. It was quite an experience and I am real glad we were descending and not trying to climb up this way as we saw other hikers attempting! Once back to the level of Jordan Pond, we hiked another mile back to Jordan Pond House where they have a restaurant and gift center.
10) Instead of eating at Jordan Pond House we decided to ride the bus back to the Visitor Center and take our truck into Bar Harbor. You can also ride a different shuttle bus either from Jordan Pond House or the Visitor Center to the Village Green in Bar Harbor, but we wanted to have our truck for the evening exploration of Cadillac Mountain. Bar Harbor is a very busy town totally devoted to tourists. There are a lot of hotels, restaurants, and shops of every description to tempt visitors.
11) In the evening we drove up to the top of Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunset and view the stars far away from the light pollution at lower elevations. By 7:00 in the evening the crowds have left Cadillac Mountain so we had no problem finding a good parking place. The sunset was spectacular and may the trip worthwhile all by itself. This was fortunate because the broken cloud cover and full moon destroyed the star gazing even after waiting an hour after sunset for it to get dark enough.
12) On another day we ventured to the west of the major attractions on the Loop Road and went on a 4 mile hike along the carriage roads constructed by Rockefeller in the 1920s. The National Park Service has done an excellent job in rehabilitating the broken gravel roads that are now restricted to hikers, bikers, and horses, all of which we saw on our hike. From the small parking lot at the West Gatehouse we climbed up 150 feet over 2 miles to the waterfalls alongside the road. Even though the waterfalls were not very impressive with only a small brook tumbling over the rocks, the granite bridges built over the brooks in the 1920s were great. The carriage road then descends rather quickly to the shores of Hadlock Pond where we heard our first loon on the trip. I strongly recommend taking at least one walk along the 51 miles of carriage roads or ride a bike if you have one.
13) On a fourth day in Acadia we went east of Mount Desert Island to Schoodic Peninsula. This 2200 acre part of the National Park is the only part of the park attached to the mainland. While being only four miles from Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island it is 45 miles by road. Consequently, less than 10% of the visitors to the Acadia visit Schoodic Peninsula which means a lot less traffic. The Island Explorer shuttle bus does operate around the peninsula, however, we had no problems finding parking places during the week anywhere we wanted to go. The 7 mile road around the peninsula is one-way so you can park anywhere you want in the right hand lane. After experiencing the crowds on Mount Desert Island, this was a welcome change. The road follows the coastline where you can stop along the way to access the rocky shoreline and beaches.
14) There is a dirt road that takes you to the top of the peninsula. Although the 440 foot elevation can not compare to 1500 foot Cadillac Mountain, you can still get some wonderful views of the ocean from the top. There is also a 1 mile moderate hiking trail that leads to the top.
15) The main attraction on Schoodic Peninsula is Schooldic Point, which is a granite shelf extending out into the ocean. We enjoyed spending a couple of hours watching the waves crashing against the rocks as the tide was coming in and even saw a couple of small groups of porpoises just offshore.
16) The other main attraction is the Schoodic Education and Research Center which includes a small museum in Roosevelt Hall about the history. Much of Schoodic Peninsula was owned by John G. Moore, a Wall street financier, who donated the property to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations in the 1920s on the condition that it be used as a public park. When the NPS accepted the land in 1929, adding it to the Lafayette National Park, the named was changed to Acadia National Park. At the time, the NPS was interested in acquiring the communications post run by the Navy at Otter Point on Mount Desert Island. They offered to exchange property on Schoodic Point and even built Roosevelt Hall designed by the same architect that designed the Entrance Gates for the National Park. Although Roosevelt Hall was a barracks with the radio communication offices in the basement, it is a beautiful building and certainly does not look like any other military barracks. The Navy constructed a number of additional buildings for their operations which continued until 2002 when the property was transferred back to the NPS. Today these meeting halls, classrooms, and apartments are the Schoodic Education and Research Center, hosting numerous educational programs for school children, professional conferences, and living and working areas for University scientists.
17) There are a few hiking trails from easy to moderate. While we were more interested in exploring the shoreline, we did take a 1.2 mile hike along elder trail that is an easy walk through the spruce-fir forests on the peninsula.