Whitecaps caress the rocky shoreline at a cove near Acadia's Thunder Hole, a scenic overlook on the park's east end.
By Cindy Kittner
"When you're within Acadia, it is within you," said Ken Olson, president of Friends of Acadia, an organization with the sole mission of preserving and protecting the natural beauty and rich ecology of Maine's Acadia National Park.
Deep spruce forests, sun-baked granite, and cool waters give visitors a glimpse of how geology and the sea shape the land. In some places hikers can climb a mountain and be in a maritime environment at the same time to experience firsthand as water meets land. "You can almost sense the vegetation taking in the moisture that is available to it from the air," Olson says.
Acadia's raw terrain compelled affluent tourists in the mid-19th century to found the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations to preserve it, even before the National Park Service existed. Although one of the smallest national parks at roughly 47,000 acres (19,000 hectares), Acadia today ranks as one of the most visited. Schoodic Peninsula, Mount Desert Island, and smaller surrounding islands provide a diverse playground for hikers, bikers, birders, and rock climbers. But some of the more than two million annual visitors are drawn by natural marvels such as Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast of the United States.
When to Visit
Acadia National Park is open year-round, but the main visitor center is open mid-April through October as some roads and facilities close during winter. Late September and early October boast brilliant fall foliage, and parts of the park are open during winter for cross-country skiing. July and August draw large crowds that create traffic.
Hiking Whether strolling down one of the carriage roads John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped establish between 1913 and 1940 or climbing up the steep incline on Beehive Trail, Acadia offers a plethora of paths to pursue. First-time visitors should check out these three:
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail, one of the longest hikes in the park at 7.4 miles (12 kilometers) roundtrip, starts just south of the Blackwoods Campground and climbs through a mixed forest of deciduous and coniferous trees where hikers can take respite at the beautiful lookouts along the way—at least until you hit a parking lot. From that point, proceed to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, where lobster boats, peninsulas, bays, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond can be seen from the top of the tallest peak in Acadia. Depending on the time of year, the summit is where the sun first hits the continental U.S. on the eastern seaboard.
Ship Harbor Trail For a shorter hike, try Ship Harbor Trail, which takes about 45 minutes roundtrip. It weaves through Maine's spruce trees along a tidal pool where a braided stream runs in and out—depending on the tide—and then leads you to the rocky coastline.
Precipice Trail Adventure-seekers can be found here clinging to iron rungs hammered into granite. After a half-mile (one-kilometer) hike, the trail ascends almost vertically up a cliff on Champlain Mountain. But the amazing view from the top rewards those who rise to the challenge. The trail is closed from around March 15 through August 15 to protect nesting peregrine falcons.
Biking Bring your mountain bike to explore carriage roads, backroads, and the 27-mile (43-kilometer) Park Loop Road. Peddle six miles (ten kilometers) to Schoodic Peninsula's Schoodic Point, where water crashes against granite and the view is less crowded than at Mount Desert Island. Bicycle rentals are available in Bar Harbor at Acadia Bike (800-526-8615) or Bar Harbor Bike Shop (207-288-3886). Rock Climbing A popular site, Otter Cliffs' pink granite promontories offer prime seawall for beginner as well as advanced rock climbers to scale. Contact Acadia Mountain Guides, an accredited climbing school on Mount Desert Island. (888-232-9559) Swimming Acadia's rocky coastline doesn't leave much room for prime swimming spots, but Sand Beach serves as the park's single saltwater beach. Keep in mind the summer water temperature averages between 55°F and 60°F (13°C and 16°C). Head toward Southwest Harbor to visit Echo Lake, a popular freshwater swimming area. Then, be sure to stop by nearby Somes Sound, the only fjord on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Birding Discover nature and migrating birds on a two-hour, four-hour, or all-day excursion with Down East Nature Tours. Ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-bellied and alder flycatchers, bald eagles, warblers, herring gulls, grouses, and many other bird species can be spotted throughout the park. Discover the best place on Champlain Mountain to witness the courting rituals and nesting habits of peregrine falcons, but be sure to pack binoculars. Contact Down East Nature Tours at 207-288-8128. Ranger-led Programs Acadia's series of ranger-led programs allow visitors to learn about the park through workshops and seminars conducted by park staff. Animals, geology, and history are just a few topics covered during lectures held on and off the hiking trails, carriage roads, and water. For details and updates, download the Beaver Log, the park's newspaper.
Follow I-95 north to Bangor, Maine, and take Route 1A to Ellsworth. Take Route 3 to Mount Desert Island, where most of the park is located. Schoodic Peninsula, a more rugged section of the park, is about a one-hour drive from Bar Harbor. Boats serve the islands near Mount Desert year-round. If flying is your preferred mode of travel, the nearest airports are located in Bangor and Bar Harbor. Once you arrive, use the park's free Island Explorer Shuttle Bus to get around. It runs from late June to early fall.
Stop by Hulls Cove Visitor Center where you can pick up a schedule of ranger-led activities, watch a free 15-minute audiovisual program, and obtain information on biking, hiking, and motor vehicle routes. Staff can assist in planning your trip, but this center is closed November 1 to mid-April. Park Headquarters, which is also the Winter Visitor Center, is open year-round. Hulls Cove is located on Route 3. You can find the Winter Visitor Center off Route 233 near Eagle Lake. Both visitor centers can be reached at 207-288-3338.
Blackwoods Campground Located five miles (eight kilometers) south of Bar Harbor on Route 3, Blackwoods Campground costs $20 a night and is about a ten-minute walk from the ocean. Facilities include cold running water, picnic tables, a dump station, and water faucets, but no hook ups. During the winter of 2005-2006, Blackwoods Campground will be closed due to construction. Reserve online or call 1-800-365-CAMP. Pets on leashes are allowed.
Seawall Campground Seawall Campground is open May 15 through early October and is located four miles (six kilometers) south of Southwest Harbor on Route 102A. Fees range from $14 to $20. Facilities are similar to Blackwoods, but this campsite is first-come, first-served, so get there early during July and August. Call 207-288-3338 for information. Pets on leashes are permitted.
Group campsites are available at Blackwoods and Seawall campgrounds for $50 a night and include fireplaces, picnic tables, and a nearby restroom with flushing toilets. A reservation form must be completed online or by writing the park. Go to www.nps.gov/acad/camping.htm or write to: NPRS, PO Box 1600, Cumberland, MD 21502.
Duck Harbor Campground For a more intimate and remote camping experience, reserve a lean-to shelter at Duck Harbor Campground on remote Isle au Haut. Open mid-May to mid-October, these shelters can hold up to six people for a $25 fee. Facilities include a picnic table, pit toilet, fire ring, and hand pump for water. Visitors should bring containers for water, and trash must be carried out. Pets are not permitted.
For a less rugged stay, check into a nearby hotel:
A short drive from Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor Inn is located on the waterfront and features a pier, terrace grill, and restaurant with an ocean view. (Newport Drive, Bar Harbor, 800-248-3351, $95-$385)
Cleftstone Manor offers accommodations with a New England flare. Located only a few minutes from Acadia, this historic mansion has 17 rooms furnished with antiques and offers a full gourmet breakfast. (92 Eden Street, Bar Harbor, 888-288-4951, $70-$225)
Surrounded by pine groves, Best Western Inn also lies within minutes of the park's entrance, and its 92 units have access to a pool. (452 State Hwy. 3, Bar Harbor, 800-937-8376, $75-$120)
Friends of Acadia www.friendsofacadia.org Discover how this organization helps to preserve Acadia National Park and how you can volunteer to work on its projects.
National Park Service: Acadia www.nps.gov/acad Find out everything you need to know before taking off for Acadia by searching this website for information on camping, activities, and much more.
Acadia Mountain Guides www.acadiamountainguides.com Anyone planning to hone their rock-climbing skills should check out this website to sign up for courses or rent equipment. Instructions are available for rock climbers at all levels.
Down East Nature Tours www.mainebirding.net/downeast Avid birders should look here to find out more about birding trips, photography tours, and camping excursions, which are available seven days a week all year.