If you want a park with a little bit of everything, head to Acadia. Ocean cliffs with punishing surf, sandy beaches with sea glass, mountains with enough vertical climb to get the heart beating, a quaint oceanside village with lots of seafood, and a trail system with miles of hiking await those who want to venture to American’s most easterly National Park.
When I rolled into Acadia, a storm also made an entrance, so my first day was a gloomy, atmospheric adventure to Bar Harbor and Otter Cliffs. I planned to stay a few days, so I got my bearings and figured out the best way to view the majority of the park. Similar to many national parks, Acadia is very car friendly, and most of the park can be accessed easily by car.
The park was pretty quiet the day I was there, so I could gawk around and not have to worry about oncoming traffic.
The first stop we made was at Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs trail. We finally breathed in Atlantic air and reveled in the fact that we had made it. Even though we had a few bumps in the road, I was in Acadia, looking at the Atlantic surf, something I had sought for months.Few feelings can compete with the satisfaction after a goal is met, and we took a few minutes to soak it up as we watched the surf crash along the granite cliffs. Even though I ultimately prefer mountains over surf, the ocean possesses a pull that is hard to describe. Its immensity humbles a person, much the same as mountains, and offers a view of life from a different perspective.
The views along the southeastern shore of Mount Desert Island were breathtaking with their combination of teal blue water and frothy white surf slamming against pinkish rocks. The island was formed by a mixture of volcanic activity, plate tectonics, glacial movement, weather patterns, and erosion.
Much of the pink granite was formed through rock amalgamation during volcanic activity roughly 400 million years ago (for more information on the geology of the area, check out this interesting article by the Park Service: Written in the Rocks). The combination of colors along the surf offers amazing views, and when I was there the views were even better since the leaves were still changing.
After walking along the cliffs, we ventured to Sand Beach, one of the only sandy beaches along Acadia’s coast. The area is one of the most popular attractions in the summer and offers great swimming and beachcombing. Since the beach is recessed in the shoreline, supposedly good waves form here too. Not enough to really surf, but body surfing is probably a good time!
This was Zeus’s first time on a beach, and he was pretty interested in the surf at first. Dogs were allowed on the beach but had to be leashed (and the ranger was very strict), so I wasn’t able to get a very good picture with him on a short leash, but here you go:
We continued on toward the interior of the island and Jordan Pond, the deepest glacial lake in Maine with a maximum depth of sixty feet. The area has great history as well since it housed the only full-service restaurant in the park and is known for its tea and popover service dating back to the early 1900s.
Wildwood Stables, where visitors can jump aboard a famous carriage for a ride along the carriage roads, is very close to Jordan Pond as well, making the area a hub of activity during peak season.
The area also ushers in the first of many bridges with magnificent arches. Since the archways were made in the early 1900s and intended for carriage use, many have low clearance and large vehicles can’t make it through (the lowest bridge is ten foot four inches).It is difficult to travel through Acadia and not be amazed at the workmanship of both the bridges and roads and question how they could have possibly been funded. One man is primarily responsible for the costly construction: John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Rockefeller Jr. was the son of the man who commandeered the Standard Oil Company and became the richest man in American history. According to Forbes, Rockefeller Sr. was worth an estimated $340 billion dollars (in today’s currency) when he died in 1937. His was worth four times more than Bill Gates and passed much of his wealth and business interests to his only son. Rockefeller Jr. went on to become a financier and real estate mogul who was able to acquire many influential landholdings in New York City when the stock market crashed in 1929.
However, Rockefeller Jr. found he didn’t have the mindset nor the desire for more income acquisition and mainly devoted his time and efforts to philanthropic interests. According to Philanthropy Roundtable, he was very interested in land conservation and bought thousands of acres in both Maine and Wyoming, which eventually became Acadia and Grand Teton National Parks, respectively. He also gave money to Yosemite, Shenandoah, and Great Smoky Mountain National Parks. While his charitable giving has been criticized as a method of hiding a few corrupt business practices, today I believe it can be agreed that we can all enjoy these parks because of his actions, whether fully altruistic or not.
Rockefeller Jr. is known best for fully financing the engineering and construction of 45 miles of crushed rock carriage roads within Acadia and 12 miles along adjacent private property.
Construction of the carriage roads started in 1913 and continued through 1940 – an era when many Americans switched from horse-drawn transportation to automobiles. Rockefeller himself was an avid horseman and desired the park to be seen primarily motor-free on horseback or from a carriage and built the roads perhaps as a pushback against a future dominated by automobile traffic.
As I hit Acadia in the offseason, the horses and carriages had been retired until spring, but I was able to go for a nice run on the carriage roads and enjoyed the flat surface and easy inclines. Visitors can hike, bike, or take horses on the roads, but all motorized traffic is still outlawed. If a person wanted more varied terrain, Acadia also has 120 miles of hiking trails, many of which climb steeply up granite hillsides.
Vehicles, carriages, and hikers can all access the highest point on the island – Cadillac Mountain. Standing 1,529 feet, the peak is shrouded in timber until the top, where the peak is covered in large slabs of pink granite and alpine growth. The mountain rises very quickly from sea level as the shoreline is only a little over two miles from the peak.
I decided to visit Cadillac Mountain in the morning, and lucked out with marvelous weather after spending a rainy day prior hiding out in Bar Harbor. The ocean spread out before me as Zeus and I walked along the summit trail. The sun felt great after the fog, and I felt like I could finally see the park in its entirety.
The summit offers views of the many islands dotting the coast, which is common for Maine since it catalogs over 4,600 islands along its length.
One of those islands is Bar Island next to Bar Harbor. During low tide, a gravel bar appears and you can walk along the spit out to the island. This island walk was our next destination. Many signs warn visitors of the threat of becoming landlocked on the island if you don’t watch the tide closely enough. Water taxi rescue starts at about $150 an hour, so I definitely wanted to make sure we didn’t get caught out there!Low tide was scheduled for 10:40 am and we had an hour and a half on either side of that to safely cross. With a three hour span, I felt pretty confident we could make the 2-mile journey out to the end of the island.
After making it across the gravel bar, a trail winds its way to the tip of the island, offering one of the best views of Bar Harbor.
The fall colors were still in full force and we enjoyed the trek that granted views of Cadillac Mountain, where we had stood just an hour earlier.
We walked back across the bar with lots of time to spare – no water taxi needed this day! We looked around on the bar for sea goodies and found some sea glass, but the area doesn’t have the marvelous tide pools with colorful sea stars and anemones I’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest.
We took some time strolling around Bar Harbor to do a little souvenir shopping and then headed back out to explore a few more places before heading down the Maine coast. I pulled over at Echo Lake where we enjoyed a late lunch and some beautiful fall colors again. The sun was a marvelous thing after hiding behind fog and cloud for two days!
Our last stop was Bass Harbor and its lighthouse (often called a Head Light), which is still active. The area around the lighthouse is owned by the park, but the Coast Guard owns the house where a guardsman is stationed. Since Maine has such a varied, rugged coast and many islands, lighthouses are still very necessary and practical. Often called “The Lighthouse State”, Maine has 65 historic lighthouses dotting over 5,000 miles of coastline.
After a walk down a steep and narrow walkway, visitors to the Bass Harbor Head Light are offered great coastal views and precarious walking along the rocks to get the best view of the lighthouse.
All in all, my Acadia excursion was well worth the 3,000-mile trip and is a great destination for those looking for a seaside escape with a multitude of outdoor activities. Bar Harbor offers many lodging, eatery, and shopping options with great views right on the Atlantic, although I’d be willing to bet prices are fairly steep here during peak season. I did get the feeling that the location is a respite for a lot of big city money, but it was still very accessible.
~ Other Maine Adventures! ~
On my way down the coast, I happened to stop at a city called Rockland, and I’m glad I did. My first experience here was great. I stopped at a small Dunkin’ Donuts to grab a drink and, mosty, get some wifi. I walked by a group of older guys on my way to a corner. While I continued to catch up on my internet business, the guys chatted and I was reminded instantly of the local gas station back home where guys go to hang and catch up.
The next day while walking Zeus along the harbor I saw a sign for lobster boat rides, and I thought what the heck, let’s go for it. We got on the tiny lobster boat and had a great time learning about the economy of the area. Zeus got to ride along too and he was very interested in the lobster!
We enjoyed a leisurely cruise around the bay and thoroughly enjoyed our time getting to know the lobstermen and the other two guests on the boat with us (as it turns out, the couple was from Marysville, OH, the town where I had spent a weekend earlier in my trip – how weird is that!).
Later, I learned that the lobster boat captain was one of the guys chatting at the Dunkin’ Donuts the night before. We hit it off, and he gave me a call to ask if I wanted to go to dinner with some of his friends. I enjoyed a wonderful seafood saute with lobster, shrimp, the most delicious scallops I’ve ever eaten, and great conversation with the locals. In the morning we went to breakfast (eggs benedict made with crab cakes) and continued our conversation where we left off the night before. So far I’ve met some great people on this trip!
I also need to include a few more lighthouse photos for your viewing pleasure: