But there’s something special about Acadia National Park…a unique combination of natural beauty and rich history…the wild Atlantic contrasted with tranquil ponds…trails climbing steep granite mountains and trails winding gently through cultivated gardens. Woven throughout are reminders of those who have come before…the indigenous Wabanaki…the early tourists known as “rusticators”… and the wealthy elite turned conservationists. I think there is no other place quite like Acadia.
We spent 10 days exploring the park in late September of 2019. It was an idyllic time of perfect weather and the brief lull that occurs between the rush of summer vacationers and fall leaf-peepers.
The Schoodic Peninsula
We started our explorations of Acadia National Park on the Schoodic Peninsula, a remote and lesser visited section of the park. Some people say that this is the best part of the park. We don’t agree. It’s beautiful, but if you’re wanting to do anything in the main part of the park on Mount Desert Island (and there’s far more to do there in terms of hiking and culture), you’ll have a long drive of an hour or more each way.
There’s no question that the Schoodic Woods National Park Campground is superior to the national park campgrounds on Mount Desert Island (the sites are spacious, all have electric hookups, and some have water and electric hookups). But we found three nights was plenty for doing what we wanted to do. Of course, if simply relaxing is what you’re after, this is a good place for that.
The Main Part Of The Park: Mount Desert Island
In 1604, French explorer Samuel de Champlain was sailing down the coast of Maine and came upon an island of picturesque shoreline capped by mountains with bare granite summits. He aptly named it “The Island of the Desert Mountains.” This was the land of the Wabanaki, the “People of the Dawnland.”
In the mid-1800s, artists and journalists painted and wrote about the ethereal beauty of Mount Desert Island and captured the imagination of city people hungry for nature. Tourists came by train, carriage, and boat; stayed with local fishermen and farmers; and were known as “rusticators” for the rustic lifestyle they embraced. By the late 1880s, Mount Desert Island had become a summer retreat for some of the most affluent families on the East Coast.
Fortunately, there were some conservation and civic-minded folks among the wealthy elite, and they banded together in the early 1900s to donate the land for Acadia National Park. Their efforts not only laid the groundwork for the national park, but left a legacy of unique and beautiful sites just outside of the park for everyone to enjoy.
The Scenic Park Loop Road
The 27-mile Scenic Park Loop Road is a good introduction to the eastern side of Mount Desert Island. Many of Acadia’s most popular attractions are located along this road, including trailheads. (Note, though, that you need to get out of your vehicle if you want to see much of anything.)
The first major stopping point is Sieur de Monts, often referred to as the “Heart of Acadia.” Here, we found a sweet nature center, the Wild Gardens of Acadia, the interesting Abbe Museum (which houses historical artifacts of the Wabanaki), and access to several walking trails. It’s a gentle introduction to the park.
One of the most well-known places along the loop road is Jordan Pond. The walk around the pond is lovely, and trailheads for several popular trails are located here. See the Bubbles in the distance? One of our hiking adventures was to the top of South Bubble.
Cadillac Mountain is perhaps the most well-known attraction on the Loop Road. It’s the highest point on the eastern seaboard and offers fantastic views. The short, paved Cadillac Summit Loop Trail is an easy way to enjoy the top of the mountain. You will not be alone, no matter what time of day you choose to visit. This was one of the few places in Acadia where we encountered a lot of people.
Hiking Adventures In Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park offers a variety of hikes, from easy strolls to challenging climbs that involve iron rungs and “exhilarating exposed views.” Um, no. Just no. I love hiking. I do not enjoy being terrified.
We followed the excellent guidance of Joe’s Guide to Acadia National Park for the best hikes in Acadia, and did all of the easy-moderate hikes and a couple of the longer strenuous day hikes.
~The Ocean Path Trail
An easy stroll along the Ocean Path Trail (4.5 mile round-trip) is a perfect way to experience the rugged beauty of the coast.
~Gorham Mountain and Cadillac Cliffs
The Gorham Mountain and Cadillac Cliffs Trails are just across from the Ocean Path Trail. It’s a short trail (2-mile loop) with moderate effort for wonderful views. The half-mile Cadillac Cliffs spur is a worthwhile side trip with interesting rock formations and just a little bit of challenge.
The 3.5 mile trail around Jordan Pond is easy, rustic, and beautiful, with idyllic views of the pond and the Bubbles in the distance.
~South Bubble Mountain
One of the most iconic images of Acadia National Park is looking across Jordan Pond to the twin mountain peaks of the Bubbles (it’s the header image of this post).
On a beautiful blue sky day, we hiked to the summit of the South Bubble. We took the easy South Bubble Trail to the top, where we had an excellent view of enormous Bubble Rock perched precariously on the edge of a cliff.
We could have returned the way we came, but chose instead to hike a hellacious trail down to Jordan Pond. It’s steep, rocky, and treacherous, and there were a few times that we were basically ricocheting from tree to tree as we careened down the trail. But the reward at the end is beautiful Jordan Pond (which we could have driven to, and we had already hiked the trail around the lake on a previous day). So why did we hike down to the pond? I do not know. LOL.
~Pemetic Mountain Hike
We enjoyed all of our hikes in Acadia, but the Pemetic Mountain Trail was our favorite of all. The six-mile trail (round-trip) starts off gently, and then becomes more interesting as you hike 1000 feet up a steep granite mountain. There’s a bit of climbing involved, but nothing too difficult.
The Quiet Side Of Mount Desert Island
The western side of Mount Desert Island is known as “the quiet side,” and we made several trips there for different adventures: A cruise to the Cranberry Islands, a sunset walk to Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and visits to a rusticator’s exquisite cottage and a couple of gorgeous gardens.
~The Cranberry Islands
On a calm autumn day, we embarked on a nature cruise to Islesford, a hamlet on Little Cranberry Island. We learned about history and lobstering from the very good interpretive guide, and then we were turned loose for about an hour to wander the island. There’s not a lot there, but what there is, is unique.
There’s the Islesford Neighborhood House, an attractive rustic community center that was built as a gathering place in 1913 and is still used today for community events.
The Islesford Congregational church, built in 1898, is lovely, especially inside. In one corner, a collection of stained glass art panels made of beach glass was a gift from long-time beloved resident Ashley Bryan. Bryan, an African-American who grew up in Harlem and taught at Dartmouth, was a well-known artist, storyteller, and writer who was actively engaged in creating art well into his 90s.
And at the local post office for the tiny island, we met postmaster Joy Sprague, who in 1977 at age 21 was the youngest postmaster in the United States. She’s known around the world for the vast array of stamps she offers.
`~Asticou Terraces, Thuya Gardens, & The Curtis House
Sometimes I come upon places in our travels and think, “I’d love to live here.” That’s how I felt about Thuya Lodge and gardens, the home of Joseph H. Curtis, a Boston landscape architect and “rusticator” who found refuge on the island. When he died in 1928, he left his home and 140-acre property to the residents of Mount Desert Island for all to enjoy.
Walking up Asticou Terraces to reach the house is a stunningly scenic half-mile approach to the simple lodge. Along the way, you can stop to admire views of Northeast Harbor far below.
The interior of the lodge is cozy, simple, and beautiful.
Outside, the gardens beckon. Even in late September, they were filled with flowers.
~Asticou Azalea Garden
The Asticou Azalea Garden is just a half-mile from Asticou Terraces. It’s an enchanting garden that incorporates traditional Japanese elements into the coastal Maine setting. The combination works well in this environment. Like Thuya Garden, it’s a free gift to the people of Mount Desert Island and all who visit.
~Bass Harbor Head Trail & Lighthouse
Catching the sunset at the Bass Harbor Head Light Station is one of the most popular activities in Acadia National Park. We actually didn’t realize how popular it is until we tried to find a place to park, but this is the most photographed lighthouse in Maine. It was worth the effort.
Built in 1858 and still using the original Fresnel lens installed in 1901, the lighthouse appeared on the America the Beautiful quarter in 2012 and the NPS centennial postage stamp in 2016. It really is a beauty.
The Town Of Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is the largest town on Mount Desert Island, and is known as the “gateway to Acadia National Park.” Although the population is only about 5,000 people, the town can be overwhelmed by the four million visitors that visit Acadia National Park each year.
We did only a few things in town, and again, I think we were lucky in being there during a less tourist-crazed time of year. The Abbe Museum has a contemporary museum of the Wabanaki in the center of town. A Smithsonian affiliate, the Abbe collaborates with the Wabanaki so that they can share their stories in their own words.
We enjoyed a couple of meals in town, including meeting up for the first time with fellow bloggers and avid travelers Janie and Russ. They’ve since come to visit us here in Eastpoint, so it’s fun to look back to our first meeting. On another evening, Eric and I visited Atlantic Brewery for a flight, and had an excellent dinner, tapas style, at Ciao (local seafood, meats, and veggies, very creatively prepared).
Where We Stayed
Given the popularity of Acadia NP, this sounds like an insane choice, but we stayed at a first-come first-served campground in Bar Harbor. The closest private park to Acadia NP, Bar Harbor Campground offers every kind of campsite you can imagine, from tent sites to full-hook up sites. When you arrive at the campground, you drive around, pick out your site, and then go back to the office and pay. Somehow, it works. The sites are spacious, we had a view of the water, and we loved it.
Loved all your photos but especially the header and the loon. What a stunningly beautiful place–thanks for taking us along Laurel and Eric!
Acadia is definitely stunning, Janna. So glad you enjoyed the photos. :-)
Hi Laurel. Wonderful, as always, and it brings back fond memories. My best friend’s grandfather was one of those “wealthy elites” that donated land for the park’s creation. The family still owns a grand “cottage” there – if you walk out the back door, you are immediately on a trail that leads to the top of Eliot Mountain in the park. Viki and I were lucky to spend 5 nights there a few years ago. The house is full of history of the park, and my friend Ted had stories to tell about spending summers there with the Rockefellers, et al. A wonderful 5 days, and we visited many of the spots you did. Thanks for bringing back some VERY fond memories!
Dick, that is so cool! How wonderful that you had the opportunity to stay in one of those gorgeous estates they call “cottages.” I’m sure your friend has some fascinating stories to tell. We absolutely loved our time in Acadia (as you can tell). Thanks for commenting, hope you and Vicki are doing well!
What a wonderful story about your time in Acadia NP. I can see that hiking is the main, and most wondrous attraction here, especially beautiful as a way to escape the tourists. I also can see that the park deserves all that you gave it. I know Sherry has spent a considerable length of time there as well, and has great stories about it. We visited for only one day, as part of a New England cruise. Got to experience crowded Bar Harbor in mid-October…no color yet on the coast…eat lobster rolls and take a trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the views. On our trip northeast this year, we are spending a lot of time in a lot of states, and the trip to Acadia won’t be on the list, sadly. Still loved reading about your time there and enjoying your wondrous photos. Thanks, Laurel. I booked Wild Duck by the way!
Have enjoyed your lifestyle and your photos you take for a long time.
Thank you both so much!
Thank you so much, Bob. We hope you’re doing well!
Sue, we did a lot of hiking in Acadia, but there are plenty of other things to do as well that aren’t as strenuous (strolling the gardens, the boat trip to the Cranberry Islands, the fascinating museums). We thoroughly enjoyed the mix of activities we did. I’m so glad that you got reservations at Wild Duck in Portland! I think you will LOVE Portland.
Thanks for the tour – does indeed look gorgeous! We were unlucky on our big NE tour in arriving at Acadia right when the government shutdown of fall 2013 was happening – park closed! Did have a lobster roll for the first and only time, and experienced the single most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen!
Oh, Alison, I’m so sorry you weren’t able to experience Acadia. We’ve been through a couple of government shutdowns, too, in our travels—during one of them we were kicked out of Yellowstone. But I’m glad you had a lobster roll and experienced a fabulous sunset in Bar Harbor! That’s definitely looking on the bright side. :-)
Thanks, Riley and Karen! Hope you two are doing well and planning some adventures (I’m sure you are).
Wow! Acadia National Park is now on my to-visit list. Years ago, my husband, then boyfriend, did the whole leaf-peeper thing and got as far north as Bar Harbor, but I can see that we missed a lot. It looks like you had perfect weather for your adventure and, for the most part, not many crowds. Your pictures are beautiful… several worth framing.
Janis, we did luck out with perfect weather! And honestly, we were surprised at the lack of crowds. I hope if you return you’ll enjoy it as much as we did! I try to not oversell places in our travels, but this really was pretty near idyllic. I appreciate your nice comment about our photos. :-)
Wow, you guys saw and did a lot, and it looks like you really timed your visit right with very few people interrupting all those lovely scenes. You know I agree with your assessment that there’s just something about Acadia that makes it stand out, and I love how you captured so much of that unique beauty in your photos. Acadia is so much more than challenging (sometimes terrifying, LOL) trails, mountain vistas, and rocky coastlines. It’s got history, charm, character, and great food/booze – all of which you highlighted here. I was also interested in your assessment of Schoodic. I had so wanted to camp there, but couldn’t get a site for love or money. Sounds like maybe that wasn’t the worst thing. Anyway, now I really want to go back and see what we missed (chiefly the Pemetic Mountain Hike and Asticou Terrace/Gardens – both of which look gorgeous!) Great post!!
Laura, I know you feel the same way I do about Acadia…and it’s so hard to put into words what makes it such a special place! I was trying to capture the essence of it, and photos seemed to be better than words. Knowing that you guys like the same kinds of things we do, I really don’t think you missed anything by not staying on the Schoodic Peninsula. It’s worth seeing (just to say you saw it) and it’s certainly peaceful, but I’m betting that you would have been driving back over to Mount Desert Island to do all the fun stuff. When you get back there, I know you’ll love the Pemetic Mountain hike and the Asticou Terrace and gardens!
Fabulous pictures! We visited Bar Harbor in the month of November and avoided the crowds. Got to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. We hoped to go back this summer and see all you’ve shown us that we missed, but we will postpone the trip for one year. The beauty of Acadia is staggering. Thanks! Joe
Joe, I’ll bet you did escape the crowds by visiting in November!! Was it cold? I guess we really should have tried for sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, but I wasn’t enthusiastic about getting up at 4:00 in the morning to try to catch the sun coming up (along with 50 million other people). I know you and Helen will enjoy all of the beauty when you make your trip east next year. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.
Surprisingly, we were not cold. Perfect sweater weather. Plus, we didn’t have to get out of bed until 6:30-ish. November is a good time to visit.
Not having to get up before 6:30 to see the sunrise sounds like a good reason to go in November. :-) It’s great to know that it’s not too cold then—it certainly offers more options!
YAYYY! You finished Acadia! The pictures are great and of course all of your info is not only helpful, but wonderfully presented! Bravo, as always!
YAYYYY!!!! Thanks, Tessa!! I do finally get things done, tardy though I may be, LOL!! I appreciate SO MUCH your enthusiastic support.
Another great article! Thank you for your wonderful, insightful, helpful and well written story of your travels. Looking forward to visiting Acadia and will refer to your article for important tips! Always enjoy your photos too, beautiful!
Thank you for your work!
Aww, thank you so much, Mike! I’m sure you and Cindy will enjoy Acadia, and I definitely recommend going in the shoulder season if at all possible to escape the summer crowds. We absolutely loved our time there, as you can tell. :-)
Great review of a beautiful place. I spent a week there for my 50th Birthday years ago. I was there in late May and pretty much had the place to myself. What a gem. Thanks!
Susie, what a perfect place to celebrate a milestone birthday! Good to know that late May is a quiet time in Acadia, too. It truly is a gem.
Whew, again! :D Acadia, and really all of New England, is in our Yet To Explore file, so it was delightful to be given the next best thing — a narrated pictorial tour by you! September, unsurprisingly (why is everywhere the best then when you can’t be everywhere at once?!) was obviously a great time to visit. The cliffs and shoreline remind me so much of the U.P. I bet you’ll note the similarities this summer, too. I think you broke some records with this post — ten days in one place, almost equal number of pics of you as of Eric, and not one photo of a bird! Not complaining at all, mind you, it’s a beautiful remembrance of a lovely adventure.
Ha, I know I’m not allowed to post anything else until I’m caught up with our 2019 travels!!! I need to speed up the pace, though. You and TBG are going to love Acadia when you get yourselves there. And yes, go in September, although I know September is the best place to be everywhere.
I know we have a reputation for moving around a lot, but we’ve actually stayed a week or 10 days in many places…a few that come immediately to mind are Yellowstone/Death Valley/Big Bend NP/Santa Fe/The Keys/Bisbee/Olympic NP… But the truth is that we’ve also had to move quickly when we were doing epic cross country trips every year. I take most of the photos of stuff we’re doing (Eric is focused on birds), hence, there are always more photos of him. And there IS a bird photo, LOL!! :-)
What a beautiful state….but no matter where your travels take you, YOU both find the best in that space. You have taught us to slow down, savor the villages and sample the fare!!!! Hope you stop in Ludington, MI this summer. We spent 3 days there and had planned to just pass through!!!
Aw, thanks, Julie! You have me intrigued about Ludington…if we’re nearby, we’ll check it out! Looking forward to seeing where you two go next!
What a wonderful recap of your time in Acadia. It’s on my bucket list! I think it’s so wonderful that you and Eric are both enthusiastic about hiking. My husband is 10 years older than me and no longer able to hike. We do take walks, but nothing like your 4 1/2 mile stroll on the ocean path. I can walk forever, but Rod is good for a couple of miles. ;)
Lesley, I do feel fortunate that Eric and I both love to hike. And we seem pretty well matched in what kind of hiking we like to do…we’re both fine with some challenge, but nothing too crazy. I hope you do go to Acadia—I think you would love it! The entire east coast is gorgeous, and so different from the west coast.
Thanks for taking me back to such a beautiful park. While we didn’t spend nearly enough time, we did get a good flavor. We stayed outside Bangor and made the drive to the NP. You two certainly did the park justice. Your photos are gorgeous, as usual. Love seeing you and Eric since who knows when we’ll meet in person again.
Pam, it had been 30 years since I was in Acadia, and after so many years of living on the west coast, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it! But it really is one of the most beautiful places we’ve been. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I wish we could see you in person, it’s been far too long! We have such great memories of all of our hiking adventures together.
Please, please, please don’t ever tell my family that there’s an easy trail to the summit of South Bubble! I’m pretty sure they would kill me, as I led the charge up the mountain from Jordan Pond. When anyone asks, I’m never able to choose a favorite National Park because each one has its own personality and amazing attributes. That being said, Acadia will always be in my top five, and it holds a special place in my heart. There is something magical about its combination of mountains and ocean, its history and the way the Park is interwoven with the lives of the Island’s residents. You did it justice in your delightful description, and your header photo is the best I’ve ever seen of the Bubbles. Thanks for bringing back a flood of wonderful memories, Laurel!
Haha!! Okay, I promise not to tell about the easy trail to the Bubbles! But we took the ‘terrible’ trail down, so I know what you’re talking about. I think that is a horrible trail hiking it either up or down. I agree with you that it’s impossible to choose a favorite national park—they are all so unique. But I also agree with you that Acadia is in my top five. I appreciate your kind comment about our “Bubbles” photo, Mary. :-)
So many memories here, Laurel and Eric! Acadia was our go-to park for many years. We trekked there from Michigan on ten separate vacations and went there an eleventh time from Florida. We’ve hiked most of the trails but, oddly enough, there are still more we haven’t gotten to yet! It is safe to say that quiet places can be found here, even in the height of tourist season. You two really did a wonderful job of exploring Acadia!
Wow, eleven times in Acadia?!! I’m so jealous, Jim! I’d love to hear about your favorite hikes in the park. And I’m glad to hear you say that even in the height of tourist season that there are quiet places to be found. We certainly found many peaceful places (with no one around!) but thought it was just because we were there in September.
Wow, 10 days in one place! Maybe you had a premonition that you were headed toward adopting a new, much different stye of travel. But I can see why you took the time. It sounds like you only scratched the surface of all the trails and local sites, while have a very busy 10 days. I definitely appreciated the discussion of Mt. Desert vs. Schoodic Peninsula since we would normally head over to the more remote area. Good to know that it’s worthwhile to be in the center of the action.
I am amazed by your success in snagging a FCFS site…. I’m not sure I would try that today with several million more RVs out there on the road these days. But with so many sites, Bar Harbor CG looks like a smart choice, especially in shoulder season.
Shannon, we were delighted with Acadia and I feel certain that you and Ken will love it, too. We’re glad we spent several nights on the Schoodic Peninsula (if we had lots of time, a week would have been really relaxing) but I would definitely recommend concentrating your time on Mount Desert Island. We had so much fun and got to do everything we wanted to do, without feeling rushed. Ten days was a perfect amount of time, two weeks would be even better. Or two months…we’ve talked about spending an entire summer up there. :-)
Another “WOW!” post, Laurel! Loved meeting up with you and Eric at Mainely Meat BBQ! We’ve been to Acadia several times (usually for the Acadia Night Sky Festival) and now have new things to put on the list for our next visit. You’re a wonderful tour guide, not only finding great places to explore, but writing about them in an interesting and elegant way. Thank you for the gift of your blog!
Janie, thank you so much for your wonderful comment! Honestly, although I like having a journal of our travels, knowing that people are enjoying our blog encourages me to keep writing it. I know you understand. The Acadia Night Sky Festival sounds delightful! Next time you’re back in Acadia, I think you’ll love the Curtis home and gardens, if you haven’t been there. We were delighted to meet up with you and Russ and look forward to seeing you again sometime soon…here or on the road!
You always seem to be at the right place at the right time. Not sure Winona would fit in Bar Harbor campground or that I wouldn’t be too nervous to not have a reservation in Acadia but I would love to stay there. You guys did in 10 days what we spent 2 months doing and wrote more beautifully about it than I ever could. Your pictures are exquisite and really show off the park beautifully. Your 2nd paragraph is absolutely amazingly perfect. Sure wish you’d write my blog for me.
Sherry, somehow it does seem that we’re in the right place at the right time. Unless we’re not, LOL. We absolutely loved our time in Acadia, and would like to spend an entire summer there, as I know you have. We did a lot, but it was at a relaxed pace, and there’s certainly more to do. Thank you so much for your kind and generous comment. Oh, and I’m sure Winona would easily fit in Bar Harbor Campground…but I’m not sure I’d try for first-come first-served in the summer.
That PLACE!!!! I know what you mean: it is absolutely unique. Also so very popular now, I can’t believe you just waltzed in & scored a campsite! We first went in high summer a million years ago, and I remember picking wild blueberries & later making a pie whose flavor was ALMOST too intense to bear. We camped too, but it was so long ago, all I remember is the general awe. But by 2003–oh my goodness, how the population had swollen! Kind of took the joy out of all that beauty, having to work around so many others trying to experience it too. I’m so glad you got to go in late September–how perfect. (Our other time there was in November, absolutely gorgeous, but a bit limited by temperature in what-all you could do. The big mountain was one giant disco ball of ice!)
A disco ball of ice, LOL!!! That would definitely make for impossible hiking on that big granite mountain. I know what you mean about making the emotional adjustment to the upswing in popularity of the national parks. We remember camping in Arches, Zion, and other national parks when it was easy to walk in and get a campsite. Unimaginable now. We do our best to avoid the crowds by going at less popular times, and so far, our plan seems to be working. Or maybe we’ve just been lucky! Now you have me wanting homemade blueberry pie, Gretchen. :-)
I’ve sadly taken New England off our route this year due to fuel prices shortening our driving distances :-( We loved Acadia but didn’t do is justice in the too-short time we were there. Thank you for this wonderful tour of such a beautiful area!
Jodee, I know you’re disappointed to not be returning to Acadia. :-( Such crazy times…but I know your travels will be wonderful, even if you aren’t going quite as far as you had planned. We’re glad we aren’t planning a cross-country trip this year. Minnesota is far enough!