Ken Burns’ new series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” may have piqued your interest about Acadia, the easternmost park in the system. It’s where the mountains meet the sea, and a desire to “do everything” co-exists happily with a sense of calm contemplation.
Acadia National Park is about third hours north of Portland, in relatively easy proximity to the metropolitan areas along the eastern seaboard. It occupies about two-thirds of Mount Desert Island, the most well-known town of which is Bar Harbor. The village where I live was founded in 1761. Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the communities of this New England island. This adds considerably to the charm that captivates park visitors.
Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park.
- Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. At some 1500 feet, it is the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States, and it is breathtaking. Make sure you wear a warm fleece even if it’s August.
- Drive the Park Loop Road. You can get your best overview of Acadia by driving these 27 miles of unsurpassed beauty, created in part through the masterful collaboration of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. There are many lookouts so have your camera ready for this drive.
- Eat lobster. Whether you want a lobster roll, lobster stew, or a two-pounder steamed, you can find a wide range of topnotch restaurants, harbor-side lobster pounds, and quaint cafes to serve you. Our favorite is Thurston’s in Bass Harbor.
- Go biking. Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Acadia offers 57 miles of car-free carriage roads for cycling. There is plenty of parking at Hull’s Cove Visitor Center. Or, if you prefer, you can take a horse-drawn carriage drive from Wildwood Stables and see the park the way Mr. Rockefeller intended.
- Stroll, hike, or climb. The park boasts 130 miles of well-maintained hiking trails that appeal to all levels of fitness. The most exciting trails, such as the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs, feature rungs and ladders. A beautiful moderately challenging hike is Acadia Mountain, overlooking Somes Sound, the only fiord in North America. If you’re looking for easier strolls, consider Asticou Trail and Wonderland – they’re lovely.
- Have lemonade at Jordan Pond House. Select a biking or hiking route that stems from behind Jordan Pond House so that you can conclude your afternoon with lemonade and popovers on the lawn looking towards the Bubbles, a sight that has mesmerized visitors at teatime since 1896. It’s a favorite destination for everyone, but worth the wait.
- Visit Sand Beach. This sandy crescent has cliffs at each side and the Beehive Trail behind it. The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. Another option for a swim is the beach at Echo Lake on the island’s “Quietside.”
- Touch nature – literally. There are several enterprises, including Mount Desert Biological Laboratories, The Dive-In Theatre, and the Mount Desert Oceanarium, that feature touch tanks full of lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. I always end up liking this stuff just as much as the kids do.
- Learn from a park ranger. The National Park Service offers very entertaining talks and walks on subjects ranging tidal pools to birds of prey to the stars over Sand Beach. Scan The Beaver Log to figure out how you can fit in more than one.
- Get out on the water. This great national park is on an island so you must see it from the vantage point of the sea. Whether you’re powering yourself in a sea kayak or the wind is propelling you forward on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park.
Evenings will keep you on the run as well as you explore Mount Desert Island’s restaurant scene. Many specialize in seafood and locally grown produce, but you’ll also find French bistro, authentic Mexican, tapas, and Cuban cuisine. And what if it rains? There are local breweries, bookstores, antique shops, movies, repertory companies, museums, and fashion purveyors that are sure to keep you entertained. In fact, after a few days of hiking, biking, and kayaking, you might hope for a slight drizzle and an afternoon in the rocking chair of a local Maine library.
For specific recommendations and contact information for guides, tours, restaurants, and inns, visit OUR ACADIA — a perfect practical companion for a visit to Acadia National Park. You can find special tips for when to visit, what to do on a rainy day, and how to pack. It also features tips for fall trips and sample itineraries.