Visiting Acadia National Park (ANP) was a much anticipated part of our journey. So many people we met said we simply MUST go there during our travels. Most of the park land was donated by private owners and the nearly 50,000 acres include Mount Desert Island (near Bar Harbor), the Schoodic Peninsula, and 16 smaller islands. A little known fact is that the donor of the Schoodic Peninsula did so only if name of the park was changed from Lafayette to Acadia, because the estate owner disliked the French. 😳
We camped in between the two main regions of the park in a town called Sullivan, away from the high traffic areas near Bar Harbor, so most of our adventures involved driving into the park rather than hiking and biking. However, what made driving through the park nice was the fact that most of the Park Loop Road and the Schoodic Loop Road are one way traffic only, so it’s a lot less chaotic. The only negative is that if you miss something, you can’t just turn around and go back. And though we didn’t get to hike as much as we would have liked due to Matt’s injury, here is a sampling of the other activities we got up to during our stay.
Mount Desert Island
The Wild Gardens of Acadia
Right before you reach the Park Loop Road in ANP, take a right and go to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, which is home to over 300 native plant species, several hiking paths and a boardwalk. One of my favorite parts was seeing the showy lady’s slipper in bloom, which happens to be the Minnesota state flower (where I grew up). We walked on the boardwalk for a little while north into the marshlands, and then south to a pond called The Tarn, which has stunning views of Cadillac Mountain.
Another park attraction that everyone says you must visit is Thunder Hole, so named because of the thunderous sound the waves can make at high tide when they crash into the inlet carved in the rocks along the seashore. Parking can be challenging, and often you end up walking quite a ways just to get to it. When we arrived, it was not so thunderous, so we weren’t impressed. 😂 However, there are several short trails that lead down to the rocky shoreline and provide excellent views of the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. Plus, there is a hiking path that heads down to Otter Point and up to Sand Beach, so another option is that you can walk the shoreline and see Thunder Hole along the way, giving you more parking options and a 4.5 mile round trip.
Because Matt couldn’t hike yet, we opted to drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain and check out the stunning views. Please note that there is a reservation system now in place to drive up Cadillac Summit Road. The total cost is $6 per vehicle with fees included and requires that you have a national park pass, but it was well worth it. Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the eastern coast at 1530 feet of elevation, so the views of the ocean, Bar Harbor, all of the islands off the mainland, and farther inland are pretty spectacular. It is fairly windy and exposed at the top, so be sure to bring a jacket and/or sunscreen.
I couldn’t resist taking a few hours to hike up this mountain. The south and western sides are steeper and require more scrambling, so I did a tamer hike since I was doing it solo. Matt dropped me off at the Gorge Path trailhead and I did a loop up Gorge Path and down North Ridge. The hike up Gorge Path was mostly stair stepping and then scrambling up boulders for the last half mile. I gained over 1300 feet in just under 2 miles and was glad I didn’t go down the Gorge Path, as it would have been tricky in the boulder section. 😯
North Ridge was more gradual, with a lot of slab rock and great views of Bar Harbor and the surrounding areas along the way. I was glad to have a more leisurely and less technical descent. All in all, the loop was 4.8 miles, about 95% rocky surfaces, and took about 2 1/2 hours. The trails are well marked and maintained and reasonably trafficked, so I was happy with the route I chose.
The Nor‘Easter Pound & Market
On our last day in the park, we tried to visit the Jordan Pond House to try some of their popular popovers (a favorite of mine growing up). Plus, there is a network of carriage roads, built with the help of the Rockefellers, that are now used for for walking and biking, etc. However, among the four large parking lots nearby, we couldn’t find a space and finally gave up. It was simply too busy for us to deal with. Instead, we headed out of the park to Northeast Harbor and enjoyed a late lunch at the Nor‘Easter Pound & Market.
This turned out to be a great choice. It was so much more relaxing than what we would have had to endure to get into the Jordan Pond Restaurant (JPR). I imagine wintertime might be a better time to get popovers from JPR. 🤷🏻♀️ At the Nor’Easter there was ample parking nearby, the staff was friendly, great views from the patio, and the food was satisfying. Matt and I indulged in some fish tacos with fries. I especially loved the sea salt and rosemary fries.
Closer to where we camped is the lesser known part of ANP, called the Schoodic Peninsula. According to one tour guide, only 10% of ANP visitors go there! We loved the fact that it was so much less crowded that we went there twice, and thought the views were equally as stunning, albeit without the birds eye views you get from Cadillac Mountain.
It is not mentioned in a lot of the park guides, but there is a place along the Schoodic Loop Road called the Ravens Nest with just a few parking spots. It’s only .25 miles to hike to the viewpoints off of this cliff, and it is beautiful, so check it out if there is parking available.
At the southernmost part on the peninsula is Schoodic Point, where the former naval base and now the Schoodic Education and Research Center resides and is open to visitors. We loved the wide open views along the rocky shoreline, peering into puddles of water developed from high tide looking for little creatures, admiring the beautiful irises growing among the rock crevices, and talking with other travelers staying at the Schoodic Woods Campground.
After driving the park road, we went to the small town of Corea for Lunch on the Wharf based on Pete and Terri’s recommendation, the folks that run the campground where we stayed. This is an active wharf, so you can see the fishing boats in the harbor, the lobster traps on the docks, and know you will have fresh seafood to enjoy for lunch. 🙂 Matt had their lobster grilled cheese and I had their lobster BLT and a cup of chowder.
We enjoyed the low-key vibe of Schoodic so much the we decided to go back and bike from the Schoodic Woods Campground parking lot. It was a great test of Matt’s foot, which did surprisingly well! 😃 Along the ride, we stopped to admire the views of the Winter Harbor Light on Mark Island, used until 1933 and now privately owned.
Another small parking area with gorgeous views is Blueberry Hill, just before you head north and out of the park. It is often packed with cars, so it was nice to roll up on our bikes and not have to worry about finding a place to stop. This spot affords views of Little Moose Island. Although you can access the island at low tide, it is discouraged because it’s a refuge for the birds that occupy it.
We left the park and arrived in Birch Harbor, where we circled back around on Highway 186 to the parking lot where we started for just over an 11-mile loop. It was a pleasant bike ride and I highly recommend it. We felt safe the whole time, especially with two lanes and a one-way road, so cars could easily pass us. Afterward, Matt decided to head back to Birch Harbor and get ice cream at Me & Ben’s, which features Giffords ice cream, as well as shakes with soft serve, hot dogs and other treats. We earned our ice cream that day. 🍦
Though the traffic and crowds are always a challenge when visiting a national park, overall we enjoyed visiting and hope to come back again when Matt’s foot is healed to do some of the things we missed out on during this trip. The views of the rugged coastline, the deep blue waters, littered with a plethora of small islands and several lighthouses is breathtaking. The food was equally as satisfying and people were friendly, making our time here such a positive experience. Come see what all the fuss is about.
3 thoughts on “Acadia National Park”
As it happens, my wife and I will visit ANP this fall for the first time, as part of a New England cruise. Thanks for the preview!
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We visited ANP a year ago June and had a great time. Stayed in Southwest Harbor which was uncrowded and lovely. Great photos!
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Great pictures! You have to time Thunder Hole just right – one to two hours before high tide – to witness its thunder. Sorry I forgot to share that tip with you earlier! We had a difficult time getting reservations at Jordan Pond House because its so popular, but it was worth it! We didn’t make it to Schoodic Peninsula at all when we visited Acadia. We’ll just have to go again!!
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