National Park Count: 23
Hello fellow adventurers! I have never seen the fall colors in the Northeast! In fact, since I moved to Florida in 2004, I have seen the tail end of the leaves changing just ONCE, and that was last year, past peak in Hot Springs, AR. In May, the Sidekick and I decided to pull the trigger on a fall trip to Maine! The idea was to avoid crowds but still get some color changes, so late September was the chosen date!
I will begin with some general things to know about visiting Acadia! It seems many are unaware of the rules and procedures of many parks until they arrive and it’s too late to adjust. Acadia is another one of those National Parks steeped with lots of history and surrounded by and somewhat coexisting alongside functioning towns, so there are many places to stay and eat. The park itself is MOSTLY contained on MDI, Mt. Desert Island, off the central coast of Maine. There is a spot to the northeast on the mainland and some smaller islands off the coast that are also part of the park that we did not stop by. MDI itself is sorta divided in half by a sound that makes its way nearly half way into the island. The east side contains most of the big features of the park and also the big tourist town, Bar Harbor. The west side, where we stayed, contains some smaller towns and some other less visited parts of the park. It is also known as the quiet side. The east side of the park has one big loop road that accesses many of the big features. It is very important to note that it is ONE WAY and that can mean you end up doing it more times than you want. Which is sorta what happened to us. There are other roads that help, but if you wanted to plan your trip to do say, Jordan Pond, Beehive, Thunder Hole, and some other spots, be prepared to try to get them all in one day or you have to drive the loop multiple times. Also, the park itself is one of the most visited in the nation and does require some advanced planning for rentals and such. In addition, if you want to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, you absolutely must have a pass reserved on recreation.gov and the sunrise one especially is not easy to snag. The pass you get is time specific and you must be there during the 30 minute window. On top of that you do need a parks pass or an Acadia specific pass to get in. And if that all isn’t enough, the pass actually must be displayed in the vehicle at all times from the rear view mirror. I am guessing this is to prevent people from sneaking their vehicles in for free on some of the other roads throughout the island. So to recap, if you want to visit Acadia: You must have a pass displayed at all times and if you want to drive Cadillac Mountain you must have a separate pass only purchased online
We flew, surprise, Southwest (11.20 round trip per person thank you very much!) from Tampa to Portland, ME. It was a late arrival on a Friday night and we picked up the rental car and stayed the night in Portland. Weather was looking suspect for Saturday and Sunday. We had booked a hiking excursion outside of Acadia with a pack of German Shepherds! Awesome right!? Well, canceled. Bummer! If you are interested, it was an excursion found through AirBNB in Penobscot, ME. Due to the cancellation of that hike we decided to find some breweries and wound up a a cool spot with FIVE different breweries all in one spot, including Allagash Brewing which is a big one up there, and I had actually had their beers before from a mail order beer service. The grounds are beautiful and I highly recommend it!
We continued on our way up the coastal highway to Acadia. Despite the name, the road is only strictly along the coast for a bit and it’s never right along the water. The good news is the time difference between that road and the interstate is negligible. We did find a spot to stop for a brew, a view, and a photo op! Then the rain came. We checked into our AirBNB, an awesome spot in Southwest Harbor right on the water! The weather was kind crummy, but despite that, what we could see looked awesome. But there was a surprise hiding until the next day! That evening we checked out a couple local spots. I highly recommend a place called Peter Trouts!
The next morning it was pouring, and pouring. BUMMER. Our good weather streak came to an end! But never fear! We had a plan! We drove into Acadia proper and visited the Thunder Hole. It’s a cool spot that’s going to get a person soaked anyway! I had researched that 2 hours prior to high tide was the best time. The water rises with the tide and catches a sea cave and makes a distinctive And we did get wet. But, after that we were driving along the park road and the skies cleared up to a gorgeous day! We stopped for an appetizer and a drink at the Jordan Pond House and chilled there for a bit. This facility is right next to Jordan Pond, which gives great views of some large hills called the Bubbles. I might have taken a silly dude picture posing with them! Then, it was off to the first of two trips up cadillac mountain. I had a reservation fopr the later afternoon if we wanted to catch the afternoon sun view. I also had a pass for an early morning visit the following day, so we went up that afternoon to see what was happening up there. The Sidekick and I hiked around the northern and eastern facing side of the summit for a bit, it was very crowded, but the views of the ocean and Bar Harbor were spectacular. Then we drove down a bit to a very empty spot of the mountain facing the sinking sun to the west. We chilled up there and had some snacks. I have to say that I was quite surprised at how empty this spot was. It looks over most of the park and faces the setting sun. And with almost no one there at all, it is a PRIME spot if you are looking for some damn peace and quiet! Afterward we came down and headed toward Bar Harbor. I will tell you that personally I feel it’s a cool town with a beautiful setting, but it is WAY too crowded. We found a stellar restaurant though, Galyn’s, and I had a KILLER halibut. It cost a fortune… but when in Maine!
That evening in Southwest Harbor was quite beautiful. The room is essentially on this cusp of a “dark sky” area. The stars were out and beautiful with just a very faint offering of Milky Way view. It has been a long time since I have seen that many stars. Had I wanted, I am sure I could have got a killer Milky Way view just a few minutes down the road! If you are looking for a star viewing place, take a slightly disappointed look at a light pollution map, and are discouraged, never fear! This is a spot to see some great star views for sure!
The following morning was entirely opposite the previous morning! Although we were not able to get sunrise tickets up Cadillac Mountain, the dock protruding from the AirBNB grounds gave a killer sunrise! That, and the scenery and mountains all around were visible after hiding in the rain the previous morning! Soon after sunrise though, we did have a 7 o’clock pass up the mountain, so off we went. Though we missed sunrise by about 45 minutes, the view in the morning was spectacular! The Sidekick and I hiked around to a part of the summit that was devoid of humans and just took it in. Next up was the Beehive Trail! This is a short trail but is easily the most treacherous hike I have ever attempted and completed! Though short it is basically a climb straight up the side of the mountain. Sometimes there are iron rungs and handholds hammered into the rock, sometimes it is just hand over hand on rock. Though scary, the views were astounding of the ocean, one of the beaches and some of the gorgeous foliage colors! At the top we stopped for a beverage and some snacks before heading down on the more traditional trail on the back side. We had planned to stop for lunch at Jordan Pond House again, but there was a CRAZY long line just to get on the waitlist, so we decided to head back to the room and relax. After a brief nap we went to the south of of this side of the island. We stopped at another spot considered to be in the park, a rock formation from the road out into the sea called aptly enough, The Seawall. There were a couple trails down here as well that we were going to do the next day so we drove past them, then continued on to the famed Bass Harbor Lighthouse. So this lighthouse is very well photographed, and the backdrop is gorgeous of course….but, as far as lighthouses go? I live in Florida we have beautiful, tall, and climbable lighthouses all over the state. While this one was pretty, I was not that impressed. But check it out if you are there for sure!
We had hoped to do a little more the next day but unfortunately events conspired against us, so a return trip might be warranted!
Overall impressions: Pros: Absolutely stunning scenery. The loop road is a great national park drive. There a lots of things to do. Cons: Lot of logistics involved in planning for this one. Other than that, really none.
The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! This is in my top parks for sure and is probably a “must return to” park. Even if weather had cooperated as planned I think I would still want to come back! Definite must visit!