Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, near Ellsworth, Maine is the second most visited jewel in the National Park Service crown and is a must-do for New Englanders. Acadia combines ocean views, family hiking, and trails for biking, all in one well-planned, scenic place.
The ride is just over four hours from the Merrimack Valley and offers something for everyone. The America the Beautiful pass or day pass is needed to access parts of the park, including the must-see Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain.
Acadia, the French word for “heaven on earth,” is the first Eastern national park, and is unique in the way it evolved. The land that makes up the park is a patchwork of donated parcels and has grown over the years. Several non-contiguous acres lie all over the island, preserved for generations to enjoy.
The park has 57 miles of groomed, wide carriage trails, ideal for strolling or cycling. Bike rentals are available in nearby Bar Harbor, or bring your own. The trails also include 17 stone bridges sprinkled throughout the park, each with a separate design.
Hiking trails have granite steps and some have iron ladders. All levels of hiking ability are accommodated with the vast network of trails and climbs, and porta pottys are stationed at several parking areas. There are also walking paths along some of the roads, and numerous pull outs for those traveling by car. The weather in Acadia can be quite variable during the day so dress accordingly. A hike started in fog may yield sun breaking through the clouds, or vice versa, by the time you reach the summit.
The visitor center at the Hulls Cove entrance is undergoing renovations, but rangers are stationed to greet you and point you to the other two entrance stations or offer suggestions for your visit. Use of the extensive free bus service which runs during the summer is strongly recommended. Leave your car at the visitor center parking lot and take any of five bus routes to carry you all over the park and into the town of Bar Harbor.
This eco-friendly system, which is becoming standard in many National Parks, keeps down pollution, road traffic and saves time for the visitor.
The three-mile walk around Jordan Pond is a beautiful experience, combining gravel paths with wooden plank walks and wide granite blocks. The Jordan Pond House is known for its popovers, a light, crepe-like roll. Treat yourself and sit on the expansive lawn, imagining early 1900’s bliss.
The hike to Bubble Rock is moderate, as is cycling around Eagle Lake. There are no totally flat paths so we found ourselves walking our bikes at some points. Sand Beach is open for swimming in season and has showers and restrooms.
Other not-to-be missed parts of Acadia include Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Schoodic Point. Cadillac, the highest peak on the Atlantic coast, is known as the place where first light breaks over the US at sunrise, at least for a portion of the year. Thunder Hole is a natural rock formation which creates a thundering sound when the waves crash in on it. Check with the visitor center for the tide schedule and best viewing.
Strongly suggested is a side trip to Schoodic Point. Schoodic is an easy 45 minute drive and is worth the effort. Giant granite blocks, ideal for exploring and climbing, surround the point which has its own loop road. Jump out of your car and get close to the sea, watch fishing boats reel in their lobster traps, and smell the ocean air. The lighthouse at Bass Harbor, on the other side of the island, is worth seeking out as well.
Lodging options are a combination of family motels, national chains, and campgrounds, fitting all needs and budgets. Dining runs the gamut in Bar Harbor from lobster to brew pubs to multi-ethnic. There are chain restaurants in Ellsworth, with the lobster pounds of Trenton scattered in between. And see if you can catch low tide and walk to Bar Island from Bridge Street.