I once read a quote about Acadia National Park:
“You can fish with one hand and sample blueberries from a wind-stunted bush with the other.”
After taking two weeks in mid-summer of 2017 to explore this fantastic park, that statement proved right. Plenty of both fresh and sea water locations to dip your line. Around late July and early August, blueberries are ripe enough to pluck. Although you need a license for the first, you can freely harvest and at as many of the later, but you must eat them before you leave.
Quaint oceanside hamlets dot the hodgepodge of parkland and private property on Mount Desert Island, Maine — the core location of Acadia National Park. Within that core, there are two parts, Eastside and Westside, while the remainder is scattered out on smaller coastal islands and the Schoodic Peninsula. As soon as the weather warms up, the area fills with seasonal travelers. Residents number around ten thousand, while tourists come in at roughly 2.5 million per year. Put in another way, that’s 250 tourists per single permanent resident. For our first day at Acadia, we play one of those 2.5 million tourists by sampling the popular spots she has to offer.
Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
Around 60 to 40 minutes before dawn, we took a thermos of hot tea, a couple of warm blankets, headlamps, our cameras, and drove up to Cadillac Mountain. In the dark, the 4-mile drive feels long, but on the other hand, we’re still pretty groggy and do our best to focus on the road. The parking lot is hardly full, and I know it won’t stay that way for long since sunrise at Cadillac Mountain is a favorite past time. We take our time on the Summit Trail, mostly because I’ve got horrid night vision. Eventually, we find our way to an east-facing niche in the rocks. As we settle in, I reflect that we’re on the tallest mountain on the east coast north of the equator. 1,530 feet feels short, especially when you’re a gal from Washington state and lived under the shadow of Mount Rainier’s towering height of 14,411 feet for nearly all your life.
I set up my camera to take a series of interval shots just a foot away so I won’t have to fiddle with it. I want to enjoy myself as we get the first bit of light to hit the continental United States. The sunrise show didn’t disappoint at all and was worth fumbling around in the dark to get ready.
There’s a pinkish hue that creeps over a distant fog hugging the surface of the Atlantic ocean. The sun won’t expose herself until she crests over the fog bank, but when she does the wispy low clouds seem to billow away. At this point, we see that we’re not alone and that the ridge is filled with other sunrise watchers.
As soon as the sun has cleared one finger’s width from the horizon, people start to pack up and leave quickly. We take our time and have a bit of breakfast before touring Acadia National Park.
Park Loop Road
After a majority of the cars vacated the lot, we made our way down the mountain. At an eastern overlook, we stopped to view Frenchman Bay and the many islands that dot the waters. From here, we can see tiny fishing boats out for their daily catch, presumably for the July soft-shell lobster season.
At the bottom of Cadillac Summit Road, we take a right on Park Loop Road. Architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. designed this 27-mile road to show the beautiful sweeping coastlines. Olmstead’s work proves true through its popularity: during summer, and even in mid-week, the road floods with tourists and parking scarce — everyone aching to experience picturesque Maine coastlines.
Sieur de Monts Spring Area
George B. Dorr, a private citizen who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, contributed much to Acadia’s concept and creation. In 1909, as Acadia’s first superintendent, Dorr built an octagonal tile-roofed structure over a spring at the south end of Great Meadow. On a nearby rock, he carved “The Sweet Waters of Acadia.” He also named a nearby spring “Sieur de Monts Spring.” In many ways, the spring signifies the passion and enthusiasm the 20th-century summer residents who saw Mount Desert Island as a place to protect; some even call it the “Birthplace of Acadia National Park.”
With such a prominent historical connection we made it a point to visit Sieur de Monts Spring and admire the serene waters and landscape. After a quick tour of the spring, we head north of the Nature Center and take a stroll through the Wild Gardens of Acadia. Managed by the Bar Harbor Garden Club, it contains the typical habitats found on Mount Desert Island with over 300 indigenous plant species, and each marked for easy identification.
After our quick tour of the gardens, we made our way to an inlet harboring a rare sandy beach along the Maine coast. A surf pounding for thousands of years created Sandy Beach. We arrived at an oddly quiet beach given its popularity. I guess the Rangers weren’t joking when they said to visit the park well before 10 AM for fewer crowds. We enjoy the sound of the surf as we stroll and take note of the seaside trails for later visits.
Just a few minutes drive from Sandy Beach; we head to famed Thunder Hole. This narrow cleft within the pink granite cliffs only “thunders” when the conditions are ideal. Depending upon weather and tide, the waves will pound against the chasm in a rapid gush, driving air out of the hollow space under the cliffs. The result is a thunderous boom. A large splash of water can reach up to 40 feet in height. During our visit the waves bearly reach 3 feet high and it sounded like a gurgling toilet. Rangers suggest checking for high tide and going about an hour or two before. I can imagine the water blast can get going during a coastal storm when the wind is blowing, and seas are rolling.
By the time we get to Otter Cliff, the tourist crowds swarm in mass. Locals consider this 110-foot cliff as the crown jewel of Acadia, with its likeness found on many postcards. The pink jagged granite formations stand firm against the assault of the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean Path starts at Sandy Beach and ends at Otter Point. This would be a fantastic morning stroll with nearly all the coastal Maine ideals in one place and a few less tourists.
Rangers say that nearly 60% of the visitors will stop at Jordan Pond at some point during their visit. We reach Acadia Jordan Pond House by early afternoon and find that park statistic accurate. Apparently, those who hike and explore the park in the morning come to the pond in the afternoon.
Incidentally, Ortega Family Enterprises runs the Pond House as one of the smaller concessioners contracted by the National Park Service. Both locals and guides alike recommend you have tea and popovers at the Pond House. Sadly, like the other NPS concessioners, I find them overpriced and overrated when it comes both to food and souvenirs. I also feel remiss in my duties if I didn’t offer you an alternative so here’s a tasty popover and easy fresh berry jam recipe.
Jordan Pond itself doesn’t disappoint despite the tourist crowds. A 3.3-mile walking trail rims pond, and occasionally branches off to several other park sites. I also notice an original carriage trail running along a ridge adjoining the lake itself. Soon I come to agree that spending a sunny afternoon walking the pond side trail is one of the best ways to enjoy Acadia. By around 4 pm we’re done exploring Jordan pond and head back to our Airstream to plan for more Acadia adventures.