After a wonderful weekend in Portland Maine (and an outstanding brunch at Terlingua), we squished ourselves back in to the car and set off up the coast towards Acadia National Park, a three hour drive away. With New Hampshire, Vermont, Montreal and Algonquin Provincial Park still to come on the road trip, we only had 24 hours or so to explore 47,000 acres of forest, lakes, ocean and mountains, but we made it count. Read on to see how we spent them.
Mt.Desert Island has a certain Isla Nubar feel to it, so we blared out the Jurassic Park soundtrack on the way in. We powered down the 102, past Atlantic Brewing’s Mainely Meat BBQ, heading straight for Echo Lake to dip our toes in the water. Echo Lake Beach is probably the most popular freshwater swimming spot on the island, but we decided to head instead to the more secluded Ikes Point. Look out for the turning as you drive along the east side of the lake. It’s a beautiful spot, perfect for a paddle or a swim, and also a sneaky launch pad for small boats. We had a great time messing around with remote controlled camera shots and stone skimming, and met a friendly pooch called Cassie who was terrified of water!
N.B. All the photos were either taken by me or road trip teammate Maggie Gray, using Canon 500d & Canon 5D Mark II bodies and a variety of lenses. Hover over the photos for more details.
With sundown approaching, we pushed on through the quiet towns of Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor to get to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Tremont. The picturesque lighthouse was built in 1858 and is well known to photographers for its incredible sunsets. After a quick look around the viewing area right by the lighthouse, we took the path over by the tree canopy that leads right down to the water and settled in for a technicolor setting of the sun surrounded by friendly photo hunters.
Despite the relatively large crowds, it was a magical, peaceful experience, and we had a lot of fun taking risky photos right by the edge on slippery rocks, plus the odd meta snap for good measure. If the tide hadn’t been conspiring to leave us all stranded, we would have stuck around to fully appreciate the gloaming. Feeling smug with our choices so far, we hopped back in the car and drove across the island to the lively town of Bar Harbor where we spent the night. We stayed at the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel which suited our needs perfectly, and made it to McKay’s Public House next door just before the kitchen closed for crab cakes, bourbon ice cream, and several pints of Maine Beer Co.’s Lunch IPA.
No sooner had we laid our heads down on our respective pillows, than a 4.30am alarm went off for the next adventure – a drive up the Summit Road to nearby Cadillac Mountain just in time for a panoramic sunrise over Mount Desert Island and the Porcupine Islands to the East. Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra was a fitting soundtrack for our race against our nearest star to the top, though it was covered up by various expletives as the apocalyptic orange skies loomed large. I’ve never seen anything like it – it looked the entire horizon was on fire for a solid half hour before stunning shades of red, purple and blue took over and hazy light filtered down on to the striking boulders and surrounding trees and bushes. Unsurprisingly, many others also made the early morning journey to see the sun do its thing, but there was plenty of room for everyone.
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard, and the first place in the USA to see sunrise for half of the year (between October and March). It would have been even taller had the top not been sheared off by mile high glaciers 18,000 years ago – just a reminder that we should probably look after this rock we call home! Sunset over to the West should also be a wonderful sight if you don’t fancy skipping sleep, with Eagle Lake, Blue Hill Mountain, and the lights of Southwest Harbor visible in the distance.
After a much needed coffee-based breakfast back at the hotel (and possibly a cheeky nap), we soldiered on to make the most of our final few hours in the park. We would have spent more time in charming Bar Harbor given an extra day or two, but we decided to prioritise a drive round the iconic 27-mile Park Loop Road with various stops along the way. A fair chunk of the road is one-way so plan your route carefully!
We parked near Sand Beach first, and walked across the beach to reach the Great Head Trail, a family friendly jaunt that affords great views over Beehive Mountain. Then it was on to Otter Cliff, an imposing 110-ft high rock formation that appeals to thrill-seeking climbers. We skipped nearby Thunder Hole, so-called for the almighty noise that the waves make when they hit a small inlet – one to visit when the ocean is in the mood. Our final stop was Jordan Pond House, an Acadia institution that overlooks Jordan Pond and the North & South Bubbles. Afternoon tea and popovers (Yorkshire pudding croissant hybrids of sorts) on Jordan Pond House lawn are a summer tradition that started back in 1890s, so it would have been rude of us not to partake. It’s a very popular spot, so book ahead if you can.
And that, my friends, is how you do Acadia National Park in 24 hours. A longer stay is obviously advisable, but I do love me a bit of road trip efficiency! Acadia is a stunning coastal retreat, off the beaten track, that quietly flies under the radar compared to the likes of Yellowstone and Yosemite, and I imagine that’s just the way Maine residents (Maineiacs?) like it.
For more info on visiting Acadia National Park, head to the NPS website here. I also want to give a shout out to Acadia Magic, an excellent website filled with useful articles and sublime photography that I’ve linked to throughout this post. Sadly I only discovered it after our trip, but I’ve used it a lot since!