AUGUST 11-13, 2020
After my friend arrived via Amtrak from New Hampshire, we had a nearly three hour drive ahead of us departing from Portland, Maine. Our destination: Acadia National Park. Along the way, we blasted some tunes, had a great time catching up, and stopped for some kick-ass burritos in Augusta, which is Maine’s capital city. I had worked in Augusta for a government internship program for a summer a couple years back, so there was a lot of nostalgia driving through the town.
AN INTRODUCTION TO ACADIA
Acadia is my home state’s only national park. It is situated on Mount Desert Island, which is the largest island off the coast of Maine (out of thousands of islands). It is the second largest on the eastern seaboard, following Long Island, NY. Mount Desert Island (MDI) consists of multiple towns, including Bar Harbor, Northwest Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Mount Desert, and others.
Bordering Bar Harbor and taking up much of MDI is Acadia National Park. It is among the top 10 most visited in the US with nearly 4 million visitors a year. It consists of a Park Loop which allows for 27 miles of driving along the outer perimeter of the park, including up Cadillac Mountain and along the beautiful coastline with beaches and rock formations. It also has 158 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads, not to mention 26 mountains and almost 50,000 acres of land.
It was developed in the early 1900s with contributions from local groups and philanthropists, most notably John D. Rockefeller who built the carriage roads as well as donating thousands of acres of land.
There’s not really one clear map that I can post here, as there’s dozens of hiking trail maps, carriage road maps, MDI maps, and so forth. Here is one that highlights the Park Loop. This is the motor road that loops around the coastal edge and through the center of the park.
I went to Bar Harbor and Acadia in 2009 with my family, and then in 2015 as a graduation gift from my parents with my best friend (and boyfriend at the time). This time, I went with one of my best friends and sorority sisters, Karlee. This was particularly special as we have not seen each other in a long time due to COVID-19. Additionally, I’ll be moving in September (will discuss in a post soon!), so this was a nice time to spend with each other catching up and preparing for some big changes. I’ve also had multiple trips cancelled because of the coronavirus and haven’t traveled anywhere since the Québec Winter Carnival in February. I was excited to explore again and spend time with someone I’ve been friends with for half a decade before I leave the area for a while.
The park has various entrance fees. A normal vehicle is $30 and the pass is valid for seven days. They also have rates for bicycles, motorcycles, and hikers, as well as annual pass rates for vehicles. You can buy them online or at one of the entrance stations. Currently during COVID-19, they have three entrance stations open where you can buy passes.
We went to Sand Beach right away when we arrived on MDI and got our park pass. This beach is nested in an inlet on the northeast side of the park. Most of the sand is crushed up shells. The Atlantic Ocean rarely exceeds 55° F (12° C), but there were still plenty of kids (and some adults) swimming! Sand Beach is by far one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to.
There is a scenic trail that starts at Sand Beach and passes by Thunder Hole and ends at Otter Cliff. We planned to walk this but didn’t end up doing it in part because of how heavily trafficked it is. There were a lot of out-of-staters, little to no mask use, and a recent COVID-19 outbreak in Acadia. It was also one of the hottest and most humid weeks of the summer, so it worked out.
Thunder Hole is another main site in the park, and it’s just a little ways past Sand Beach. About two hours before high tide, the ocean height and strength is just right and when the waves roll into the inlet, it sounds like a loud clap of thunder and splashes water dozen of feet in the air. When we visited this round, it was early evening, so it was well past high tide and the ideal time to visit it. It was still a beautiful site! We also went back the next morning as part of our loop on Oli’s Trolley, so this is a mix of photos from both of those trips to Thunder Hole.
And here’s a photo from MDI Islander that shows more of what it looks like a bit before high tide:
We left Acadia for the evening and went to downtown Bar Harbor to find dinner. We look at dinner recommendations from our Air BNB host. We started with trying out the Thirsty Whale Tavern, but they weren’t taking anyone else for the evening. We walked down the road a little bit and found a place called Route 66 Restaurant.
We stayed at Bay Meadow Cottages, which we found through Air BNB. We stayed in the Blue Heron cottage, which had a queen bed, bathroom, and small kitchenette. An added bonus was that there was a private beach across the street, as well as fire pits and provided firewood in front of the cottages.
To start off day two on August 12, we went back to downtown Bar Harbor (with a significant amount of pedestrian traffic, tourists, and no masks, but I digress) to get breakfast at Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast.
Something I had done back on my trip in 2015 was a tour with Oli’s Trolley. This is considered one of the top things to do on a trip to Bar Harbor, and while it is quite tourist-y, it is nice to have the narrated loop through the park with historical context and fun facts. While we were at breakfast, we got the call that the trolley was leaving in 10 minutes – we had miscalculated the time and thought it was 11:15, but it was 11! So off we went with our breakfast in to-go boxes.
We selected the Acadia National Park full tour which includes a brief loop through downtown Bar Harbor and a trip up Cadillac Mountain as well. There are shorter tours that include just downtown or just the mountain, as well. Being on the trolley felt much different than in 2015, mainly because of social distancing and half as many seats. It was humid and sweaty and still squishy, but it was still a good trip. We started the trek, which covered Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain. At each of those spots, we had about 15 minutes we could get off the trolley and explore.
Jordan Pond is a small pond within Acadia National Park. Bordering the pond, there is Jordan Pond Restaurant and small gift shifts. Standing out on the terrace, you are able to see the Bubble Mountains, which is another popular hiking adventure. The North Bubble reaches 872 feet while the South Bubble reaches 766.
Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak along the eastern seaboard reaching 1,530 feet (466 meters). It is also the first place in the United States to see the sunrise for much of the year. As an added bonus, it’s the place where my parents got engaged! I visited Acadia in 2009 with my family (two left pictures) and again in 2015 with my best friend (right picture).
There are plenty of Cadillac Mountain hiking trails, but most of them are considered moderate to advanced and not for amateur hikers! There is a short one mile loop around the summit where you can get different views of downtown, the Porcupine Islands, and the bays and narrows that surround Acadia and lead into the Gulf of Maine.
The Park Loop goes up Cadillac Mountain and is about 3.5 miles of twists and turns and great views along the way. There are also some beautiful overlooks to take photos, enjoy nature, and watch the sunset and sunrise (we’ll come back to that).
After our Oli’s tour, we walked around downtown Bar Harbor and explored some options for dinner. We settled on Paddy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant. Our outside dining allowed nice views of the water (not well reflected by the photos, but they were there).
CADILLAC MOUNTAIN & SUNSET
During our tour, we were told that the Blue Hill Overlook is the best place to watch the sunset on Cadillac Mountain. We were intrigued by this and headed back to the mountain around 6:30 PM. Sunset was 7:42 PM and more people gathered as time went on, but there was still plenty of room to socially distance. The Blue Hill Overlook is the last pull-out on the Park Loop trail up the mountain, and it’s about 1/4 mile before the summit. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I just sat and watched the sunset in nature. This was a breathtaking experience, and I’m happy we did it!
I was on picture-taking duty so Karlee could take a time lapse the only way we could come up with…..
After the sunset, we continued the last portion of the drive to the summit and walked around the summit loop. We stayed until it was dark and enjoyed stargazing with little to no light pollution. This was such a mindful experience and also beautiful.
LAST NIGHT FIRE (& A BOTTLE OF WINE OR SO)
After that, we headed back to the cabin and set up a celebratory fire to hang out, connect, and enjoy our last night. It’s hard to take photos of a fire, and even harder to show what a great time we had. I’m preparing to move, so this was my last big visit with Karlee. This added an emotional component but trying to be present and enjoy all the laughs, stories, and experiences was super meaningful.
OTTER CLIFF & THE LAST DAY
We started our last day with a trip to Ellsworth (which is a town back on the mainland) for a much needed Dunkin’ fix. Then, we did one last trip to the Park and drove the main part of the loop. The main area we explored was Otter Cliff, which is a 110 foot high cliff surrounded by hundreds of large rocks perfect for jumping and exploring and viewing the ocean. It’s less than a mile past Thunder Hole, and you also have a good view of Sand Beach.
After thoroughly enjoying this spot, it was time to start out 173 mile (278 km) trek back home around noon and get Karlee to her bus back to NH by 4:30 PM!
Such a great trip with a great person, beautiful sites, and a much needed respite from the real world.