Breathing in Acadia. Vacationland at its Finest.
“Breathe, breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care. Leave but don’t leave me.
Look around, choose your own ground.” ~Pink Floyd
The great state of Maine has rightfully earned the coveted title of Vacationland. From the welcoming gates of Kittery through the beaches of Ogunquit, Wells and York up to the peaks of Sugarloaf and Sunday River down to the quaint town of Bar Harbor, there are far too many reasons why Maine has become my favorite state to vacation. Its vast landscape stretching across a mighty 35,000 square miles, holds countless natural gems impossible to unearth in one’s lifetime.
One of the most precious of these gems is Acadia National Park. With its sharp rocky edges that begin at its icy cold waters and stretch gallantly upwards into its crisp blue sky, Acadia is 47,000 acres of lush prehistoric-like recreation land located on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Owned by the National Park Service, Acadia was established in 1916 in an effort to preserve and protect its natural beauty and habitat. 100 years later, it would seem that not much has changed.
There is a magical inhuman like aura that Acadia exudes, a breathable anti-depressant that rejuvenates the soul. Like a great yoga class without all those Vinyasas. It’s a place for solitude and a place to connect, a place to find your own breath and your own path. It is the sun that begins each day with a slow launch above the horizon, the quietness of Jordan Pond, the narrow carved out trails low along Sand Beach and high on Cadillac Mountain, the Bass Head Lighthouse welcoming ships into the Western Bay, the pristine ocean beating waves up through Thunder Hole, the Cranberry Isles dancing idyllically in the distance, and the night sky throwing out its endless stars for all to see.
It is Acadia. And it is quite simply, everything good.
“Sign me up!”, you say. Well, the first step in living the Acadia dream is to book your campsite. Whether you are someone who 1) has never set foot in a tent (and no, glamping does not count), or 2) has had some outdoor experience and are ready to take it up a notch, or 3) are like my brother, Blair, who mountain bikes down cliffs and can setup a tent with one hand, the place to go is Blackwoods Campground. Located on the east side of Mount Desert Island, about 5 miles from downtown Bar Harbor, Blackwoods is directly off the Park Loop Road and includes both tent and RV sites. Blackwoods is run by the park service so Rangers are readily available to assist as needed. Blackwoods also offers enclosed bathrooms with running water. There are no showers. Campers can drive across the street to use the very clean and well maintained coin operated showers.
Hint: Want to check out the outdoor life of Acadia but really need a soft bed and warm shower in the morning? Consider staying at one of the many beautifully quaint Bed & Breakfast’s sprinkled throughout the town. Here’s a list of the top 31 B&Bs in downtown Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor is a short 10 minute drive to the Park Loop Road where you can explore at your comfort level (after a nice hot shower).
Once you’ve settled into your campsite (or B&B) you’ll want to start plotting out your time in Acadia — making sure you still have some quality hammock time. Biking, kayaking, hiking, swimming, climbing, sailing, eating and sleeping, the options are quite literally endless. To narrow things down a bit, here’s a list of my top 5 favorite things to do when in Acadia National Park.
#1: Go on a hike. There are over 120 miles of hiking trails in Acadia (not including the Carriage Roads) with varying levels of difficulty from very easy to easy to moderate to strenuous. So if ever you were to make hiking your new favorite outdoor activity, now is the time. You’ll want to pickup a trail map from the Acadia Visitor Center or at Blackwoods Campground check-in. Here’s a helpful website that lists out all the trails by level of difficulty. If you are just getting your Acadia bearings and want to warm up those hiking feet, I highly recommend checking out Jordan Pond. A visit to Jordan Pond is a must-DO when in Acadia. The pond was formed by a glacier and is the water supply to nearby Seal Harbor. And although you might be tempted to jump into its perfectly clear water to cool off there no swimming is allowed. They do however, allow kayaking and hiking. The Jordan Pond Nature Trail is an easy 1 mile trail that allows you to hike along the waters edge. It’s an easy comfortable way to take in nature and breath in your surroundings. And when you are done with your hike pop on over to the Jordan Pond House for their famous popovers and tea. Give yourself some time to take in the view of the North and South Bubble Mountains off in the distance.
Ready to take your hiking up a notch? I highly recommend taking on the infamous Cadillac Mountain. Known for its brilliantly colored sunrise (more on that later), Cadillac Mountain stands just over 1,500 feet tall and the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard. Cadillac, along with the other mountains along Mount Desert Island, were created by volcanic changes which is evident my its rocky peaks and edges. When hiking Cadillac Mountain you can choose to take he North Ridge Trail, a moderate trail that runs roughly 4 miles or the South Ridge Trail, a more strenuous 7.7 mile trail that starts just outside of the Blackwoods Campground entrance.
Hint: If you are looking for a strenuous shorter trail, you might want to check out Acadia Mountain Trail off Route 102. It’s 2 miles up and down. The view of Somes Sound at the summit is breathtaking. But beware, the edges and crevices of the down part will take you some time.
#2: Jump on a bike. The Park Loop Road is a fantastically paved 27 mile roadway that runs around the eastern half of Mount Desert Island opening its tree-lined boarders just enough to expose some of Acadia most amazing spots. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time between the biking to stop and enjoy these beautiful sites along the way. Feel the pillowy soft earth beneath your feet at Sand Beach, the clear cold air come over the edges of Otter Cliff and the heart of Acadia beating at Thunder Hole (described by Google Maps as a “rock crevice with pounding wave action”; yes, you’ve got to go there.).
If you are interested in more of a roughed ride, you may want to check out one of the Carriage Lanes on the island. In fact, Acadia beholds 45 miles worth of carriage lanes constructed back in 1913 (completed in 1940) for use by horses and bikes. No cars allowed. The lanes are covered with tiny stones which make for a more adventurous ride. And while you are there you can check out great views of Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond.
#3: Take a dip. Whether you are in the mood for the fresh waters of Echo Lake or the salty waves of Sand Beach, both are must visit treasures of Acadia and will certainly do its part in rejuvenating that spirit of yours. At Echo Lake you’ll find ample parking and both changing rooms and showers. At Sand Beach is the entrance to Great Head Trail, a moderate path that gives you the best views of the beach. It’s worth a pre-dip hike.
#4 and #5 really go hand in hand and are both equally important on the must-do-when-in-Acadia list. After a long day of biking, hiking and swimming you might be tempted to call it quits after the campfire dinner. Don’t. Hang in there until that last bit of light has left the sky. Then…LOOK UP. If the skies are clear, you’ll see it. While you were toasting your marshmallows and poking at the amber embers of your precious fire, the night sky has slowly been assembling a show that is nothing short of an astrological masterpiece. There are stars…billions of stars. How can you see more? Now, I’ll let you in on a little Blackwoods Campground secret (I know, it’s not so secret but it makes for a better story). There is a pathway off the Park Loop Road that runs along Blackwoods which will take you to the cliffs on the ocean’s edge. Scary, yes, but worth the adventure. Bring a lantern and a friend. Once you get to the cliffs (sometimes it can be crowded) find a spot and nestle in. There is it. Stars and Milky Ways and lots of other awesome things that I don’t understand (I got a D in Astronomy). You may want to shout out at every shooting star or sing a Pink Floyd song or do something to proclaim your rush of emotions. Don’t. Treat the watching cliff as your library and just be quiet. Your fellow watchers will thank you for it. Stay as long as you want but not too long. #5 will require an early wake up call.
#5 brings with it the spectacularness of an early morning wakeup. Like 5am early. In late August at around 5:45am something mind blowing happens in the furthest part of the eastern horizon. The sun rises. The best place (and the first in the U.S. during March-April) to catch this colorfully inspiring orchestra of light is…you guessed it…from the top of Cadillac Mountain. In fact the mad driving dash up the mountain is actually the thing to do on those cool dewy summer mornings in Acadia. And as you rush to find the most perfect spot to sit just in time to see that first sparkle of light, you slowly start to breath again remembering why you came to Acadia. The sun’s slow climb gives you time to reflect on the miles you’ve covered and the ground you’ve passed since you arrived in Acadia. It also grants you a new day in Acadia with new adventures, new memories and new discoveries.
Acadia is indeed a bucket-list-worthy destination that will leave you breathless every time.