Recommended: From 1913-1940 John D. Rockefeller had 45 miles of crushed-rock carriage roads constructed within the park so that he (and others) could enjoy horseback and carriage riding away from automobile traffic. These roads are a unique feature of Acadia and were carefully constructed to disrupt as little of the landscape around them as possible. Watch for the 17 bridges built of native stone and each with its own special design.
Biking: as heavy traffic/big buses on the paved roads (especially Park Loop Road) can be dangerous and darned unpleasant for bikers, these no-cars-allowed paths are perfect for two-wheeling. Bring your own or rent. Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop (www.barharborbike.com) has been outfitting visitors for 30 years and are supposed to be a great resource for best routes. There are a couple other local rental places as well: check the Bar Harbor website.
Bikes aren't allowed on a few of the privately-owned carriage roads (posted) or any of the hiking trails.
Carriage Rides: Carriages of Acadia offers 1-2 hour open-carriage rides daily from mid-June to mid-fall. The stables are 1/2 mile south of Jordan Pond House near the junction of Stanley Brook and Park Loop Road:
These are popular and fill up quickly so reservations are a good idea.
Hiking/Walking: Whether using them to access a trail or just out for a stroll, they are easy, fun, and very pretty.
Free Carriage Roads User Guides can be picked up at the Acadia Visitor Centers or downloaded here:
Mt. Desert Island has excellent local brews and you can sample them either at the breweries themselves or around town at various bars and restaurants. As Maine (when it isn't all about lobster) is famous for blueberries, try at least one of the several blueberry ales. I know, I know - that might sound ghastly to die-hard beer lovers but I found Bar Harbor Brewing Company's True Blue to be pretty tasty. Really.
Here's where they make the suds:
Atlantic Brewing Company - www.atlanticbrewing.com for info. Open only during the warmer months, they also serve food , and the Saturday Mainly Meat BBQ is all you can eat for $17 or so. This meatfest is hugely popular so go early!
Maine Coast Brewing Company/Jack Russell's Brewpub - This is right next door to the Bar Harbor Motel, and there's an outdoor beer garden.
Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Soda Works - www.barharborbrewing.com for info.
Recommended: take a trip on the ocean. While there's tons to do on land in the Acadia area, there's as many things to do on water. Most of the villages and islands in the area are lobstering/fishing communities and the ocean is a vital and historic part of the local culture.
Among the many options are:
1. Sea Kayak Tours (Coastal Kayak Tours - 207-288-9605 +other resources)
2. 2 hr. cruises on the 4-masted schooner, Margaret Todd (shown in the pix) - 207-288-4585, www.downeastwindjammer.com
3. Whale watching, puffin and/or lighthouse cruises on a huge, jet-powered catamaran - 207-288-2386, www.whalesrus.com
4. Ferry from Bar Harbor to Schoodic Peninsula (Winter Harbor) - 207-288-2984, http://downeastwindjammer.com/cruises/bar-harbor-ferry/
5. High-speed passenger/vehicle catamaran service to Nova Scotia - catferry.com
6. Ferry service to the Acadia section of Isle au Haut - http://www.isleauhaut.com
7. And my favorite, the Beal and Bunker mailboat to the Cranberry Isles - will cover this in my Islesford pages.
Choose your preferred option based on interest, cost, amount of people you'll be with (the whale-watching boats carry a LOT of people), and time that you have (The Cat to Novia Scotia and back requires a full day and a passport). Reservations are probably a must during high season, and take your seasickness remedies along if the ocean is rough.
A note on the Margaret Todd: this lovely schooner is poetry in motion when she's in full sail. Look for her from the Bar Harbor waterfront as she's leaving or returning to dock.
THERE IS A LARGE "NOTCH" THAT HAS FORMED ALONG THE COAST, and when the waves come sailing into it, they have no where to go. So the water "explodes" against the rock and fires back out.
"Thunder" is an appropriate term to use for the sound it makes. To us it seemed from a distance like a thousand bass drummers pounding their drums for all they were worth.
Warning: you may get wet if you proceed past the warning signs. If its really "booming" then be careful. In 2011 a young girl lost her life here as a wave washed her out to sea.
However on other days when the sea is calm, nothing much is happening here.
Recommended: This is a gorgeous 27-mile scenic drive through coastal, mountain and wooded areas of the park, and yet another brainchild of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (of the carriage roads). Nearly 30 years in the making, it was designed to give motorists an appreciation of the park's many beautiful resources while disturbing the natural landscape as little as possible. National Scenic Byways has designated this drive, along with Route 3 through Bar Harbor, as an All-American Road: the highest rating possible.
Your tour should start at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center: pick up the "Motorist Guide - Park Loop Road" for a couple of bucks. The booklet maps 18 recommended stops along the way and highlights about each one. It also includes information about parking/pullover locations, restrooms, and some cautionary tips for safe navigation. You might want to give this a quick look-see before you start out.
This is a great first-day way to get your bearings in the park but it's also the most congested of the park roads (see my warnings/dangers) so if possible, try to do this very early in the morning and allow a couple of hours to half a day as it's definately a not-to-be-rushed.
Recommended: This was fun. When the tide is out, you can walk a long gravel bar to little Bar Island from downtown Bar Harbor for nice views of the village from across the water. The bar is solid underfoot but the rocks on either side of the shores are very slippery and kelp-covered so wear good shoes or boots if planning on exploring much. Also make sure you know when the tide is coming IN again so you don't get stranded. There are tidetables in some of the weekly publications, or ask at the Chamber of Commerce info office down by the town pier. You have about 90 minutes before and 90 minutes after (3 hours total) low tide to stay high and dry.
We didn't camp but here's a little info for tenters:
There are only two campgrounds in the Mt Desert Isle portion of the park - Blackwoods and Seawall. They have restrooms but no hookups or showers and are mostly for tents, although they can handle a few popups and smaller RVs. Campfires are allowed but no wood-gathering - bring your own or buy some from the commercial campgrounds along Rt. 3. The campgrounds are forested (not on the water), each campsite holds a maximum of 6 people, and mandatory quiet hours are from 10 PM - 6AM. Each has an amphitheater for summer ranger programs.
Blackwoods, the more popular of the two, has 300 campsites ($20 per site) and reservations are HIGHLY recommended during peak season (see below for phone and website reservations). Seawall ($20 per site) is first-come, first served. The Acadia section of Isle au Haut has a few primitive lean-tos for overnighters. See the park website for more complete info.
Those wanting a few more creature comforts should check out one of the other commerical campgrounds in the area, such as Mt Desert Campground (207-244-3710, www.mountdesertcampground.com) and White Birches (207-244-3797, www.mainecamper.com).
Mt. Desert Island and neighboring areas are full of gorgeous little villages with art galleries, historic homes, great restaurants and lovely harbors. Take a drive to well-heeled Blue Hill (and hike the 2-mile Blue Hill Mountain Trail), Southwest Harbor, Stonington or Castine, just to name a few.
Castine is one of the oldest communities in North America with a long, colorful history and many well-preserved, historic homes, churches and other places of interest. You can obtain a map for a self-guided tour at most of the businesses in town. I wish we would have had more time here as it's a really pretty village (www.castine.me.us)! Oh, and be sure to have one of the many area microbrews offered at Dennett's Wharf in Castine (www.dennettswharf.com): GREAT deck overlooking the water and the food looked good too.
Foggy days are to be enjoyed. Yes, they're a little chilly and damp but great for snapping pictures and exploring the park when less adventurous folks think it's too crummy to be out. It has its own very special charm so don't miss a nice long walk in the mist and don't forget your camera!
Recommended: This is another great hike - but heck, they're ALL great. I think I read somewhere that this is another difficult/strenuous and about a 4-miler. Most folks do Pemetic from the Bubble Pond approach but we took the east trail that starts near Jordan Pond House, up the southern slope, down the northwest side of the mountain, linked up with a section Carny Trail, down to the east side of Jordan Pond, and then followed the lake path back.
Coming down was tougher than going up, as I recall, but we didn't see another soul and had the summit to ourselves. As with most of the Acadia mountian hikes, take a good map and look carefully for trail markings.
Recommended: This is another terrific (difficult/strenuous 5-6 mile) hike that combines two summits. The Penobscot trailhead is left of Jordon Pond House: look for the signs. Cross the stream and carriage road and start the steep climb about 1.4 miles to the top: there are some handholds in difficult spots. Once you've reached the summit, look for signs to Sargent. About 10-15 minutes down, you'll run into lovely little Sargent Pond: great break for a swim if it's hot! Then the trail (South Ridge) starts climbing again to the top of Sargent. You can either return the way you came, or take an east face trail down to Jordan Pond and then another 1.7 miles around the west side (or east side - either one will do) of the lake back to Jordan Pond House. We took the east face way down and it was probably the most tiring of any of the trails we did: very steep and a good share of it carefully picking over rocky landslides.
There are excellent views of Somes Sound - the only fjord on the eastern seaboard - Eagle Lake, Jordon Pond, and miles beyond from the tops of both Penobscot and Sargent. Several other trails (Brook, Spring, Ridge, Jordan Cliffs, etc.) can be alternatives for hiking up/down Sargent: see the park website and/or ask a ranger for recommendations.
Recommended. Yes, you can have lobster at home but there's nothing like tearing into a fresh Maine bug while looking over the ocean it just came out of. I won't get into the raging debate on the best place to do this but recommend any lobster pound outside of Bar Harbor for the most authentic experience.
Lobster pounds are picnic-table/paper-plate venues that are usually located on or near docks where they bring the boats in. Prices are by the pound and you can either order sides ala carte or a "meal deal" with a couple of sides included. Some places have beer and wine and some are BYO. Order at the window, grab a table, and then go fetch your bug when your number's called.
If you've never eater a full lobster before, don't worry: it's not that hard. If anything, concentrate on meat inside the claws and the tail. Look for any weird green stuff (called tomalley-it's the liver) and scrape that off - although some people think it's a delicacy. Yuck. Don't wear anything nice 'cause you're going to get messy. Great fun. I'll cover our choice (Thurston's) under restaurant tips.
As at all National Parks, Acadia offers many fascinating, ranger-led programs for all ages and abilities. You can learn more about the flora and fauna, native people of the area, history of the park and/or the geology. One of the fun programs we saw offered here was called "Jewels of the Tidepools" that explored the life of small marine creatures along the shore: a great activity for both adults and kids.
A Junior Ranger program is available for the small folk (earn a patch and certificate - parents must accompany), and a Senior Ranger program for bigger people over age 18. The park publishes all of their programs in a free flyer called "Beaver Log" that can be picked up at the Visitor Center or downloaded ahead of time from their website.
Rangers are every National Park visitor's best friend. They are always helpful and friendly, have a wealth of information to share and are very interested in making your park visit fun, safe and memorable. Get to know them!
Recommended: This is an easy, 3.3 mile loop hike around Jordan Pond and a good choice for light hikers and kids. It's fairly level - although pieces on the west side can be a little uneven rocky and/or mushy - and parts of it have boardwalks. The pond makes for fabulous photo opportunities in all kinds of weather and you can end your walk with a hot popover at Jordan Pond House. As it's a popular trail, it's very busy during peak season so do it early or late in the day. During our time here in late Sept. it wasn't crowded but still one of the places where we encountered the most people.
Note: This pond provides some of the drinking water for the island so no swimming or wading allowed but I believe fishing is OK (with a license - check with the park).
This peaceful area of the park - donated by the "Father of Acadia", George Bucknam Dorr - contains a nature center and easy walk in the Wild Gardens of Acadia, and a small branch of the Abbe Museum (the larger branch is in Bar Harbor). Some of the trailheads can also be accessed here.
The Nature Center and easy outdoor walk explain the varied flora and fauna of the park, and Abbe Museum houses part of Dr. Robert Abbe's large collection of prehistoric artifacts. Admission to the museum is $3:00 per adult, $1.00 per child over age 15. Free to children under 6 and Native Americans. Your ticket is also gives you a discount on a ticket at the larger Bar Harbor branch so don't throw it away! Check the park/museum websites for hours and accessibility.