May 27, 2021

Acadia National Park - The Lure of the Land, the Call of the Sea

I nearly choked on my morning coffee when I realized that it has been four weeks since my last blog post.  Alan and I spent most of the past month getting our ducks in a row for a couple of not-so-easy real estate transactions.  But I’m also happy to report that we managed to sneak in a short trip to Seven Points Campground, an Army Corps of Engineers facility on Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania.  (Watch for a future post on that long-awaited excursion.)  Since life finally seems to be quieting down a bit, I’m really happy to settle in at the keyboard again and share our Acadia adventures with you.  Our first visit was so full of exceptional and delightful experiences that it might take more than one post to deliver all the details. We’ll see how it goes. 

This post is dedicated to my cousin Anna who, I’m pretty sure, really, really wants to visit Maine, and to my cousins John and Janine who go there often.

Acadia National Park had been on my bucket list for years.  In actuality, it’s one of the National Parks closest to our home in the northeast United States.  Therein lies the problem.  Because Acadia is more accessible to us than the numerous Parks out west, it made sense to Alan and me to travel further when the kids were young and he could pull four weeks of vacation at a clip.  After all, it takes us at least five solid days of driving to make it from one end of the country to another.  So travel time alone often knocks off a week and a half of scheduled vacation time on our National Parks trips.  For a variety of reasons (none of which matter a bit here), we finally decided to visit Acadia National Park in the summer of 2011 when Ryan was 17 and Kyra was 12.  This exquisite Park immediately shot to the top of my favorites list.

I grew up about thirty minutes from the mountains and have spent most of my adult life living in them.  In fact, through some ironic twist of fate, Alan and I ending up building our home about two miles from one of my favorite landmarks I recall from the long rides my Mom and I would take with my aunt, uncle and cousin when I was a kid.  I love the mountains.  But I adore the ocean, too.  So, I was incredibly happy to spend a week in Acadia National Park where the mountains and the sea collide and both halves of my heart were equally content.  We had such a good time that we ended up returning just three years later which, I’m sure, has to be some kind of record for our family.  There is so much “to” Acadia that I honestly don’t know where to begin.  (Imagine that - me, speechless!)  Let’s just jump right in and see where my stream of consciousness takes us. 

Acadia National Park is located along the coast of Maine.  The majority of the Park is situated on Mount Desert Island (MDI) adjacent to private properties.  It’s eastern and western sections are separated by Somes Sound.  The Park also encompasses the Schoodic Peninsula and the Isle au Haut, but these two segments are considered somewhat less accessible than MDI and, as a result, receive considerably fewer visitors.  Additionally, the National Park Service manages land and structures on the Cranberry Isles and Baker Island, including the Islesford Historical Museum on Little Cranberry Island.  As part of the National Park, these locations can be accessed via the mail boat or boat tours, but few visitors to Acadia actually make the effort to reach these outlying areas.  Honestly, there is so much to see and do on MDI alone that this fact doesn’t surprise me at all.  Incidentally, I have no idea whether the correct pronunciation of “Desert” is the same as a dry and barren piece of land OR the tasty treat we enjoy after a meal.  Allegedly, it can be (and is) pronounced both ways, although residents of Maine allegedly tend to stick with the French pronunciation, (“Mount De-ZERT”).  This pays homage to the descriptive moniker assigned to it in 1604 by explorer Samuel de Champlain: “island of the barren mountains.”  The liberal use of the word “allegedly” is to ensure that you understand I’m sharing information here, not knowledge.  They are not necessarily one and the same.

Somes Sound

The fact that this incredibly impressive National Park exists at all can be attributed to the vision of a small group of people and the generosity of many others.  George B. Dorr, accompanied by other conservation-minded residents, established an organization called “the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations” in 1901 to acquire, own and hold lands for free public use.  Believing that achieving National Park status was the only way to truly protect the public land the organization was acquiring, Dorr worked tirelessly toward that goal.  Keep in mind that there was a great deal of wealth on MDI.  Families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors maintained summer “cottages” on the island and supported setting aside lands for public use.  Other, less well-known, residents supported the effort with contributions of land, as well.  In 1916, President Wilson created Sieur de Monts National Monument.  Dorr’s perseverance finally paid off in 1919 when President Wilson signed the act establishing Lafayette National Park – the first National Park east of the Mississippi.  Guess who became the first Park Superintendent?  Yup, George Dorr and, in my opinion, rightfully so.  In 1929, Lafayette National Park was renamed Acadia National Park.

At the time of our visits in 2011 and 2014, there were only two campgrounds within the boundaries of Acadia National Park – Blackwoods in the eastern section of Mount Desert Island and Seawall in the western section.  There are also five lean-to shelters on the Isle of Haut, but it’s kinda sorta impossible to fit a 30’ trailer on the mail boat and then wedge it into a lean-to, so we wisely crossed that idea off the list early on.  We chose Blackwoods due to its location near the Park Loop Road and its proximity to Bar Harbor.  Since our last visit in 2014, a new campground – Schoodic Woods – was built on the Schoodic Peninsula, and we’re pretty sure that will be our base camp the next time we visit Acadia.

Blackwoods Campground on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park

The ability to enjoy the mountains and the ocean in such close proximity never fails to elicit a sigh of contentment from my happy heart.  In addition to that, though, there’s a whole lot to like about Acadia - carriage roads for walking and biking; hiking trails with unusual features; ponds (small lakes, actually) on which to paddle and in which to swim; the quaint tourist town of Bar Harbor; sunrises and sunsets at the top of Cadillac Mountain; and tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House.  If you don’t find an abundance of life’s pleasures at Acadia National Park, I’d be well and truly surprised.

The carriage roads are marked and mapped.

Carriage Roads: To achieve Park Superintendent Dorr’s vision of connecting the various attractions and parcels of land within the new National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. planned a Park Loop Road, and personally funded most of the motor roads within the Park.  In addition, Rockefeller personally paid for and supervised the creation of forty-five miles of carriage roads within Acadia National Park because he wanted to travel on motor-free byways via horse and carriage through the mountains and valleys of MDI.  Today, countless visitors walk, bike and ride horses on those same carriage roads, enjoying impressive views and admiring the carefully crafted stone bridges.

Due to the terrain within the Park, some of the carriage roads are somewhat steep and probably difficult for those of us who don’t bike regularly.  But I’ve never been embarrassed about walking a bike up a hill, so I took the challenges in stride.  Certainly some roads are easier to bike than others and Park Rangers can easily recommend suitable rides related to your skill set or inclination.  I LOVED everything about the carriage roads!  Okay, well, maybe not the steepness of some.  These lovely pathways wound through so many scenic areas of the Park that there wasn’t one we didn’t enjoy, and the magnificence of the stone bridges made it feel like we were actually exploring an outdoor art gallery or sculpture garden.  Our family has an unspoken rule about biking in National Parks: we don’t do it.  The Park roads are often scenic, but filled with drivers distracted by that very scenery or, often, by the local wildlife.  In the interest of safety, Alan and I have never allowed the kids to bike on Park roads and we’ve not done it ourselves.  In Acadia, these quiet, well-built byways provide a perfectly safe opportunity to bike through nature’s glory.

That's Alan on one of the stately and well-constructed bridges.

Hiking Trails: Do you like out-and-back trails or do you prefer loop hikes?  Do you enjoy quiet walks through the forest, or scampering along rocky ledges while the ocean undulates below?  Would you rather explore MDI or the more peaceful Schoodic Peninsula?  The diversity among the hiking trails in Acadia National Park is impressive – actually, it’s mind-boggling.  Looking back through our photos for pics to use in this blog post made me realize just how many of the trails we hiked.  Although there are excellent descriptions of the trails on the National Park Service website, my suggestion would be to pick up a detailed map at one of Acadia’s bookstores.  The one we bought was a hiking and biking trail map, so it included the carriage roads as well as hiking trails and provided mileage between points.  Well worth the small investment, plus it has held up well through two separate visits.

The Beehive Loop Trail is popular with Acadia’s more adventurous visitors. That is definitely NOT me.  The trail is only 1.5 miles long, but it climbs a 450’ cliff and includes the use of granite stairs (no problem) and iron rungs (big problem for those of us with a fear of heights).  The fact that you have to traverse exposed cliffs also leaves me a little queasy.  I can understand why the trail is popular, but it’s never going to make it to my bucket list.

Jordan Pond with North Bubble and South Bubble in the distance

The most challenging hike our family completed was The Bubbles.  The hike to South Bubble and Bubble Rock was short – only 1.5 miles – but it felt like it was straight up and straight down.  The view was worth it, though, and I think that’s probably true for many of the hikes at Acadia.  Not only do you have the opportunity to enjoy a hike through a variety of terrain, but you’re rewarded with scenic and spectacular vistas that may include forests, lakes, islands and ocean.

View of Eagle Lake from the top of South Bubble

It’s easy-peasy to find an exhilarating hike in Acadia National Park, but it’s just as simple to find a trail that’s not quite so strenuous.  Take, for example, the Jordan Pond Path.  This sweet and scenic loop trail (about 3.5 miles total) circles iconic Jordan Pond, but can also be used as an out-and-back trail for those not interested in a hike of that length.  It does provide a great opportunity to walk off some of those calories from the delicious meals served at the Jordan Pond House located at the south end of the Pond.

The Ocean Path is another easy walk.  It runs along a popular section of coastline just off the Park Loop Road and provides gorgeous views of the ocean and easy access to the water.

One of the most appealing hikes we did as a family was the Bar Island Hike.  That was such a favorite that we hiked that particular trail during both of our visits to Acadia.  The appeal comes in the form of danger, and the danger comes in the form of high tide.

Traversing the sand bar

The Bar Island hike can only be completed at or near low tide.  Why?  Because the sand bar which you must cross to reach Bar Island is exposed for only a few hours at that time.  It appears when the tide rolls out and disappears as the tide rolls back in.  So, if you don’t hike back in time . . . well, you get the picture.  It really is neat to hike across the sandy "beach" that you know will be covered with sea water in just a few hours.  But the view of Bar Harbor and the waters beyond from Bar Island are a big part of this hike's appeal, too.

The view of Bar Harbor from Bar Island

By the way, have you ever heard of a Bates Cairn?  Waldron Bates was the chairman of the Path Committee of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association for nine years beginning in 1900.  He was responsible for the creation of the first comprehensive trail map for Mount Desert Island in 1896 and the addition of 25 miles of trails during his years of leadership on the Path Committee.  He was the first person to incorporate the use of iron rungs and granite stairs to assist hikers in traversing steep sections of land.  Bates also designed a standard rock cairn for use in marking the trails on MDI.  The Bates Cairn consists of two or four base stones that hold up a wider mantel stone.  A pointer stone is placed on top, pointing toward the direction of the trail.  These cairns are used throughout Acadia to mark the trail in treeless areas.  Approximately two dozen volunteers (known as Waldron’s Warriors) hike the trails in the Park to protect Acadia’s cairns.  Since some hikers can’t resist “accessorizing” the cairns with their own creative efforts, Waldron’s Warriors return the cairns to their original state to ensure a clearly marked trail and the safety of the Park’s hikers.

Bates Cairns have been in use throughout Acadia for over 100 years.

Let’s Hit Pause: Rather than tempt you to nod off during an exceptionally long post, I think I’ll just stop here for now and finish up next time around.  I promise it won’t be another four weeks from now!  Still to come – swimming, paddling, Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain and a very special and traditional treat at the Jordan Pond House.  I hope you’ll come back and join us for the rest of the trip!



  1. Great information and storytelling, as usual, Mary. Although we have been to Bar Harbor on a cruise, we can hardly say we've been to Maine--certainly not THIS Maine. It's obvious from your writing that it was a winner, and I'll be looking forward to the the sequel. In that one, you might want to pause when the oft-misused "further/farther" thing enters your cranium. Knowing you know that "further" indicates something additional and "farther" means a greater distance gave me the delight of pointing it out. Did you plan that heresy because you know of my OCD and knew I would drool? What else can I critique in an otherwise superbly entertaining conversational jewel--my favorite writing style to read, by the way.) I also like the freedom it gives you to throw in colorful little remarks that would sound stilted if precise in their sentence construction. Thank you for for the plethora of historical information as to the area's origin and my first introduction to "cairns." You seem to have gone out of your way to toss out things that even I didn't know. Loved it!

    1. Mike, I read through that post three times and never saw the error. (Why am I not surprised that you did - and felt a burning desire to point out my shortcoming?) I had to laugh about your reference to a conversational style of writing. My friend Karen, another grammar perfectionist, and I kept correcting ourselves during our email correspondence. We finally agreed to continue writing as if we were having a conversation and ignore the technical errors. Perfect grammar in a written piece has the ability to eliminate the intimacy of a connection, and that intimacy is something I'd never want to forfeit.

      As for Acadia, during the 40+ years Alan and I have been traveling together, there have been many destinations that I've enjoyed tremendously but only a few that really got under my skin. Alaska probably hit me the hardest and Acadia is right up there, too. In fact, when I texted Ryan to ask if I could use a particular photo of him in the upcoming sequel, I commented that going through all the photos reminded me of just how much I love that Park. The problem is that now I want to go back. Again. And right now.

      Please pass along my best regards to your lovely wife. Perhaps Sandy can help you find a new hobby - one that doesn't involve critiquing the writings of your fellow bloggers.

    2. My critiques, as you know, are merely playful, and I would never deign to do so with a writer less gifted than you. That would be haughty and mean and, although I might find some enjoyment in it, I wouldn't want to be hurtful. With you, whom I consider an equal, it is sport, and I would certainly expect a spitwad from you if I threw a gutter ball sometime. But yes, the idle mind is the devil's playground. Be glad you are not my daughter, who has informed me that my nursing home will be on a remote island in a hut with no air conditioning. Such are the perils of us grammar Nazis.

    3. It is a sport, indeed, but I must admit that you have the edge in this game due to your unerring retention of the extensive list of grammar-related rules. That being said, I do have my supply of spitwads ready to go; the next post at Phannie and Mae had better be very well proofed! Have a great day, Mike!

  2. That looks so lovely... what a great place to hike and enjoy the coastline. Jordan Pond looks like the perfect spot for kayaking.

    1. It seems that the rugged beauty of Acadia appeals to visitors for a variety of reasons. One day, we were walking the Ocean Path and came upon an artist. He had set his easel on one of the large, flat rocks near the water and was happily painting a lovely rendition of Otter Cliff, a huge and impressive granite formation right at the water's edge. But Otter Cliff is popular with climbers and photographers, too - a perfect example of Acadia's appeal to a wide variety of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

  3. I had been to Acadia about 30 years ago and always wanted to return. It took us more than seven years of full-time traveling, but Eric and I finally made it there in September 2019. (I've yet to blog about it because...well, you know...2020!!)
    Your memories and photos are lovely and capture the essence of what makes the park so special. Like you, I had no desire to hike the Beehive Trail, but also like you, we enjoyed hiking the Bubbles and the Jordan Pond Trails. We stayed at a private RV park near the entrance of Acadia as well as in the national park campground on the Schoodic Peninsula and enjoyed both. It's definitely a place we would return to!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laurel, and for taking the time to share your experience. I've been thrilled to explore every National Park we've ever visited, but some of them are "one and done." Acadia is one of those that engendered such a deep sense of contentment that I don't think I'll ever tire of going back.

      I know it's a bit of a drive from Mount Desert Island, but we found the relative solitude of the Schoodic Peninsula a plus and we've been looking forward to camping there. I'm happy to hear that you and Eric enjoyed your stay at Schoodic Woods - it gives me extra confidence in our choice.


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