June 06, 2021

Acadia National Park - The Adventure Continues

In the summer of 2011, our family of four enjoyed our first ever visit to Acadia National Park in Maine.  At the time, our son, Ryan, was 17 and our daughter, Kyra, was 12.  (That awkward “tween” age would explain the response I received from Kyra when I asked the kids if I could post a particular photo of them in Bar Harbor – “Oh my God please no!”  That, my friends, is the reason I always ask first.)  My previous blog post covered some of Acadia’s history, the hiking trails we tackled and a bit about the carriage roads that we enjoyed biking.  This post details our experiences with water sports in the Park, our pilgrimage to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, some touristy fun around the town of Bar Harbor and a favorite tradition at The Jordan Pond House.

Swimming and Paddling: Let’s get this right out of the way: If you go swimming in Acadia National Park, I just have to conclude that you’re a couple of beers short of a full six-pack.  That water is FREEZING!  Even in the SUMMER!  Okay, now that I got that off my chest, there are places for those hardy souls among us to swim, including Sand Beach (along the Park Loop Road) and Echo Lake.  Both are lovely places, but Sand Beach - although much bigger - is always more crowded due to its location.

Echo Lake Beach

Echo Lake is quieter, but it’s on the west side of Mount Desert Island (MDI) and, so, a bit of a ride from Bar Harbor and the Park Loop Road.  It's a smaller, more intimate beach which makes it easier for parents with young children to keep a close eye on the little tykes.  Both of our kids braved the chilly Maine waters at Sand Beach.  Ryan returned to the beach in short order to dry off and warm up, but Kyra stayed in until we pulled her shivering blue body back to shore.  God bless her spirit of adventure.

An early morning view of Sand Beach from the Great Head Trail

As for paddling, our favorite spot is Long Pond.  I know it’s called a pond but, really, where I come from it would be called a lake.  There’s a handy dandy boat launch at the south end of the lake pond, beautiful scenery and plenty of room to roam.  We’ve paddled Echo Lake, too, but Long Pond stole my heart.  Why is Echo Lake called a lake and Long Pond called a pond when Long Pond is w-a-y bigger than Echo Lake?  This kind of question always makes my head hurt.  But I’ll bet that a quiet, summer day on Long Pond would fix me right up.

Ryan enjoying our day on the water at Long Pond

Bar Harbor: As far as tourist towns go, Bar Harbor gets two thumbs up from me.    If I had more than two, I’d stick them up, too.  Bar Harbor has the souvenir shops you’d expect and more places to grab some eats than you can shake a stick at.  (That’s a completely nonsensical expression, isn’t it?)  But Bar Harbor, even on a busy summer day, doesn’t have that frenzied feeling so typical of some tourist towns.  If your companions choose to hit the souvenir shops, you can stroll down to the harbor to watch the sun glint off the water and the boats make their way around the islands.  If excitement runs in your blood and the tide’s coming in, you can watch the hikers who lost track of time racing back across the sand bar on their way back from Bar Island.  If you’re in the mood for ice cream or other sweet treats, be sure to stop by Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium to try their famous Lobster Ice Cream.  (How was it?  I have no idea – I’m not that brave.) 

All four of us enjoyed wandering around Bar Harbor, spending time at the water’s edge and checking out the boats in the harbor.  We started one day in the most delightful way when we found CafĂ© This Way – a quirky little gem tucked away from the hustle and bustle on a quiet side street.  Our breakfast was fabulous and I’d go back in a heartbeat.  A little more than 10 miles from Bar Harbor, you’ll find the Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton.  We had all enjoyed a lumberjack show in Alaska when the kids were little, and this one was a ton a fun, too.  Although, at times, the traffic in Bar Harbor can be congested and parking difficult to find, there is a free shuttle bus system called the Island Explorer.  The buses travel around the area stopping at certain lodging locations, campgrounds, sights within Acadia National Park and villages on MDI.  For visitors wishing to Park their cars for the duration of their stay, the Island Explorer might prove to be a useful resource.  For me, Bar Harbor is big enough to provide a fun-filled tourist town experience, but small enough to retain a quaint sense of charm.  Unless the vibe changes drastically, it will remain on the itinerary any time we visit Acadia.

A waterfront scene in Bar Harbor

Afternoon Tea and Popovers: The Jordan Pond House has overlooked an expansive lawn and iconic views of Jordan Pond since it opened in 1893 and the restaurant’s first proprietor, Nellie McIntire, began serving tea and popovers.  The original building burned down in 1979, was rebuilt and opened again in 1982.  Since then, enjoying afternoon tea and popovers outdoors on the lawn has been a Jordan Pond House tradition.

Dining alfresco at the Jordon Pond House

It ain’t cheap, people.  But it is an unforgettable splurge and a treat we will allow ourselves every time we visit Acadia.  We have never shied away from “money talk” at our house, partially because I grew up in banking; finance was a common topic of conversation around the dinner table.  On more occasions that I can count, I’ve pointed out to Ryan and Kyra that everyone has different financial priorities and that’s okay.  Traveling is one of ours.  As a family, we’ve been blessed to be able to travel extensively and enjoy experiences that have proven to be unique and memorable.  Afternoon tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House is one of those experiences.  (For the record, please know that you don’t have to have tea.  You may choose coffee, juice or blueberry soda to accompany your popovers.)  To be seated in such an idyllic setting, partaking in this long-standing tradition and soaking up the amazing view of Jordan Pond and the Bubbles beyond is one of the highlights of a visit to Acadia National Park.  The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well, but it’s the popovers that call my name every time.  And every time, to my heart’s delight, I answer.

A scrumptious treat in an idyllic setting!

Sunrise and Sunset on Cadillac Mountain: Speaking of traditions . . . For about half the year, from early October to early March, the first place you can see the sun appear in the United States is from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia.  Early bird visitors to Acadia flock to Cadillac Mountain to view the sunrise.  Late risers often make the pilgrimage up the mountain in the evening to watch the sunset.  I’ve never seen the sunrise – it always seemed a little cruel to get everyone up at o’dark thirty when we were on vacation – but we’ve viewed the sunset many times.  In fact, the header photo at the top of the blog is of Eagle Lake taken from Cadillac Mountain.  Despite the number of people sharing the viewpoint with you, the crowd generally seems to be a peaceful one, content to watch quietly as nature tucks itself into bed each night.  A round of applause in appreciation of Mother Nature’s performance often caps off the evening.

Watching the sunset from Cadillac Mountain

There are so many visitors to Cadillac Mountain that the National Park Service instituted a timed-reservation system this month for the parking areas on the summit.  That’s to alleviate the parking problem, protect the environment and provide sightseers with a better and safer experience.  Upon reaching the uppermost parking area on Cadillac Summit Road, visitors immediately head to the walkway at the edge of the parking area to soak up the magnificent views of lakes, oceans, islands and forests that can be enjoyed from the summit of Cadillac Mountain.  But that’s not really the summit.  It’s true that the views are astounding, but the summit is actually further up the rocks around the back of the gift shop near the radio tower.  There Cadillac Mountain reaches its true height of 1,530’ and you’ll find a United States Geological Survey (USGS) benchmark (K 24) attesting to that fact.  (K 24 marks the actual summit of Cadillac Mountain, and shouldn’t be confused with other markers near the summit that identify the Mount Desert Reset Group, a triangulation station dating back to 1856.)  During our visit in 2011, we searched for the K 24 benchmark.  Although I don’t recall who found it, our little family of four can truthfully make the claim that we did, indeed, join the small percentage of visitors to Acadia National Park who actually reach the summit of Cadillac Mountain.  See?  Another unique and memorable experience - and that one didn’t cost us a dime.

U.S.G.S. Benchmark K 24 at the 1,530' summit of Cadillac Mountain

I love Acadia!  During our week-long visit to Acadia National Park in 2011, we never even made it off Mount Desert Island.  It wasn’t until 2014 that we explored the Schoodic Peninsula, and we still haven’t taken the mail boat to Isle au Haut.  When we return to Acadia (and I’m sure we will), there isn’t much I’d cross off our list of possible activities except for biking the steeper carriage roads in deference to our aging joints.  Even though we’ve already kayaked on Long Pond, hiked Bar Island and the Ocean Path, and reveled in the view of Jordan Pond and the Bubbles while enjoying afternoon tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House, I have no doubt that we would derive great pleasure from all of those activities again.  The mountains call and the sea whispers.  Together they draw outdoor enthusiasts to one of nature's most stunning playgrounds.

The Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay off the coast of the town of Bar Harbor

There is a certain je ne sais quoi about Acadia.  Maybe it’s the story of its creation – like-minded conservationists working together to build something for themselves, their families and the generations to come.  Maybe it’s the array of outdoor activities – fishing, tide pooling, boating, paddling, rock climbing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, bird watching.  Maybe it’s the land itself speaking to the nature lover in all of us – the quiet forest paths, the thundering of the ocean along the rocky coast, the gentle lap of lake waters against a sandy shore, the rugged cliffs that allow stunning views of the coast and on out to sea.  Maybe it’s being part of day’s end at the top of Cadillac Mountain or the seeing the promise of another day’s adventures arrive along with the sunrise.  Maybe Acadia National Park will work its way deep into your heart like it did into mine.

Thinking about visiting Acadia National Park?  You will find an extraordinary amount of information to help plan your trip on the National Park Service website (link HERE).



  1. Another compelling post that underscores Sandy's and my feeling that we really missed out with our short cruise ship port-of-call at Bar Harbor. I'm thinking we're going to have to remedy that whenever I get my old knees fixed. A pox on you for throwing in the old saying about "shaking a stick at." You knew that the strange old adage is too ingrained an idiom for me to insist that it's terrible grammar be corrected. If it were, it would sound even more strange. How fanciful of you to include the French term for 'that which is not easily described.' Also, you were teasing me with "...further up the rocks..." as payback for my last boorish mention of the oft-misused adverbs, further and farther. I know you were, you vixen. I have since been horrified to learn that only in the King's English is their switching considered heresy; the misuse has become so pervasive that they are now, tragically, accepted as meaning the same thing--but not to me, of course. I will hang on to language purity until the backhoe covers me up, which will probably come none too soon for you, I'm sure.) It doesn't matter, though, your posts are a delight in so many ways, and I look forward to each one.

    1. I regret to inform you, Mike, that you've missed out on plenty of delightful experiences if you haven't explored the coast of Maine. Quintessential coastal towns with notable restaurants would appeal to the foodie in you - even if you're not a fan of the ubiquitous lobster. (Even McDonald's was offering a lobster roll at the time of one of our visits.) Sandy's credit card would get a run for its money in the outlet malls at Kittery, and tourist towns like Ogunquit and York Beach offer summer treats and classic New England scenery drawing visitors from near and far. A visit to Maine wouldn't be complete without a stop at L.L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport - yet another gem of a town. "Farthermore," a visit to Maine would put you in my neck of the woods. Our states in the Northeast aren't as big as your beloved Texas, that's for sure, but there's lots of fun to be had. So get those knees fixed up and come on up!

    2. We LOVE lobster. If it could be made into a powder, I'd snort it. (I'm sorry; that was disgusting.) We must go when joint functions are repaired.

    3. Well, then, I'm counting on you to try the lobster ice cream and report back!


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