Hit Acadia early in the season, and you’ve got the whole park to yourself.
If I had to pick one place to spend the rest of my life, it’d be Acadia National Park. This past weekend, we braved the 7-hour drive to Mount Desert Island for some of the most unique hiking, camping, and sightseeing in New England. If you had hundreds of hours to walk, explore, bike, and climb across the 74 square miles, you’d still leave stones unturned. We did our best to make the most of our four days.
We camped in the Blackwoods Campground, the southernmost campground in Acadia and, arguably, the best spot in the park. A constant sea breeze from the east keeps mosquitos at bay almost all of the time; with no bug spray, I think I was bitten twice the whole weekend. You also get some of the best ocean views and proximity to the best hiking/climbing spots on the island, albeit the most popular and over-traveled. Luckily, we planned our trip early enough in the summer to avoid the swarming masses, giving us an almost untouched perspective of the park.
We combed the southern peninsula on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with long hikes on the Gorham Mountain Trail, the Beehive, Otter Point, Great Head, Thunder Hole, and the beautiful coastal trail that parallels the loop road. Some of the most iconic hiking in Acadia falls on this route, which boasts hugely diverse landscapes and views.
The greenery was simply breathtaking. It’s distinct from the dense rainforests of northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Quaking aspen and birch forests abound, bathing the hillsides in light green, while towering red cedars and hemlock trees give a dark green contrast to most of the seaside cliffs.
The trails are some of the most fun in the Northeast. Steep sections abound with loose rocks, rubble, and boulders to scamper over. Huge cliff faces jut from the glacier-cut landscape, and the trails meander in impossibly tight switchbacks and traverses.
The constant pressure from the nearby ocean cuts caves and tidepools into the rocks. Thunder Hole, one of the most famous features in Acadia, is a cavern where waves smash loudly against the rock face, plainly displaying the forces that formed the island’s unique landscape.
We tackled the Beehive in lieu of the Precipice Trail, which is closed to maintain habitat for peregrine falcon chicks. While it lacks the insane scrambling of the Precipice, the Beehive still poses a challenge, especially for those afraid of heights.
Rebar drilled directly into the rocks makes the toughest sections of trail doable, even for inexperienced hikers.
Tim and I cranked it up a notch by attempting the climb without touching the rebar, but almost anyone can use the ladders to make the short distance to the top. Once you summit, the view of Sand Beach and the surrounding islands and promontories quickly erases any anxiety from the climb itself.
With such a large group, we split into smaller hiking parties several times over the course of the weekend. I tried to hike with just about everyone, but the amount of trails and must-see locations at Acadia make it hard not to cram your weekend to the brim. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Acadia without rain. Our 2013 trip was dominated by it, and Sunday and Monday brought more wet weather than Massachusetts had experienced for just about all of may. With an all-day downpour, we went sightseeing in Bar Harbor and kept busy in camp with card games and long arguments. Most of the group skedaddled by Sunday afternoon, pushing for one last hike near Jordan Pond and a collection of adjacent peaks on a looped section of trail. Kelley and I played an intense 1-hour game of Crazy Eights and then explored some of the character in the shops in town. One particular shop was an unexpected delight. I have no interest in beach-themed home decor (I don’t even own a home), but Kelley’s family adores the Cape Cod aesthetic. Taking a cue from the popularity of this theme, Victoria Conner and Sunshine Mechtenberg created their own unique and themed pieces for their brand, Shard Pottery. Shard donates a plate of food every time you purchase one of their pottery pieces, giving back to local Maine hunger relief programs like the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention program and The Good Shepherd Food Bank. I never thought I’d be writing about home decor on a cycling and camping blog, but sustainable businesses like the ones found in Bar Harbor really get me excited about the shift away from unsustainable business models. Shard Pottery could push for the largest share of profit from their niche, but instead, they’re making meaningful headway in their own backyard with charitable donations.
To date 21,307 meals have been donated by Shard Pottery. You can order gifts for your mom at http://www.shardpottery.com if you want to add to the count.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a hiker, camper, RV enthusiast, bargain hunter, philanthropist, rock climber, or a self-styled Ansel Adams. Maine is there, providing for all your needs in an island a bit larger than Manhattan. I highly recommend a pilgrimage to discover what aspects of the park suit your particular idea of a summer vacation.
Keep Hiking, Max