|Champlain Mountain summit
When people think of eastern national parks, they normally think of two specific ones: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Acadia National Park. While I have unfortunately been unable to get to Great Smoky, I just had my second visit to Acadia National Park last month. Acadia National Park, for the unfamiliar, is located on the coastline midway through Maine, and is a beautiful showcase for New England shorelines and rugged (but small) mountains. It’s composed of a main unit on Mount Desert Island as well as units on the Schoodic Peninsula (further north up the coast) and on Isle au Haut (an island further south down the coast). Both of my visits have unfortunately kept me on the extremely popular main unit on Mount Desert Island, which is filled with surrounding towns such as the famous Bar Harbor. While I was able to notice just how overcrowded Mount Desert Island has become on this most recent visit (expect traffic jams and very few parking spots on the Park Loop Road during the summer anytime from 10am to 4:30pm), I was able to discover a lot of great things to do in Acadia without suffering from the crowds.
|A view from Acadia's Park Loop Road
To begin with I would recommend camping at Acadia’s Blackwoods Campground. The surrounding towns have numerous hotel options (my first stay was at the Regency Hotel at the outskirts of Bar Harbor, which was right on the ocean and had two on property restaurants so it was pretty great), but the Blackwoods campground is so ideally located. From the campground you can walk right onto the South Ridge Trail up to Acadia’s largest mountain and most popular mountain, Cadillac Mountain. This allowed my Dad and I to make a night hike up to the summit to catch the sunrise without making many sacrifices as we just got out of our tent and started walking. While I could write an entire book about how infuriating drive-up summits are (which Cadillac Mountain is so if you do plan on driving up to the summit get there early because the sunrise there is one of Acadia’s most popular events), the experience of hiking up the mountain under the stars was unforgettable. It was just unfortunate that I had to watch the sunrise with people breathing right on top of me who clearly couldn’t have got there without the help of a car.
|Moments before sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
While the sunrise won’t be as good there, another place to get another great Acadia experience is hiking up to the Sargent Mountain and Penobscot Mountain area of the park for the sunset. The trailhead for these mountains is unfortunately Jordan Pond. Jordan Pond is a beautiful area that has hiking opportunities for hikers of all ages and levels. It also has a top rate restaurant in the Jordan Pond house as well as the park’s best gift shop. However, that makes the area quite possibly the most crowded area in an already overcrowded park. Time it just right, though, and you will get an unforgettable experience. If you start at the Jordan Cliffs Trail at around 5pm (The two times I have gone to Acadia have been in August so adjust accordingly) and make your way towards Sargent Mountain before bagging Penobscot, you will get one of the best hikes in the world as well as a gorgeous sunset to feast your eyes on. It’s a hike that showcases everything that Acadia has to offer from rung-filled trails that test your fear of heights to alpine ponds you can swim in to beautiful alpine zones that give you expansive views of the Atlantic.
|Sunset on Penobscot Mountain
As you can see Acadia is a hiker’s paradise. If you love hiking, like I do, you have to make a pilgrimage here. That being said, if you are looking for other things that America’s national parks have to offer, you may want to look elsewhere. The park’s creation was mostly due to the Northeast’s elite. One of people who helped create the park was a dean of Harvard and the Rockefellers helped finance the upkeep of the park. So the park’s history is nothing extravagant. However, the park and Bar Harbor do have the Abbe Museum, which honors the Wabanaki people (the people who first lived in the area). I have unfortunately not been able to visit either of the two museums (which are part of the Smithsonian museum collection) on my visits so they are definitely high on my list when I go back to the area. Additionally, the wildlife viewing opportunities in Acadia are not as good as they are in other parks. Acadia has no megafauna, and my personal experiences of seeing wildlife have been few and far between. I saw a fox driving at night on my first visit there, and on my visit last month I saw a harbor seal while kayaking, heard a peregrine falcon while hiking the Jordan Cliffs Trail and saw a gaggle of Turkeys on my way to the Ocean Path. While that may seem like an interesting assortment of animals, it doesn’t even come close to the variety of wildlife I’ve seen at, say, Cape Cod National Seashore (which is another Northeastern coastal park).
|The history behind Jordan Pond House
Altogether, though, these are just minor quibbles about one of the best places that America has to offer. I have yet to mention so many of the other unique hiking trails that Acadia has to offer whether it’s the fear inducing Precipice Trail or the Bar Island trail that only reveals itself at low tide. The cuisine within the park is also sublime. Blueberries seem to sprout up every trail in the park, and while lobsters aren’t technically caught inside park boundaries the area has some of the best in the country. Additionally, a night sky ranger talk I went to at Sand Beach on my first visit to Acadia remains one of my favorite ranger activities ever. So in total Acadia National Park is a place everyone should visit once in their life. There’s just so much to do here and in the neighboring towns that even if you aren’t an avid hiker you won’t be bored.
|The Precipice Trail