As the first national park east of the Mississippi River, Acadia National Park has preserved the rugged beauty of Maine’s Mount Desert Island for nearly 100 years. The park is home to Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. Atlantic coast and the first place to view a sunrise in the United States. And after experiencing sunrise from Cadillac’s peak, visitors can explore the park’s beautiful beaches, pristine forest and historic carriage roads.
To help you plan the perfect escape to Acadia National Park, Trail Talk posed questions from our Facebook community (and a few from NPF) to Betty Lyle at Acadia National Park:
Can you recommend areas in and around the park that are great for escaping the crowds? – Catherine Granton and Katie Reynolds
One of the best things about Acadia is that even though it is a relatively small park (about 47,000 acres) and has over 2.3 million visitors annually, it’s actually not that hard to find solitary mountain tops and quiet places for renewal and reflection, especially if you pick the right time of day. Early mornings and late evenings are nice almost anywhere in the park. Areas you’ll want to make sure you visit during these quieter hours would be the Ocean Drive (Sand Beach, Thunder Hole) area, Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain. Another way to avoid crowds and often full parking lots is to ride the Island Explorer Bus (June 23 to Columbus Day). If you’re into hiking you can find plenty of great trails that quickly get you away from the crowds. Using the bus allows you to create one way hikes so you can avoid the commonly hiked loops. Or plan your trip around the full moon and take a night hike! Winter can also be a great time if you like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Be sure to check current weather and snow conditions.
What are some tips on biking in the park, i.e. where to rent, how to get in and out of the park easily, navigating the carriage roads? – Kristina Schramm
Although there are no bike rentals in the park, there are numerous bike shops in Bar Harbor and other local communities. So renting a bike shouldn’t be a problem. The Island Explorer shuttle bus system runs from June 23 through Columbus Day and is a great way to get into the park and avoid parking congestion. The regular buses accommodate 6 bikes but the Bicycle Express accommodates quite a few more. You can download a copy of the park’s CRUM (Carriage Road Users Map) from our park website, www.nps.gov/acad, or pick up a copy once you arrive at the park. Hybrid or mountain bikes are best suited for the unpaved carriage roads. The Park Loop Road is open to biking but there is no bike lane or shoulder. The two lanes of the one-way section do provide extra space for cars to safely navigate around bikes whereas the two-way section can be twisty with limited visibility and, again, absolutely no shoulder.
I’m visiting the park in early September and staying in Seawall. Would it make sense to bring my own bike? And is biking to other parts of the park viable and can the shuttles accommodate bikes? – Chris Hooper
Bringing your own bike gives you flexibility and can save time and money at the rental shops. Seawall Campground is on the southwest side of the island. Most people prefer to bike on the non-motorized, carriage roads which are on the east side of the island, so you’ll have a 20 to 30 minute drive depending on where you access them. The Island Explorer Bus is also an option, which accommodates up to 6 bikes. If you choose to, you can ride on the main roads but the traffic can be fast with limited shoulders in some places. It is about 14 miles from Seawall to the closest carriage road.
What do you consider to be the top three hikes in the park? – Andrea Zawislak and Matthew Altrich
Wow, with 127 miles of incredible trails that’s a tough question! If you want to be along the rugged coast, a great loop is combining Gorham Mountain, Bowl and Ocean Path trails. This loop is a moderate 3 mile hike. The Great Head Trail next to Sand Beach is another striking coastal hike. If you want a mountain hike, any of the mountains on the east side of the island have a lot of open ridgelines running north/south, that provide incredible views of the Gulf of Maine and the offshore islands. For the third hike, try a valley/forest hike. My personal favorite is the Gorge and the A. Murray Young Trails, returning on the Kane Path and Hemlock Trail.
I’ve heard there is an island area that is only accessible by boat and has a camping on it. Can you tell us more? – Lori LaVella Shields
You must be referring to Isle au Haut, which is an island about four miles offshore of Stonington, Maine. About half of the island is park land and the other half is a town and private land. At Duck Harbor Campground, the park offers five lean-to’s for camping between May 15 and October 14. You can make reservations beginning on April 1st, which is highly recommended, as sites fill quickly, especially in July and August. A special use permit is required, which costs $25. Information and a reservation form can be found on our park website. Hiking trails on Isle au Haut are spectacular, so if you’re unable to camp you can always go out for a day trip. Transportation is via the Isle au Haut Ferry Service, www.isleauhaut.com.
Can you provide more information on the park’s shuttle service, specifically good routes where you can hike to a spot and take a shuttle back? – Lori LaVelle Shields
The Island Explorer Bus System is an island wide bus service that runs from June 23 to Columbus Day. If you are in Bar Harbor there are several connector trails. Two lead to Sieur de Monts Spring where you can access quite a few trails. Another connector trail takes you along Schooner Head Road and provides access to several hiking trails. There are several bus routes that go into the park. The number 4 Park Loop Road bus departs from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center every half hour and provides access along the Park Loop Road scenic drive, except Cadillac Mountain. The visitor center parking lot is a great place to leave your car and head into the park on the bus. Look at a good trail map and you’ll see that the options for nice one-way hikes are almost limitless!
What are the best places for wildlife viewing and what can I expect to see? And after viewing the wildlife, is there a good place to eat in the park? – Matthew Altrich
Overall, Acadia’s wildlife is predominately small and nocturnal. White-tailed deer are the most prevalent large animal and they’re pretty much everywhere. Rarely are moose and bear seen. Beavers are very common in many of the ponds. If you count birds as wildlife, good birding spots include coastal areas, Wonderland Trail and Ship Harbor, ponds, and Sieur de Monts Spring. Eagles can be seen anywhere. There aren’t any “hot spots” for them.
The only restaurant in the park is the Jordan Pond House. It is an excellent restaurant that serves lunch and dinner, as well as tea and popovers, a traditional treat in the park.
What are three “can’t miss” activities at Acadia National Park? – NPF
1. Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. So, for many people, being one of the first people to see the sunrise on the top of Cadillac creates a lasting memory.
2. Nowhere else will you find such an extensive carriage road system, so taking a walk, bike ride, or carriage ride and seeing some of the 17 stone bridges is a unique experience.
3. Enjoy a walk or hike along the coastal area between Sand Beach and Otter Point. Try swimming in the 55 degree water at Sand Beach!
What’s your favorite spot in the park? – NPF
Wow, that’s really a tough question. There are so many incredibly beautiful places! I love them all. At the moment, the cool forest and quiet stream along the A. Murray Young Trail is my favorite get away spot.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in the park? – NPF
A flooded car on the sand and gravel bar that connects Bar Harbor to Bar Island at low tide! A lesson learned about watching for the incoming tide!
Why did you become a park ranger? – NPF
I think I was destined to be a park ranger when, at the age of three, I cried inconsolably when it was time to leave Mount Rainier National Park. I can still remember it! National parks are a refuge for renewal in the beauty and solitude of nature. It’s an incredible gift to be a Park Ranger!
What can people do to support Acadia National Park? - NPF
There are several ways people can support Acadia. Paying the park entrance fee is one. Joining and learning more about Friends of Acadia is another: www.friendsofacadia.org.
Are you ready to explore Acadia? Join the National Park Foundation on an extraordinary journey to Acadia this September. This NPF-led excursion will give you exclusive access to Acadia National Park coupled with memorable activities and dining experiences. Learn more at www.nationalparks.org/autumninacadia.