Guide to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island


The information and descriptions contained in this document are
entirely subjective and represent only the personal opinions of its authors.

Rated TOP CHOICE Travel Site by The Wall Street Journal, June, 2002

Last Updated: August, 2016
All text and photographs at this website are
protected by Copyrights ©1996-2016 Larry & Michele Bermel
Chappaqua, New York, U.S.A.
All Rights Reserved.

Larry@acadiabarharbor.com



Introduction

Mount Desert Island is a glacier-formed island in the Atlantic Ocean off the northern coast of Maine. It's comprised of several towns along the shorelines and Acadia National Park, which takes up much, if not most, of the interior of the island. Unlike most other national parks in the U.S., Acadia is relatively small, yet as beautiful and spectacular as any. It's one of the most frequently visited national parks in North America, and the only true national park close to the northeast megalopolis. (While Gateway Park in New York City is technically a National Park we don't consider it one as such.) Acadia's enormous popularity and its size have the obvious potential for an excess of tourists on the island at the height of the summer seasons. Fortunately, to offset the potential crowding, this park, unlike most others, is nested amid many wonderful island towns that can absorb much of the tourist trade. The largest and most popular of these towns is Bar Harbor.

Michele and I have been vacationing on Mount Desert Island since 1974. We found something in Bar Harbor and Acadia that touched our souls back then, and that something has persisted and become a special part of our lives, and of our children's lives and memories. It is by no means a perfect vacation spot; we don't believe there is such a place. For this reason we avoid telling folks that they're guaranteed to have a great time. Like anywhere else, MDI is whatever you make of it.

This guide is a condensed list of things for newcomers to consider, based purely on our highly subjective tastes and experiences. It's by no means a comprehensive guide to every thing available on the island - we'll leave that to the Mobil or AAA companies. It's difficult to reduce so many years' experiences into a few pages, so we've tried to cover what we consider essential information. Bear in mind that we've always gone to Mount Desert Island for the Summer, late Spring, or early Autumn, and that while we know it's a wonderful place year ‘round, much of what we talk about in this guide may not apply in the colder months. However, we hope there's enough to introduce you to the place and its offerings with information that you probably won't find in the Mobil or AAA guides.

-- Michele & Larry





In The Park


Park Loop Road

The Loop Road is the best way for newcomers to get a feel for much of the National Park. Start at the Visitor's Center in Hull's Cove (Route 3, about one mile west of Bar Harbor). On your first visit to the island, it's worth spending some time at the Visitor's Center to examine the exhibits and obtain maps, guides, and other literature regarding the National Park, the towns, and the area in general. There are several informative and enjoyable programs offered by the Park Rangers, and this is the best place to find out about them.

From the Visitor's Center, follow the signs for The Loop Road. Halfway through the Loop, you must pay a fee ($25) that is valid for one week. You should drive the whole loop, which takes about an hour and a half if you drive slowly. Most of the Loop is a two-lane, one-way road, allowing you to pull over and stop to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Where it is a two-way road you can only stop in designated parking areas. Try to remember that The Loop Road is not a highway, but a means for you to enjoy the beauty of Acadia National Park from your car. Take your time.

Sand Beach

 

Sand Beach in mid-August, 1998:
Sand Beach in mid-August

Sand Beach in 2009, with Gorham Mountain in the background:
Sand Beach in 2009

Sand Beach is a spectacular sandy beach on the Ocean Loop Drive, with dramatic rock ledges rising above each side. This beautiful site was used in the film "Cider House Rules". During the summer, it's lifeguard-protected. The water never gets warmer than 55 degrees or so, even during the hottest periods, so don't count on an extended swim unless you have ice in your veins. The parking area gets extremely crowded on hot days, yet the beach itself never seems too crowded. On moonless nights, the Park Rangers may offer a real-life "starshow" here. Check the schedules. If you attend, bring a blanket, sweaters, binoculars, and a flashlight.

Otter Point

Michele's favorite spot on
this planet, Otter Point (1996):
Michele at Otter Point

...and in 2009:
Otter Point in 2009

Otter Point is one of the most breathtaking spots on the island, perhaps the state, the country, and the world, for all we know. Note that there's a difference between Otter Cliffs and Otter Point. As you proceed along the Loop Road, Otter Point comes after Otter Cliffs, and has its own parking area. When the tide is coming in, or when the weather is a bit testy, the surf crashing against the huge boulders at Otter Point is simply awe-inspiring. Get out there and climb down as close to the water as your courage allows. Make sure the kids examine all the tidal pools among the huge boulders. If you bring your dog and she likes to swim, we strongly recommend that you limit her to the large tidal pools in this area; the surf and rocks are much too dangerous here for swimming.

...and in 2015:
Otter Point in 2015

Cooling off in a tidal pool:
Coolng off in a tidal pool

Jordan Pond House

 

Popovers on the lawn at Jordan Pond after a day of hiking in 1996:
Popovers on the lawn at Jordan Pond

 

Jordan Pond and The Bubbles, 2009:
Bar Harbor from Cadillac

With a wildflower-festooned meadow leading down to the shore of Jordan Pond, this is a truly beautiful setting for a restaurant. When they were young, our daughters were quite sure that this would be where they'd have their marriages performed. While the indoor dining room is okay (lunch and dinner here can get very crowded), it's the view from the lawn tables that will take your breath away. Afternoon tea and popovers on the lawn are a must. It's very informal, like everything on the island. Reservations aren't necessary, but they wouldn't hurt. Feel free to bring your dog; everyone else will.

The view from the lawn tables captures Jordan Pond and the twin Bubbles beyond its northern shore. A very pleasant trail circumnavigates the pond and provides an opportunity for an excellent hour-long stroll after lunch.

 

Cadillac Mountain

 

Bar Harbor from the top of Cadillac, 1996:
Bar Harbor from Cadillac

and again in 2016, twenty years later:
Bar Harbor from Cadillac, 2016

You can drive to the top of this mountain. Best time: a clear day, an hour before sunset. The drive up the mountain is itself quite a thrilling experience as you progress above the timber line and the switchbacks open up one spectacular view after another. You'll find a parking area, gift and snack shop and rest rooms up at the top. There are easy trails from the parking area that allow you to explore all of the various vistas from this summit, which is the highest point on the Atlantic Seaboard from Maine to Tiera Del Fuego.

Here's a suggestion for newcomers: plan your drive to the summit for the late afternoon. Check the local papers or the internet for the sunset time. Bring a blanket to sit on, a picnic dinner (or just some wine and cheese), your camera and warm clothes; you'll be amazed how chilly it will get up there! Half an hour before sunset, drive about 1/5 of a mile back down and park in the the Blue Hill Parking Lot which is below the summit, on your right heading down. A few yards beyond that lot, facing west toward the sunset, is a gentle, rocky expanse where you can relax, enjoy your wine and cheese, and gaze at what may turn out to be the most spectacular sunset you'll ever see.

Awaiting the sunset from Blue Hill,
atop Cadillac Mountain:
Awaiting the Sunset

The reward: a typical Acadia sunset:
Awaiting the Sunset 2009

Other Points Along the Loop Road

 

Sea Cave below Schooner Head
Sea Cave at Schooner Head


Inside Sea Cave at Low Tide
In the Sea Cave during Low Tide

Wild Gardens of Acadia
Sieur de Mont

 

 

Schooner Head

Immediately before the Loop Road toll gate is a turnoff for Schooner Head, with a parking lot and lookout point over the mouth of Frenchman's Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. It's a beautiful spot, and there is a short trail that will take you down towards the water. Once at the cliffs, careful climbers can scramble around the rocks and make their way into the large sea cave at the bottom, provided the tide is out and the weather is dry.

 

Sieur de Monts Spring, Abbe Museum and Nature Center, and the Wild Gardens of Acadia

A turnoff early on the Loop Road will take you to this trio of places that provide informative glimpses of the wealth of natural flora and fauna that make up much of the island's interior. Families with young children and older retirees tend to enjoy this area more than those looking for rugged or challenging outdoor activity.

Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole is a geographical "notch" carved into the shorline cliff, which, under the right conditions, produces a resounding "thump" and 20-foot high splash as the surf enters its narrow inlet. This spot is visited by many, many tourists, but the conditions to make the stop worth it are very unpredictable. There is a gift shop with rest rooms here.

Bubble Rock

About 1/2 mile north of the Jordan Pond House, on the inland portion of the Loop Road, is an observation lookout for this engaging sight: a 25-foot-diameter boulder perched at the very edge of a mountaintop, that looks like it could be pushed off with a breath of air. It's been there for thousands of years, so don't count on seeing it tumble down...