This one has been several years in the making. Acadia has been on the bucket list for a long time. Life events shut down my previous attempt to make it out there, but I finally managed to land on the salty shores of Maine. My experience was, in a word, phenomenal. We (myself and my partner) spent 6 days in the park, traveling in and out as we please, checking out the sites and soaking in some of the local culture.
We landed in Acadia late Monday evening after taking on the long 18 hour drive from Tennessee. We stopped on the way to check out Manhattan (also a fun time if you’ve never been) to break up the drive and stretch the legs, but we were happy to arrive. It was foggy when we got there, so visibility was minimal and activities were limited as it was already nearing dark. I was pretty exhausted too, and all I really wanted to do was get camp set up, eat and collapse inside my tent for the night. We did just that, waking up the next morning refreshed and ready for a full week of hiking and exploring.
Now, the first thing that really surprised me about Acadia is the fact that Acadia isn’t wilderness. Sure, there are lots of trees and bushes and the ocean is amazing, but very little about Acadia is wild, and none of it is untouched. There was no area in Acadia that I found that felt like I was out and away from society. Acadia National Park is, in itself, something of a city, be it with lots of trails and life. This I wasn’t suspecting.There is a bus system cuts through every major area of the park and surrounding cities are intertwined within the wilderness-like patches, and that’s actually O.K. I found myself utilizing the bus route, winding through all of the major landmarks, as part of my hiking routes. Instead of planning lollipop loops and out and backs, I would find a section where I could take the bus the beginning (completely free of charge mind you), hike through whatever section I wanted to do, meet a second bus at the end, and then get dropped off into a restaurant for a well earned dinner. Honestly, it’s a refreshing and relaxing approach that I in particular have never really experienced. Generally, I’m hiking with a heavy pack with several pounds of food, water and survival essentials. I’ll likely not see a building or another human for days at a time. Instead, I was just packing snacks and a few liters of water, romping around care free in this interesting patch of civilization.
The second thing about the park that I picked up on real quick was the fact that the weather is wholly unpredictable. No one had a clue what was happening, what was going to happen, or what to expect; Not the weatherman, not the rangers, not the locals. The only given was the high possibility that fog or rain can roll in or out at any moment. It comes from nowhere and anywhere with little notice and no real way to see it coming. Watching the forecast, it was dramatically wrong every single day of our trip. So, I found myself planning for the unpredictability, and it was kind of fun. My routes would change as the weather did, and it left the trip with a sense of adventure that otherwise dwindles in such an urbanized environment. The only downfall? If you’re planning on hitting an amazing peak view, there will likely be no view when you get there due to the fog washing in off the ocean, even if it’s blue skies until you hit that final climb.
Working my way through the trail system, I found lots of hidden gems that I wasn’t aware of from my research before the trip. Most of the good trails aren’t nearly as popular as the famous trails you’ve probably heard of. Sure, I hit the Cadillac Mountain Trail and had Popovers at the Jordan Pond House, but these were the least impressive aspects of the trip. Instead, the lesser talked about trails and destinations were far more enjoyable, and I’m really not sure why people aren’t talking about them. Local secrets, or perhaps just a factor of them being more difficult than the well advertised trails. Either way, more on those later.
The Black Woods campground is lovely, just off of the ocean with a short 10 minute walk leading straight to a nice rock overlook. The campsites themselves have a decent distance between them, although there really isn’t that much privacy to be had. Most sites are within clear visibility of another, and well inside audible range if someone is cutting up. You cannot at this point choose your campsite either, so after spending hours pouring over them and selecting one through the reservation system, finding out all that work was for nothing was a bit disappointing. You’ll just be assigned a campsite when you arrive, regardless of what site you choose. The campground is missing one major feature too, showers. I knew this going on, but for a park that rakes in so much money every year, surely they could work something out. There is a company that provides them about a quarter mile away, but they will charge you two bucks (in quarters) for a quick four minute shower. It’s worth it, but it adds up pretty quick, especially if you are trying to shampoo and condition your hair. There is also a small shop just outside of the campground that offers up a small assortment of food, ice, and a couple of necessities at reasonable costs. Another mild complaint, the gravel is granite, so you’re going to want a footprint if you’re packing an expensive tent. It’s rough on the tent floor. Aside from being bathed constantly in the campfire smoke of other camps who apparently cannot build a proper well ventilated fire, it was a pretty nice place to stay.
Now, onto the good stuff. The trail system. My favorite trail was certainly the Beehive Trail, accessed best via the Gorham Trail which is also delightful. It’s named for it’s hive like appearance in shape and the astonishing look of humans scaling the walls like arthropods building honey combs. It’s a steep, near vertical slab of granite that’s only scalable for hikers thanks to the inclusion of iron rungs embedded into the rock walls.
Some of these climbs require utilizing rock holds, the iron itself, and pushing up with your feet. It’s exhilarating even if It’s a bit sketchy at times, with steep, deadly drops on all sides as you climb up the walls. The payout, an impressive vista overlooking the ocean, is certainly worth it.
You can, on a clear day, see for miles an every direction, catching a full view of the ocean, Cadillac Mountain, and you can even hear Thunderhole blasting in the distance (a rock formation that makes a fun thundering sound as the tide comes up). It’s a mildly challenging trail, but it was short to make up for it.
My second favorite trail is the Jordan Pond loop with a side of the South Bubbles trail. This very easy trail loops around Jordan Pond, offering beautiful views of the pristine waters. It includes sections of rock bridges, and roughly two miles of a wooden “bog walk”, which is essentially a narrow wooden bridge that leads hikers over a rare and fragile bog ecosystem. Take some time to climb the Bubble Rocks and you’ll gain elevated views of the lake after scrambling up some rock stairs, stone climbs and a few more iron rungs just like from the Beehive trail. I hit this trail on day of fog that just wouldn’t burn off, so I didn’t get to see the vista, but the rock scramble was still delightful.
Thunderhole, Cadillac Mountain, and the Seashore hike are all great too, but they’re over used, over populated, and honestly, just not as amazing as some of the lesser known trails in the system. They’re certainly worth seeing, but far from the highlights of my trip. If I could make one change to my itinerary, I would have hit the Precipice trail, which I only found out about near the end of my stay. It’s similar to the Beehive but taller, with much longer climbs, steeper wall, and even more iron rungs. It’s lesser used due to the challenge and aspect of danger associated with such climbs, but the images I found were amazing.
In my down time I found myself riding the bus back and forth to Bar Harbor, a small town that sits on the ocean near the heart of Acadia. It’s essentially a peer, and large cruise ships that roll though from time to time as they drop off those touring the area for dinning and shopping. It’s a bit touristy, but moving just a block off of the main stretch gets away from the crowds, reveals delicious, more affordable eating, lots of shopping, and even a quaint local grocery store, great for restocking supplies for back at camp. This small town has a lot of heart and I very much recommend exploring it. Most restaurants are serving up fresh lobster and fish, and practically every store has some sort of interesting souvenir to take home (I recommend a few jars of Maine Jam and local favorites whoopie pies, yum).
By the end of the week, I was pretty exhausted. 6 days of hard hiking and exploring took it’s toll on me by the final day, but I was enjoying it nonetheless. I was, however, certainly ready to head home. In total, the trip took 9 days, between driving, stopping in New York, and the time spent inside Acadia. Overall, it was an amazing trip. The hiking isn’t very difficult, the local dining is wonderful, even if expensive, and the views of the park are ever changing and generally breathtaking. If I lived closer, I would certainly go back time and time again. If you’re considering a trip to Acadia, it’s safe to put it on the top of your bucket list.