Let me start by saying that two short days in Acadia National Park was not nearly enough and my heart pines for the day we can return. All we were able to do was briefly touch some of the highlights of this absolutely beautiful national park!
Day 1 Acadia National Park Loop Road and Hiking Highlights
Driving or biking around the Acadia National Park Loop Road is a must, but do so either before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. to avoid the crowds and to catch the best light for photos. With only two days to spend at the park, we got an early start. We started at Sieur de Monts Springs, home to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, the Nature Center, and the original Abbe Museum.
Next we drove around to Sand Beach and braved dipping our toes in the water, brrrrr! We hiked around the Ocean Path past Thunder Hole to Otter Cliff; and ended with the first day’s grand finale at Cadillac Mountain. Here are the hiking trails we took:
Ocean Path to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff
There is a 3 mile or 3.8 km (round-trip) long ocean side walking trail called Ocean Path that begins at the Sand Beach upper parking lot and follows the eastern coastline of Mount Desert Island in a southerly direction past Thunder Hole and then continues until it reaches Otter Cliff to the south. You should consider doing this walk as it is highly recommended for its unrivaled coastal beauty on the eastern seaboard of the continental United States. The Park Loop Road follows in the same direction but is one-way on this side of the island.
- Sand Beach is nestled in a small inlet between the granite mountains and rocky shores of Mount Desert Island. This gorgeous 290-yard-long beach is one of the most popular points of interest on the island. The thousands of years of pounding surf created a beach that is largely comprised of unique sand of shell fragments. Although the water looks inviting, you may want to reconsider wading in since the ocean temperature rarely exceeds 55 degrees in the summer.
- Thunder Hole is the place to experience the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores of Maine! On calm days you may wonder what the fuss is all about. But wait until the waves kick up a few notches. Thunder Hole is a small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks, where the waves roll into. At the end of this inlet, down low, is a small cavern where, when the rush of the wave arrives, air and water is forced out like a clap of distant thunder. Water may spout as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! Hence the name: Thunder Hole.
- Otter Cliff is one of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard. On the east side of the Park Loop Road, about .7 miles past Thunder Hole, is the famous 110-foot-high Otter Cliff – one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands north of Rio de Janeiro. Just before Otter Cliff is a beautiful spot called Monument Cove. Right after this, the road begins to curve to the left. To the right is a small parking area with portable rest facilities. On the other side of the street is a path that leads to the cliff.
Summit Road to Cadillac Mountain
We finished our first day in the park with a trip up the scenic Summit Road officially opened in 1931. It meanders along the North and eastern side of the mountain for approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) until reaching the top. There are several small observation points along the roadway that offer prime viewing opportunities, and we took advantage of most of them.
Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet (466 meters), is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. It is one of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island (MDI), Maine that were pushed up by earth’s tectonic and volcanic forces millions of years ago. Cadillac Mountain was named after the Frenchman, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac.
Note: If you don’t want to drive or bike around the park, the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus runs about every half hour during normal seasonal daytime hours. Check their schedule to verify.
Day 2: Bar Harbor, Abbe Museum, and Kayak Trip
On our second day we went to the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. Here we gained a much richer understanding of the history and cultures of Maine’s Native people, the Wabanaki. It is important to me as we travel across the United States to learn as much as I can about the native peoples who honored and revered this land, long before my ancestors arrived. The museum brings together oral traditions, personal stories, cultural knowledge, language, and historical accounts with objects, photographs, multi-media, and digital interactives. It really is a first class museum, and in 2013 it became the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine.
After leaving the museum, we wandered around town stopping for lunch before making our way to the meeting place for our kayak trip. We stopped at Jordan’s Restaurant, an unpretentious breakfast & lunch joint long known for its wild Maine blueberry pancakes.
Finally, we met at 1:00pm for our afternoon guided kayak trip. We paddled the remote “Westside” including Western Bay and Blue Hill Bay. It was a very peaceful trip and we did not see any tour boats, just some working lobster boats. The course they led us on was selected to utilize the wind and tides to our advantage. This made the 6-mile paddle pretty easy. We went between several islands, exploring the coves and made one short rest stop. We saw abundant wildlife including harbor seals, eagles, osprey, and loons. Seeing the rocky, tree-lined coast from the vantage point of the ocean was special unto itself.