Most National Parks in the US have a car route that allows visitors to efficiently visit the main highlights and enjoy views from overlooks. In Acadia National Park this route is called the Park Loop Road, and following it is a perfect way to get acquainted with the lay of the land, pick some favorites and take advantage of the easy photo ops. The scenic loop is 27 miles long, so ideal for a first (full) day in the park, especially if you’d like to do some of the shorter hikes along the way and stop at every pull-out!
There is a free bus service – the Island Explorer – connecting campgrounds, sights along the Park Loop Road (beaches, viewpoints, hiking trails, carriage roads), Bar Harbor and its neighboring towns and the different parts of the park on Desert Island (where the main part of Acadia NP is located), and even beyond. They have room to carry bikes as well. Pretty sweet! Note that these propane-powered buses run less frequently outside of high season. We occasionally used one (they are easy to halt) instead of walking along the road on a loop hike. Since the schedule had been reduced already in September, we mostly used our own car for sightseeing and transportation.
Mark and I entered the Loop Road near Blackwoods Campground, where we stayed for five nights. Our first stop was Jordan Pond, with a cool looking gate house, an entrance to the carriage roads, a scenic lake and the Jordan Pond House, the only restaurant in the park. Their specialty is popovers, which we would try later on, when our schedule was not as packed anymore.
One of the highlights of Acadia is Cadillac Mountain, the highest mountain – or hill – on the Eastern Seaboard. You can hike up it via a few different paths, but we decided to drive and save the walking for later in the day. The views are spectacular from its east and west side.
From the west on Cadillac Mountain:
From the East on Cadillac Mountain:
The parking lot and viewing area are actually not on the top of the mountain as Mark coincidentally discovered. Not knowing how much further the highest point was, we put our socks and hiking shoes on, only to find the Geological Survey plaque 5 minutes up a very easy trail…
We made a little detour to the Visitor Center, which we skipped the afternoon before, antsy to get to the campground and secure a camping spot. I wanted to gather some extra information and see the video about the park, but none of it was really worthwhile.
We continued on with a quick stop at Sieur de Monts, a natural spring. A nature center, a museum and the Wild Gardens of Acadia are also present, but in the off-season, the garden was not very colorful. If you don’t have a lot of time, this place could easily be skipped.
We passed the Precipice Trailhead, on the agenda for the last morning of our vacation, on a one-way section of the Loop Road, and decided to eat our lunch once we found an appropriate spot. We pulled over at the Bear Brook picnic area, but since there was no view, we left again. Instead, we installed ourselves on a picnic blanket at the overlook right before the Sand Beach Entrance Station. It was peaceful, apart from the bells of the channel markers. This is where we saw our first lighthouse in the distance. I love lighthouses!
The afternoon was spent in the Sand Beach area, the southeast corner of the park and the last section we wanted to explore this day. We started off with a moderate hike up and along the cliffs of Great Head peninsula, the Great Head Trail. Since we were running out of drinking water, we had to be careful with our intake. Not ideal on the hottest day of the month. We managed OK and enjoyed the exercise and views.
At Sand Beach – together with Cadillac Mountain the most popular, and best developed, destination in the park – we filled our water bottles. We had a quick look at the only sand beach in the vicinity – when I dipped my toes in the water it was VERY cold – and decided to walk Ocean Path, an easy hike offering vistas over the ocean and the cliffs. Its return length is 4.2 miles.
When starting off in the beating sun, I had the novel idea to take the free shuttle one way and walk back. We felt pretty tired after the previous hike. About halfway down, we hailed a bus and executed the plan. Since we had saved some energy and time, strolling back along the ocean from Otter Point to Sandy Beach was very enjoyable! This stretch is most famous for Thunder Hole, a blowhole that produces massive plumes of seawater when you visit at the right time, an hour or so before high tide. There wasn’t much thundering going on when we passed. Mark and I did not care for the hordes of tourists and have seen plenty of natural blowholes in our lives, so we called our fun and activity-filled day quits and “turned in” early. At this pace, we wouldn’t survive five days! 🙂