View of Bar Harbor from the summit of Cadillac Mountain as taken by my iPhone
Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country. There is nothing else like it on the East Coast. Mountains and a rugged coastline directly next to the turquoise blue ocean is usually something that is only seen on the West Coast. Another unique aspect of the park is that it is on an island that is a very short distance off the coast of Maine: Mount Desert Island. Driving on the coast along the ocean with mountains as the backdrop reminds me of driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. The views of lush green valleys from the top of mountains on an island feels like a mini Hawaii. Moreover, there are a lot of small islands that make Mount Desert Island look like a part of an archipelago. For all those reasons, the experience is like being in the Pacific Ocean fused with a New England feel. The combination is spectacular. In addition, there are lakes nestled in between mountains and unique hikes that add to the reasons why Acadia is an incredible vacation destination. In terms of the hiking trails, all the trails in the park an interconnected. You could eventually connect from the west side of the park to the east side but it would probably take more than a day to do it. Nevertheless, the trail system allows hikers to create their own hikes to see the park in addition to the popular ones. Accordingly, I suggest buying a $5 detailed trail map, with distances and elevation charts, at the Hulls Cove Visitor’s Center. There is on and off phone signal when you go around the park and on the trails so the map comes in handy. In addition, I recommend buying a park pass at the Visitor’s Center. You can also buy a pass at the entrance near Sand Beach and there are some other spots you can buy a pass. However, you can enter various parts of the park without a pass and you need to display it on your dashboard mirror. It is $25 per vehicle and good for a week.
Next, the town of Bar Harbor is a cute town on the northeast corner of Mount Desert Island, right next to the entrances of the east side of the park. It is also a tender port where cruise ships will dock and are a part of the landscape. The most popular and beautiful spots of Acadia are on the east side. My friend and I did all our hiking and exploring on the east side. It is about a 10-20 minute drive to the best parts of the park from the middle of Bar Harbor. There is also a National Park bus system that has stops in the town and circles around the park if you do not feel like driving. Of course, it is always more convenient to drive so you can go and leave as you wish. Nevertheless, it may be difficult to find parking at hiking trails during the peak season. As such, the bus becomes much more attractive in that situation. In terms of food, there is good but not spectacular food in Bar Harbor and around the park. Of course, definitely get fresh seafood and blueberries (e.g. pie and ice cream) because it is still Maine [which is known for both] even if it is not the best food the state has to offer (i.e. Portland).
In my opinion, a stop at Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island are musts in any trip to Maine. Summer is obviously peak season for the park. I tried to time my visit for late September when I thought the leaves would have changed. The leaves changed later than usual with it being hotter later than it normally is. There was some changes in colors but not as much as I had hoped. Regardless, the park was immaculately beautiful.
- Cadillac Mountain
The summit of Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in the park at 1,530 feet. You can drive or hike to the top. It is takes less than 15 minutes to drive to the summit from Bar Harbor. If you walk around the top, you will get incredible 360 views of the park: west side of Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor, mouth of the Harbor, south side of park, etc. Naturally, it is a great spot in the park to see sunrise or sunset.
The summit of Cadillac Mountain is an ideal spot for sunrise. The sun rises above the mouth, entrance, of the harbor. In my opinion, it would be more spectacular if the sun was slightly more north so it rose directly above Winter Harbor and more islands instead of the ocean. However, there is some poetry to it rising above the entrance of the Harbor. Since Acadia is one of the first places that the sun graces the United States each morning, it is fitting that the mouth of the harbor is where the sun first touches the park. As you await for the sunrise, you may also see cruise ships pull into the harbor as I presume they are timing their arrival into Bar Harbor for the sunrise. Of course, there will be a lot of other people camping out for the sunrise. From my experience, the best spots are on the left. You can point your cameras to the right to see the mouth of the harbor and the sun as it rises above the ocean.
Again, there will be a lot of other visitors. Parking can be a nightmare. Unless you get there extremely early, the parking spots directly next to the summit will be taken. I arrived 15 minutes before sunrise. Many cars found the first spot they could on the side of the road. I decided to park in the parking lot for Blue Ridge lookout, where there were plenty of open spots. In my opinion, it was totally worth it to walk further [about 5 minutes] and avoid the mass chaos immediately after the sun rises. In regards to the people parked on the side of the road, they were often facing opposite directions. When all those cars tried to leave at the same time, it was total mayhem. It was similar to the deplaning process on an airplane but imagine it with passengers trying to go in opposite directions [i.e. some passengers trying to exit through the back, others trying to exit through the front, and everyone is going in opposite directions]. Since it was with cars that cannot always easily turn around like people, there is constant opposing flows of traffic. If you parked on the side of the road or at the parking spots next to the summit, I would recommend just waiting and enjoying more of the sun as it rises higher and higher and lights up the park. If you park in the Blue Ridge lookout parking lot, you can leave right away since all of the disorder is away from that lot.
While the summit [which faces the East] is the spot for sunrise, the Blue Ridge lookout [which faces the West] is the best spot for sunset. Accordingly, the Blue Ridge parking lot becomes the desirable spot and you have a better chance landing a spot by the parking lot at the summit then walking the five minutes back down to the lookout. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful to watch the sun set slowly below the mountains and islands in the west. While both the sunrise and sunset are spectacular, I give the sunset an edge because the sun hovers over more of the park. Since the road leading up to the summit faces the west side of the park, there are a lot of great lookout points on the road up. You do not need to get all the way to the top to get an amazing spot to watch the sunset. I actually did not make it to the summit in time before the sun set. Nevertheless, I was driving up as it was setting and it was still incredible. The residual glow touching the landscape of the park for the 15-20 minutes after the sun set was beautiful too.
All the trails in the park are interconnected via the other trails although it is not plausible to go from the east side to the west side of the park. It would take too much time and you would need multiple cars at opposite ends to pull it off in a day. Nevertheless, the trail system allows plenty of options to design your own trail. Not surprisingly, a lot of roads lead to Cadillac Mountain. With the knowledge of friends who visited the park in the past, I mapped out a course that starts out at the parking lot at the summit of Cadillac Mountain. I thought about starting at and hiking up the Cadillac North Ridge trail which is about 2.2 miles one way. Going up then finishing on that path would have added over 4 miles and 2 hours to the hike. However, one of my friends had recently did it and noted it was a boring hike. The route I chose was enough exercise so I was fine not adding the North Ridge trail just for additional exercise. Nevertheless, you can certainly add additional legs to most hikes you do in the park. The loop I selected cut across to the next mountain, Dorr Mountain, via the Gorge Path. From the summit of Dorr, we hiked down the Dorr South Ridge Trail then cut west on the Canon Brook Trail to explore the saddle. Then, we came back up to the summit via the Cadillac South Ridge Trail. The loop was 4.3 miles and took about 3 hours because we spent time to enjoy all the various lookout points and views. If I just wanted to complete the route as fast as possible, it probably would have taken a little over 2 hours. I definitely recommend the loop because it provides unique and beautiful views of the park on each leg.
- Gorge Path to Dorr Mountain (0.6 miles/ 500 feet elevation change)
From Cadillac Mountain, it takes 0.6 miles to get to the next mountain, Dorr Mountain. However, it is not an easy 0.6 miles. The first 0.4 miles is a steep downward rock scramble that descends 500 feet into the Gorge. Of course, it is more strenuous to go up. Nevertheless, I might prefer going up than down because it is easier to lose footing going down instead of up. There are great views as you descend into the gorge of the valley as it juts out into the ocean. The final 0.2 miles to Dorr is another rock scramble with an elevation change of about 250-300 feet. As such, you will get an upward rock scramble no matter which direction you go but it is longer and steeper if you head up Cadillac Mountain. I would definitely not do the Gorge Path if it has rained. The rocks will be too slick. The summit of Dorr Mountain has excellent views. While it is not as good as the ones at the summit of Cadillac Mountain; you see the harbor, the south side of the park, and Cadillac Mountain.
- Dorr South Ridge Trail (1.4 miles/ 1,200 feet elevation change)
It is a gradual and easy descent down Dorr Mountain. There are decent views of the south side of the park but probably the weakest in the loop.
- Canon Brook Trail (1.1 miles/ 900 feet elevation change)
This trail runs west and ascends back up toward Cadillac Mountain. Part of the trail are stone stairs, which are easy to walk up since they are like stairs. There is a section that is a smooth rock path. There are no rock boulders to scramble past but it can be slippery since the rock floor is smooth. I tried to walk past just a little stream of water and immediately slipped and muddied one side of my pants. Consequently, definitely go around water even if it looks like only a little bit. I would not try to hike this trail on a rainy day. The trail is pretty. You are inside the Gorge, walking through the forest, and get views of the mountains around you.
You can connect to the A Murray Young Path after 0.2 miles on the Canon Brook Trail. It will link you back to the Gorge Path for the rock scramble back up to Cadillac Mountain. However, I definitely recommend continuing to the Cadillac South Ridge Trail because there are more views on that trail and it is a gradual ascent instead of a steep rock scramble.
At the intersection of Canon Brook Trail and Cadillac South Ridge Trail, Featherbed is only a few minute walk south on the South Ridge Trail. It is a small peak with pretty views of the park. We ran into a hiker who told us it was her favorite point in the park. While it does not have the best views of the park, it is worth the short detour before making the ascent back up the mountain.
- Cadillac South Ridge Trail (1.2 miles/ 600 feet elevation change)
It has some of my favorite views of the park. As you hike up, there are continuously great views of the south and west sides of the park as you look back. As you near the summit and pass the Blue Ridge parking lot, there are some iron rungs to help you climb up some minor rocks. They are only there to help. You are not near any kind of ledge or in any danger.
- The Beehive Trail (1.3 miles/ 534 feet elevation change)
It is one of the most unique and fun hikes I have done anywhere. It is famous for the iron rungs that you need to utilize in order to scale up some of the rock sides of the Beehive Mountain. There is real danger with the hike if you are reckless but it is not dangerous if you hike safely. Most of the danger is in your head. Obviously, it is not a great if you have an adverse fear of heights. You can seriously hurt yourself if you fall off the iron rungs. However, it is 15-20 feet if you fall. From the warnings and reviews of people who were afraid of the hike that I read when I researched the hike, it sounded like I could fall 500 feet off the mountain. It is not the case but obviously do not fall. The iron rungs are very sturdy so there is no reason you should fall off if you are focused and not goofing around when you climb. There is one gap that is a steep drop, maybe 50 feet. However, there are iron rungs that have been installed to fill in the gap so you can just walk over instead of hopping over it. If you look through the iron rungs to see the drop, you may psych yourself out. I am not the best with heights but I only thought about how high I was during the hike when I took a moment and stared too long at the ground below. I would not do this hike if it is raining, has rained, or is dark. I also probably would not do it if it is really windy because I would not like to feel like the wind is blowing me off the mountain.
In my opinion, the danger of this hike is definitely exaggerated. I saw a couple make the ascent and the mother had her baby girl strapped on her front side. Nevertheless, the fear of injury or death is a healthy feeling so you stay focused and hike safely. In addition, the hike is short. The actual hike to the summit is only 0.8 miles. You will be at the top in no time but it is definitely enough for a good workout. For the hikers who overcome their fear of heights to hike up, they are rewarded with stunning views of Acadia, especially Sand Beach and the ocean. It is definitely a peaceful and glorious spot to soak in the beauty of the park.
You can park at Sand Beach or the parking lot at the top of the Sand Beach parking lot. The trail begins on the road right before Sand Beach. Accordingly, you can park anywhere on the side of the road, where it is allowed, when you are close to the beach. You start on the Bowl Trail and walk for 0.2 miles. At that point, you can either continue on the Bowl Trail or bear right to the Beehive Trail. If you want the views but want to avoid the hike on the Beehive Trail, the Bowl Trail is a much easier. At the summit, you can hike another 0.2 miles to see The Bowl. It is a small lake nestled up at the top of the mountains. It is neat but I have seen better lakes at the top of mountains. However, it is a short detour so you might as well just go the extra distance to see it.
- Jordan Pond (3.5 mile loop/ relatively flat)
It is an absolutely gorgeous lake nestled in between mountains. The water is a beautiful, perfect dark blue. The big lake and the surrounding mountains make the experience picturesque. It is a serene, calming sound to hear the water cradle back and forth against the edges of the lake. The path around the lake is a relaxing stroll. I do not consider it a hike. It is 3.5 mile loop that is basically flat. You need to walk on some rocks and boulders during part of the trail. However, you do not have to climb over them like a rock scramble. In addition, the rocks have solid footing. There is also another part of the trail where you walk on planks. It is probably because the ground below gets too muddy. It is not a big deal. Overall, the loop around Jordan Pond is basically a walk in the park… around a pond.
South Bubble detour (0.9 miles/ 500 feet elevation change)
If you want a little bit more of a challenge and turn it into a real hike, I recommend taking a detour to the lookout point of South Bubble. You will see the two mountains, South and North Bubble, straight ahead as you are approaching the north side of the lake from a counterclockwise direction. You will see a sign for the parking lot for the Bubbles. It is an easier route to the lookout point but a little more distance. Of course, you can also just drive to that parking lot. Other hikers told me it was a really easy walk from the parking lot to the lookout point. If you want a challenge during your loop around Jordan Pond, wait for the sign after the one to the parking. It notes the hike up is 0.4 miles to the summit of South Bubble. I definitely underestimated how strenuous the hike up would be. I worked up a sweat rock scrambling. There are also a couple of points that had iron rungs as I approached the lookout point. Of course, be careful on the iron rungs but I did not feel in danger. I would not have tried going back down in that direction but it is possible. For anyone with hiking experience, it is relatively easy but legitimately steep enough for a workout. I did not bring my hiking boots because I was not expecting to make the detour but completed it with old running shoes. The views at the lookout point are incredible as you hover 768 feet above the lake with islands and the ocean in the distance. The views of the lake are amazing on the ground anyway but the top of South Bubble provides a different and spectacular vantage point.
Jordan Pond House (2928 Park Loop Rd, Seal Harbor, ME 04675)
It is the only restaurant in the park. It is located at the south end of the Pond with a great view of the Pond and the Bubbles behind it. The food is very good but not surprisingly marked up since the restaurant resides in the middle of the park. The Pond House is known for its popovers. I definitely recommend it as an add-on no matter what you order. It looks like a big muffin. The exterior tastes like bread and the interior is very thin and doughy. The inside is also completely hollow so they look bigger than they actually are. The popovers go great with the jam on the table. For my entrée, I ordered Atlantic Salmon. It was fresh and cooked solidly. However, I prefer it more tender and slightly less well done so the flakes of the fish fall right off the rest of the meat. The portion size was modest but enough. The side vegetables, carrots and zucchini, were some of the most delicious vegetables I have eaten. They were seared to perfection and the sauce was awesome. I wish I just ordered the vegetables for my entrée so I could have eaten more. My friend ordered a lobster roll. He noted it was very good and the bread was buttered perfectly. The blueberry herbal tea was also very good. It is a tad sweet and similar to the BAI drinks that are currently in stores. For dessert, I ordered a blueberry cobbler. Of course, Maine blueberries are great so I enjoyed the blueberry layer. Obviously, I enjoyed the ice cream too. Nevertheless, I would not call it a must try.
We were given a 40 minute wait time when we got there around 1 PM. They called our names within 20-25 minutes. Afternoon tea is also popular at the Pond House. In the summer, there is outdoor seating. In late September, it was chilly so all the seating was indoors.
- Ocean Path (2.2 miles/ relatively flat)
When you drive the Park Loop Road, the most beautiful part of the drive is along the Ocean Path. If you want to go for a walk, the trail starts at Sand Beach and loops around Otter Point. Sand Beach is beautiful in itself as it is enclosed in a cove and the rugged coastline. During the warm weather of the summer, it is a great spot for a beach day. Back to Ocean Path, you can also just park on the side of the road along the path to enjoy the views. Thundering Hole is a popular spot on the path. During high tide, the waves will crash violently and loudly against the rocks hence the Thundering Hole name. In addition, definitely take the time to walk on to the beautiful granite cliffs next to the ocean. It is a relaxing and soothing experience. I could have stayed there for hours. It was very beautiful at sunset with the afterglow of the sun reflecting off the cliffs and coast line. It would also be a great spot to camp out for sunrise as you are in prime position to watch it rise above the ocean and harbor while standing or sitting on the beautiful rocks of the cliffs.
- Bar Harbor
This town is on the northeast corner of Mount Desert Island and the gateway to Acadia and its most popular attractions. It is a small town. You can definitely walk around the entire town in an hour at a leisurely pace. Cottage Street (west to east) and Main Street (north to south) are the main roads that cut through the town. A lot of the food and shops are on or off of those streets. There is a lot of charm and classic feel to the buildings. Agamont Park is at the northeast corner of the town. It faces the harbor and pier and is the entrance point for cruise ships. In my opinion, it has the best views in the town. In addition, there is a small island, Bar Island, directly north of Bar Harbor. There is a 1.5 hour window when the water recedes and a path appears for you to walk across. I saw the island but was not at the path during the window. In regards to the food in Bar Harbor, I was not really blown away by it but there are some decent choices.
- Morning Glory Bakery (39 Rodick St, Bar Harbor, ME 04609)
The best thing I ate in Bar Harbor was the blueberry pie at Morning Glory. While it was not the most photogenic pie, it was absolutely delicious. It had the perfect level of sweet. Of course, the Maine blueberries were so good. The layer of the blueberries was a perfect height and width similar to a candy bar. I made a second trip to Morning Glory during my stay just to get another slice of blueberry pie. The bagels were also very good. The one I ate was doughy and chewy. In addition, I tried the blueberry muffin. It was decent but nothing memorable.
- Blaze (198 Main St, Bar Harbor, ME 04609)
Blaze has a hip, modern look and atmosphere. The food was solid. The New England clam chowder was very good. The clams were extremely fresh and delicious. The potatoes were excellent. The chowder was very creamy. I also ordered the Haddock fish tacos. I had mixed feelings about it. The haddock was very fresh. I liked that the fish was lightly breaded since I do not really like thick fried batter. In addition, the spicy aioli sauce was very good. On the other hand, it completely overpowered the fish to the extent that I could no longer taste the fish at all anywhere there was sauce. The fish was breaded in multiple strips the size of fingers. In my opinion, the fish would absorb the sauce better if there were less strips and maybe one big piece of fish. I will also add that there was a mouthwatering beef short rib on a nearby table that I could not stop myself from staring at. However, it was huge and expensive so I did not order it just for myself. Overall, Blaze is a good spot to have dinner.
- Thrive Juice Bar & Kitchen (47 Rodick St, Bar Harbor, ME 04609)
When I am on vacation, I am always on the lookout for acai bowls. They are delicious, healthy, and provide a lot of energy for the day. I especially love them when I know I am going for a hike. The acai bowl trend has not yet made its way to Bar Harbor. However, the smoothie bowls at Thrive are close enough. I ordered the Blissful Berry. The blended base is comprised of wild Maine blueberries, strawberries, banana, almond milk, dates, and cinnamon. Not surprisingly, the blueberry base was amazing because Maine blueberries were the main ingredient. If I could not have an acai base, I am glad the blueberries were the substitute. Naturally, I had acai powder added to it too for an additional charge. In terms of toppings, it came with granola, strawberries, banana, goji berries, and honey. It usually comes with coconut shreds too but I am allergic so had it made without them. The granola was very good. The banana and strawberries were very fresh. On the other hand, I did not care for the goji berries. I have had better ones. A great honey usually puts these types of bowls over the top for me. It was good but not exceptional. My friend ordered the premade chicken sandwiches and loved them. In general, Thrive is a great place for a healthy breakfast or lunch.
- CJ’s Big Dipper (150 Main St #1, Bar Harbor, ME 04609)
Blueberry ice cream is something you definitely need to try in Maine. CJ’s Big Dipper is a great ice cream shop to try it at. I tried some of the blueberry ice cream and it was great. However, it was the blueberry soft serve that drew me into the shop. The serving size was generous and the taste was glorious. I have been to Hawaii the last two years and love the Pineapple Whip at the Dole plantation on Oahu. The blueberry soft serve actually rivals the Pineapple Whip as my favorite fruit soft serve.
- Dog & Pony Tavern (4 Rodick Pl, Bar Harbor, ME 04609)
Unfortunately, a lot of restaurants and bars close or stop serving food around 9 PM. Dog & Pony Tavern was the only place we could find in Bar Harbor that served food after 10 PM. Although we did not have any other option, the food was good anyway. We ordered a fish & chips. There was a big piece of fish that was lightly breaded. It was solid. The fries were good too. We ordered a side of tater tots and I loved them.
- More Food on Mount Desert Island (Outside of Bar Harbor)
1. Thurston’s Lobster Pound (9 Thurston Rd, Bernard, ME 04612)
It is located in Bernard at the south part of Mount Desert Island. Bernard is a 30 minute drive from Bar Harbor. It is in a prime spot for great views of Bass Harbor while you dine. It is especially beautiful after sunset as the remnants of the day provide an orange glow backdrop to the harbor. Thurston’s has amazing seafood and was definitely the best food I ate on Mount Desert Island. When we arrived, there was a line out the door. We were relieved it was a line to order. It is a casual place where you order then find a seat and wait for the servers to bring the food out to you. I ordered the Haddock chowder as my appetizer. The chowder was very creamy and tasty. There were two large chunks of halibut in the bowl that soaked up the chowder. I also split crab cakes with my friend. They were very tender and delicious. They were absolutely amazing and some of the best crab cakes I have eaten anywhere. I highly recommend the chowder and crab cakes as appetizers. For my entrée, I ordered the Steamer dinner. The steamer calms were very fresh. The trick to eating them is pulling out the necks and the black skin around the meat. The dinner also came with corn. Everything was in a net and boiled in vats. The corn was very sweet. Since it is cooked with whatever you ordered it with (e.g. clams, lobsters, etc.), mine tasted like clams. The bread rolls and coleslaw, which came with the entrée, were very good. For dessert, the blueberry spiced cake came with the meal. It kind of tastes like pumpkin spice but with blueberries. I only found it ok. Of course, lobster is the most popular item on the menu. My friend ordered a whole, live lobster and loved it. He had the option of hard shell or soft shell. He did not know what soft shell was so he went with the hard shell that we were used to. After some research, the soft shell is only available during a certain point of year when the lobsters are changing shells. It is supposed to be delicious and easier to eat. Thurston’s has a side by side comparison of the differences on its website. With hindsight, my friend wishes he tried the soft shell.
- Mainely Meat Barbecue (15 Knox Rd, Bar Harbor, ME 04609)
If you are tired of or need a break from seafood, Mainely Meat Barbecue is an excellent alternative. We went to the location with the Atlantic Brewery because it is higher rated. I ordered the Sampler which included chicken, spicy sausage, ribs, and pulled pork. Everything had a smoky flavor. It was not a surprise because we could see the smoker in the back when we arrived. The chicken was very good. However, it was not the fall off the bone tender that would blow me away for barbecue chicken. The spicy sausage had a real kick to it and I loved it. The ribs were very good. They were cooked long enough so that the bone melted to add flavor but not too long that the meat was dried out. I also enjoyed the slightly charred skin. The pulled pork was moist and excellent. The barbecue sauce was great. Definitely utilize it.
There is no sign so it is difficult to find the restaurant. However, it is right next to and part of the Atlantic Brewery so just look for the brewery.
Bar Harbor is home to a lot of inns and bed and breakfasts instead of large chain hotels. We stayed at the Quimby House Inn & Spa (109 Cottage St, Bar Harbor, ME 04609). It had an older décor to it but was very comfortable. We had plenty of space. The inn is a 5-10 minute walk to the heart of town and very close to a Hannaford if you want to get some groceries or snacks. The location is obviously great. The $160 per night was reasonable for where the inn is located in relation to the town and park. I recommend it but there are no shortages of inns to choose from in Bar Harbor.
If you are passing through or spending time in Portland, Maine; please see the following link for recommendations: http://rookerville.com/2017/10/10/hitchhikers-guide-portland-maine/