• Matt Carter

Acadia National Park (Maine)

Acadia National Park was founded in 1916, the first national park east of the Mississippi, and the second in the United States. The majority of the park's 49,000 acres are on Mount Desert Island (pronounced "dessert") off the coast of Maine. Since the late 1800s, the island has been a popular tourist destination with prominent families, including the Rockefellers, Fords and Vanderbilts, who developed the island as their summer oasis and eventually donated much of the land to become the National Park we have today. For the past 16 years, I've been visiting Acadia, climbing and hiking throughout its beautiful mountains .

Getting There

Most visitors drive into the park (which is about eight hours from New York City), but you can also fly into either the Hancock County-Bar Harbor or Bangor International Airport. And while there are no nearby train stations, Greyhound and Concord Coach Lines both operate busses from New York City and other east coast hubs.


To enter the park you'll need to purchase either a seven day ($30) or annual pass ($50). Or you can purchase the national park pass, if Acadia isn't the only national park you plan to explore this year. Any of these can be purchased ahead of time at www.yourpassnow.com or at the park's entrance.


Once on the island, you can get around by car, bike or foot. If you don't have a car, the park offers a free shuttle to and from the most popular spots throughout the island -- you can hail it down or ask it to stop along the route. It's a great option that I wish more parks would implement, as it cuts down on car traffic while making exploring the area super convenient. If you plan to bike, you can still take the bus as it has bike racks on its front and back, or free trailers and rides leave from Bar Harbor and can take you to the most popular destinations.


And biking throughout the island is a breeze -- the island's 57 miles of carriage roads were all financed by John D. Rockefeller between 1913 and 1940 so that hikers, bikers and horseback riders could avoid cars.

Best Time to Go

The summer is the park's busiest season, with hotels and campsites often booking up well in advance, but I prefer visiting the park in the fall, when it's a bit quieter and even more beautiful, with the fall foliage transforming the island. Spring is also a beautiful time to visit the park, and winter would no doubt be a wonderland, but many of the accommodations and local businesses operate on a different schedule with fewer tourists around. Keep in mind that no matter when you go, it'll be cold at night!


Where to Stay

The island has a few different areas where visitors can stay, so you'll first want to decide whether you'd prefer camping, glamping, or staying at a hotel, and going from there.


I've always chosen to stay at the Somes Sound Campground, because while there are more than 500 campsites throughout the park, these campsites are quieter in a more isolated area of the island, Somes Sound, and right next to the beautiful Echo Lake (the only swimming beach other than the always-frigid Sand Beach on the Atlantic). The campground also has yurts and very basic cabins, if you prefer a semi-glamping experience. If you choose to stay in a hotel or Airbnb, be prepared to spend a bit more than you might otherwise hope to -- with limited options on the island, the cost of a room is often a pretty penny.


Activities

Acadia has something to offer everyone, whether it be climbing, hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, sailing, fishing, golfing, birding, whale watching, horseback riding or just laying on the beach and eating as much lobster as your stomach can handle, you'll find something to do!


Climbing in Acadia

The climbing in Acadia is some of my favorite, with beautiful pink granite rock and priceless views. Some of my favorite spots to climb include the South Wall (Precipice), Echo Lake, and Great Head. If you need a climbing guide or to rent gear, the Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School is based in Bar Harbor. If you climb without a guide, I recommend getting a copy of the Rock Climbs of Acadia guidebook.

Hiking in Acadia

There are more than 125 miles of hiking trails in Acadia, all of which have something unique to offer. My favorite trails are the ones that take you high above the sea with panoramic views of the ocean, sometimes scaling a ladder affixed to a rockface:

If you're able to wake up early (super early), I recommend getting up and going to the summit of Cadillac Mountain before the sunrise -- it's the highest point on the island and you can witness the first break of sun before anyone else in the U.S. Then you can set off down the mountain via hiking trail or road, with a great head start to your day.

And just outside the park but still within Mount Desert Island are two gardens that are well worth a visit: the Abby Rockefeller Gardens and the Wild Gardens of Acadia.


The Abby Rockefeller Gardens are open to the public for only a short period of time each summer, showcasing an impressive collection of art that Abby Rockefeller collected throughout her travels, surrounded by beautiful flowers, ferns and trees. The Wild Gardens of Acadia has more than 300 native species to Mount Desert, that are labeled and tended to by knowledgable volunteers. Beside the garden sits a small museum, that you won't want to skip,with a small but impactful exhibit on how the island is already seeing impacts of climate change.

Whatever you choose to do in Acadia, be sure to enjoy your trip - and try the lobster!

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