The National Parks – Acadia
Along the eastern seaboard of the US, there are few areas where the mountain meets the sea. Acadia National Park, on the coast of Maine, is one place where this type of topography can be found. Although the mountains in this park are small compared to those further inland, they are the tallest rocky headlands on the Atlantic Ocean. There are seven peaks within the park that extent more 1,000 feet above sea level, but even the shorter mountains offer sweeping vistas and are worth exploring.
Acadia National Park is spread across two coastal islands and a peninsula. This geography makes it a truly unique place, where it is possible to summit a mountain and take a ferry ride through open ocean during the same day. This also means that visitors to the park can enjoy a variety of Maine ecosystems as they explore the 158 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads found within its parameters.
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Mount Desert Island
Although Mount Desert Island is technically surrounded by the ocean, this large island has a land bridge that makes it accessible by car. About half the island, which is the second largest on the eastern seaboard, is dedicated to Acadia National Park. This area of the park is the most popular, seeing millions of visitors every year. Those who come to Mount Desert Island can either camp or stay in one of the towns found here. The largest towns are Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and Northeast Harbor, respectively.
Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain in Acadia, is found just outside of Bar Harbor. The summit of this mountain, which reaches a height of 1,530 feet, is famous for being the first place in the US to experience sunrise between the months of October and March. There are multiple trails to the top of Cadillac including the moderate North Ridge Trail and more difficult South Ridge Trail. It is also possible to drive to the summit along the Summit Road, a scenic 3.5 mile drive the wends its way to the top along the eastern side of the mountain.
Mount Desert Island has many other hikes ranging in difficulty from very easy to quite difficult. Those looking for a scenic meander should check out the Bar Harbor Shore Path, which begins at the town pier. Another great option is the Ocean Trail, which will take you past the natural phenomena of Thunder Hole. This inlay in the ocean cliffs creates a monstrous noise when the waves crash into it during high seas. The Ocean Trail ends at Otter Cliffs, a beautiful area of vertical sea cliffs which can be enjoyed from above or climbed with the right equipment and knowledge. The Ship Harbor Nature Trail and Wonderland trails are other wonderful and easy hikes that will lead you past some quintessential New England lighthouses. Finally, the many carriage roads found in this part of Acadia offer scenic hikes over easy terrain.
Those interested in a more of a challenge can also find plenty to do on Mount Desert Island. Moderate hikers should check out Beech Mountain, Champlain Mountain, and Gorham Mountain, all of which can be summited in a few hours. The Jordan Pond Shore Trail is another great option. This 3.3-mile loop encircles the entirety of Jordan Pond, a quintessential scenic area on the island. Here you will also find the Jordan Pond House, which is a wonderful spot to grab lunch after you have finished your hike.
The most difficult hikes on the island include the Beehive Trail, which is short but very steep. This trail involves climbing iron rungs bolted into the side of the mountain and should not be attempted by anyone with a fear of heights. Hiking the Precipice Trail, which is slightly longer, also requires that you climb ladders fastened to the side of the mountain. This exposing climb, which is considered the hardest in the park, has you gain 1,000 feet in elevation in only 1.6 miles. If you are looking for a challenge with greater mileage, an ascent of Dorr Mountain or Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge are both great choices.
The Schoodic Peninsula
Located just north of Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula is a wonderful place to explore Acadia National Park without having to worry about the crowds. Bicycles are a perfect way to enjoy this area. There are 8.3 miles of bike paths on the peninsula. You can also bike the 6-mile Schoodic Loop Trail, where you will find views of lighthouses, the Atlantic Ocean, and the many coastal islands. Head up Arey Cove Road to Schoodic Point for a picturesque view of Mount Desert Island. When biking these roads, remember that you are sharing them with cars. Obey all traffic laws and make sure to stay aware of your surroundings.
The hiking on Schoodic Peninsula is overall quite easy, although there are some more moderate trails that require you to ascend steep sections and scramble over rocks. I recommend the Buck Cove Mountain Trail, which covers 3.2 miles to reach the summit of Buck Cove Mountain, then continues to the north face of Schoodic Head.
Isle au Haut
This secluded island can only be reached by ferry, and the number of visitors is limited. The first-come, first-serve ferry service departs daily from Stonington, Maine, located on the mainland. Half of Isle au Haut is part of Acadia National Park, while the other half is privately owned, either by vacationers or by the year-round fishing community.
Visitors to this part of Acadia can stay at the Duck Harbor Campground, where 5 sites are available from mid-May until mid-October. Biking on the 12 miles of roads is the best way to get around. There are also 18 miles of hiking trails, most of which fall in the easy to moderate range in terms of difficulty. The hardest trail on Isle au Haut is the Duck Harbor Mountain Trail, which is still only 1.2 miles in length, and can be completed by most people in less than two hours.