God was a careless artist when he created Maine. He did not dab with a paintbrush. He did not splash. He poured beauty over the State. Nowhere is this magnificence more evident than in Acadia National Park, which occupies nearly half of Mount Desert Island and a scattering of smaller islands off the coast of northeast Maine.
I could live here for years and still not sample everything that Acadia National Park has to offer. In the two days I had scheduled, I wouldn’t even be able to see the top things to do in Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, much less experience its many moods and seasons. But in those two days, I made the best of every single moment. I focused primarily on viewing the spectacular fall foliage, which may have been the showiest display in years because of the abundant summer rains. On day one I began by driving the 27-mile loop road in the eastern section of the park, which is the easiest way to see spots like Sand Beach, a turquoise jewel of a cove tucked between two rocky arms that is a favorite of summer beach-goers, and the historic Jordan Pond House, known for their tea and popovers as much for the view from their floor-to-ceiling windows.
Rather than being set aside in one large parcel, as has been the case with most National Parks in the U.S., Acadia’s 47,000 acres were scrabbled together over the years through the acquisition of private parcels. John D. Rockefeller, one of the first to build a large estate on Mount Desert Island and an active supporter of the development of the park, constructed a series of carriage roads to ensure he would be able to travel on motor-free byways via horse and carriage into the heart of the island. Today visitors can still hire a traditional carriage, cycle, or travel by horseback to see the 17 stone-faced bridges, streams, waterfalls, and cliffs that lie along the path of these historic crushed gravel roads.
Still other visitors take advantage of more than 120 miles of hiking trails that range from easy strolls along level paths to strenuous hikes to the top of Cadillac Mountain. With only a couple of days to see the park, I combined travel by car with hiking, choosing three trails with differing views and levels of difficulty. The first was a path long the high cliffs fronting the ocean between Sand Beach and Thunderhole, a crevice in the granite into which the seawater rushes, generating rumbles of thunder:
The second was a 3 1/4 mile trail around Jordan Pond, with its views of “The Bubbles,” twin mounts that anchor one end of the pond. This trail has a little bit of everything; portions run along a well graded, level path, while other portions require scrambling over granite boulders or walking along a sometimes wobbly elevated rough plank boardwalk:
As I battled temperatures in the mid-30’s and wind gusts nearly strong enough to knock me over, I took my final hike of the day, a half-mile loop around the summit of Cadillac Mountain. The trail continues down the mountain, but because it crosses long expanses of smooth granite, the only way to stay on the path is to follow the cairns of rocks that are piled up every so often. The idea is to walk to the first cairn and then look for the second one, then walk to the second and look for the third, etc. If you look closely in the photo below, you can see three cairns, the third just barely visible in the distance (I stuck to the 1/2 mile summit loop):
With the sun setting I made one final stop at Bubble Pond. The mountainside on the far shore was reflected into the mirror-smooth surface of the water in an other-worldly mosaic of greens – an awe-inspiring end to a perfect day.
The following morning I checked out of my hotel and headed for the western half of the park. Although in my opinion not as stunning as the eastern portion, still it has a certain charm. Here, protected park lands are interrupted by pleasant seaside villages with white clapboard houses and church spires lining the shores, downtown retail shops that feature Maine crafts, and sailboats moored in protected harbors:
Also here is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, perched atop a rocky promontory. Since its construction, the light has been automated but never darkened, and it continues to warn ships of the dangers in the rocky shoals off the coast of Maine.
Finally, I could delay my departure no longer. I would have loved to continue all the way to the furthest northeastern corner of the mainland U.S., to the offbeat little town of Lubec (check out this itinerary for a perfect weekend in Lubec), but alas, my trip was drawing to a close. I turned my car for points south, knowing I would be back someday because I am blown away by Maine. In fact, even though I am not a resident, I think I can claim absolutely to be a Mainiac.