Down East magazine knows Maine. And when it comes to Acadia National Park and the surrounding area, we've explored the best places to go and things to do. See our ultimate guide to Acadia!
The park is a day hiker’s paradise with some 125 miles of trails, from shoreline strolls to rocky, exposed ridge routes. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Precipice: Hey, Tarzan, this one’s for you: a 1,058-foot jungle gym on the east side of Champlain Mountain. You climb along narrow ledges that zigzag up the cliff face, using iron rungs and ladders where no other footing exists. Terrific views over Frenchman Bay. (Swinging vines not included; loincloth optional.)
In midsummer, Maine’s marquee national park is at its best — and, unignorably, its busiest. From town to trail, here’s how to avoid the crowds, find the park’s secret gems, and make your Acadia adventure unforgettable.
Is Mount Desert Island seeming a bit crowded to you?
You’re not imagining things! Some 3.5 million people visited Acadia National Park last year — that’s a more than 60 percent traffic increase over a decade ago. Close to half of any year’s park-goers descend on MDI between July and September, and if you’ve paid a visit in that window to any of the park’s most beloved attractions — Thunder Hole, say, or Cadillac Mountain — you’ve perhaps experienced the paucity of parking and shoulder-to-shoulder boardwalk trails that sometimes result. Park officials have seen an overcrowding crisis looming for years — and this year, they’ve floated a new set of transportation guidelines to relieve the crush of cars.
The East Coast’s only national park boasts some of the country’s best Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and sightseeing — and, best of all, you’ll (almost) have it all to yourself. See this list of things to do in the winter in Maine.
A few people are strolling right down the middle of the park’s famous Loop Road, staring out at the breakers. The sun is brilliant, and Sand Beach is deserted. Thunder Hole is booming so hard the ground is shaking — and hardly anyone is around to see it. Welcome to Acadia in winter.
To find Acadia’s purest wilderness, just look up to behold the largest expanse of naturally dark sky east of the Mississippi — a credit to both the National Park Service’s policy of preserving natural lightscapes and the town of Bar Harbor’s dark-sky ordinance. The sight of a sky swimming with billions of stars (plus scores of fast-moving satellites — alas, it’s not totally wild) is so rare in this light-polluted world that it’s cause for celebration: amateur and pro astronomers descend on MDI for night hikes, lectures, and star parties atop Cadillac Mountain during the annual Acadia Night Sky Festival.
West of Somes Sound, MDI sees less traffic, so you can stroll the shops and cafés of downtown Southwest Harbor without feeling like part of the throng. Trails like the 1.6-mile West Ledge route up 1,071-foot Bernard Mountain are scenic, challenging, and comparatively untrod. On the island’s southwest corner, Seawall is the gateway to a distinct section of Acadia — a place of sweeping coastal peat bogs, big sky, and broad, wave-beaten ledges. A seaside crescent made of millions of boulders, rocks, and granite slabs, formed by centuries of storm surges, Seawall is the only thing separating the ocean from a small saltwater pond along Route 102A (water sometimes flows over the road during extreme tides). Beyond the beach, wooded Seawall Campground is the park campground of choice for MDI visitors seeking solitude, simplicity, and lots of rolling fog.
The park’s 45 miles of idyllic carriage roads are the best examples of broken-stone roadways in the country. Created by philanthropist and early park champion John D. Rockefeller Jr., who wanted car-free roads for his own enjoyment, they’re also super fun for runners, skiers, and cyclists. Some background:
- Construction was a bear: The roads are 16 feet wide with three layers of rock underneath. Construction included stone culverts, arched bridges, and wide ditches, and the work stretched from 1913 to 1940.
- Rockefeller was famous for his attention to detail on the project — he reportedly knew the names of all of his laborers and was consulted on even the minutest decisions.
- Large hunks of granite line the roads as guardrails. They’re officially called “coping stones” but nicknamed “Rockefeller’s teeth.”
- The Friends of Acadia organization has an endowment devoted to carriage road maintenance — it gives the park some $200,000 annually just for carriage road upkeep.