Fall to the Rising Sun Trip • Acadia National Park • September 21, 2016
This was our first time to ever visit Maine. Something about the furthest Northeastern state just seemed so mysterious and romantic. What hidden beauties would we find within the state? Visiting Maine, and even more specifically Acadia National Park, had been on my bucket list for so long. The idea of hiking mountains and having views of the ocean was an exciting concept to comprehend. I think Curtis shared similar feelings, and he even considered attending college in Maine. (Arizona won him over with a full ride scholarship though…can’t argue with that.) All that to say, we were really looking forward to this. And I was trying to come up with as many Maine puns as I could while we were within the state lines.
We were camping about an hour away from Mount Desert Island, where the majority of the park is, so we decided to spend one whole day hiking as many trails as we could. If needed, we were totally flexible on time and could always go back. Now, while we were anxious to discover this new-to-us national park, we had received a few warnings from friends and the campground host that this park is rather touristy and busy. The campground host even referred to it as “Zoocadia”. We didn’t let this deter us though — in our minds, this was a place we couldn’t just not go visit, we had to go find out for ourselves.
Facing North on Pemetic Mountain – click to enlarge
We arrived early on a Wednesday morning and made our first stop at the visitor’s center. It was before 9 AM on a weekday in late September, and the big parking lot was PACKED with vehicles. Curtis picked up a map and our cancellation stamps, and we did some quick research on the trails and the shuttle service. Here are 2 big pros for Acadia: One, they have a free shuttle service that covers a lot of the park. Two, they are one of the most dog-friendly national parks in our country! It made us so happy that we were able to bring Charlotte with us on this vacation and she was able to do almost everything with us wherever we went. In fact, we’ve found the Northeast in general to be very pet friendly on hiking trails, more than anywhere else we’ve lived.
Anyway, I digress. We had been hoping to hike Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak in the park, but from what we heard, that’s where EVERYONE was going. Besides the trails, there’s also a road to the top, and we honestly weren’t feeling like being among the crowds today. We decided to hike some lesser peaks that still offered great views, but we’d only have to be around other people who were hiking. That we could handle. We met a guy a few days later in Canada who also visited Acadia, and when he was there he had driven up Cadillac in order to see a sunrise, and ended up being at the top with over 300 other people. Now there’s an experience we will pass on any day.
Instead, we started our day with hiking Pemetic Mountain. We started on the West side near Jordan Pond and hiked to the peak. On its own, I think it would have been about 3 miles round trip, but we took a different trail back and also hiked to the Triad. We really enjoyed this hike and the views we got once we reached above the tree line. Hiking through the pine forest itself was very enjoyable, but it was hard to beat the views once we started walking up a steady rock face and were able to see the ocean, islands, and other peaks all around us. The view from Pemetic was also gorgeous, as we could see both out over the ocean and inland toward gorgeous blue lakes and the rest of the park. The only peak blocking our view was Cadillac, which was the next peak to the East, but we could see all the cars driving up to the top and knew we made the right choice. There were several hikers here, but I think we all had one thing in common: we all enjoy hiking in peace, even if that means forgoing the most popular hike or the best view in the park.
As I mentioned, we took a different trail back and hiked to the Triad which was further South from Pemetic Mountain. The trail was much steeper and had big drop offs, and there isn’t really a view at the Triad — so unless you’re really desperate for more, we don’t recommend this. We made our way back to the car and then drove South along 3 and then North on 198, around Somes Sound, and stopped near Echo Lake for another hike. There are plenty of hikes to choose from here, but we decided on Acadia Mountain because we were hoping for a different view from the other side of the sound.
Facing South on Acadia Mountain
This hike to Acadia Mountain had even less people, despite being only 2.5 miles round trip and later in the day, but we certainly weren’t complaining. This trail is marked as strenuous according to the park’s website, but I think it was less steep for us than it could have been because parts were under construction and we were rerouted up a more gradual switchback. Again, we weren’t complaining! We enjoyed having the peak all to ourselves, and had our lunch up there. It was starting to get pretty hot though — I guess I haven’t mentioned that when I say “peak” here in Acadia, it is usually around only 1000 feet above sea level. The highest point on Cadillac is only 1530 feet. However, when you consider that you’re pretty much starting at sea level, the hikes can still be challenging depending on how steep they get!
After this hike, we felt pretty content on all we had done hiking wise. Our friends and the campground host were right — this park is very popular and it’s hard to escape the crowds. Our biggest complaint was that there is no real way to “get away” in this park — if you hike 5 miles in any direction, you’ll end up at another road. The only part of the park that requires back country permits is on an island away from the mainland. That’s also probably part of the reason why there’s no wildlife and dogs are allowed here — there’s no way to get away. You can’t go camping or backpacking in the “back country”, instead campers must stay at one of the 3 designated camp sites for $30/night. (Hence why we were staying an hour away! In an upcoming post I’ll share about our amazing campsite find!)
To finish up our day here, we drove to Bass Harbor to see the lighthouse and find some letterboxes. Here you can see the small lighthouse that is still in use by the USCG and the beautiful Acadian rocky coastline that you’ll see in pictures (and the 2012 Acadia NP Quarter). However, the coast (and parking lot) wasn’t THAT big, and it was completely packed with people, making it difficult to move around, enjoy, or get pictures that don’t have random tourists in the background. (Luckily for us, we found a much bigger rocky beach that we had all to ourselves – again, more on that later!)
Our last stop for the day was one that was sure to lift our spirits and make us glad we came — North of Bar Harbor stands the Whispering Giant statue for Maine! AND we actually found the letterbox that goes along with it! We took the advice of some friends and avoided the town of Bar Harbor itself, which I presume is pretty touristy and not for adventurers like ourselves. I know that during the busier months they offer carriage rides throughout the park, and they also allow bicycles on the carriage roads. If we didn’t have Charlotte, then I think that would have been a fun way to experience the park. All in all, it may not be our favorite national park, but there’s no denying that the views were gorgeous, and enjoying the views with our sweet puppy made it even better!