Fall to the Rising Sun Trip • The Other Acadia (Schoodic Point and Petit Manan NWR) • September 22 & 23, 2016
[Written by both Curtis and Jess]
So Acadia National Park wasn’t our favorite National Park (however much better than our least favorite), but that had more to do with the number of people than anything else. The area itself is beautiful and fortunately there are several options to visit the area without ever going to Mount Desert Island. Granted, the mountains aren’t nearly as high and they are further from the towns and resorts, but these are the prices you pay for exploration.
On our second day in the region (Sept. 22), we got up and drove to the Schoodic Peninsula. Schoodic is a much smaller and less popular segment of Acadia National Park located due East of Mt. Desert Island. Since it’s so much smaller, there is really only one hike of any sort of length: The Peninsula Trail. On this trail one can walk from the southern point of the peninsula to the Visitor’s Center/Campground in the North — a distance of about 5 miles one way. Fortunately, just as on Mt. Desert Island, Schoodic offers a shuttle service from June through Columbus Day. We opted to leave our Jeep at the Visitor’s Center and take the shuttle down to the point and hike back up, although it is just as possible to do the reverse. Fortunately for us, the shuttle is also dog friendly, so Charlotte enjoyed her first shuttle ride. (Ok, “enjoyed” might be the wrong word. She was very uncertain of the whole concept and wouldn’t just sit and relax.)
The trail itself is fairly easy. Going from South to North, one starts to climb through pine forests on the southern slopes of Schoodic Head, the highest point on the peninsula. Although this sounds impressive, you must realize that Schoodic head is only a mere 440 feet above sea level. Fortunately, it still has great views from the peak and if you only have time for a short hike (1-3 miles RT depending on the route you take), this is the one to do. But we continued hiking North crossing over several lesser peaks and just enjoying a peaceful hike being relatively alone.
For those who want a bit more than just hiking, just like the main part of the park on Mt. Desert Island, Schoodic also offers bike trails, a scenic drive, and access to the rocky coast with great views of Cadillac Mountain.
After finally returning to the car, we opted to drive the scenic drive around the Peninsula stopping occasionally to take in views of Cadillac Mountain in the West. We then proceeded to drive around the highways and roads through all the little B&B and fishing communities south of Highway 1, mostly looking for food, but also just enjoying ourselves. One note though: due to the nature of the Maine coast — long peninsulas with deep inlets on either side — many of the roads leading south of US 1 are effectively dead ends leading only to some small fishing village. There are very few bridges that connect peninsula to peninsula.
After having a late lunch we opted to go visit the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge at the tip of another peninsula. We primarily went here because of Letterboxing, but as we got closer Jess suddenly had the thought, “Could we see Puffins?” We really didn’t know, it was a National Wildlife Refuge after all and we thought maybe Puffins would migrate south for the winter. We reached the NWR and started hiking a short loop trail that lead down to the coast trying to justify seeing puffins. Unfortunately, we were off in our calculations. Atlantic Puffins do visit Maine, but only during the summer months for breeding. And even then, they are usually only found on some of the many rocky islands off the coast of Maine. For those seriously interested in seeing puffins in Maine though, there are “Puffin Cruises”, but who can afford it. We still enjoyed our little hike and watching the sea. We could even see the Petit Manan Lighthouse in the distance. Most of the hike was through blueberry barrens and I am sure that during the right time of year it would be well worth visiting just for that. There was even a column in the guest log for “Did you pick blueberries?”
We returned back to our camp content with what we had done for the day and excited for our plans for the next.
That next day, we intended to leave Maine and make it to Saint John, New Brunswick. But of course we were going to take our time doing so. At our campground, the host had several boards filled with maps and recommended hikes for the Bold Coast and the area more inland. If we were ever to return to Maine, we’d definitely stay here and go do more of these hikes rather than going back to Acadia, or we’d just go to the mountains and avoid the coast. There was one hike that Jess liked the looks of that would be sort of along our route and pretty easy to do, so we packed up and took off that morning.
Shortly after we got on the road, it started to downpour. It’s a good thing we got out of there while we did! It continued raining for a while, and we started discussing alternative plans. We could just skip the hike, get the border crossing out of the way, and go find a hotel…I mean, we had been doing a lot of hiking and it’s always good to have some rest time, right? When we were nearing the trailhead, the rain wasn’t coming down nearly as hard, but it was definitely not giving up anytime soon. We stopped at the trail to discuss it (and find the letterbox nearby!). It was a 1.5 mile hike that would take us through the forest and to the coast, and from there we could just hike back the way we came or go for a longer 5 or 8 mile loop. We decided that 3 miles in the rain wasn’t that long, and the tree cover would keep us pretty dry, so we started off with our umbrellas.
And are we glad we did. Not only was the coast beautiful, but the trail through the forest as well. The trail meandered through older growth pine, but the undergrowth was almost completely moss which just made the whole forest appear greener. Charlie also enjoyed bounding through it as I’m sure it felt soft on her feet. At the end of the 1.5 miles we reached the coast. Or more appropriately, cliffs. We were able to stand out on an outcrop a ways and all you could see the entire coast line were tall grey rugged cliffs. Combined with the quintessential fog, they gave a very surreal feeling of being at the edge of the world. It’s a good thing we visited Acadia first, because although it was beautiful and we enjoyed it at the time, it just didn’t compare to this.
The rain and wind began to pick up a bit, so we decided to head back, content with our shorter hike. But I would not hesitate a moment to return and complete the loop. For those interested, the area is called the Cutler Coast Public Reserve and is located several miles east of Cutler, Maine off State Route 191. There’s even a back country campsite for those interested. More than Acadia can say.
Back at the car we continued East on 191 and made one last detour to Quoddy Head Lighthouse. We’ve seen plenty of lighthouses before, and they are always cute and enjoyable And this one (a candy cane) was no different. But this one is especially significant as Quoddy Head is the Easternmost point in the 50 states! (Ok that’s mostly true, technically there’s a small island off the coast that is further East. And technically Point Udall on the Island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands is still further East, but this still counts in most books.) It just seemed like something that we should keep track of. We’re trying to hike the high points of as many states possible, we’re trying to visit as many counties as possible, why not add “Extreme Points of the United States” to our bucket list.
After getting our lighthouse stamps, we got back on the road and got back on US 1. We made two brief stops while still in America. Once at the 45 degree parallel (another of those geography geek things) and another to stop at an International Historic Site (more on that in an upcoming post) and then crossed into Canada at Calais, Maine, leaving the Downeast — for now at least.
And there you have it. Two full days of stuff other than Mt. Desert Island. And we only hit a couple of the sites that were on our camp hosts’ board. I’m positive we could have stayed here at least one more day if not two and still have found plenty more to do.