"I looked along the San Juan Islands and the coast of California, but I couldn't find the palette of green, granite, and dark blue that you can only find in Maine." ~Parker Stevenson (actor)
|Acadia National Park, Maine
While much is written about Acadia National Park and its natural attractions, I was completely blown away when I first toured this park. The largest part of the park is located on the scenic and rugged Mt. Desert Island
. While 95% of tourists never leave the comforts of the asphalt, we decided to trek as much as we could around the island, climbing some very steep and rocky mountains. Later that month, I was able to tour the Schoodic Penisula
which is similar to Acadia but with a tenth of the visitors. Finally, in the latter part of the summer, I finally kayaked to the off shore island of Acadia NP known as Isle au Haut
(its French) which receives the least visitors of park's lands. So, while there are volumes of guidebooks written about this park, I'll give you THE full tour, stressing the lesser visited areas (as I always do!).
|Isle au Haut, Acadia National
|Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia
National Park, Maine
Background on Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is special for many reasons. First of all, its the first national park of the east coast of the United States (est. 1916). It was created originally to preserve Mount Desert Island, which to this day remains as wild as it has always been. Mount Desert Island is an East Coast oddity; it rises to an altitude of roughly 1,500ft at Cadillac Mountain. This is the tallest point on both the east coast of America AND Mexico! The island itself is also one of the largest in America; its about 1.5 times larger than Catalina Island in California. Activities of the park range from simple road tours, to hundreds of hiking trails and spectacular kayaking routes. There's even a sandy beach (if you know Maine, you know how rare this is!)
|View from the top of Pemetic Mountain, Acadia National Park
Exploring Mt Desert Island
I hope you are not offended by the following statement. For crying out loud, if you want to really see this national park, GET OUT OF YOUR CAR! About 2.2 million people visit this park and the vast majority do not leave the comforts of their vehicle. While there are certainly understandable cases when car tours are preferable, I still must say that the best part of the park is explored on foot. The park website reports that there are 125 miles of trails to hike
. My recommendation for gaining appreciation for the wilderness of Mt Desert Island is to hike the many trails surrounding Cadillac Mountain
in the morning and then taking an easier stroll around the beaches later in the afternoon. I'll provide a full description of my favorite routes in the next post.
Exploring the Schoonic Peninsula and Isle au Haut
These two locations are equally beautiful as Mt Desert Island but not nearly as crowded. The Schoodic Peninsula is located 45 miles away from the island by road and offers several other hiking trails. My favorite activity here is to simply hop around the coastline and explore the many lava dikes that point to a more turmultuous time of Maine.
Isle au Haut is the island located south of the town of Stonington, Maine. It also offers many hiking trails and can be accessed by a ferry leaving from Stonington. However, I recommend making a kayak trip out of it! This does, however, require ocean navigation skills; you could end up lost in the thousands of islands on the coast if you don't navigate correctly!
Beating the Crowds in a Crowded National Park
Acadia National Park is the Yosemite of the east can become very crowded in the summer, so follow these tips for better wilderness experiences.
GO EARLY!- Its almost hard to believe, but even a national park parking lot can become full by mid-morning. Going early (like before 9AM) will significantly increase your chances of getting a parking spot and also give you a head start on the more crowded trails.
Hike more than 5 miles- Honestly, this is the best advice I can give anyone on exploring a crowded national park. I've found this to hold true in Yosemite, Mt Rainier, Olympic, Joshua Tree and several other crowded parks. Most people will hike those 1 mile trails near a visitor center or just park and takes some pictures. My rule of thumb has always been; hike more than 5 miles to get away from the crowds.
Design your own trail- By this I dont' mean to trailblaze; this is usually illegal or frowned upon. There's no reason not to combine shorter trails into longer ones, however! The trails permeating Acadia NP create a "spider-web" network which offers more freedom than simply following one trail.
Go in the offseason- While I haven't specifically explored Acadia in the winter, I have found that offseason visits to other parks are often as enjoyable. Some trails will be closed, but this shouldn't stop you from snowshoeing or cross country skiing where you can. Of course, be prepared for the weather!
I hope this helps! It might seem very rudimentary, but these are my "rules" which help me to have a real wilderness experience in parks that receive so much visitation.
This is my introduction to Acadia National Park, I will be writing about my favorite trails on Mt Desert Island and also post about the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. Stay tuned, adventurers!
Read. Plan. Get Out There!