It’s hard to sit and put into words what we experienced at Acadia National Park last weekend. It was cold. Very cold. Like 45-and-windy-when-you’re-trying-to-hike-cold. But even so, the beauty at this Maine gem stares you in the face, through the cold and through the wind.

So far on our year-long trip, we have been careful not to get into the habit of saying “we’ll be back” about the parks. Our goal is to experience them in a comprehensive way that leaves us fully satisfied, and not itching to come back right away. There are so many places we have yet to explore, after all! But even so, we know we will fall in love with parks so deeply that a return visit will be inevitable. And Acadia has made us feel that way, one-hundred percent.

Maybe it’s the fact that there are mountains and an ocean and giant rocks and lakes and woods. Maybe we visited during the exact right week, when the trees are glowing yellow and orange and red. Maybe it’s something we have quite put our finger on yet.

Whatever it is, we heart Acadia National Park.

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Instead of rambling on and on about this fact, we thought we’d share a few interesting facts about Acadia: both the park in general and our specific experience there. Our hope is that after reading this, none of you will want to visit and we can have it all to ourselves forever.

Just kidding.

The Superlatives of Acadia National Park

THEIRS

  • Going all the way back through its history, you quickly learn that Acadia is the oldest National Park east of the Mississippi River. It was established as a National Monument in August 1916, and later designated as a National Park in 1919. To earn federal protection and save it from inevitable commercialism, eastern elites, including JD Rockefeller, began purchasing sections of the land. They then handed over to the government their prized possession, the only National Park comprised of donated land.
  • The protected land in question comes with its own set of superlatives. Acadia houses the only fjord in existence along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Probably unofficially credited for collecting the most “oohs and aahs,” Cadillac Mountain, rising to 1,530 feet, is the Atlantic Coast’s highest point. Atop this mountain, the first glimpses of sunlight in the whole United States can be seen (from about October through March).
  • Finally, in the middle of the park, there is Jordan Pond. On a clear day, the water is bright blue and a beautiful sight. Signs claim the pond is the clearest lake in Maine, but some sources said it has lost some clarity lately. Regardless, the 3-mile loop trail that borders the lake was a perfect way to spend a couple hours.

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OURS

Shortly after we arrived at Acadia, we began to form our own subjective superlatives. After spending four days hiking and touring the island, here are our personal Acadia superlatives:

  • Best vista: Precipice Trail. This ___-mile loop trail was challenging physically and mentally. The trail climbs quickly and suddenly you are scrambling up the side of a rocky mountain via an iron-rung ladder system. The terrain is tough, but the views–fall foliage-dotted mountains bleeding into blue ocean waters–will invite plenty of photo breaks on the way up. At the summit, break for some quiet reflection, then continue down the gentler trail to the road.
  • Most serene moment: Wonderland Point. If you have time, venture over to the “quiet side” of Acadia. Here there are less-frequented hikes and more moments of serenity. Particularly, the 2-mile Wonderland Trail offered many spots to sit among the tide pools, watching the waves, and peeking at the sealife at low tide. We took some extra time to sit and relax (relax? What is that?) here.
  • Coolest-sounding activity: Bar Island. If you want some low-effort bragging rights, walk over to Bar Island, located off the city of Bar Harbor. Rarely can someone brag about walking to an island, but here, during about 4 hours around low tide, it is more than possible. Although it wasn’t quite as cool as it sounded, we can still say we walked to an island. Once at the island, a one-mile trail leads to a view of Bar Harbor.
  • Best rainy-day value: Reel Pizza. Although not technically in the National Park, you gotta eat, right? And it gets dark. We love when parks have night activities so we don’t have to go to bed at like 7. This small two-show movie theater in Bar Harbor was the perfect activity for one chilly, rainy night. At $6 a pop, the tickets were cheap, and the food was also dirt cheap compared to most movie theaters. The seats had counters, so you can eat (pizza, drinks, popcorn, fruit cups, other snacks) while you watch. It seemed like they showed one mainstream movie and one indie movie. We opted for The Martian, which we loved. Perfect way to spend the evening.
  • Best stroll: Jordan Pond. As mentioned above, Jordan Pond is beautiful! We added the spur  trek to The Bubbles onto the 3.1-mile lake loop trail and it was the perfect way to earn our popovers at Jordan Pond House (most overrated treat, btw.) Part of the trail is a constructed boardwalk that protects the wildlife a bit, and overall the loop trail was easy-peasy.
  • Most surprising moment: full campground. By the time we hit this park, it was in an off-peak season. Several campgrounds were closed, but Blackwoods was still open. We were shocked when we arrived and asked for four nights that they were almost at capacity. Turns out, they close most of this campground in the fall as well. Thankfully, the spots are reservable online, so well-prepared visitors will be okay.
  • Biggest whomp-whomp: Thunder Hole. We tried visiting Thunder Hole, a site where the incoming tide flows into a cave and creates a huge thundering splash, twice with no luck. Maybe we just got unlucky, or the water was too calm, or the photographer just got really lucky? Regardless, it was a bit of a letdown.

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Best of Acadia National Park

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Best of Acadia National Park

Good and not-as-good, these were our “-est” moments at Acadia National Park. It is a park we will be absolutely be visiting again (and again and again). We’d love to see the park in the summer or early fall, when many programs are available and more facilities are still open.

See you soon, Acadia!

 

Written by Elizabeth

  • Susan

    I am so thrilled for you to be able to do this trek. Good for you! We loved Acadia, also. I think my favorite place in the park was Otter Cove, but we also loved watching the sunrise from Cadillac Mtn. We were there in Sept. of 2011. We want to go back, too. My best to you.

    • Cole

      Exactly. There’s so many amazing places it’s really hard to choose a favorite!

  • Eileen

    Acadia is one of my favorite parks; now I need to go back & catch what we missed. I love your blogs!

    • Cole

      Thanks so much for following along, Eileen!

  • Paul

    Read the article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about your trek and have been following your blog. Share your goal of visiting and preserving the parks; have made it to 18 thus far in the last 10 years with Yellowstone & Grand Teton this fall. Glad to see the pick of the Wonderland as one of the best spots in Acadia. After a fun morning of tidepooling in May 2008, it is where I proposed to my wife. She had always wanted to go to Maine since reading her first Stephen King novel. Although the smell of the decaying seaweed and crusty barnacles causing pain to my knee perhaps weren’t the ideal attributes of a perfect-proposal location, it was still a great moment. Our honeymoon the following year was at Great Smoky Mountains; however, both of us caught the flu. Well, it is supposed to be “in sickness and health, right?” Ha ha! All the best on your journey.

    • Cole

      Wow Paul, thanks for sharing and I’m glad you found the blog! I think just about anywhere in Acadia would be an awesome proposal spot, but you can’t beat that beautiful ocean view on the Quiet Side. Very cool. We actually ran into a group of young people our age who were celebrating the engagement of their friends from the day before on Cadillac Mountain. I put their story in our People of the Parks section (under the National Parks tab). Sorry to hear about Great Smoky Mountains. We had a somewhat troubled visit ourselves a few weeks ago, but at least it didn’t involve the flu! Hopefully now it’s a story you can laugh about. Have you been back since?

      • Paul

        The parks have inspired so many and have that common thread that bring us together. The stories of those you meet have been very interesting to read in that respect. Cadillac Mountain is a great spot as well; I just wouldn’t have been able to get my wife up early enough for sunrise. Regarding the Smokies, looking back it is a funny story indeed. At least we made good use of the cabin and fireplace in chilly October! We have not returned due to visits to the other parks, but hope to definitely do so as it is easily accessible from Missouri (we live in Columbia). It is difficult as you wrote to always get that postcard-perfect visit, although just being in, breathing, and feeling the place for that time resonates in one’s consciousness so very much. Have you watched the excellent documentary by Ken Burns entitled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”?

        • Thanks for the comment, Paul. We agree with your sentiment about Acadia! We have started the documentary series and are a few episodes in. Such great footage!

          • Paul

            Great to hear! Though kind of long (uhh, I watched it in my cube during slow times at work back in 2009…!!!), the documentary is very fitting and timely for your trip. Once you get to Yosemite it will really have a very powerful meaning by walking in John Muir’s footsteps.