August 17, 2011 by Darlene McC
While planning our August trip to Mount Desert Island (the locals pronounce it like dessert) and Acadia National Park I came across multiple references to ‘paradise’ and ‘Eden’. I balked; of course it’s beautiful and majestic and engaging…why else would they have made it a national park? But no amount of reading well-crafted travel spiel and looking at pretty pictures could have prepared me for the trip.
In a word: Acadia was beautiful. Looking back it seems there’s no way everything we saw and absorbed and heard could be encapsulated in 47,000+ acres. The forests are diverse, the ocean is right there, sandy beaches and ocean-formed caves, mountain tops and fresh water lakes. It boggles the mind.
We spent 6 nights camping in the Blackwoods Campground in Acadia National Park. There are certainly lots of other options, but in my humble opinion we hit the nail on the head. If you like making your own fire every night and sleeping on the ground Blackwoods is the way to go. It was a 3 minute walk from our site to the ocean with an impressive view of the rising sun, a 5 minute drive into Bar Harbor (the largest town on the island and the center of shopping, dining, and excursions), and also 5 minutes to Otter Cliffs, the primo climbing destination. Even though the campsite was at full capacity you’d have never known it. Most nights were quiet and the lots aren’t packed in so densely that you feel like you’re on top of your neighbor.
What’s to See
Heck, what’s not to see!?! A drive around the Park Loop road takes you past lookouts that make you wonder why you live in a city when land like this exists. There are sea-side paths, beginning in the town parks in Bar Harbor and wrapping around the south-east side of the island. Sandy beaches, 1,500 foot hikes, wild life, tide pools. It’s a place you could stand to just walk around forever. If you get bored of nature you can head into Bar Harbor and window shop or watch the boats.
At low tide in Bar Harbor a sandbar is exposed to Bar Island that you could park 5 school buses across (yup, it’s huge). You can stroll out to Bar Island and explore. In comparison to Desert Mountain Island it seems tiny; but we managed to get off-trail on the afternoon we spent there and tumbled through the underbrush. Eventually we picked the path back up and were greeted by a white-tailed deer who was trekking along the same way.
What to do
Acadia is an adventurers paradise! On our way out of town we started a list of all the things we have to get to next time we’re there because we just didn’t have enough time (energy?) to possibly do them all.
Climb Otter Cliffs! If you can time it right try being on the crag at high tide when the waves are hitting the under water rocks below you and splashing up to the cliff face. That sounds a little more dramatic that it is; but I promise you it’s amazing either way. Depending on the climb you’re doing it can make communication with your belay partner a little tricky, but you work it out. Also, try to get there early ~ there are a lot of climbing schools and tours that come through and it’s a popular climbing spot, so unless you want to be juggling with them for routes just get your butt out of bed. (Inversely, if you’ve never climbed it would be an amazing spot to try it out. Atlantic Climbing School was near us a lot and the guides were for the most part friendly, courteous, and very concerned with safety)
After your ocean side climbing adventure you can head inland to South Bubble which has an exposed wall on the east face with a few easy cracks to practice leading on and a decent slab that has a lot of variety. We stayed in the cracks for the most part, but the views from that wall… ugh, the views (how many times you think I’ll talk about them in this post? 6? 8?). Stretched out below you is a freshwater lake, to your east another mountain, and far to the south the ocean meets the sky – just gorgeous.
A quick note about Guide Books – the best one is not out of print and has a lot more detail than the current pocket guide, which we got: Rock Climbing in Acadia National Park: A Pocket Guide. Before heading out on some of the more aggressive climbs, like the multi-pitches on South Wall, head over to Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor. The assistant manager there is a local climber who can answer any questions you have and they have a copy of the out of print book that they’ll let you dig through as long as you want.
We didn’t do a ton of hiking while we were there, but what we did we thoroughly enjoyed. Cadillac Mountain is the highest sea-side mountain on the east coast of North and Central Americas at 1,500 feet above sea level. There are four hikes, ranging from rocky scrabble to breathy-stroll. We chose to do the south ridge trail beginning in Blackwoods Campground ~ 10 miles round trip of incredibly diverse forest and rocky ecosystems. From the scrubby sea-side cliffs, through older pine forests, tall thin birches, then short dense conifers, and wide exposed rock faces. I couldn’t believe I was still hiking on one mountain the entire time.
If you’re looking for something to really take your breath away the Precipice Trail is rumored to do just that. This hike is one of the first on my to-do list for next time – it scales 1000 feet up Champlain Mountain in a ladder-bar and cable assisted assent. My understanding is this is not for the faint of heart, so of course it gets really full-up if you don’t get there early. It should be noted that people do fall here and get seriously injured (or die) so if you’re not sure of foot or in good health perhaps you can find another way to test your blood pressure medication.
Something I had never done and can’t wait to do again! There are a hand full of places to rent sea kayaks and take you out on a tour. After our 7am 10 mile hike up Cadillac we were looking for something fill out the rest of the day, so I asked one of the guides from Atlantic Climbing School “what’s the one thing someone has to do while they’re here?” His initial response was (with a little wink) to climb, but second to that he said Seas Kayak, so we did.
Three miles and 2.5 hours out on the waters near Bar Harbor. We paddled out behind Bar Island and over to the Porcupine Islands, on the back side of which we saw a bald eagle and its nest (which, if you didn’t know, those things are huge. Our guide estimated it was a little smaller than a VW). The guide, Bill, was awesome and pumped us full of knowledge about the harbor, the town, the animals, the park, and god knows what else. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and introduce us to one more expensive hobby.
What to eat
There are a plenty of local reviews and dining guides, so I wont bore you with specifics; but I’d say, without a doubt, if you like seafood but don’t like haggling with a full grown crustacean get a lobster roll! I always went for the full-blown, big-daddy lobster experience before but now I’m a convert, the roll is the way to go.
After our paddling adventure Bill taught me a little something: that you don’t need a permit to gather mussels in Bar Harbor’s Harbor… and then he showed me how. I wadded out into the clear, warm afternoon water and dug deep for about 2 dozen of the little buggers. We then headed back to camp where I scrubbed the bugeezes out of ’em, steamed them over the fire, and melted some butter with a bit of garlic. Without a doubt they were the best shellfish I’ve ever had! What a difference fresh makes!
(Note: You may notice in the picture to the right that our wood is drying by the fire. Be careful when you buy your wood from locals. I grabbed us a bunch late one night and wasn’t really paying attention… it was all wet pine. No good.)
Have a great freaking time! After a week in the sun I’m tan as hell and I definitely over-ate a lot, but we’ve got some amazing pictures and had an incredible time. I look forward to going back – but I also look forward to our next National Park Adventure.