I drove into Maine on a back road. I was hopping from towns and backroads to highways and it was all quite confusing. I didn’t see the large ‘Welcome to…’ sign you usually see on the Interstate. I’m sure I passed one, however, I seem to have missed it. Pretty quickly though, I started seeing signs for Acadia National Park.
The park is on an Island on the southern middle tip of Maine. The drive is dotted with Lobster shacks and tourist shops filled with Knick-knacks. Some were closed up for the season, but most were open and enticing me with antiques and random things I do not need.
Coming into the park I stopped to get my week pass, map, and ask a few questions before starting the Park Loop drive. The loop goes around part of the park and most of it is one way traffic only, this makes getting the hang of getting around a little more involved but not hard.
Deciding to set up first and then explore I headed to the Blackwoods Campground and easily got a site. Because I was going in the middle of September and had arrived on a Thursday, I did not make reservations. However, they are recommended on the weekends and during summer.
The sites are very nice and give you a good amount of space. There are trees and gaps separating them so they do not connect, you can still see your fellow campers though. The sites are gravel so I would recommend not planning to sleep on the ground. An air mattress or cot (as I have) is the way to go.
There are flushing toilets and very clean bathrooms but no showers. Also, no electricity, no water hook ups, and no WIFI. You’re in a National Park…try enjoying nature, it really awesome.
Fun fact: If you can swing it weekday camping is the way to go.
When I arrived on Thursday there were lots of quiet inhabitants. A few other solo campers but mostly very nice older or retired couples. Come Friday morning they were packing up and heading out, almost all of them. I learned why Friday night and Saturday.
The families, camp groups, and weekend campers are not so laid back. They brought with them a lot of noise and a whole lot of ignorance. This is not to say they are all like this, but it only takes one annoying family to ruin an experience.
Then Monday morning rolls back in and guess who came back, more quiet, lovely and often retired folks, it was really quite entertaining.
Well first off, you are in a National Park…
But if you need guidance, the park offers a variety of Ranger lead programs that are really awesome.
The first night I was there I went to a star viewing on Sand Beach. About 400 people and myself all sat/lounged/laid on the beach, enjoyed the breeze, listened to the waves, and were awed by the stars.
Light pollution is quite minimal at the park and makes for some amazing skies. A few Rangers talked about the sky and constellations using a laser pointer (watching out for planes of course). I learned quite a few things, but even if I haven’t the experience was unforgettable. The Milky Way and quite a few dim constellations that you cannot see most places were shining bright and gloriously.
It is estimated that 80% of people in the world have never seen the Milky Way!
Due to light pollution and an increasing urban population, less people than ever can look up and even see many starts at all where they live. Check out this article “’The City Dark’ in Context”, it shed’s a little light on the matter (bad pun, sorry).
Other than star gazing, there are a wide variety of Ranger led hikes, talks, and tours to check out while you are visiting. (Most are FREE)
Another great stop is Bar Harbor, a small town on the island with some real intense tourist attractions. I mean small shops and restaurants galore. Really cute town, but I was talking to a local who has lived there for eight years and he said that it has gotten so commercialized in recent years that it’s getting crazy. What used to be four blocks of charming shops is now a high rise hotel looking over the harbor.
It is definitely worth a stop but if you are on tight budget like I am, probably wouldn’t eat there. I did indulge in some Amazing coffee and free WIFI to get some work done. This was great though because I got to meet some really neat people.
TALK TO THE LOCALS! For real, they know stuff.
If you really just don’t have the drive to venture more than a mile away from your car, there are still awesome things to see in Acadia. Drive the Park Loop, there are pull offs to stop and get your pictures and some really beautiful things to see. You can also drive up Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain in the park.
There are also miles of carriage trails that are great for a bikes and horses. They allow horses only on these trials and even offer carriage tours. But, if you have a bike and can bring it, I heard wonderful things about these trials.
I highly recommend doing a hike or two or five though, because you really get to see the park. There are trails for every skill type and they make them easy to follow. Talk to a Ranger, they will give you the best information on what hikes to choose.
I tackled a few while I was there, but none was as rewarding as the Cadillac Mountain trail. It is an 8-mile round trip hike from the campsite, 3.5 up the mountain. Most would plan a day for this, and I did as well. However, the morning got away from me and I went into town so before I knew it was 3pm and I was just starting. To say I speed hiked would be the truth, the whole hike campsite to campsite took me 4-hours.
Now, let me tell you why. I started at 3pm, I knew that it was going to start getting dark around 7 with the sun setting, so I figured two hours up and two hours down. This would be great if I wasn’t hiking a freaking mountain.
I passed about six couples and one solo hiker on their way down while I was going up. One asked me if I was going all the way to the peak. There good luck was a little ominous seeing as I passed them at the mouth of the trail at 3:20pm…just starting. I passed no one and saw no one on my way down.
But I did it, and it was really exhilarating. Doing that long of a hike, alone, on a strict time schedule because I was not fond of climbing down a mountain in the dark, was a very challenging experience. The scenery was amazing and pushing myself, while scaring myself a little was well worth it.
There is nothing like getting to the peak and seeing the people who drove up. Watching them all take the same picture from a railed off viewing point and thinking, if only you would venture off the road just a little.
All said and done, Acadia National Park is well worth a visit. Maine’s granite coastline is really something to see.