Acadia and the Northern Maine Coast

Waiting for sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine

After spending 9 days in Maine, it is easy to see why it has become a very popular destination over the last few years.  I read recently that, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, restaurant and lodging sales reached $2.3 billion between May and August, a roughly 12% increase over 2019.  It seemed like most, or at least many, of those people were in Acadia, Bar Harbor and the surrounding areas!

Waiting for sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine
Waiting for sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine
Post-sunrise light at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine
Post-sunrise light at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine

Our visit was based at the Asticou Inn, located in Northeast Harbor.  That area is much less busy than Bar Harbor and made a fairly central place to stay without being too far away or right in the hustle and bustle.  We heard about Asticou from a waitress at a restaurant in Whiteville, NC.  She had waited on us in April and during our conversation told us that she worked at Asticou during the summers.  When we made our travel plans we got reservations at the inn and met her there during our visit.  Small world!  We stayed in a group of rooms on the first floor of an 1854 “cottage” which is really a big old house.  We had plenty of space, and although the floors were uneven and squeeky, it was a nice place to call home for a few days.  The restaurant there was awesome, although it was closed for two of the five nights we were there.  Not lacking for choices, however, we found two great alternatives the other nights!

Crashing surf along the Newport Cove area of Acadia National Park in Maine
Views of Otter Cliffs from the Otter Cliffs Overlook in Acadia National Park, Maine
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park near Bass Harbor, Maine
Wave action at Schoodic Point, on the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine

Our first morning there entailed sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in Acadia National Park, and the first place in the US touched by the sun each morning.  Reservations are required to go to Cadillac during the day in-season, and sunrise spots are especially coveted and limited to one per person every seven days.  Sunrise was about 6:25am, which required a very early alarm in order to get there with time to spare.  And Kathy went with me!  My funny story from that morning was at the entry gate, the ranger checked our documents, welcomed us and allowed us to go ahead.  I asked if he had any tips (meaning for sunrise) and his reply was “keep it between the white lines!”  It gave us a laugh.  Despite the restricted entry, the parking lot filled quickly, as did the top of  the mountain – people bundled up against the cold and wind with all kinds of clothing, both weather-appropriate and otherwise!  It was pitch black dark when we got there, and as it got lighter we were able to see more and more people.  I can only imagine the pandemonium at peak times before the restrictions!

Admission to Cadillac Mountain after 7am was by timed entry every 30 minutes.  Once there you can stay as long as you want.  I arbitrarily made a sunrise reservation for our first day, and a 7am reservation for our fourth day.  It was good timing, as the sunrise morning was “severe clear” while the second visit was socked in with fog.  A few clouds on the sunrise morning would have been preferred, but clear was better than pea soup!

After sunrise we headed back down the mountain and took the Park Loop Road, which goes past many of the top destinations, such as Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Boulder Beach and Otter Cliff.  The nice light faded quickly and we stopped a lot to explore, but our main goal was to get there before the “nooners,” as we like to call the crowds of people who start showing up at popular places late morning.  They were all in Bar Harbor having breakfast at 7:30 in the morning, heading into the park afterward.  Case in point was when a couple days later we cruised past this area of the coast on a boat tour.  That afternoon the traffic on the Loop Road was bumper to bumper, and there were dozens of people trying to get a peek at Thunder Hole.  When we visited there early in the morning there were only a handful of people at each place!

That afternoon we headed toward the eastern side of Acadia to the Schoodic Peninsula.  It turned out to be the least-populated part of the park and probably our ultimate favorite.  It doesn’t have the views or the terrain of Acadia proper, but what it lacks in drama it makes up in quietude.  It does still have its own beauty, with rocky coastline, nice views and plenty of places to explore.  We didn’t have nearly enough time to really relax and enjoy Schoodic, and would make up for it be staying closer to there on a subsequent visit.

Balance Rock, at Grant Park in Bar Harbor, Maine
The ‘Eden Star’ arriving for our cruise with Acadian Boat Tours from Bar Harbor, Maine
Tourists at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park during our cruise with Acadian Boat Tours from Bar Harbor, Maine
Lobsterman hauling up lobster traps coastal Maine near Mount Desert Island
Lobsterman hauling up lobster traps coastal Maine near Mount Desert Island
Bear Island Lighthouse, off the coast of Maine near Northeast Harbor
Former Islesford Lifesaving Station on Little Cranberry Island. Off the coast of Maine near Northeast Harbor.
Baker Island Lighthouse, on Baker Island off the coast of Maine near Northeast Harbor
Winter Harbor Light on Buck Island, off the coast of the Schoodic Penninsula, Maine
Egg Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Maine near Northeast Harbor
Interesting clouds over the Gulf of Maine

We planned a boat cruise out of Bar Harbor for the afternoon of our second day.  So we got into town early so we could find a place to park, spent some time walking around town and had a late breakfast at a restaurant called Jordan’s Restaurant.  Jordan’s is known for, among other things, their Wild Maine Blueberry Pancakes.  Maine IS blueberry country, after all!  And they were as good as you might expect, topped with real Maine maple syrup.  There was a bit of a wait, but we expected it and it was well worth it.  We went to the boat dock in the early afternoon and took a cruise aboard Acadian Boat Tours’ ‘Eden Star.’  We saw…more lighthouses.  Also lots of wildlife – seals, dolphins, lobster fishermen and tourists. 😉 The weather was less than ideal – cold and rainy – but the water was smooth as glass, the clouds made for glare-free photographs and we saw some very interesting clouds.  We returned from the boat ride ready for cocktails and dinner, and had both at Jack Russell’s Steakhouse and Brewery, a nice steakhouse right across the road.  No, it’s not sacrilegious to have steak in Maine!

Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Maine, at the Easternmost Point in the continental US

We devoted our third day for a drive to Quoddy Head State Park, site of the Quoddy Head Lighthouse and known as the Easternmost Point in the Continental US.  That means we have now visited the two easiest points to get to – the other being the Southernmost Point in Key West.  The Northernmost Point is in Middle of Nowhere (not the actual name!), Minnesota and the Westernmost Point is in Middle of Nowhere (not the actual name!) Oregon.  We want to get there but it may need to wait a while!  The lighthouse is quite beautiful, and from the shore we could see Canada.  In fact, when we were in the parking lot our phones buzzed with the message “Welcome to Canada” and we were charged for using my phone “internationally” even though we never actually left the country!  We had a nice dinner – seafood this time – at The Chart Room, a a local waterfront place we had passed earlier in the week.

We devoted our fourth and final day, after an early morning drive back to Cadillac Mountain, to exploring the western side of Mount Desert Island (pronounced ‘dessert’ even though it is spelled like ‘desert.’  It’s evidently a French thing.).  We returned to the inn for a late lunch of Lobster Bisque, Lobster Roll and Lobster Popovers (an Acadian thing), knowing that we probably would not be getting lobster in New Hampshire 😉 and spent the afternoon getting ready for our departure toward New Hampshire the next morning.

Views from the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine
Bridge and grounds of Somesville Museum and Gardens in Somesville, Maine
View of Bass Harbor, Maine

As spectacular is Acadia is, I don’t know that I would rush back there.  I’m glad we went, but truthfully there is so much more to see than just that area.  There’s a good reason it is so popular – it is truly gorgeous – but like so many National Parks it has become almost too popular for its own good.  We did really enjoy the afternoon we spent exploring the Schoodic  Peninsula, and I would go back there in a heartbeat.  But the entire Maine coast has some beautiful places just waiting to be explored.  We barely got to see inland Maine, and we weren’t anywhere near the north woods or Katahdin.  So there is plenty of unseen territory for another visit, or two or ten!  Plus we have friends there, so how hard is that!

For anyone interested in seeing even more of my photos, I have posted a photo gallery on my Adobe Portfolio page for Maine, as well as the other parts of our New England trip.  I hope to have the final group processed over the next week or so.

6 thoughts on “Acadia and the Northern Maine Coast”

  1. I just got back from Acadia a couple weeks ago – November 7 to 14. I went at the invitation of a photographer friend who has a vacation home there – there were 8 of us in total. I’d never been there before but of course had heard about it.

    At most of the places you mention above, we were usually the only people there. A lot of stuff (restaurants, etc) was closed, but that was a small price to pay for being all alone (in the company of other photographers) at sunrise or sunset at Bubble Pond, Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, etc, etc….

    Like you’ve written, it’s obvious as to why it’s so popular – it’s really beautiful. On the other hand, aside from the expansiveness of the landscape, it reminded me of a place I know in Michigan, which shall remain nameless, lest it end up getting hoards of people like you saw when you were in Acadia. 🙂

    Great images!

    1. Fun! Your secret is safe with me. 😉 Although I look forward to visiting that un-named place, but not likely in winter. You and I don’t share the same affinity for cold weather, likely because I have been in the south for nearly 30 years. And I don’t have the right clothes any more!

      A lot of the places we visited were on the verge of shutting down, even in late September and early October. I can see though the advantages of being there in November, especially with a built-in place to stay. Having a place to cook would be a good way to do it. Sunrise and sunset are also much more hospitable in November than they were in October, and even more so than in June or July!

  2. Wow, what a wonderful post of images and words. I felt like I was there with you, minus the Lobster Bisque, Lobster Roll and Lobster Popovers. What a beautiful world we live in!

    1. It is indeed a beautiful world, Monte. I’ve enjoyed writing about our experiences almost as much as I enjoyed being there and taking the photographs. These trips provide many memories for me and Kathy and we feel quite fortunate to have the ability to do them.

  3. Thanks for the tour, Tom! I’ll note all the places you mention for our trip. I had to smile reading this just knowing that it’s all within easy reach. I hope you marked your tripod spots so I can capture that beauty myself :-).
    I think I’ll do Acadia just to do Acadia. I do want to see the sun rise there though. But, the real prize will be the surroundings and small villages.

    1. My pleasure, Joe! I didn’t leave any tripod marks, but will attest that just about anywhere you put one down you will find something to make a nice photograph of.

      It’s great that Acadia is so close for you. I don’t know how the roads are handled in the wintertime, but it would be fascinating to see everything in ice. I would definitely visit again, although I might approach it differently and perhaps at a different time of the year.

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