" " " Maine's Waterfront Real Estate News: 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

An Autumn Excursion to Acadia

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The shore trail at Acadia National Park offers spectacular views. (Photo: MOLLY WALSH/FREE PRESS )Buy Photo


It's easy to be so dazzled by the grandeur of the National Parks in the West that we forget New England has a park of its own that more than measures up.

That place is Acadia National Park in Maine.

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View from Schooner Head, Acadia National Park. (Photo: Photo by Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld, courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism. )

It's where visitors can hike 120 miles of mountain and seashore paths with spectacular views of the Atlantic, bike 50 miles of carriage trails and camp in the cool, deep woods just a few miles outside the busy shops and restaurants of Bar Harbor.

Fall is an ideal time to visit. The hordes have gone home. There are more vacancies (and deals) at the many hotels and inns outside the park, and it's much easier to score a site at the national park's most popular campground. The infamous summer traffic jams on the only road leading in and out of the island have receded, and most everything remains open through the end of October.

True, the water is colder in the autumn than peak season in August but as everyone knows, the ocean is never warm in Maine anyway. Meanwhile, the lobster remains plentiful whether it's served steamed, on a toasted roll or made into ice cream (which looked novel but unappetizing in a Bar Harbor freezer case on a recent visit.)

The drive from Burlington is seven hours so this is best as a three-day weekend trip or longer. Drive over through the White Mountains for bonus leaf peeping and views of the Presidential Range.

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View overlooking the Atlantic on the hike to Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park. (Photo: MOLLY WALSH/FREE PRESS )

A few days in paradise, with your hiking boots

Acadia is mostly located on Mount Desert, the largest island off the coast of Maine. Samuel de Champlain, the same French explorer who was the first European to map Vermont's largest lake and who subsequently named it after himself, found his way to what is now Acadia National Park in 1604.

He named the area the island of "monts deserts" because many of the granite peaks looked, then and now, bald and desert-like as they rounded up above the tree line.

Check out the lodging options online before you leave. Keep in mind prices vary from $20 a night at the Blackwoods Campground a few miles from Bar Harbor, to the $200s at the lovely Asticou Inn in quiet and comely Northeast Harbor to even bigger price tags at the swankiest destinations.

As you drive onto the island, stop at the information center on the right side of Highway 3. It's a good place for maps, lodging, restaurant ideas and up-to-date info about happenings, from star gazing conventions to concerts at the gazebo in Bar Harbor.

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View of Jordan Pond from the carriage trails in Acadia National Park.(Photo: MOLLY WALSH/FREE PRESS)

Continue on Highway 3 a few miles into Bar Harbor. A stay in or near town allows for a pleasant dose of shopping, eating and people-watching. The popular Blackwoods Campground requires reservations months in advance for prime summer nights but is wide open on weeknights in the fall. On a recent visit, travelers who pulled in to the gate at 5 p.m. found plenty of space.

Blackwoods is quiet, clean and aromatic with the fresh smell of evergreens. The group bathrooms have plug-ins for electronics, lights and hot water sinks but no showers. A pay-shower establishment sits just outside the park gates and there are many vendors selling camp wood nearby for the fire pits at the campsites.

Set up your tent if you are camping or take a hot bath if you are hotel-ing, then hit the scene in Bar Harbor. The vibe ranges from old money posh at historic summer estates tucked here and there to ticky-tack T-shirt shops to hipster restaurants and tasteful retailers selling handsome home wares. The price for an ice cream cone goes up the closer the shop is located to the waterfront and the many cruise ships that unload there.

Fuel up and sleep. Rise early for a day of hiking. Take the free Island Explorer shuttle or drive to the Fabbri Picnic Area and parking lot near Otter Cove. Lace up your shoes or boots, cross the street and turn left, walking on the road until the Shore Trail starts at Otter Point. From there continue for several miles in the direction of Sand Beach, which should take roughly 90 to 120 minutes.

This walk, only moderately difficult, is spectacular, with views of ocean cliffs, the gleaming sea and trees changing color along the shore and in the mountains. Pass by the popular Thunder Hole and listen to the sound of the waves crashing into the cavern carved into the sea cliff. While this is one of the most popular and crowded stretches on the Island, it's truly beautiful and worth any tourist-related hassles. At Sand Beach fill the water bottles in the drinking fountains and take a rest as you listen to the waves roll in.

End the journey here and take a shuttle or double back on foot to the car if you are tired. Or extend the hike up to a mountain called Champlain (elevation 1,058). The hike up to and over this peak will take about three hours, so be sure and get underway at a reasonable hour.

Cross the street from Sand Beach parking lot and look for the trail head. Try the steep cliff face and ladders on the Bee Hive trail (you get bragging rights for doing it) or take the more gentle alternate route to the Bowl, a pretty pond with an active beaver colony.

From there, follow the markings for the Champlain Ridge Trail. Enjoy the panoramic views and long ocean vistas from the east side of the island. At the top of Champlain, views to the north open up as well. Head down on the winding stair case trail into the interior of the island for yet another type of scenery.

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Sunset at Acadia. (Photo: Photo by Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld, courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism. )

Cross Highway 3 and walk to the trailside Abbe Museum to pick up the free shuttle back to the Fabbri parking lot, or take the bus into town or to Blackwoods.

Make Day two a cycling day. If you need to rent a bike, there are several shops in Bar Harbor within easy riding distance of the Duck Brook Bridge entrance to the carriage path network. (The shops have free, easy-to-read maps). From there, the Jordan Pond House restaurant is a beautiful ride of approximately ten miles through woods and past lakes. At the Pond House, the crazy mobs of summer are smaller, slightly-less crazy mobs but you still might have to wait for a table and the chance to eat the famous popovers.

They are worth the wait, especially when eaten with loads of butter and blueberry jam. Stoke up, buy some post cards and head back via the Bubbles route for a total of about 18 miles round trip. Return the bikes and savor the happy ache of your muscles over a cold lemonade or beer in Bar Harbor. You've earned it!

Molly Walsh, Free Press Staff Writer 12:08 a.m. EDT October 5, 2014

Contact Molly Walsh at 660-1874 or mwalsh@burlingtonfreepress.com Follow Molly on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mokawa