The next stop on our journey was to be one of the highlights of our vacation: The Acadia National Park. We first visited it during our 2008 vacation and immediately knew that this tiny park was a must-see in the region. From North Conway we drove straight through New Hampshire and Maine and headed into Acadia late the same day.
In 2008, we arrived there heading north. On our way we had stopped in Freeport, ME, where a girl at the local tourist information had recommended a family-run motel that was a lot cheaper than the otherwise expensive hotels in Bar Harbor. Now, in 2015, this motel was still up and running and still nowhere to be found on any of the popular booking websites.
Since we had arrived late in the day, there wasn’t much to do except heading “downtown” to get a proper meal. Maine is well known for a particular local seafood delicacy: Lobster. So on our first night we went straight for the biggest lobster restaurant. Neither of us had eaten a whole lobster before, so we only ordered a single one along with another meal. This was to reduce the damage in case we didn’t like this crustacean which seems to have a Crack-like effect on most people. With the right tools and illustrated instructions on our place mats we managed to crack the lobster in no time. For the record: It was alright, but we could not understand the hype that surrounds it.
Fast forward to the next day, which we had set aside for hiking. Acadia, as I mentioned, is a rather small National Park. You can buy the entrance ticket and then take the one-way loop road through the park and arrive back at Bar Harbor after about half an hour. A lot of people seemed to do it that way. But every few hundred meters you can also park your car, get out, take a few photos and venture into the woods on one of the many very varied hiking trails.
We started out at the Visitor Center and then walked some paved carriage roads which was kind of boring since we had come to Acadia to do some proper hiking. But on our first day the weather was mostly damp, so this was not an option. That night we had dinner at an Irish restaurant where the food was just sublime.
Our second day in Acadia started out with blue skies. Last time we were in Acadia we didn’t even see the Western finger, so we took our time to drive through a number of villages on the way to our hike. We had picked a trail in advance and had no trouble finding the parking lot at the trail head. To cover some distance we wanted to hike a combination of the Valley Peak Loop and the St. Sauveur and Acadia Mountain Loop which we started at Fernald Cove near Southwest Harbor. The trail was beautiful and incredibly exhausting and it was our first real challenge in terms of hiking. It started out with a long incline through the forest but soon we arrived at an intersection. There was wooden arrow pointing left which would have taken us back to the parking lot via a very short trail. The trail going right did not have an arrow, but it pointed towards the bay so we took it. During the next hours we navigated some portions of the trail which were wedged between the water and sheer rock, had to climb over car-size boulders and go up and down steep inclines made from solid stone steps. At some point we realised that we were too far in, so we kept on pushing until we reached the summit and a nice panorama view.
Day number three saw us start out with a short drive to the parking lot at Sand Beach. A ranger had recommended a hike which sounded quite challenging, so we were keen to try it with the weather still holding up. A quick dash across the park road and a few hundred meters into the woods we had left the swaths of tourist behind us and were on our way. It wasn’t long before we came upon a large sign warning of the dangers of the trail still ahead. We had never seen a warning like that on any trail in North America, where hikers are expected to know what they’re up to on these kinds of trails. Sure enough, the trail, going up “The Big Beehive”, quickly changed pace after that. I stowed away my camera as Katrin and I had to climb over the occasional boulder. Eventually the vegetation thinned out (because of the sheer rock) and each time we looked over our shoulder we could see the parking lot and Sand Beach appear a little smaller. The last few hundred meters took disproportionately long as we had to climb over large ledges, often only made possible by iron rungs and ladders driven into the rock. There was little room for error as the path was narrow and flanked by fatal drop in most places. Incidentally this was our first trail which was only meant to be hiked uphill.
When we finally reached the summit we were exhausted from the constant tension but happy and proud to have made it. The way down lead us over the gentler northern face of the mountain and down to a small mountain lake called “The Bowl”. This was the perfect opportunity to relax for a short while before heading downhill and back to the parking lot. Before we left we took the mandatory stroll down Sand Beach. At the parking lot we saw an official notice which showed hikers on the North Face of the Big Beehive. Apparently visitors would frequently worry about the hikers on the mountain, climbing the same trail we had done earlier. Thinking the hikers were in trouble or lost, these visitors would alert the rangers. Looking at the intimidating face of the mountain it’s understandable why someone might indeed think it unwise for people to be hiking there. You can see the face of the mountain on the second photo below. If you enlarge it, you might even make out some hikers.
This was our last day in Acadia and by any measure the most exciting one. We were happy that we made it to Acadia again, this time seeing even more of Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor might be touristy but this doesn’t diminish the appeal of this National Park which always surprises with it’s density of different terrain and vegetation. It’s perfect to do some relaxing as well as some proper hiking without being too far away from civilisation.
P.S. While writing this blog-post I had the Wikipedia page on Acadia open to look up a few facts. Only the next morning I noticed that I still had the tab open and that the title photo was my very own photo from last year. Wikipedia had indeed beaten me to it ;)