The crown jewel of Maine's scenic coastline is Acadia National Park, located just outside the bustling bayside town of Bar Harbor. You haven't experienced the best of New England's coast if you haven't visited this spectacular destination that attracts millions of tourists each year.
"Acadia is the top attraction in the area, with hiking, biking, kayaking, and boat tours," says Martha Searchfield, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. "We see lots of families with children in the summer, and many couples without kids viewing the foliage in the fall."
What makes Acadia special is that its outstanding beauty is so easily accessible. You can choose easy strolls through the park or adrenalin-pumping hikes. Driving on the main road through the park offers numerous opportunities to pull off at designated spots and take short walks to view nearly all the park's geological treasures, including Cadillac Mountain, rugged cliffs, and rocky beaches. The abundant wildlife includes otters, moose, peregrine falcons, and eagles.
Once sightseeing is over for the day, Bar Harbor offers fine hotels, shopping, and dining, with Maine lobster and other fresh seafood choices at the top of many local menus.
Acadia, which occupies most of Mount Desert Island and a portion of the Schoodic Peninsula across Frenchman Bay, was established in 1919 as the first national park on the East Coast. It has grown to be the eighth most popular national park in the country, with more than three million visitors a year. The island, which is accessible via a bridge to the mainland, is about a 4.5-hour drive from Boston and an hour's drive from the airport in Bangor, Maine.
The park's centerpiece is Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest mountain along the North Atlantic Seaboard at 1,530 feet. Composed of pink granite and covered with spruce and pine trees, it offers something special for early risers. From October 7 to March 6 each year, the summit of Cadillac Mountain is the first place to see the sun rise in the U.S.
For a relaxing trip through the park, drive along Park Loop Road, a 27-mile road that takes you to many of the major attractions. The loop begins at Hulls Cove Visitor Center on Route 3 along the northeast coast of the island. From there, the trail winds through forests and past giant boulders, with stopping points along the way to view Sand Beach, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain.
The road provides easy access to the dramatic Otter Cliff, one of the most recognized features of the park. Look for the buoy offshore marking a locally-known historic underwater rock formation named the Spindle, which has been cursed by many sea captains. Another stop along the road is Thunder Hole, named for the thunderous sound of the crashing waves along the jagged rocks.
With more than 120 miles of trails, Acadia offers awesome opportunities for hiking, ranging from very easy paths to steep and strenuous treks. One of the most popular easy trails is Ocean Path, a gorgeous and gentle hike along the shoreline from Sand Beach to the sea cliffs.
For more ambitious hikers, the famed Beehive Trail offers the thrill of grasping onto iron rungs in rocks at the steepest parts. Even more daring is Precipice Trail, which gets rave reviews from thrill-seeking hiking aficionados.
Biking in the park is a breeze, thanks to the Carriage Roads built in the last century. These roads are open to bikers and hikers only.
If you can't get enough of nature, various boat tours from Bar Harbor take you around the island in style. Ocean boat tours are also available to see otters, puffins, and whales.
As night falls, bite into a freshly steamed Maine lobster with corn on the cob on the side to enjoy a taste of the regional cuisine, or opt for numerous other casual and sophisticated menu choices at various local restaurants. With more than 80 hotels and inns in Bar Harbor, it's not hard to find the perfect place to prepare for another spirited day at the ocean's edge.