Where: Mount Desert Island, near Bangor, Maine, US
What: Sunrise coffee on a mountaintop, camping, hiking – lots of seaside and mountain hiking – running along the carriage roads made by the Rockefellers, kayaking and canoeing, swimming in a lake or in an ocean depending on your choice, cliffside meditation. Should I continue? Snorkelling, cliff climbing, biking, quasi via ferrata, horseback riding, sailing, SUP, slacklining, sirens and sand castles, inline skating, carriage rides, sunset picnics, wine tasting, quaffing a beer from the local microbrewery on a patio. Get the idea?
When: 3-4 days in the summer or fall. Mid-October is when the foliage is at its most flamboyant.
The pickup is full — bikes, wagons, surfboards, camping and climbing gear, and clothing for four… all that was missing was a canoe, but we knew we could rent one there. There are a lot of outdoor activities in Acadia National Park, the most beautiful and diverse place in all of New England, in fact on all of the east coast of the US.
It’s waterfalls, streams, cliffs, lakes, beaches, carriage roads, trails; but above all, its mountainous landscape and its turquoise ocean combine to transport us – just like the explorer who discovered this part of Maine in 1524 – to a part of Greece where mountains are edged in the east by the Aegean Sea: Arcadia. Not surprising that Acadia is today one of the most visited parks in the US.
Situated on an island named “l’Isles des Monts déserts” by Samuel de Champlain, the park is one of the places where many mountains – certainly not all are deserts – dominate the horizon and the most breathtaking landscapes that there are, year after year. It’s more than 47,000 acres, where 20 mountains are surrounded by oceans, scattered with lakes and ponds all interlaced by many pedestrian hiking trails for all skill levels, and intercut with carriage roads where cars are forbidden and carefully cared for over the past few hundred years by outdoor-loving aristocrats, the Rockefellers. The park is an outdoor sanctuary. An exquisite mix of the best of the great outdoors.
There are so many choices at Acadia for the outdoor fanatic, even after many visits. Even the books can’t capture everything that you can do, and I cannot list them all. So, I will share my highlights from my last trip, 10 sunny days spent with my children, 3 and 5 years old.
Seal Harbor: Little known and very quiet, with a marina and unpretentious summer homes. It’s small beach is very private, perfect for building sandcastles.
The Beehive: A hike that almost become a via ferrata with iron ladders and handholds.
The 72km of historic carriage roads were built between 1913 and 1940 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family. Perfect for a car-free bike ride or a walk with the kids and their wagons or berry picking. You can see the two Lodges built way back then with their stone bridges, all very well kept up.
Park Loop Road between Sand Beach and Backwoods: If you feel like a long ride, with inline skates or a road bike. The magnificent coast, the ridge, the energizing sea air and the secluded 43.5km of road.
Cadillac Mountain: Warning – at mid-day, this popular tour stop will find you with more tourists than there is horizon. But at the 4:50am sunrise it’s unforgettable. Since it’s accessible by car, and this is the highest peak (467 metres/1,532 feet) on the island, this will create an unforgettable moment with your kids. And if you are lucky, your love will make you an espresso on the spot, thanks to his super quiet stove.
Southwest Harbor Seawall: The best spot to cook up a lobster supper while watching the sunset. Many people come at the end of every day, just to admire its unique outlook.
Bar Harbor village: For its microbrewery.
It’s not possible to do backcountry camping here but there are two campgrounds in the park; one rustic and the other with amenities. Your choice is dependent on which side of the island you plan to visit the most.
Blackwoods Campground: You must reserve, or risk having to backtrack. Or be brave and arrive at 5am to be one of the first in line for any last minute spots. Might as well take advantage of the waiting and do your morning yoga. This is what we did every morning!
Seawall Compound: The sites are first come first serve but also can be reserved in ahead of time. But what peace of mind you might gain might be offset by your drive times as it’s the farthest spot from most of the attractions.
To get to the park from Montreal, allow yourself 7½ hours’ drive time. Might as well break your journey in one of the parks on the way. Here are two possible options:
- Take Interstate I-95 north to Augusta, Maine. Follow Route 3 east to Ellsworth, which will take you straight to Mount Desert Island.
- Take Interstate I-95 north to Bangor, Maine. Once in Bangor, take Route 1A east all the way to Ellsworth, then Route 3 to Mount Desert Island.
Once on the island you won’t need your car since there is a bus system available between June and October.
You’ll understand why this in one of my favourite places for these three reasons.
- You will never run out of things to do,
- The wide variety of landscapes will never cease to impress you,
- Reason number two will allow you to forget all about reason number one, so you will really relax.
There is no reason to run around to see everything and do everything since you know you will be coming back for many years to come.