Did you know that the United States has more than fifty national parks? Heck, I didn’t know either until I googled last week. Since I live in the United States, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know this, even more embarrassed when I found out through that same google search that I had already visited my first national park some years ago: The Everglades in Florida. I had ignorantly thought that the trip I took to Maine a couple of weeks ago would be my first trip to a national park. At the end, I still feel like Acadia National Park was my first real dose of what our parks have to offer, and I now want to visit all of them before I die. You have to start somewhere, right? Two down, fifty-seven more to go! I hope you enjoy this post about the top 10 things you should do when you visit Acadia National Park in Maine.
I’ve gone fake camping the last couple of years, and when I mean fake camping, it’s because I slept in a tent in upstate Connecticut while my husband drifted his car during the day. Apart from the fact there were no showers at this location, it didn’t resemble much to real-life camping. When I planned this real camping trip, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager, I wasn’t expecting to go glamping in Maine. I had, however, picked out a campsite online that had a platform to place the tent, an electrical outlet and a faucet. This was a little more expensive than the other sites, but it was worth it when we wanted to charge cameras and phones. Plus, the water was necessary when cleaning pots and pans. I booked our campsite in Mount Desert Campground, just 10 minutes by car from Acadia National Park. Once we checked in and started driving through the camp, we were impressed. Our campsite was easily marked, we were twenty feet from the bathrooms/showers, and we were right by a body of water. I woke up to birds chirping, saw the sunset, and enjoyed the quietness of the area. There is really nothing negative that I can say about Mount Desert Campground. It even has a short walking trail on the site!
If you are being dragged out to go camping by parents or friends, don’t fear, Wi-Fi is near. There is a small “Gathering Place” that offers free Wi-Fi. The campground has 4.9 stars out of 5 on Facebook, and almost all the sites are booked for July. So reserve in advance and have fun! If you are interested, there is an actual campground within Acadia National Park, but if you have a car it doesn’t make a difference. There are more camping grounds in the area and if you are not into this at all, there are many hotels and inns in Mount Desert and Bar Harbor. Check out the time-lapse video my husband created of
us him and my brother setting up when we arrived!
Kayaking is a must-do in the area! But have something in mind. Most of the year, the water is freezing. Freezing for me, maybe cold for you. If you have a kayak, I would suggest that you only take it if you have a sit-inside instead of a sit-on-top. Even with a sit-inside, people usually use a spray skirt so the cold water doesn’t get inside the kayak. If you have a sit-on-top kayak like I do, either go when it’s really hot in the summer, make sure you have clothing for cold-water paddling (no sandals or jeans, most definitely), or simply don’t go crazy and splash too much. You can kayak around Frenchman Bay, Porcupine Islands and Jordan Pond. Make sure you pick up a map of the area. It’s pretty ease to find a location, and even the campground I stayed at had a launch pad for kayaks and canoes. I don’t think you should leave without experiencing the park on the water.
#3 Rock Climbing
I’m always up for trying new things, even if they scare me. I signed up for a rock-climbing class with Acadia Mountain Guides. After doing some research, I called them and requested to climb Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park. I knew that climbing a cliff with a view of the ocean would not just calm my nerves, but that the rush of the waves hitting the cliffs would soothe me. I was right. And our instructor was patient and taught us how to “trust the rope.” Even as were walking down the path to the cliffs, other people were asking us what our gear was for and then they were surprised that they could sign up to do it too. You don’t have to have any experience, just make sure your instructor knows this. All you need to do is call some weeks in advance, ask for a date and time, and if you have a location you prefer, go ahead and ask for it. We had initially scheduled to rock-climb on a Friday, but it was pouring rain all day and they rescheduled for the following day at no cost. I loved the experience so much, I’m actually researching classes that I can take nearby to get better at belaying and climbing.
There were two locations I wanted to hike in Acadia, but I was only able to go to one. The Precipice Trail, which is known as a challenging hike, is closed off for most of the spring and summer due to Peregrine Falcon nesting. This was a huge bummer for me, but we have to respect the species we share this planet with. I saw this video that I found on Youtube and yeah, it looks pretty precipicey. I hope to go back one day and finally hike this.
But on this occasion, we hiked up another trail to see Bubble Rock. When you are driving through Park Loop Road in Acadia and pass by Jordan Pond, after about half a mile you can look up and see a conspicuous rock teetering on the edge of a mountain, as if placed perfectly on edge but on a balance. It looks even more astounding when you hike up the mountain and see it up close. The rock weighs approximately 30,000 pounds and if you search through Instagram you’ll see pictures of people in a feat of strength trying to push it off the ledge. But there is no way we scrawny humans can move this boulder that has been there for more than 10,000 years. The most common theory is that surrounding glaciers thousands of years ago perched it on that spot. Now that would have been a cool time-lapse to witness! There is no doubt that Mother Nature is insane and cool.
The rock is less than a mile from the Bubbles parking lot, where you can begin the hike, so it’s a very short and easy hike. The issue is that this particular parking lot fills up quickly. When we got there, no parking spots were available, and we were lucky we only waited fifteen minutes until a car exited the lot. Most people leave their cars at the Jordan Pond parking lot, but the hike from there is a little tougher and longer. Either way, you’ll have beautiful views on whichever path you take.
#5 Thunder Hole
Now this is one of the things that I hope you read before you go so that you don’t make the same mistake we did: check the low tide and high tide times. And don’t show up at the Thunder Hole until high tide or else this will be a womp womp womp event. When it’s high tide, the hole, or in reality, the underground cave, emits thunderous sounds when the ocean bashes into it. Yes, that’s my scientific explanation. But why don’t you just go see it yourself? If you go during low tide, all you’ll hear is a gurgle. So trust me on this, go during high tide, and you’ll see something rare.
#6 Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
You might be wondering why Cadillac Mountain is not under hikes. Well, if you want to hike this mountain, you can. Not that I did that because I didn’t have the time…or the willpower. I did hear someone at Bubble Rock say that it was very challenging and steep. This was not surprising to hear because it’s the tallest mountain in the area at an elevation of 1,530 feet. What you definitely can’t miss out on if you go tot Acadia is to watch the sunrise at the very top of this mountain. Some people pull an all-nighter and hike up in the dark to get there before the sun rises. But if you would rather not do this, and I don’t blame you, then all you have to do is drive up to the top. This is actually the first place in the continental United States that sees sunlight during certain times of the year. On this particular day, we were up by 3:30 a.m. and drove to get a good spot by the time the sun came up at 4:48 a.m. Go early because photographers set up their cameras and tripods, and a lot of people come out to witness this. I at least saw 100 people that day. And yes, even in early June, it can get really cold up there. I get cold easily, so I took my sleeping bag. For me, it was worth it, but most people had on jackets and sweaters.
All you need is someone to lift you up as the sun comes up and you’ll feel like Simba, and there is nothing more amazing than that!
#7 Chill at the beach
Sometimes all we want to do is lay down on some sand, read a book and not worry about a thing. If your family likes to climb mountains and hike but all you want to do is lay down and chill, you can go to Sand Beach and do just that. Even on the cold Friday in June that we were there and it rained all day, there were still many people taking selfies on Sand Beach. In the summer and without any rain, I’m sure it’s more enjoyable.
#8 Whale Watching
To be honest, I’ve never seen whales off the shores of the United States. I have seen them in Ecuador, but I can’t attest to seeing them in Acadia. Nonetheless, there were many whale watching boat tours marketed around town. And it doesn’t matter where you see whales; seeing such a huge creature come out of the water is exciting no matter where you are. It makes you realize you’re just a tiny spec on this planet. It’s humbling and a view you will not forget. I would book a tour if you’ve never seen these wild animals. It’ll be another thing you can cross off your bucket list!
When we arrived to our campground, I saw a map for 5 bucks that not only had hiking trails but bike trails as well. We ended up biking only in and around our campground. But if you have the opportunity to go on the bike trails, it’s another way to see the mountains, ocean and ponds in the area. There are signs all over Bar Harbor and Mount Desert asking motorists to respect bicyclists. To be honest, this is not something I see in a lot of places in the United States, and I liked that people seemed to be extra courteous to bicyclists on the main roads. And of course, if you go on a bike trail, you won’t have to worry about cars. You can go on certain “carriage roads” to bike, but bicyclists can’t go on the hiking trails.
#10 Explore Main Street in Bar Harbor
On one of the few days we were in the area, it poured rain the entire day. And when we didn’t want to cook in the rain and campsite anymore, we went to downtown Bar Harbor to have some lunch. There are many restaurants to choose from, bars, and a bunch of ice cream joints. And of course, if you go to Maine you can’t leave until you’ve eaten some lobster! There are also a ton of stores that sell souvenirs and clothes, like the Acadia cap I got below. I just tried on the lobster costume for fun!
I can see myself going back to Acadia because four days was not enough! I didn’t get to paddle board, hike the Precipice Trail or bike around the carriage roads. But I’m glad I finally went, and I was not disappointed. Now I’m wondering (and planning) what national park I’ll visit next!