by Deirdre Frost and Sebastian Price
Look no further to find some of most spectacular scenery than at America’s most highly acclaimed Acadia National Park with sweeping views of Frenchman Bay, the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic. From the stunning ocean vistas to rugged cliff faces, we discovered some of the best wilderness spots on the rock-bound Mount Desert Island. The island is a mosaic of natural wonders with seabirds soaring above against the fierce, primeval edifices of volcanic granite and forested backdrops. Even the cliff faces capture the fury of motion, descending dramatically until they reach the frothy waves crashing upon the island headlands. The visual sensations of Acadia really are magnificent.
Traveling to Acadia from Boston is a five-hour drive, which is surprising pleasant journey when taking some of the scenic coastal routes in Maine. Acadia is famous for its stunning landscape, covering more than 49,000 acres of forest and virgin land on a rugged coastline. The unique geological features of the area fascinated French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, who named this place Mount Desert Island, to describe the island’s treeless mountain summits.
Managed by the National Park Service, Acadia encompasses more than 165 species of native plants, 60 species of land and marine mammals, and 150 breeding species of birds. The park provides the protection of a number of rare flower species, including the mountain firmoss, Nantucket shadbush and boreal blueberries, as well as endangered wildlife, including bald eagles, gray wolves, and peregrine falcons.
Acadia was initially established as a National Monument under President Woodrow Wilson and became the first eastern park. Early advocate and prominent founder, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., donated more than 10,000 acres of prime coastal property to the park.
A top attraction is hiking to the top of the 1,530-foot summit of Cadillac Mountain, which is the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast. Hikers arrive at Cadillac at dawn to watch the sun rise in one of the first places in America.
The summit’s panoramic views expose the extraordinary topographical features overlooking the rugged islands and extend beyond Acadia to other parts of Maine. For the more leisurely traveler, driving to the top of the mountain is easily accessible.
This is the park’s only sand beach on the ocean and attracts swimmers despite the often frigid temperatures. Visitors can view the wide stretch of golden sand with crashing waves against the surrounding giant granite edifices. The pounding waves and ocean breezes create a relaxed, natural setting that contrasts to the rock-bound park.
At Sand Beach, we chat with local photographer, Howie Motenko, on how to enhance our techniques and take amazing nature shots in the park. On the shore, Howie describes important compositional elements to capture the perfect shot of breaking waves against the volcanic formations. Using his guidance helps us create more dynamic photos of the seascape. Howie regularly takes out small groups to selected, unknown locations within the park to obtain better pictures of the surrounding landscape.
Sailing through Somes Sound provides the opportunity to view this Acadian seascape through a unique perspective. An extraordinary geological feature is the thick pine forest comes abruptly to the edge of the sea with waves crashing against the solid granite, resulting in these rocky outcrops protecting the land from the unrelenting sea.
This southwestern side, known as the “quiet side” of the island, is the place to escape from the masses, enjoy the quiet solitude and swim in the clear glacier waters of Echo Lake in Southwest Harbor. One secluded spot to stay is Harbor Ridge Resort where the panoramic views of the Acadian mountains, Sound, and the open ocean are breathtaking.
Many of the hidden harbors on Mount Desert Island offer spectacular views of the ocean and Acadia National Park. Stopping off at the waterfront at Southwest Harbor, the sunset captures our imagination as we watch mist dissipate over the mountains and a few boats silently drift through the Sound.
Further along the coastal road, the adventure leads to the remote area of Sea Wall, providing peaceful vistas of the Duck Islands and the Atlantic. At the southern tip of the island, one of the most gorgeous spots is at the tiny fishing village of Bass Harbor near the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
Within this remote cove, the family-owned Seafood Ketch Restaurant is an inviting
spot to enjoy delicious seafood and the freshly-cooked lobster that has just come off the fishing boats.
Bass Harbor fishing cove is peaceful at night. As a mist drifts through, the fish warehouses evoke a certain sense of timelessness and nostalgic charm.
Comfortable, easy walks are available along carriage roads through the park that lead to interesting stone bridges built by Rockefeller’s engineers. Along the way, pink granite, massive rocks jut out along the sides of gravel roads revealing interesting forms and shapes. On another occasion, we try a different route that leads to an old growth forest in Compass Harbor. Under the shady ruins of the former Dorr estate, Park Ranger Jim Reverts describes how Acadia’s founder George Dorr enjoyed wild swimming off the rocky cliffs of Storm Beach.
Apart from picturesque hiking trails in Acadia, the surrounding hidden harbors in the villages also offer superb spots for picking up trailheads. We enjoyed the wide range of sports and water activities, including mountain biking, kayaking, and swimming in cold, clear lakes.
These coastal vistas on Mount Desert Island possess striking images of solitary islands, glacier carved monoliths and pink granite rocks. All of these things create extraordinary panoramas and compelling contrasts of color in Acadia National Park.
The village center is brimming with a mixture of shops, farmer’s markets, outfitters, and delicious Downeast cuisine.
The Terrace Grille at the Bar Harbor Inn commands panoramic views overlooking the waterfront of Frenchman Harbor. The relaxed setting makes dining al fresco a pleasurable experience similar to the best of the French Riviera. The activity on the waterfront is creating a vivid seascape as yachts, schooners, and pleasure boats move through the harbor.
The fresh Maine crabmeat roll and grilled lobster and fontina sandwich we found especially tantalizing. The freshly baked wild blueberry pie, a noted Maine specialty, is simply delicious and enjoyable.
Where to stay:
Where to eat:
The Terrace Grille – Tel: (207) 288-3351; https://barharborinn.com/dining/terrace-grille/
Charlotte’s Lobster Pound – Tel: (207) 244-8021; https://www.charlotteslegendarylobsters.com/
What to do:
Acadia Photo Safari – Tel: (207) 318-3402; www.AcadiaPhotoSafari.com
Bar Harbor Whale Watch – Tel: (207) 801-7024; www.barharborwhales.com
Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines – Tel: (207) 288-4585; https://downeastwindjammer.com/
Acadia National Park – nps.gov/acad
Maine Tourism – visitmaine.com