Just the name sounds restful, relaxing. Imagine forested hills nearly surrounded by ocean waters, quiet carriage trails winding through the island and the sun rising and setting in colors you’ve never seen before.
Vacation days are approaching quickly, and if you have not made at least partial plans– some points of interest or destinations– now is the time. Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park is a terrific place to start.
While 700 miles seems like a daunting trip (you can drive AROUND New York City), make plans for stop or two along the way. It’s good for you and the kids. If you push through to Freeport, Maine (about eight hours away), you can see the Maine desert with bonafide sand dunes. Kids can write their name here all they want and no one will complain, because it’ll be gone by the next morning. When the novelty wears off, hit Freeport’s shopping headquarters, starring the 24-hour L.L. Bean outlet store.
Mount Desert Island is an unusual place. Acadia National Park is on the island, but not in one piece like Yellowstone or Yosemite. Bar Harbor is also on the island, but not part of the national park system. National Park Service (NPS) properties are scattered over the island, but away from Bar Harbor’s worst tourist crush in the city. And the crush is exactly the right word. You can’t keep a good thing like Bar Harbor a secret; being close to Boston and New York City makes the park an overnight visit.
More than three million people visit the park annually, mostly by car, but the docks are loaded with cruise ships from all over the world. Ships visit all spring, summer, and fall, but is busiest in fall. Some days, three cruise ships crowd into town. Officials expect 150 for the season. The quiet city of 5,000 becomes a crowded town of 10,000 on some days. Parking is a challenge.
From the NPS website– You do not need a car when the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus is operating (June 23 to early October). Visit the Island Explorer website for specific details on car-free vacation options.
With overcrowding in mind, there are ways to get away. Forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads, the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family, weave around the mountains and valleys of Acadia. Walk, run, or bike the trails, past lakes, through forests. And, there are 25 miles of hiking trails.
The rush to catch the sunrise or sunset from Cadillac Mountain is much like the twisting Pikes Peak Hill Climb, a traffic jam rushing to the top. But once the glow is over, nearly everyone leaves the peak, and you have the mountain to yourself.
No matter which road is taken, there will be a prize along the way. Take a side road, or as someone once said, “If you don’t get lost, you can’t be found.”
One such location is on Beech Hill Road. While New Hampshire is called The Granite State, some would argue that the best– or most– granite came from Maine. The Maine Granite Industry Historical Society Museum here is unique in its tourist appeal. For one, it’s free. The museum isn’t jammed with folks looking for patches, coffee mugs or bumper stickers. Curator Steven Haynes calmly guides visitors through the building that is packed with granite of various colors and then explains where some of the granite was used. The museum is a big hit with school-age kids, he says. In the back section is equipment for carving and chipping the rock, dioramas and more photographs.
Outside is a derrick, used to pick up huge chunks of rock; some of it was used in Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Naval Academy, Washington Monument, Suffolk County Courthouse, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the old Philadelphia Post Office and the JFK Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Visitors will see signs of quarries near here.
Quarries operated here for more than 100 years, and some are making a comeback with demand for kitchen countertops. Despite that industry, tourism is still the king here.
Acadia NP is beautiful, even with the crowds. Walk a hundred yards or so off the beaten path, and you’ll forget you have plenty of company.