Making the Most of a Day in Acadia National Park

I’ve really got into hiking in the last few years, to the point where Lauren’s figured out it’s the perfect way to get me to agree to go, well, pretty much anywhere with her.

“We should do a big New England road trip after our time in Boston!” she said. I grunted non-committally.

“The fall colours will be stunning!” she said. As a colour-blind person, that wasn’t the most compelling of arguments.

“Coastal Maine looks gorgeous!” she said. Hmmm. I had always wanted to go to Maine.

“There’s loads of hiking there!” she said. Ahh. There we go.

Acadia National Park is the second-most visited national park in the United States, which honestly surprised me… at least until I got there, and realised just how many trails were calling my name. Since we’d clearly allocated nowhere near enough time to it, we quizzed our Airbnb host Steve about the best way to get a good overview in a single day. He thought about it for a few seconds, and then off the top of his head, came up with the perfect itinerary. As you do.

From where we were staying on the other side of Mount Desert Island, he suggested driving over to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to pick up our permit and trail brochures ($25 for a car and occupants, valid for a week), and then jumping onto Park Loop Road. As the name suggests, the road loops around a large chunk of the park, taking in many of its best trailheads and viewpoints.

Car in Acadia

The road is one-way for much of its length, so once you make the decision to get on it, you’re stuck going in that direction for quite a while. On the upside, it means you can happily make random photo stops in the right-hand lane whenever you like. So we did. Repeatedly.

Sand Beach, Acadia

After a brief detour to the Overlook to, well, look over the edge of the rocky cliffs, we parked up shortly afterward at the Sand Beach carpark. Continuing the theme of naming things exactly what they are, there’s a small sandy beach nearby, ideal for dipping your toes in the water and having sand blown in your face.

We weren’t there to get sand between our toes (or in our eyes), however. That carpark is also the starting point for the series of linked trails Steve had recommended we hike. First up: the Bowl.

Dave in Acadia

There are two ways to get to the Bowl, a small, pretty lake less than a mile from the trailhead. The first is an easy, flattish walk alongside a stream on shaded dirt trails. The second is via the Beehive, a 500-foot rock pinnacle complete with iron rungs and ladders to get to the top. One of us was quite keen to take the second route. One of us did not get his way.

Regardless, the Bowl itself was gorgeous, all still waters and perfect reflections. We walked a little way west along the boardwalk, before finding the kind of perfect flat rock on the water’s edge that generally only shows up in romantic movie scenes. We sat there snacking on roasted almonds and lazed around in the sun for far too long, as dragonflies skimmed the water’s surface and all seemed right with the world.

Rocks and water at The Bowl lake, Acadia

Finally forcing each other to get moving again, we promptly went the wrong way and got ten minutes up the Champlain South Ridge trail before bothering to look at our map. Because we’re smart like that.

Back on the literal right track, we followed the signs to join up with the Gorham Mountain trail. At 525 feet (160m) the word “mountain” feels a little grandiose, but hey, I didn’t name it. Since most people walk it in the other direction, we had the path to ourselves most of the time. The climb was pretty and gradual, up through the treeline along a well-marked trail to an exposed granite hillside (sorry, mountainside) and great views from the summit.

Gorham Mountain summit sign

View from the top, Gorham Mountain, Acadia

The path seemed steeper on the way down — for once, we’d picked the right direction to hike in — and the descent to the road passed in no time at all. Since self-driving vehicles aren’t a thing yet, we had to get back to where we’d left the car, but fortunately, the National Park Service had our backs.

The Ocean Path runs (you guessed it) alongside the ocean for three miles between Otter Point and Sand Beach, so we joined it just by crossing the road at the trailhead, near Monument Cove. It’s a simple, flat trail, and seemed popular with families for that reason. The weather was far too calm for the Thunder Hole blowhole to be doing anything of interest, and we were back at the parking lot almost before we knew it.

Despite apparently having the naming rights to every geographic point in the area, we didn’t spot any otters at Otter Point, Otter Cliff, or Otter Cove. Maybe we should have gone to Otter Creek, just in case.

Instead, we rejoined the two-way section of the Park Loop, and parked up at the scenically-located Jordan Pond House restaurant to try their world-famous-at-least-in-Maine popovers. What the hell is a popover you may ask, just like I did? Apparently, it’s a hollow roll made from egg batter. If you’re British, it’s similar to a Yorkshire pudding. If you’re not British, it’s similar to, well, nothing at all.

Unlike a Yorkshire pudding, however, the restaurant apparently serves its popovers sweet, with jam. I say apparently because the wait for a table was at least an hour, and even if it’s the best puffy-egg-batter-roll experience on the planet, after a day of hiking, I ain’t waiting an hour for it. So we sat up on the terrace with cold drinks and a packet of pretzels from the gift shop instead, admiring the view and wondering what a Jordan Pond popover tastes like.

I guess I’ll never know.

Bubbles, over Jordan Pond

The afternoon was wearing on, but we still had time for one more short hike. The Jordan Pond Loop Trail seemed ideal, a flat, easy stroll around the lake for an hour to end our day in Acadia.

We made it as far as the boat ramp.

Now I’m not sure if you know this about Lauren, but she’s a bit, well, accident-prone. And by a bit, I mean a lot. So, if it was possible for anyone to try and take a photo on a bone-dry, totally unremarkable boat ramp, trip over her feet, and go down hard on the rocks, it was going to be my wonderful girlfriend.

With gritted teeth and bloodied knee, she pulled herself back upright, snapped the photo she’d been trying for in the first place, and limped back to the car. It wasn’t quite how we’d planned to finish the day, but the hiking in Acadia had been wonderful regardless.

Atlantic blueberry ale

Settling down to a lobster roll and a bottle of Atlantic blueberry ale at Beal’s Lobster Pier that evening (highly recommended, by the way… the restaurant, the roll, the beer, all of it,) we were already planning our return.

For every trail we’d hiked or viewpoint we’d stopped at, there were half a dozen more we’d skipped due to lack of time. As much as we’d enjoyed our day in Acadia National Park, we could easily have spent several days there.

Or a week.

Or an entire summer.

 


Where We Stayed

We booked a room with Steve and Joanna on Mount Desert Island using Airbnb, and I’d highly recommend doing the same. Steve’s wealth of knowledge about Acadia and the island was perfect for people like us who clearly hadn’t done enough research, and he had impeccable recommendations for the best hiking trails, places to eat, driving routes, and more.

If you haven’t used Airbnb before, use this link to get $35 off your first booking.


 

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One Day in Acadia National Park

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