3 Days In Acadia National Park, Maine

In September 1604, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain landed off the rugged southern shore of what would one day become the state of Maine. Upon observing the bare, rocky slopes that defined the landscape of one extraordinary island, Champlain named the isle Île des Monts Déserts—the Island of Bare Mountains.

Today, much of Mount Desert Island’s peaks, forests, and coastline are as wild as they were four centuries ago, thanks to their designation as Acadia National Park, the first park east of the Mississippi River. And Acadia still encompasses some of the nation’s most beautiful landscapes, from the fall foliage that frames Eagle Lake to the first rays of morning sun on Cadillac Mountain. But the park also lies on the edge of Bar Harbor, a resort town historically frequented by New England’s summering elite, which today provides Acadia’s visitors with charming accommodations and inventive cuisine, mere steps from nature’s full splendor.

And so your long weekend begins, with a home base in Bar Harbor, an Acadia trail map in hand, and the mid-October leaves on full display.

SATURDAY

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads

The history of America’s national parks is not merely a story of breathtaking tracts of land. It is a tale of individual citizens—John Muir, George Bucknam Dorr, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to name a few—who made it their lives’ work to protect and preserve America’s most beautiful natural treasures.

It was Rockefeller, the philanthropist son of the Standard Oil Company founder, who endowed Acadia with much of its land area. And between 1913 and 1940, he oversaw the finance, design, and construction of 45 miles of rustic carriage roads, a project aimed at discouraging the use of automobiles in the park. Nearly 40 miles of Rockefeller’s roads remain open today, accessible only to hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, carriages, and cross country skiers. Drivers, meanwhile, can begin their visit near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center on the Park Loop Road, the Rockefeller-financed 27-mile circuit connecting Acadia’s loveliest mountains, lakes, coastlines, and overlooks.

Walk On The Ocean

Make your first stop on the Park Loop near Sand Beach, which sits on the edge of Acadia’s most iconic rocky shores. Although it’s not exactly an ideal swimming spot—water temperatures rarely exceed 55 degrees—Sand Beach serves as the trailhead for the Ocean Path, a stunning 2.2-mile walk along the coast to Otter Cliff, one of the tallest Atlantic headlands north of Rio de Janeiro.

For even more commanding views of Sand Beach, Frenchman Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean, try the short ascent of Gorham Mountain, a 525-foot granite peak overlooking the Park Loop. And at only 1.8 miles roundtrip, Gorham Mountain’s gradual open ascent is mercifully easy on the legs—and on the eyes as well.

On Jordan Pond

As lunchtime rolls around, continue along the Park Loop to Jordan Pond, the pristine lake at the base of the North and South Bubbles. Grab a table with a waterfront view at Jordan Pond House, the Acadia landmark that has been serving Mount Desert Island since 1870. All you’ll need is a cup of lobster stew, a basket of piping hot popovers, and the willingness to sit still and relax, even if it’s only for the next hour or two.

Where The Eagles Cry On A Mountain High

Before the Park Loop comes to an end just north of Jordan Pond, spend the late afternoon on the shores of Eagle Lake, Acadia’s largest freshwater lake. Open to visitors with kayaks and canoes, Eagle Lake is also surrounded by a 6.1-mile section of carriage road, accessible to hikers and bicyclists from both parking areas. As the sun lowers in the late afternoon sky, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the western slope of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest coastal mountain in the east—and your destination bright and early tomorrow morning.

Ocean Path

Ocean Path

Cadillac Mountain

SUNDAY

I Love You For Your Pink Cadillac

As the sun rises over the east coast between October and early March, its first rays are visible from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the 1,532-foot pink granite centerpiece of Acadia’s landscape. Although a short, winding auto road can lead you to the summit in minutes, true adventurers will rise before dawn and ascend the 2.2-mile North Ridge Trail in total darkness, armed with a windbreaker and a trusty flashlight. And even if the summit is fogged in (which certain long weekenders may have experienced), the views along the trail are a sight you won’t soon forget.

Pre-dawn hiking not your thing? Begin at a more reasonable hour on Cadillac’s South Ridge Trail, a gentle 3.5-mile ascent with open views of the Cranberry Isles and the Atlantic Ocean.

Crowded House

Back in Bar Harbor, there’s no better place to rest your aching limbs than McKay’s Public House, a favorite among locals and visitors for craft beers, elevated pub fare, and (when the weather’s right) the most charming outdoor seating in town. With a seat by the fireplace or a table in the landscaped garden, you can enjoy a local beer or two as you build up an appetite for dinner—because tonight, you’re going to need it (231 Main Street).

The Hottest Spot North Of Havana

Eleven years ago, Michael Boland and Deirdre Swords opened a restaurant in Bar Harbor that they hoped would bring the best of their travels in Central and South America back home to New England. The result was Havana, an intimate tribute to both classic Cuban cuisine and Maine’s best local ingredients. Start with one of Havana’s legendary mojitos and taste your way through standout dishes that include smoked pork, seafood paella, and lobster moqueca with a savory coconut broth. Twenty bucks says you won’t save room for dessert (318 Main Street).

Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail

Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail

Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail

MONDAY

The Usual Suspects

As you wander the quaint streets of Bar Harbor on Monday morning, keep an eye out for signs directing you to Café This Way—a piece of advice you’ll take if you’re in the market for classic breakfast dishes and unbeatable ambience. Choose from a delicious selection of omelets, benedicts, and scrambles, or just go for The Usual plate of eggs, bacon, toast, and home fries. Either way, you’ll feel right at home in the living room atmosphere of Bar Harbor’s favorite breakfast joint (14 ½ Mount Desert Street).

Chutes And Ladders

Once breakfast is finished and a picnic lunch packed, spend your last afternoon in Acadia navigating the park’s most thrilling trail. At 1.8 miles roundtrip, it’s not the distance that makes the Precipice Trail so challenging—it’s the 1,000-foot vertical climb up the face of Champlain Mountain. A trail that often feels like the aftermath of a rockslide (and following earthquakes in 2006, there were some), the Precipice challenges hikers with a series of granite ledges and iron-rung ladders, all the while offering panoramic views of Frenchman Bay.

At the summit, enjoy a vista to the west that includes Dorr Mountain, the 1,270-foot peak named for the Father of Acadia, George Bucknam Dorr. But a word of caution: If your phobias include heights, narrow rock ledges, or falling to your death, this trail might not be for you.

Mache Game

If surviving the Precipice Trail isn’t a reason to splurge on dinner, I don’t know what is. Celebrate your last night in Bar Harbor with dinner at Mache Bistro, an intimate downtown restaurant serving French classics made with organic local ingredients (321 Main Street). Chef Kyle Yarborough’s menu changes nightly, but the duck leg confit and chocolate cake with dulce de leche gelato are so good that they seem to make the cut again and again.

Take a post-dinner stroll along Bar Harbor’s waterfront, serene and quiet now that the day trippers have returned to their cruise ships. And as the sun goes down over Mount Desert Island, congratulate yourself on another long weekend well done.

Precipice Trail

Precipice Trail

A Few Notes

Like Seattle in summer, Colorado in winter, or Kauai at any time of year, Acadia in autumn is a trip that everyone should experience at least once. September offers lighter crowds and pristine blue skies, and the vibrant foliage of mid-October is an unforgettable sight. Just keep in mind that by late October, many of Bar Harbor’s restaurants and hotels close or scale back their hours, so plan accordingly.

How should you get there? Maine’s coastal Route One from Portland or Boston is one of the great drives in the United States. And next week, find out where to stop along the way, when The Long Weekender travels to Midcoast Maine.

Photographs

TITLE: The Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail | SATURDAY: The Ocean Path; Sand Beach, from the Ocean Path; Cadillac Mountain, from the Park Loop Road | SUNDAY: Sunrise on the North Ridge Trail; the North Ridge Trail; the North Ridge Trail | MONDAY: The Precipice Trail; the summit of Champlain Mountain.

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  2. […] the rocky spires of the Grand Tetons to the craggy shores of Acadia, the United States’ 59 national parks are as diverse as the nation that created them. While Death […]

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