Acadia National Park seems like a pretty straightforward adventure for park travelers. Arrive in Bar Harbor. Drive, or ride the Island Explorer, down the loop road, and get off for some overlooks and a hike or two.
Resist the urge to run with the pack, though. Here are five aspects of visiting Acadia that shouldn't be overlooked.
1. Visit Schoodic Peninsula.
It can take you about an hour to drive from Bar Harbor to Schoodic Peninsula, or during the summer months you can take a ferry from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor on the peninsula. Once there, you'll find four trails to hike through spruce, fir, and pine forests. There's also a six-mile-long, one-way loop road that offers gorgeous views of Frenchman Bay, lighthouses, and passing shorebirds. You can bike on this road, but you're expected to go in the same direction as the traffic. Stop at Blueberry Hill for a nice picnic with killer views of the Atlantic and Little Moose and Schoodic islands.
2. Explore The Carriage Roads
You can enjoy a wonderful day's adventure pedaling along these quiet byways through the forests and around the lakes and ponds of Mount Desert Island. Bike rentals are available in Bar Harbor, where there's an entrance to the 45 miles of Carriage Roads built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. If you have youngsters not up for a long day in the saddle, navigate the loop that goes past Witch Hole Pond or, for stronger kids, the loop around Jordan Pond. You can work your way all the way down to Northwest Harbor or Seal Harbor, where the cafes await your arrival. Just be sure to grab the park map so you can orient your pedaling. (P.S.: Be sure to thank Friends of Acadia via a donation, as they contribute $200,000 a year to the park to help with the upkeep of these roads!)
3. Visit Somesville And Southwest Harbor
True, neither of these destinations lies within the borders of Acadia. But at Somesville you'll find the quintessential New England photograph of the arching Somesville foot bridge, while in Southwest Harbor just down Route 102 you'll come upon the Wendell Gilley Museum, a shrine to the art of miniature bird carvings. The museum lies within a squat, unobtrusive building on the leafy corner of Main and Herrick. Inside, you'll be overwhelmed by flights of amazingly detailed owls, godwits, loons, curlews, eagles, mergansers, grosbeaks, chickadees, warblers and dozens of other tenderly carved species that Gilley—inspired by a carver from Cape Cod, A. Elmer Crowell—produced during a five-decade-long career that started in the 1930s and saw him recognized as one of the country’s best bird carvers.
4. Hike Cadillac
Sure, you can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, but where's the challenge in that? And you'll miss some of the true beauty of this park and its surrounding landscape. Hike up the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain and the 7.4-mile roundtrip trek will reward you with expansive views of Frenchman Bay, the Gulf of Maine, and the Atlantic Ocean, all dotted with islands. The trail crosses granite outcrops and passes through wonderful forests of pine. Pack a picnic lunch and spend a good half day enjoying this walk.
5. Spend Time Kayaking
It's one thing to look down upon the water from high atop Mount Desert Island, and it's another thing to look up at the mountainous island while bobbing in a kayak in the water. Touring MDI by sea kayak is a wonderful experience. Not only does it offer solitude -- either just you or the small number in your group -- but you get a good workout, and if you go with one of the available guides you'll learn a lot about the island's history, as well as that of the lobstering industry here in Maine.