Summer's crowds, heat, and bugs have passed, making Acadia National Park a particularly attractive fall destination. The park's hardwood forests are beginning to show their true colors, while the hiking trails are carrying fewer feet, the carriage paths fewer cyclists. And those mouth-watering, jam-carrying popovers are still be served at the Jordan Pond House.
Spend any time in Acadia during the summer and early fall and you'll understand why the "rusticators" descended on Mount Desert Island just off the coast of Maine in the mid-1800s. Some, such as members of the Hudson River School of artists, came to capture the twin settings of surf and forested mountains. Others, such as 37-year-old Charles Eliot, then the president of Harvard University, sailed yachts up into the waters surrounding Mount Desert Island. President Chester Arthur visited in 1882 (a year before he trekked out West to Yellowstone National Park) along with the secretary of the Navy.
What should you plan to do if you can find some time to visit Acadia this fall? Here are some ideas:
* Venture up the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain. This 7.4-mile roundtrip takes you through forests and up onto Cadillac's granite shoulders where you'll enjoy views of Frenchman's Bay.
* If you have kids with you, or even if not, explore the rocky coast to search tidal pools for their resident sea urchins, sea stars, and anemones. Such an outing can fill an entire morning or afternoon...or at least until the tide starts to return.
* Climb the Beehive or head up the Precipice Trail. Not for the timid, these trails include, at times, the use of iron rungs anchored in the cliffs to help you inch up the mountain. But the experience is exhilarating and the views intoxicating. For a rundown on the park's hiking trails and their difficulty, download this pdf.
* Time the high tide with a stop at Thunder Hole, a coastal crevice in the park's granite foundation that resounds with a thunderous clap when waves pound it. Be careful of the pounding surf, though, as rogue waves can at times threaten your safety. This past August a 7-year-old lost her life near here.
* Check out a ranger-led program. Through early October the park's rangers offer a variety of programs to suit every interest and activity level. Programs include walks, talks, hikes, narrated boat cruises, bike rides, and more. Check out the Beaver Log for a schedule of programs.
* Pitch your tent in one of the park's two campgrounds. With the coast just a ten-minute walk away, these are great basecamps.
* Explore the park from the ocean by taking a kayak tour. Coastal Kayaking Tours runs trips until mid-October.
* Peddle down the leaf-littered Carriage Roads on a bike.
* To recover from your bike ride, stop by the Jordan Pond House for tea and popovers...or make a dinner reservation for a lobster feast.
* Head out into the park to look for raptors. According to the Park Service, "every year, strong northerly winds push thousands of raptors from Maine and Canada south along the eastern coastline as they migrate to warmer areas for the winter. With its wide-open views and tallest vantage point on the eastern U.S. coast, Acadia's HawkWatch location on Cadillac Mountain often provides visitors with a close look at the soaring raptors. Each year, program participants see large numbers of sharp-shinned hawks and American kestrels, while many other raptors pass along with them." The viewing season runs through mid-October.
* Don't miss your chance to view one of the most-photographed lighthouses on the Eastern Seaboard, the Bass Harbor Light.
* Attend the Acadia Night Sky Festival, but you better hurry, as it runs through September 21.
* Leave the park, briefly, to head to Southwest Harbor to visit the Wendell Gilley Museum, where you'll be amazed at the intricacy of the miniature carved birds. If you time your visit right, you might find one of the resident master carvers at work. Along the way check out the Somesville Bridge. They don't make 'em like this any more. If you're hungry, stop by Beal's Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor where you can point to the lobster you want from a tank full of the crustaceans and wait while they boil it for you. Don't forget the corn on the cob.
The Friends of Acadia organization assists the park through volunteer work and by raising money to help maintain the park's historic carriage roads, repair and maintain hiking trails, underwrite the Island Explorer shuttle bus, and fund the Peregrine Falcon/Hawk Watch program, among other notable endeavors.