I originally kicked off this post with the following sentence: I’ve been fortunate to have visited many U.S. national parks over my six years of travel.
But as you guys know, I’m all about preemptively calling myself out on my bullshit, so I was immediately all like, hang on a minute! How many national parks have you actually been to, Lauren?
The answer is five.
Of the nine cumulative months I’ve spent in the States, I’ve only managed to take a look around Big Bend, the Grand Canyon, the Hawaii Volcanoes, Saguaro, and Yosemite. (Dave told me I couldn’t count Mount Rainer, despite having looked at it several times while in Seattle.)
Acadia National Park makes six.
It’s a pitiful showing for someone who’s now been to 20 states, as well as a reminder to do better on my future American travels.
But this post isn’t about my failings as a traveller.
(It’s clearly about my failings as a travel writer to create a coherent blog post.)
No — it’s about how Acadia National Park is my new favourite national park.
It was the drive alongside Maine’s coastline that had me itching to spend my summers in New England. I wanted every August to be full of salt-tinged air, spent island-hopping across secluded beaches and wandering the streets of impossibly adorable towns. As I fell in love with stop after stop on our meander north from Portland, I pushed back our arrival time in Acadia by an hour and then one more until the sky was turning a vibrant shade of pink.
Suddenly, getting to our isolated B&B was trickier than I’d expected with only our car’s headlights to guide us along the unlit gravel paths.
Still, life was good. With the windows down, the perfect level of chill in the air, and the scent of fresh pine trees hanging on the breeze, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so much joy and gratitude for simply being in Maine right now.
It didn’t last long.
Within minutes of pulling up outside the B&B, Steve, the owner, was inadvertently filling my stomach with guilt.
“You know,” he started out. “Every one of our guests who’ve spent a day or two here has told us they regret not staying longer.”
I’d feared this to be the case ahead of time, of course, but we had so much we wanted to see in New England and so little time with which to see it in. I’d hoped two nights would be enough for us to get a feel for the park before moving on, but after being directed towards the enormous map showcasing the wealth of trails in the area, I already knew we were going to leave with a promise to return in the future.
We quickly learned that Steve was Mr Acadia National Park.
He’d been living on the island for years now, after having spent many more hiking there while living in his hometown of Boston. He was even on a mission to hike every single trail in the park and was impressively close to reaching his goal. Subsequently, he was an incredible source of information, and had we been staying with him for closer to a week, I have no doubt his advice would have been worth the $85-a-night cost alone.
I can’t recommend staying here highly enough.
As Dave and I gaped up at the detailed map on the wall, Steve began to reel off his favourite parts of the park. Which trails had yet to be discovered by tourists; where to climb to get a good overview of the park; the toughest hike with the most rewarding views; the flattest trail that’d be good for unfit travellers.
I glanced over at Dave and could see his head was spinning, too. We had one full day to explore the park and we’d just been handed roughly 238 different options. We decided to mull it over at dinner.
On Steve’s recommendation, we drove to Beale’s, a cosy seafood restaurant in nearby Southwest Harbor that he promised we’d enjoy. It wasn’t hard to see why, as the owners were full of banter, the inside was so well-heated that I wanted to stay for hours, and the communal space was full of locals and tourists alike, all united by their love of Acadia National Park. When you throw in that Beale’s has been serving lobster for 50 years, you have a recipe for a delicious evening spent discussing whether we could flag the rest of our road trip to spend a week in Acadia instead.
By the time I’d made my way through a lobster roll and fallen in love with blueberry mojitos, I was brimming with excitement to see what all the fuss was about.
We opted for an Acadia itinerary that would see us heading out on a handful of moderate, hour-long hikes as we cruised our way around the 27-mile loop road that encompasses much of the park. Mount Desert Island, where the park is located, is divided into the busier side of the island in the east and the rarely-visited area, where we were staying, in the west. We’d usually opt for the latter, as we like to avoid the crowds, but with just one day to explore, we wanted to see the best of the best.
We splashed out on the $25 entrance fee, lathered up with sunscreen and insect repellent, and pulled up at our first destination of the day: The Bowl Trail.
It was an intermediate but short trail, coming in at under a mile but marked by a continuous ascent for much of the trek. Coming to the park on a weekday outside of the school holidays and popular summer season worked in our favour here, as, despite this being a pretty popular hike, we only passed one other couple on our climb.
The Bowl is the name of the glacial lake that marks the end of the trail, and it’s one of the few lakes in the park you can swim in. Given that we visited in early-October, this wasn’t something I was prepared to add and then cross off my travel wishlist, so I settled for dipping in a finger in and shivering.
Dave and I snacked on a bag of wasabi-coated almonds and sunned ourselves beside the lake for half an hour, already enjoying our leisurely take on how to tackle Acadia in a single day.
From the Bowl, we walked westwards and on to the Champlain South Ridge Trail.
Mount Champlain offers one of the trickiest hikes in the park — the Precipice trail is essentially a climb straight up a vertical cliff-face — but the South Ridge Trail is the easier route when it comes to ascending the mountain. We climbed half-way up to take a photo of one of the best views of the park, then descended to take on one of the most popular hikes in the park.
Gorham Mountain attracts hordes of tourists, as it’s a fairly easy climb that offers some of the best views of the park. At this time of year, though? We only ran into half a dozen people on the ascent.
We walked alone for the most part, gazing down at the rocky coastline while marvelling at how our hiking shoes hugged the granite. It’s super-easy to walk on granite, I discovered, and although the rocks get slippery when wet, they offered nothing but grip on this sunny fall day.
We reached the summit in under an hour and, thanks to the baldness of Mount Gorham, were hit with 360 degree views over the national park. The views were so breathtaking that this spot made for an excellent lunch destination.
We had the summit to ourselves, save for a couple of families lounging in the sunshine, posing for photos, and marvelling at the views.
I’d been exploring Acadia for a couple of hours at this point, and I was already prepared to name it my favourite national park. The air was so fresh.
The descent is always far worse than you think it’s going to be.
We moved slowly and cautiously, lowering ourselves down steep drops and pointing out areas that were likely to bring me to my knees. The ocean remained within our sights for much of the downward climb and acted as a reminder for why Maine was fast becoming my favourite state in the country. There’s something about the sea breeze in this state that feels so healing.
We reached sea level with no major injuries and began our walk back to where we’d parked our rental car. We were creating our own mini-loop here and had roughly a mile to wander along the coast to take us back to where we’d started.
As we walked, we kept an eye out for seals, checked out Thunder Hole — a blowhole that was only mildly exciting — and pondered why it took us so long to get to Acadia National Park. After all, it had everything we love in a destination.
The creatively-named Sand Beach was the next destination on our Acadia itinerary, and while it had looked on the verge of tropical from the top of Mount Gorham, we were soon to discover it was actually home to gale-force gusts.
The sand whipped around us as we padded across the beach before attempting to seek shelter from an overly-exposed rock. Wincing, Dave and I gulped down a handful of sandy almonds and narrowly made it back to our car before succumbing to frost bite.
It was a gorgeous beach from afar, but on an October afternoon, the winds were chilling and fierce. We set off in search of more adventure.
We stopped off at Jordan Pond House for a coffee to warm our frozen fingers then made our way over to the start of the Jordan Pond Path. This three mile loop around Jordan Pond — the deepest and clearest lake in Acadia — is flat, easy, and sounded like the perfect way to round off our time in the park before sunset.
This lake is most well known for offering one of the best views of the Bubbles. North and South Bubble are basically just two mountains that sort-of-but-not-really look like bubbles. They’re well-known to Acadia lovers, though, so I knew I needed to check them out before we called it a day.
As we approached a nearby viewpoint that would offer the perfect Bubble shot, I grabbed my camera in anticipation. I began to skip down the boat ramp towards the water but somehow managed to get my legs tangled up together and — oh god, this didn’t feel good — abort! Abort! Abort!
Before I knew it, a rock was scraping the skin from my nose and I had a searing pain in my right knee.
I had fallen down again.
And that mishap marked the end of our time in Acadia!
When the pain dulled slightly, I was able to pull myself up and stagger slowly to the edge of Jordan Pond to take my Bubble photo, then shuffled my way back to the car and back to the B&B.
It was not, shall we say, the perfect end to a perfect day.
It was, however, a very me end to a perfect day.
I want to say that Acadia felt like the most underrated place I’ve been to in the U.S., but that’s based on nothing more than me personally knowing nothing about it before I arrived. I don’t know anybody who’s ever been, I never hear anyone talking about it or adding it to their bucket lists or excitedly insisting you have to visit, and I probably couldn’t have even told you where it was before I started planning our road trip.
Plus, I have evidence that statement was all anecdotal and zero fact and that’s because Acadia is one of the ten most visited national parks in the U.S., seeing three million visitors every year.
So maybe it’s not underrated and maybe I just never paid attention whenever people spoke about Acadia, but I guess that just proves that even the most popular spots on the planet can feel like new discoveries to somebody out there.
Either that or I’m an ill-informed traveller.
It’s probably the latter.
That’s enough self-deprecation for one blog post! I love Acadia National Park, and if you haven’t been before, you should totally add it to your future travel plans. I know I’m already planning to return next summer.
I loved Acadia too and also visited in early October (a few years ago) = sunshine and fall colors. I think it might not be so well known outside the US unlike Yosemite and Yellowstone so I can see how you thought it was underrated
Yep, I was so shocked when I discovered how many people visit each year!
I have a friend living in Maine and she visits Acadia regularly and that’s why I know it exists. I’ve not yet visited (or if I did, I was a very young child).
I’m also impressed with how many states you’ve visited! I haven’t counted recently, but I think I’m still stuck on 23 or 24 US states.
I have road trips to thank for my high state number! I love road tripping in the U.S. and it always results in me adding another 3-5 to my list.
Acadia looks to be a veritable phantasmagoria of natural beauty!
Based on what I’ve heard, a lot of visitors to the USA only hear about the big natural monuments – Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountains, etc. Do you get much information on stuff like the Appalachian and Pacific Coast Trails? I’d always wondered if the rest of the world is as obsessed with those as we are.
Ever since I read A Walk in the Woods I’ve always wanted to challenge myself with that last section of the AT in Maine, crossing rivers and encountering wildlife, to ascend Katahdin. The whole state is one of the last frontiers. Looking at it on satellite view is bonkers.
Thanks for the pretty pictures and glad you didn’t break your face!
Yeah, after a Walk in the Woods and Wild, they’re pretty well known. I’ve wanted to walk the PCT for a few years now but know I’d die if I tried, haha.
I wish I was you! You’ve obviously worked hard to earn your success and I’m jealous of your travels and life. Great blog.
Oh, thank you! There are definite downsides — chronic pain is one of them — but I’m still grateful for the life I have.
Gorgeous photos. I have only been to Acadia once and that’s when I was 8 years old so I think I’m due for a return trip. Thanks for sharing all the info about your trip.
No problem! I hope you make it back :-)
I shamefully have to admit that I hadn’t heard of Acadia National Park until you went. Now it’s somewhere I’m looking to visit soon, along with the rest of Maine. Really enjoying your blog posts from America this year.
Thank you! These posts usually do terribly with my audience, so I’m glad you’re enjoying them :-)
I bet you’ve been to more national parks than you think! Many people are hung up on the big national parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. But places like the Statue of Liberty and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall are national parks, too. They’re called national monuments, national historical parks, national seashores, etc., but they’re all national parks in their own right. There are 417 parks total – crazy! My blog, Riley’s Roves, focuses on national parks, big and small.
I didn’t think those were officially national parks, though? I thought national monuments, etc are protected by the NPS but aren’t actually national parks. Everything online that I can see says there are 59 national parks. But obviously, I’m not an expert :-)
They don’t have the same titles or budgets, but they’re all national parks. The NPS oversees them and manages them all equally. The 59 are just the “big guns”, if you will :)
Ah, got it! In that case, I’ll have to have another count :-)
I recently develop interests in New England so Acadia NP is definitely on my wishlist if I ever make it there. Wondering how autumn looks like there!!!
I mean, I was there in autumn so…
Acadia is absolutely beautiful in the fall. Leaving for there on Sunday. I go 2x a year.
I agree with you.. I don’t think Acadia gets as much attention as other National Parks in the US, and I’m from here.
It’s on my list, and this blog was super helpful! I think I’ll be going soon but won’t have a lot of time there. This saved me from having to google “what to do in Acadia in 1 day” over and over. Looks like you had such a great time!
“Was Acadia *really* better than that?” Yes! I’ve been to many national parks and monuments and Acadia is my favorite. It’s unique.
I’ve got cabin fever and enjoyed your photos and reading about your trip to my favorite place.
I can’t wait to return :-)
We love Acadia National Park!!!! We have been going there every June for over ten years, staying in the same fabulous B&B! We will be there for nine days this year. We also spend Columbus Day weekend every year. We have hiked Cadillac, Champlain and Gorham so many times! If it’s pouring we walk the carriage roads. Our favorites are the Eagle Lake and and Jordan Pond loops.
Downtown Bar Harbor is charming and we have our favorite little shops and restaurants.
We are never bored as there is so much to do!
Sitting in Adirondack chairs with a good book in the afternoon is a nice reward for a strenuous
morning of hiking! Life is good in Acadia!!
It certainly is! I’m jealous you’re heading back there this year :-)
We visited the park 3 times while staying in Bar Harbor, once on bikes, once hiking and third time in car to Cadillac Mtn. It is naturally beautiful and worth all the time you can spend there. It is well laid out to make it efficient to pull over whenever you want and get on your bike or start hiking. Don’t miss this!
Yes! I loved how easy it was to stop and head off on a random hike whenever you feel like it.
My husband and I visited Acadia National Park for the first time in September 2017. We stayed at a wonderful B&B in Southwest Harbor. Ate lobster at Beale’s and several other great places. Walked many trails. Could not get enough of the scenery and the fresh air. Your photos brought back wonderful memories. Had planned to return this year but some things came up that prevented us from going. We hope to start making this a yearly destination in the fall.
I wouldn’t worry about your national park count. If you pick up Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains at some point, you will be in great shape having already done Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
We randomly stumbled onto Beale’s in Southwest Harbor and it was incredible. So yummy.
Hi Lauren, which B&B did you stay? The link you shared above is not working anymore. Thanks!
Ah, it looks like they’re no longer listed on Airbnb. That’s a shame! I’ll update the article to reflect this.
Amazing photos and what a great article. It really takes you back to this amazing national park!
If anything, i think it is overrated! In the 2 days there you managed to see the most beautiful sights in the park- yes, that is it, you didn’t miss anything!
The white mountains in New Hampshire, upstate new York and Vermont all have much more impressive hikes and paths (higher mountains, larger variety, impressive waterfalls) and not to mention your comparison to other national parks such as the grand canyon, Yellowstone and more- they all have something unique that you wont see anywhere else, whereas Acadia is just similar to the rest of New England or any area with mountains and a little beach.
If you are looking to return to the area I would definitely focus on the rest of New England or upstate New York