Acadia: Overview & Trip Planning Summer 2016

Acadia: Overview & Trip Planning Summer 2016

[Note: This is a detailed post about our research, itinerary, and planning for our trip to Acadia. If you’re more interested in our experiences and stories in Acadia, skip to any other Acadia post. Thanks!]

We don’t like lobster. Normally, we would jump at the chance to try any local or regional delicacy. During our trip to Maine, we did have plenty of blueberries, fish, maple candy, and other tasty local treats. But we didn’t go to Maine solely for the food; our trip was centered around Acadia National Park. This post discusses how we planned for our trip to Acadia. This wasn’t just a random vacation either, this was our honeymoon! Because of competing life events, we only had 10 days in Acadia and were determined to make the most of it. We’ll go over our planning process, what we did and how we did it, and our recommendations. There’s much more to do, this is just what interested us. And even if you only have a day or two, checking out a national park is an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Maine’s Only National Park

Acadia (nps, wikipedia) is located off the coast of Maine, and preserves parts of Mt. Desert Island (MDI), as well as other smaller islands and areas. It was initially established in 1916 as Sieur De Monts National Monument, before being renamed to Acadia in 1929 (with another renaming in between). We were drawn to Acadia’s breathtaking rocky coastline, abundance of hiking, wildlife, and adventures. There’s a lot to do in the park. Many visitors just drive the main Park Loop Road, which is on the eastern side of MDI, but there’s so much more to see. We like to take our time, and see everything we can. Even with 10 days in Acadia, we wish we had more time to explore. The following quote, posted at Hulls Cove visitor center, captures the spirit of the park:

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in…where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”

–  John Muir

Acadia Districts and Regions

K had been to Acadia before, but hadn’t explored the park much, so we started from scratch when we did our research. All we knew about Acadia was that it was located on an island, and was near the town of Bar Harbor. We started with some basic online research at Wikipedia and The National Park Service’s Acadia site. In our research, we found that there are three main geographic districts of the park. And we wanted to visit them all (spoiler alert: we did).acadia-districts

  • Mt. Desert Island – This is the main island that most people visit in Acadia. It’s separated into two “sections” – the more populated east side and the quieter west side. Contains the majority of sights, hikes, and campgrounds. Bar Harbor, the most well-known town near Acadia, is on the east coast of MDI. There are also historic carriage roads, with a series of impressive bridges that you can hike or bike on. You can also hike trails to view some of the bridges.
  • Isle au Haut – A small island to the southwest of MDI. You have to take a mail boat to get here. Gorgeous views, amazing campsites, and great hikes. And all without a ton of crowds! This was one of our highlights. Pronounced Isle au Ho (Not Isle au Hot as we said for the longest time…).
  • Schoodic Peninsula – To the east of MDI, this small peninsula houses the Schoodic Education and Research Center. In addition, there are hiking trails, a newly-built campground, and the photogenic Schoodic Point, where waves crash into the rocky shoreline.

Activities and Wildlife

There’s a lot of outdoorsy fun in Acadia, but we focused on hiking, camping, and kayaking. Biking is also a popular activity on the park’s historic carriage roads. There is no backcountry camping in Acadia, sadly. The NPS FAQ for Acadia states that it’s due to Acadia’s small size and fragile environment. Joe’s Guide to Acadia was a great help for the hiking portion of our research. From his site and other sources, we developed a list of hikes that we were interested in, and planned to do as many as possible. One thing to remember is that some areas are closed during the year because of Peregrine Falcon nesting. This typically happens from March through August, but the exact dates vary. This prevented us from doing a couple trails that we wanted to hike (Precipice, Jordan Cliffs, and Valley Cove). That calls for another visit in the future.

Photographing Carnivorous Plants on Isle au Haut

There are 4 campgrounds in Acadia. We visited 3 out of the 4. Next time, Schoodic…

  • Blackwoods –  Located on the east side of MDI.  290 Sites. $30/night (May – Oct), $15/night (April,November), Free (Dec – Mar).  Reservations available.
  • Seawall – Located on the west side of MDI.  About 200 sites.  $22/night for walk-in tent site, $30/night for drive-up sites.  Open Late May – Sept 6th.  Reservations available.
  • Schoodic Woods – Schoodic Peninsula.  94 sites.  $22/night for walk-in tent site, $30/night for drive-up sites. Open Late May – Columbus Day.  Reservations available.
  • Duck Harbor – On Isle au Haut.  5 camping shelter sites.  $25/stay, maximum 3 nights.  Open May 15 – Oct 15. Advanced reservations required.

For kayaking, there are a number of outfitters on MDI that lead trips around the island. Likewise, there are boat tours for whale watching or bird watching (like puffins). Technically, those aren’t part of Acadia since the park doesn’t extend into any waters. This becomes evident if you’re in parts of Acadia where lobster traps are placed close to shore. And puffins, while featured in Acadia memorabilia, are not actually in the park (though they are found on surrounding islands). Similarly, moose and bears within the park are rare. If you go on a kayaking trip (like we did), you’re much more likely to see plenty of harbor seals.

Kayaking off the west coast of Mt. Desert Island

Weather & Seasons

Before we decided to go to Acadia, we evaluated various factors like weather and insects. We went to Acadia in late June, and weather was forecasted to be in the high 60s / low 70s. The weather during our stay ended up being perfect, with highs in the mid to upper 70s.

You do have to watch out for insects depending on what time of year you visit. Black flies are a problem in the spring (especially when it’s particularly rainy), most common between mid-May and mid-June. When it gets warmer, they generally disappear…and are replaced by mosquitoes. Our trip fell at the end of black fly season, though we only ran into them on Isle au Haut. Likewise, we really only saw mosquitoes on Isle au Haut.

Park Loop Road (the main road) is closed every year from December 1 – April 14 due to snow. There’s always a threat of snow if you visit during winter.

MonthMin. Avg. Temp (°F)Max. Avg. Temp (°F)Avg. Precip (in)Avg. Snowfall (in)
January11.630.63.1217.0
February11.831.63.7729.1
March21.340.23.3412.7
April31.251.63.601.4
May42.862.84.060.0
June50.969.55.450.0
July58.278.03.190.0
August57.276.33.440.0
September49.870.03.820.0
October40.258.95.000.5
November28.646.34.027.9
December21.937.25.9215.1
Source: NOAA - East Surry, ME (2011-2016)

 

Visitors

It’s no secret that National Parks are very popular, and becoming even more crowded. That’s a good and bad thing – it allows more income for the NPS to maintain the park, and hopefully visitors will respect the parks. On the flip side, it’s harder to find peace and quiet with hordes of people everywhere.

Crowd on Cadillac Mountain

The NPS publishes monthly visitation statistics back to 1979, so if you’re flexible, you may want to plan your visit during a time with fewer visitors. We went in June, which isn’t the worst month to go. Check out the chart below for monthly visitation averages to help you plan your trip.

Transportation

There are a few airports around, including Hancock County Airport (15 minute drive), Bangor International Airport (1 hour drive), and Portland International Jetport (3 hour drive). Based on availability and price of flights, we decided to fly into Bangor and rent our car there. Driving into the park is an option as well; there are bridges connecting MDI and Schoodic to the mainland. However, to travel to Isle au Haut, you’ll need to go by boat.

Mail Boat pulling into Duck Harbor

In MDI, there are a variety of roads to get around the park. The main park road is the Park Loop Road, which is on the east side of MDI. Annoyingly, this road is one-way at specific points. Make sure you have a map, so you know where and how to get it around it – you may not have a cell signal. Go slowly, especially on the one-way section, since people will randomly stop (either legally or illegally) on the right side of the two-lane road.

iexlogoDuring peak season, I would recommend using the Island Explorer shuttles. They travel to a variety of locations throughout the east side of MDI, parts of the west side of MDI, and Schoodic Peninsula. We didn’t end up using the shuttle, but probably would have had it been more crowded.

MapsIsle au Haut Trail Map Thumbnail

If you don’t plan to do much hiking, the official park map (free at the visitor center) will work just fine. If you plan to hike, I recommend that you get the Map Adventures Acadia National Park waterproof trail map. It was really wonderful for finding our way on MDI and seemed to be very accurate with a lot of information. The only the problem is that it doesn’t include Schoodic or Isle au Haut.  We created our own maps that show details pertinent to hiking, available on each respective blog post.  Additionally, we created a detailed map of Isle au Haut that showcases the hiking trails, which is available here.

We also purchased the National Geographic Acadia map, since it did have maps for Isle au Haut and Schoodic. In hindsight though, I don’t think we really needed it. We recommend that you print the National Park’s map of IaH or ours. You can buy a detailed map of Schoodic for $0.50 at the information centers in that region of the park, or you can grab a trail map from npmaps.com.

Visitor Centers & Entrance Payment

Acadia’s only “true” visitor center, Hulls Cove, is on the east side of MDI. You can pay your entrance fee, get maps, and get trip planning tips from the park rangers. There are other locations where you can purchase entrance passes too, but this was the easiest for us. Passes are also available online. For $25, you get a 7-day park pass and a hang tag. Most other parks we’ve been to have a booth at the entrance where you pay, but Acadia is different.

The park has many entrances, so they can’t have an attendant at every one; the hang tag system shows that visitors have paid they entry fee. If you enter the park outside of the main operating months (November – April), you don’t have to pay. We used our “America the Beautiful” pass, which gets you into most national park sites for 13 months. It can easily pay for itself, and it supports our national parks!

Hulls Cove Visitor Center

Besides Hulls Cove, there are a couple of ranger stations and pseudo visitor centers too. The notable ones are Sand Beach Entrance Station, Park Headquarters on Route 223, Isle au Haut Ranger Station, and Schoodic Woods Information Center (near the campground).

Our Itinerary

Now that we knew what we were getting ourselves into, we could properly plan our trip. We decided to split our trip into 4 sections: East side of MDI, West side of MDI, Isle Au Haut, and Schoodic Peninsula. Below is our overall itinerary and lodging. Our other blog posts further detail our adventures in Acadia.

DayPlanAccomodations
1Arrive in Bangor, Drive to Bar Harbor, ExploreQuality Inn in Bar Harbor, ME
2Explore East Side MDI (Visitor Center, Jordan Pond House, Hikes)Blackwoods Campground
3Explore East Side MDI (Hikes)Blackwoods Campground
4Kayaking trip around MDI, Driving to Stonington, MEBoyce's Motel in Stonington, ME
5Ferry boat to Isle au Haut, Explore islandDuck Harbor Campground
6Explore Isle au HautDuck Harbor Campground
7Explore Isle au HautDuck Harbor Campground
8Take mail boat back to Stonington, drive to SeawallSeawall Campground
9Explore West Side MDISeawall Campground
10Drive to Schoodic Peninsula, Explore. Drive to Bangor for flight the next day.

Our Packing List

There weren’t a ton of packing considerations for this trip. Just your standard hiking and camping gear. We brought duffels for our stay in Duck Harbor, though you could also bring a backpacking backpack. For camp cooking, we brought a backpacking canister stove so we could easily boil water for oatmeal in the morning. You can’t bring canister stove fuel on a plane, so we stopped at Walmart on the way to Bar Harbor from Bangor… which did not have canister fuel in stock. So when we got to Bar Harbor we went to Cadillac Mountain Sports (which also has a location in Ellsworth, on the way to Bar Harbor). We’d recommend going there, since they had every outdoor item that you’d need. Here’s a quick overview of gear we brought with us:

Backpacking tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pads, headlamps, mallet, Swiss army knife, backpacking canister stove, backpacking pot set with bowls and sporks, tongs, small flexible cutting board, small container of 4 spices, 2 dehydrated meals (for Duck Harbor, just in case), water filter (for Duck Harbor, just in case, but we didn’t need it), ziploc bags, dry bags, daypacks, foldable duffels, water bottles, hammock, cameras & tripod, clothes & toiletries, deck of cards, books, rain & fleece jackets, hiking boots, sandals, & flipflops

Here’s what we bought in Maine at Walmart or Cadillac Mountain Sports:

Food, small hard-side cooler, ice, canister fuel, lighter, aluminum foil (for foil packets on campfire), paper towels, water jug

Our Experiences

There’s more info about planning in specific posts about various attractions and areas of the park. Below is a list of our blog posts about Acadia. I hope they help you plan your trip, inspire you to travel, or at least provide interesting reading material.

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