One Week in Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park
With COVID-19 we decided to vacation in driving distance. While I normally would jump on a flight and flee somewhere exotic, this created the opportunity to check out one of the nation’s most beloved parks, Acadia National Park.
Acadia National Park spans 47,000 acres primarily in Mount Desert Island with small parts on the mainland. The silver morning mists, rich green foliage, spangnum moss and blue lakes characterise this mystical land. Acadia’s 27 mile park road connects its lakes, mountains, forest and rocky coast and the park offers a via ferrata like style of hiking with iron rods and ladder trails, rock climbing on the sea cliffs, cycling along the carriage roads and sailing along the coast.
Friday, September 4: BoothBay Harbor
Just an hour north of Portland lies the coastal village of Boothbay Harbor. We chose this location as our stop to break up the journey from New York to Acadia. Boothbay’s rocky shoreline is fringed with quiet coves and lighthouses while the downtown has a strip of small shops and restaurants.
After working for the majority of the day, we spent the afternoon walking around to check out the town as and grabbed a seaside lunch. Later in the day, I cycled from the hotel to Hendrick’s Head lighthouse in West Southport, a 12-mile ride that was a moderately difficult given all the hills, but worth it in terms of views. And we ended the day with dinner at the Boathouse.
We left Saturday morning and took the coastal drive from Boothbay to Bar Harbor, where we would spend the next week.
Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor, once a colonial fishing village, is the island town that serves as the main hub for tourists visiting Acadia. It’s the closest town to the main part of the park and is filled with restaurants, lobster shacks, lodging and tour operators.
Saturday, September 5
We arrived Saturday afternoon and started our trip with lunch at Side Street Cafe. Following lunch, we fought the blueberry pie food coma and made our way up Beehive, a famous peak that overlooks Sand Beach. This is an Acadia classic as it is a steep trail that requires climbing a set of iron rungs and leveraging handrails for the exposed rock scrambling sections. It was a fun trail, except for the pace given the number of people on the trail who were slow getting up the steep sections. That said, the views from the top of Sand Beach, Great Head and the surrounding islands were spectacular.
We ended the evening with drinks at the Ivy, an adorable outdoor bar in the yard of the Ivy Manor Inn, followed by dinner at Salt and Steel, one of the newer restaurants in Bar Harbor.
Sunday, September 6
While we are fortunate to have amazing climbing in New York, Acadia climbing is special. The rugged rock-strewn shore carved by the wind and water and the ocean panoramas at Great Head are breathtaking. Between the quality of the granite cliffs and the sound of the waves crashing against the rock, it was a one of a kind climbing experience.
We were lucky to have a sun-drenched first day of climbing and an amazing guide, Ryan, who took us to Great Head, one of the lesser traveled climbing areas. We spent the day climbing many of the classic routes: The dandelion (5.5), Barnacle (5.7), Crustacean (5.8), Full Sail (5.6 multi-pitch), Bilge (5.7) and Windward Roof (5.9-).
The climbing itself was both exhilarating and scary. Between rappelling down the cliff with the ocean breeze on our backs and then stepping onto the smooth, sometimes slippery rock, it was a completely different feel to what we were used to.
In case that wasn’t enough for one day, we decided to end the day with a sunset hike on Beech Mountain. We made a wrong turn walking out of the parking lot and ended up hiking the Beech Mountain cliff trail to the Eagle lake trail and only on the way back to the car, we found the trail up to the summit and fire tower. Given the summit was only a half mile away, we sprinted up the mountain to catch the final bit of sunset before hurrying back down the mountain before dark.
We ended our day with dinner and drinks at McKay’s Public House, a cute restaurant back in Bar Harbor.
Monday, September 7
The danger of falling asleep early the night before meant that we randomly woke up around 4:30am. The advantage of this was that it meant we could catch the sunrise, or at least we thought we could.
We hopped in the car and did the famous drive up Cadillac Mountain that morning. It was Labor Day and unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with this idea. While we made it up the mountain, the parking lots were full and it was a long walk to the viewpoint, so we saw it but we were a little late to the party.
Following sunrise, we waited out the traffic by exploring the mountain and then eventually headed back down to grab breakfast at Everyday Joe’s and nap.
We had brought our bikes with us to experience Acadia’s famous carriage roads — 57 miles of gravel roads open to foot, bike and horse traffic constructed back in the early 1900s. We did a loop around Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and Bubble Pond, and then parked the bikes and hiked up the nearby Triad Trail.
We ended our day with drinks at Project Social Kitchen and a waterfront dinner at West Side Cafe.
Tuesday, September 8
Once again, we woke up before the sun rose and decided to try another viewpoint for sunrise, Schooder Head, a rocky section of the coastline. We hiked out onto the rocks in the dark and planted ourselves in what seemed like a good spot, unsure if the dense fog would lift but too stubborn to give up. We watched as it become brighter but alas, it was a super foggy day and there the sun itself was nowhere to be found.
So we decided to capitalise on this quiet morning and get in some hiking before the crowds. After a quick stop at Everyday Joes, we made our way up South and North Bubble, two famous peaks that are seen from Jordan Pond. South Bubble, the easier of the two hikes, is known for Bubble Rock, a large boulder that was carried by glaciers and deposited at the edge of the cliff.
We then set out for the Southwest Harbor for our lunchtime sail on the Alice, a traditional Friendship Sloop. This boat was build in 1899 and was originally used by coastal fisherman to haul lobster traps. We cruised along the coast taking in the scenery and also seeing a few seals at East Bunker Ledge.
We ended the day with a stop at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse before heading back to town for dinner at Side Street Cafe.
Wednesday, September 9
We certainly couldn’t get enough of the sea cliff climbing, so we spent the morning at Otter Cliff, the most visited climbing area in Acadia. Otter Cliff is a relatively short 60′ cliff that provides extraordinary views of Sand Beach, Great Head and the ocean. We climbed Easy Corner (5.5), Wonderwall Left (5.7), Wonderwall right (5.8) and In the Groove (5.5).
We spent the afternoon on the South Wall (Precipice). This area has high quality pink granite that is just perfect rock. While not as unique as climbing the sea cliffs, it was still an awesome afternoon. We climbed Jungle Book (5.3), Wafer Crack (5.5) and Recollections of Pacifica (5.9). As it was my first time crack climbing, I really had to learn how to smear and use the crack so it was a good lesson in technique.
We ended our evening with dinner at Havana.
Thursday, September 10
We started the morning with a hike around Hadlock Pond, a decent walk but a disappointing waterfall feature. We had planned this hike because the weather forecast predicted rain and that would have helped the flow on the waterfall but it turned out to just be overcast.
On our way back, we stopped at Thunder Hole, another famous Acadia site, but it wasn’t ‘thundering’, meaning the tide wasn’t strong enough to create the sound of thunder. We then did a short walk over to Bar Island. At low tide, there is a sandbar that appears between Bar Harbor and the neighbouring Bar Island that enables you to walk across and visit.
We ended our day with an awesome hike on the Precipice Trail, a scramble that heads up the steep cliffs of Champlain Mountain, the sixth tallest peak in Acadia. The trail navigates various fault lines and shelf systems and is filled with iron rungs, ladders and rock scrambles to the top. I’d say it was our favourite hike in Acadia.
We finished our evening with dinner and drinks at Galyn’s.
Friday, September 11
Adam started the morning revisiting Cadillac while I slept in. I saw fog in the forecast and decided that sleep was more important! We then stopped at Jordan’s pancake house, a Bar Harbor institution for some blueberry pancakes.
I insisted we needed to burn off the breakfast so we hiked up Flying Mountain that morning, stopped in town for lunch and then went out rock climbing one final time. Ryan had told us about Hunters Cliff, an area that most climbers don’t know about but with stellar sea cliff climbing. We searched to find information on Mountain Project and other online sources about this area but there was no information. We finally got in touch with Andrew from Acadia Mountain Guides, who know about the area and agreed to show us the ropes.
Hunters Cliff was not in the national park and some of the cliff side was on private party. There were no named routes and in fact, the cliffs were rarely climbed. There were many times that I would rappel down to find loose rock and cobwebs. That said, each time I started to climb up the wall, the sound of the waves crashing, the eery feeling of the darkness at the bottom, the sight of sunlight peering over the top and the vast ocean views left me appreciating how magical this place was.
We finished climbing around 6 so it wasn’t enough time to fit in a sunset hike, but it was just enough time to catch the sunset on top of Cadillac. We made one final drive up the mountain. It was a perfectly clear day so we could see the islands in the distance along with the sun setting.
And we finished with dinner at La Bella Vita.
Saturday, September 12
Our final day. We had planned on a morning cycle, but it was a bit chilly and we both loved Precipice so much that we decided to hike it once again. Between the iconic iron rungs and ladders, the fun rock scramble and the impressive views, it really was the best hike in Acadia.
We then packed the car up and made our way back to New York. Given we were leaving a day early, we decided to make a leisurely stop for lunch at Duckfat in Portland, before continuing our journey home.