3 Days of Wonder and Nostalgia in New England’s Only National Park
New England, and certainly Acadia National Park, has always held a special place in my heart. I grew up in coastal New Hampshire and some of my fondest childhood memories center around family trips to the park. It was here, my brother and I took our first flight, soaring silently above the rounded mountains of Mt. Desert Island in a glider, and to this day, a clock hangs in my parents house with a photo of my brother, myself and our cousins atop Cadillac Mountain from a trip in the early 90’s. It was here too, that I took Bryn for her first trip to New England, before we were even dating, now 20 years ago, and here we returned two years later as part of our honeymoon. And so, after a far-too-long time away, we returned again this summer to Acadia to introduce our own children to a park that holds so many of our treasured memories.
Acadia National Park is known to be a busy place during the summer, so we planned our trip accordingly, avoiding the busy weekends in favor of a mid-week trip. And while the park was still busy – especially at the more popular stops like Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and even Bass Harbor Light – once you were out of your car and away from the parking, it wasn’t hard to find your own private little piece of the park. As you can see from our full gallery, with a touch of patience and a willingness to explore, it wasn’t hard to get clean photos without people in them, even at these busy locations.
Though our first day began wet and dreary, with a drizzly several-hour drive from New Hampshire to Bar Harbor, by the time we arrived at our quaint cabin at Eden Village Motel & Cottages (which we would highly recommend), the rain had cleared and blue sky was on the horizon. Within an hour, we were inside Acadia National Park and at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, with wispy white clouds in the crystal blue sky providing the only reminder of the morning’s weather. As the afternoon shadow lengthened and evening approached, we took the girls across Mt. Desert Island to Bass Harbor, where the iconic 1858 lighthouse stands as the quintessential symbol of Acadia.
When we arrived at Bass Harbor Light, the weather was iffy at best. A double layer of clouds had moved into the area behind the front, dipping down as far as the horizon. As I setup to take the evening’s photos, I remarked to the group of onlookers that had amassed that this was one of those cloud formations that will either be utterly spectacular or a complete dud. By God’s sweet providence, we were given the latter, as you can see from the progression of photos above. As sunset approached, a thin line of clear sky appeared on the horizon, allowing the sun to light the under side of the clouds, turning what was grey-blue into a dappled tapestry of blues, purples, oranges and yellows. Even apart from Bass Harbor Light, the sunset would have ranked in my top ten favorites, but with the added uniqueness of the location, to the gull perched perfectly still on the rocks below, I really couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular subject to photograph.
Our second day began early… very early. By 4:30, we were up on top of Cadillac Mountain once again, this time to see the first sunrise in the United States. But alas, the cloud layer from the night before lingered off the coast, casting its shadow over Acadia. Even still, we did get a hint of color as the sun passed through a paper-thin opening in the clouds, illuminating the sky around us in a slight pastel that lasted mere seconds. And with that, it was over.
After crashing in the cabin for about an hour or so, we still had much of the morning ahead of us and headed to the Bar Island Land Bridge – a narrow, sandy shoal that connects Bar Harbor to Bar Island during low tide. We strolled along the shoal, explored the ample tide pools, and made it back before the land bridge was no more. After the kid’s first lobster dinner, we headed to Thunder Hole for the afternoon, to catch it’s splashing, thundering goodness at its peak time – about 2 hours before high tide.
Our day concluded with a drive along the remainder of the loop road, a bit of exploring in Seal Harbor, and another beautiful, all-be-it more subdued sunset, this time atop the western flank of Cadillac Mountain. One of my goals for the trip was to get some aerial footage of the park. Now, to legally do this with a drone, you need to obey some important rules. The two most limiting rules are, 1) you can’t take off, land or operate the drone in the park. and 2) the drone must stay in visual line of sight. This limits where and how far you can fly considerably. With our drones, that limits us to 2,000 or so feet – sometimes a bit more under ideal lighting conditions. So, in Bar Harbor, we popped the drone up a couple of times to get photos of the harbor, town and Acadia National Park in the distance. But what I really wanted was a view of the wild and rugged coast. Thankfully, near Seal Harbor, we found the perfect spot to launch and photograph the natural beauty of the park in all its splendor. Though technically, we could have flown over the park, we chose to avoid being any sort of distraction to park-goers and remained outside of that airspace.
To cap off another amazing day, we headed to Cadillac Mountain for a third visit. Here, parking was a bit tricky, as we wanted to be in a specific area for the sunset. Unfortunately, the lot was full, and after a couple of laps we headed just down the mountain and parked at a pull off and hiked about 100 or so yards to the rocky westerly overlook. As the sun set behind thin lines of clouds, the lichen-lined pink granite reflected just the right amount of light, providing detail and a dynamic beauty to the landscape. Needless to say, it was the perfect end a day of exploration.
Our final day in Acadia National Park was likewise filled with adventure. We explored the interior of the island, visited Bass Harbor Inn (the bed and breakfast that Bryn and I honeymooned in nearly two decades ago) got a glimpse of coastal Maine pioneer life at the Carroll Homestead, and ended our trip with a stop at another fondly-remembered location from my youth, Jordan Pond. A short walk from the crystal-clear waters of the mile-long pond is Jordan Pond House and their famous, light and buttery popovers, served with butter and strawberry jam – a must-have treat when visiting Acadia. Just make sure to make a reservation, because this place gets busy!
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