I love the wonder and beauty of our National Parks. With the onslaught of Covid-19, capacity in our shared treasures surged over the last year. More tourists. Additional wear and tear. Yet, the resources remain the same. At least, the government allocated more funding in the latest relief bills to offset these challenges. That being said, I can pay less than a hundred dollars for an annual pass to 400 plus parks for the entire year. That covers the whole household. I repeat, the pass (1) lasts a full year and (2) covers your immediate family. Disney charges 189 plus for a single-day parker hopper, covering one person for a lesser experience packed with more stress. Long lines. Hiking miles on concrete. Expensive dining plans. Instead of giving more funding, every American should buy an annual if they elect to use it or not. Show a little pride.
But why is attendance off the charts?
Remember naming your child? One agonizes for the perfect unique name, perusing hundreds of books and websites including the family tree. And then, five years later, half the kids on the jungle gym share the same name. A scream of distraught echoes. Turns out, you’re not as creative as you once thought.
Amid a long, cold winter, trying to plan the perfect trip, everyone whispered, Yellowstone. Or, Zion. If you open your favorite social media tool of choice, all of your friends posted similar pictures with Old Faithful in the background. Don’t fret, when you jot down places reflecting Covid Kryptonite few options exist. Major city? No. Outdoor adventures? Sign me up.
This phenomenon is somewhat like a magic card trick–the standard force. The illusionist knows their mark will choose the ace of spaces through suggestion, math, or the occasional unique shuffle. For whatever reason, my family screwed up the trick and headed to the East coast. This can happen. Not that this is too unique, we are talking about one of the top ten parks. Still, I look to think we chose the Queen of Spades. Acadia.
To reach our destination, we flew into Bangor followed by a two-hour car ride to Bar Harbor. For the record, Stephen King nails the Main vibe in his books. The Mist is fitting.
And that leads to my one important rule for navigating this place. Be flexible. Acadia is known to have the hardest granite in the world. When the rain comes calling, the mountainous hikes quickly become slick and challenging, so pivoting is vital. Keeping this in mind, here are my favorite hikes, with a bit of wisdom for the curious:
The Sunrise Hike Atop Cadillac Mountain:
What is considered first light for the United States of America, the 4 am start is more than worth the effort, but a little luck is required. Last year, the National Park created a reservation system to reach the summit, which keeps the traffic down for a better overall experience. Still, considering you have to reserve your trip, planning months in advance, a well-timed fog has the potential to ruin the morning. Embracing the cold, dress accordingly for the whipping wind.
The early start also sets up the rest of the day. A choose your own adventure depending on the weather.
After seeing the sunrise, we headed to one of the best lake hikes in the known universe. If I lived here, I’d run part of this loop daily as the journey is relatively flat, tops out at almost 4 miles (6.44 km), but still possesses nuance for the trail runners.
What does that mean? Well, we arrived well before 7 am and proceeded down one path. Running along the lake, this is a wonderful walk with the occasional leap over stone or water puddle. About a third of the way around, we traversed the option to hike onward to Boulder Mountain. Note, this is more than a simple diversion and more bouldering expedition than an actual hike. The view is spectacular, but there are other ways to reach the top than the hike from the lake. If you decide not to take this branch, the original path has its own simplified bouldering jaunt, and then you reach a wooden bridge meant to be one way with some step-offs for oncoming traffic. For me, the perfect running trail is around the lake to the boulders and then turn back to the one-way portion, which may be the best seven-mile run inside a National Park. Early morning. Mountains. Clearwater. Quiet. Ditch the AirPods and take in the silence, the peaceful meditations of being alone.
This is the Mont St. Michel of hikes and is only meant to be completed during low tide; there is a three-hour window – ninety minutes before and after. Crossing over from a crowded, bustling Bar Harbor, I felt like I had wandered into another world. A testament to why we have National Parks, a contrast between developed and preserved. But be cautious on time, you can become stranded, which requires a water taxi or 12-hour wait. Is that so bad, in reality?
The Ocean Path:
One of the best all-around hikes in the park. Relatively flat and easy going with incredible views, come young and old, start at the entrance and walk along the cliff-side. No matter the weather, this hike can be made on any day, rain or shine. If you decide on a clear day, you take in spectacular views of the ocean-side. With rain lingering, you are on the Stephen King walk with the fog and Maine’s ghosts lingering. Hard to go wrong. I’d recommend going the full two-plus miles and spend time at Thunder Gulch. This narrow blow hole roars during high tide, hence the name. Of course, it booms.
Each National Park is home to a signature hike. For me, I thought this jaunt would be Angel’s Landing Acadia Edition, the ultimate trial. However, that turned out not to be the case, partially, I’ll explain soon enough.
First off, there are two primary trails, similar in stature in terms of difficulty. The Precipice Trail. And Beehive. When I went to the park, Precipice was closed due to birds nesting in the nearby area. So, in typical Instagram influencer fashion, I jokingly asked the park ranger if I could simply shift the wildlife out of the way and continue on my merry way. Apparently, these are large winged condors that often swoop hikers. So, climbing the side of a rock face isn’t probably the best approach during this time of year.
As I crossed this option from the list, I turned my attention to the hive. Now, this is a challenging trek and not meant for young children. Some websites make the journey look easy; however, be wary of wayward bloggers and influencers highlighting their resumes. Also, I had to adjust my hiking agenda to accommodate the weather more than once. And I would not, repeat not, recommend trying the climb with any recent precipitation. In our case, the weather cleared for twenty-four hours, the sun dried out the rock, and the route became manageable. The series of turns, ladders carved into the rock, and rickety bridges made this a technical adventure. But, oh, what a view. Best in the park? No, I loved the Ocean Path. But there is a way to combine hikes for the ultimate trip.
One Day in Acadia:
As those in sales know, luck is not a strategy but doesn’t hurt either. For the perfect day, the weather has to hold. As soon as you can register to take the Cadillac Mountain trail, sign-up. Head that way for the sunrise adventure.
Depending on when you want to end your mountain adventure, there are hikes at the summit, drive down to the parking area ahead of the Ocean View Trail. I’d recommend arriving before 7 am as the lot fills quickly. Most likely, you’ll blow past an empty rangers station. From here, cross the road to find the trail toward Beehive. If you’re fast, you can complete the Beehive Loop in a little more than an hour. Again, I highly recommend taking this hike early to avoid a mass of people vying for position on the bridge or ladders. The early bird gets the worm. Once you reach the summit, instead of turning toward the easy path back down, head across to Gorham Mountain. It’s well marked. I’d recommend winding over and stopping at the end of the Ocean Path, and then taking it back to the parking lot. Make sure you stop at Thunder Hole, which is almost impossible to miss. Your ears will lead the way.
Depending on how many breaks, trials, etc., you can finish this side of the park by early afternoon, if not earlier. This will leave the afternoon to see Jordan Lake, head to Acadia Mountain, or traverse Beech Mountain (the latter makes for a beautiful afternoon, grab a snack under the watchtower).
Still, I think condensing Acadia to a single day cheapens the trip. And, also has the side effect of making one consider unreasonable risks. Avoid the Disney Park syndrome. Plan for rain. And when it does, find a good lunch spot.
Extra Credit, The Lobster Roll Challenge:
With a brief internet search, I found hundreds of places with the world’s best. Throughout the trip, I created a best practice, A roll each day. As a side note, this is not a cheap lunch. With the current cost per pound hovering near eight dollars, the meal ranged between 28 and 35 dollars – including chips or fries and drink. Typically, there are two types of roll (1) what I like to call the purist consisting of a nice side of butter and (2) place of choice’s special sauce.
From my perspective, any locale leveraging their own house sauce with mayonnaise will rank near the bottom. Why? Northerners don’t use Dukes. Hellmann’s. Kraft. With each bite, I instantly knew the sauce’s base. After a cringe and twitch of the lips, I quietly whisper, “No…” Hank Williams Jr. wrote a song If the South woulda won, we woulda had it made. This is as cringe-worthy then as it is now. But if you change the lyrics to we would all be eating Duke’s mayonnaise … well … sign me up. Yes, you can order this delicacy of the South in packets to fix the Northerner’s terrible taste, an easy fix and filed into the memory banks for the next trip.
As using anything but the greatest condiment in American cuisine is an instant disqualification, I had two favorites:
- The Tides Beach Club. This place is lobster roll perfection. Along the beach at Goose Rocks Beach, this butter roll is almost perfect. Fries. Maine’s best lobster. The hoagie was even toasted. And the view? Well … one can’t go wrong.
- Project Social. You never forget your first. After running around Acadia, the stop at Bar Harbor included a near perfect Spanish drink, toasted hoagie, and a Chipotle style sauce. I know they use Kraft or some derivative but the Chipotle masks the taste to make this workable.
- Runners up include Side Street Cafe, West Street Cafe, and Alisson’s.
- Hike reference links. Obviously, All-Trails. NPS. Joe’s Guide. Earth Trekkers.
- And my rental car of choice for this trip, a necessity, was the Dodge Charger. Yeah, the engine was paired down but the sound still managed to make me remember my youth. The engine hums.
- Duke’s mayonnaise packets, for those who need these when the world opens up again. Don’t settle.
- Choose your own adventure. What a great set of books, lost to time. I wonder how they hold up these days? Are they a Goonies or ET? And yes, one is far better.