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Acadia National Park

Granite mountains and cliffs rise from the powerful Atlantic at the oldest National Park east of the Mississippi

Oct 26, 2016Words By Mikey DeTemplePhotos By Nick LaVecchia
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"Maine out of season is unmistakably a great destination: hospitable, good-humored, plenty of elbow room, short days, dark nights of crackling ice crystals."

Paul Theroux

An Insider's Guide to

Acadia National Park

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Why Go Now?

There’s something special about October in Maine; it may be the best month of the year to visit. Summer has unquestionably departed, but the last warm days and the final warmth of the sun are still there and hanging on by a thread. The summer crowds have gone back to school and left most of the summer cottages vacant. But the real offering of October isn’t just the dwindling crowd, it’s the first signs of fall foliage. 

The fall colors in the Northeast are renowned enough to have spawned the term “leaf peepers” to describe people who come from far away to see the transition in progress. Locals and travelers alike marvel at the orange, red and yellow hues that paint the hillsides throughout October. It’s a truly beautiful sight to behold. 

Know Before You Go

What should I pack for Acadia National Park?

In early Fall, you need to be prepared for anything, weather-wise. You could easily have the first freeze of the year or a perfect 70-degree day, so keep that in mind when packing.  I recommend your outdoor hiking essentials – comfortable hiking shoes or boots, a lightweight backpack and layers. Don’t forget, this time of year temperature changes can be 30 degrees or more difference between the high and low on any given day. 

• Flannel: Acadia’s cool mornings and evenings in October will be the perfect time to break out the flannels you’ve been saving all summer. Bring a couple for easy layering in case temperatures drop

• Rainproof Jacket: The weather can be unpredictable this time of year. Rain comes and goes as it pleases, so it’s best to be ready for it. Throw a rainproof jacket in your daypack to be ready for afternoon showers 

• Boots: A sturdy pair of boots will come in handy when scaling one of the park’s granite peaks or hiking any of the 125 miles of trails in the park

• Waterproof Daypack: A waterproof daypack will go a long way toward keeping your gear dry, whether it’s combatting river and beach water or weathering an afternoon shower

What to Plan Ahead of Time

Where should I stay in Acadia National Park?

There are two main lodging options in Acadia National Park: cottage or tent. A cottage has a few advantages over camping in this case, especially if you’re visiting the park in October. With dwindled crowds, finding a cottage to suit your needs in the park will be easier. A cottage will protect you from any inconvenient weather that can move in quickly in the fall, and will also help you capture the New England cottage atmosphere. Camping on Schoonic Point can also be a great experience and an opportunity to meet visiting leaf peepers and locals alike. 

Private Rental

There are a fair number of private residences on Mount Desert Island, which gives Acadia National Park the uncommon property of having a wide selection of private rental options. Whatever they may be, put away your reservations about glamping and you’ll find yourself with some of the best views, access and comfort Acadia has to offer. Look for a cottage that will be suited to your planned activities: water access for canoeing and kayaking, trailhead access for hiking or carriage road access for bicycling. 

Camping

Schoodic Point Campground offers all of the recreation of Acadia, including hiking, biking, walking, kayaking, canoeing and, in early fall, leaf peeping, without the congestion of Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor. Eight miles of hiking and an additional eight miles of biking trails lead to lighthouses, seabird watching and forested islands, affording campers some of the most quintessential views of the Maine coastline. There are no first-come first-serve sites at Schoodic Point though, so be sure to make a reservation. 

How do I get around in Acadia?

Bicycling

The Carriage Roads that criss-cross Mount Desert Island make bicycling the best way to get around Acadia National Park. Bring your bike if you prefer, or rent one from a local rental establishment. Most rental places have plenty of bikes for first-come-first-serve rentals, but reserving your bikes in advance can get you a small discount.  

The Island Explorer

The Island Explorer is a free shuttle that operates on Mount Desert Island with access to the Schoodic Peninsula that runs eight routes and connects inns, campgrounds and Bar Harbor. By paying a little attention to the schedule, you can get safe, free and convenient transportation anywhere you want to go in the park. Keep in mind that Island Explorer only runs until Columbus Day, which usually lands in mid-October. After that, a bike is your best bet.

What’s the one shot I have to get?

Cadillac Mountain is the first point in America to receive sunlight. Named after a French explorer, the mountain was formed when tectonic movement pushed its pink granite peak high into the air where it was subsequently covered in bright green lichen. It is the highest point within 25 miles of the eastern American seaboard. All of this makes Cadillac Mountain one of the most popular spots in Acadia National Park, and one of the most crowded. But in this case, the crowds are okay: sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain is a view worth sharing. 

What should I eat in Acadia National Park?

When you make your way down from the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain into Bar Harbor, you’ll likely be starving. Remedy your rumbling stomach at Cafe This Way with any number of breakfast classics and hot coffee at the ready. Especially filling: Kit’s Burrito, a classic breakfast burrito topped with salsa, guacamole and sour cream served with home fries. The perfect grub to fuel the day’s remaining exploration. 

When it comes to lobster, which you can’t visit Maine without having at least once, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lobster roll in Bar Harbor that doesn’t surpass expectations. But to get the most authentic lobster experience, try to make friends with some locals and get invited to a traditional downeast lobster bake.

Using rockweed, a type of seaweed that holds seawater in small pods, to separate the layers, mussels, clams, potatoes, onions, whole fish and crab are layered on top of a steampit and then topped with a final layer of whole lobsters and sweet corn. The rockweed gradually releases its seawater into the steampit below to slowly cook the fixins to atmospheric levels of delectable. There’s nothing else quite like it. 

Ben O, Huckberry Head of Brand Partnerships // Official Lobster Wrangler

What’s the best way to get off the beaten path?

Go off the beaten path and you’ll come across things like Beech Mountain, the trails up which lead to rock jumping into pristine water and bald eagle sighting. You can approach the peak from the Echo Lake parking area or the parking lot at the south end of Beech Hill Road. Both options afford cliffside views of the surrounding area. At the top, climb the observation tower for an unbeatable view of the park and its surrounding beauty.

What’s the best day hike?

The Precipice Trail offers some of the most challenging but rewarding hiking in all of Acadia. From the trailhead on Park Loop Road, one of the best places in the park to look out for the ubiquitous Peregrine Falcon, hikers climb along narrow ledges and shelves, step carefully across wood plank bridges and scramble over rocks and up iron ladders to reach the peak of Mount Champlain, sixth highest in the park, offering some of the best views of Acadia’s picturesque landscape.

See you out there. [H]

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Acadia National ParkBy The Numbers

  • 17BridgesMade from hand-hewn granite blocks throughout Acadia's carriage roads
  • 400Granite Stairson Honan's Path hiking trail up to views of Great Meadow and Strawberry Hill
  • 47,000Acresof protected land in Acadia National Park
  • 125milesof hiking trails in Acadia National Park
  • 45Miles of Carriage Roadsin Acadia, built by John D. Rockefeller
  • 1Hour of Drivingfrom Bangor International Airport to Mount Desert Island
  • 2 Millionor more Visitorsto Acadia National Park every year
  • 410Gallons of Lobster Ice Creamchurned at Bill & Ben's Chocolate Emporium in 2015
  • 3Different Namesthe park has gone by since being founded in 1916: Sieur de Monts National Monument, Lafayette National Park and Acadia National Park
  • 1929The Year the park's name was officially changed to Acadia National Park, named after the French territory that once contained Maine

Know Before You Go

  • Lavecchia huckberry acadia152.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1There's more to explore besides Bar Harbor and the eastern half of Mount Desert Island. Go west and find smaller crowds on the western portion of MDI and the Schoodic Peninsula.
  • Screenshot 2016 10 22 17 55 18.png?ixlib=rails 2.1Follow @acadiaNPS for great shots of the fall colors and tips on where to hike and what to see.
  • Lavecchia huckberry acadia202journal size.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula are both home to prestigious research and academic institutions which offer exhibits, education and information to the public.
  • John d. rockefeller  jr. %281915%29.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1Among the park's most famous benefactors was John D. Rockefeller, who donated large funding and immeasurable advocacy, including building the 45 miles of carriage roads and their 17 bridges.
  • Acadia book frankie cover.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1In Frankie's Place by Jim Sterba, the author recounts his personal experience of falling in love on and with Mount Desert Island.
  • 9316007154 72d3f591f8 o.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1Keep an eye out for one of the region's most renowned brews, Cadillac Mountain Stout, and it's close relative Thunder Hole Ale.
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