We visited this place 10 years ago and fell in love with it. We normally like to go on trips to places that we have never been to before to explore something totally new, but this year we finally made a return trip to one of our favorite places. We went back to Mt. Desert Island. On our last trip here we had so much fun but there is so much to do we really wanted to go back and do some new things and revisit some of our favorites as well. There is too much to cover in one article, so just go there yourself, but I will do my best.
Bar Harbor: The area we stayed at is dotted with small towns both on the mainland as you approach the island and on the island itself. The most prominent town is Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor is the hub of a lot of the activity and fun you will find in the surrounding towns. Just walking around town and being in the hustle and bustle of a thriving small community is very enjoyable, even for someone like me that doesn’t really enjoy crowds. There are shops of just about any imaginable variety along the busy streets in the main part of town. So if you like to shop there is plenty to keep you busy. On top of that it is just a beautiful small town with gorgeous scenery. Walking along the pier and local parks is refreshing.
If you like food this area, Bar Harbor especially is the right place for you. There is so much good food to be enjoyed. We didn’t eat out for every meal on our trip but we certainly indulged in our fair share of what the local restaurants had to offer. You can find food of any type you want while you are in this area. When you think of the coast of Maine you obviously think of sea food and lobster, and there is plenty of that to be had. Our first night there we ended up at a restaurant called The West Street Cafe that had a great vegetable pasta dish that I greatly enjoyed. Another day we just happen to park in front of a local brewery, Atlantic Brewing Company, and we decided to eat there. Both their beer and their food is amazing. My wife had a burger and I had a vegirito and a beer. They were so good we went back again on a different night. The only place we visited more than once for a meal. When you think of Maine I bet the last thing you think of is Chinese food, but there is a Chinese restaurant right on one of the main streets and we went there and we ate it all. It was so good.
Also do not sleep on the deserts. I had a great flowerless chocolate torte from The Pink Pastry Shop and we had amazing ice-cream twice from one of the local ice-cream shops, Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium.
On two different occasions we took our picnic blanket with us and ordered a pizza from two different locations and sat out in the grass on our blanket and ate pizza, read, and just sat and enjoyed the day and the scenery. I may or may not have spent more time enjoying the pizza than doing any of the other things. It is so nice that there is just this nice little park down near the ocean where you can just go and relax and basically do nothing. I love to camp, but sometimes you don’t really want to do anything but you also don’t want to just sit at your campsite either. It’s weird paradox. But this small park, Agamont Park, overlooking the ocean was such an inconspicuous little place. It’s both busy but not crowded. You sit and watch the people pass by. You see people arrive at the park sit down and get up and leave. It is a great way to spend the day. The pizza we enjoyed was from Geddy’s and Epi’s Pizza.
Bar Island: I don’t know how common this is but for me it is quite the unique experience. Just off the coast of Bar Harbor is a small island. It is a beautiful little island and it makes for great scenery sitting there off the coast of the town. But something magical happens periodically and transforms ones experience of that little island. As the tide goes out and reaches low tide a land bridge is revealed and you can simply walk right out to this island that previously would have only been reachable by boat. It is just one of the many things that fascinate me about this place. If you want to look upon a place and see it totally transformed from one time of day to another this is it. The water parts and you can stroll right out into what would otherwise be the ocean. It is just one of the many wonders you can experience here.
If you love art this is just one more reason in an extensive list that makes this a great place to visit. For such a small place it is not lacking in artisans. There are numerous shops and galleries to stop in at most of the towns. Artwork ranged from sculpture, to paintings, to photography to everything in between and things you never even imagined. If it wouldn’t be too awkward I could just stand there and stare at some of the art for hours. The photography created by some of the artists there was simply stunning. As a photographer myself I am always enthralled by the great work other artists are able to create. If you are in the area be sure to check out the variety of arts venues in the community. Just a few of my favorite places were Katahdin Photo Gallery and Acadia Frame Works in Bar Harbor, Jack Ledbetter Photography in Northeast Harbor, and J.K. Putnam Photography in Southwest Harbor. As you can see I am plainly a little biased towards the photography but there are artisans of all varieties on Mount Desert Island.
Acadia National Park: Now for the main attractions. The real reason we wanted to go back to this place. That reason is for the amazing beauty that is Acadia National Park. We loved our experience of this park on our last trip but there are so many things to do here that it is impossible to not feel like there is more to do and enjoy and that remains the feeling even after this trip. We revisited some of our favorite and more popular spots from our last trip and made sure to try some new adventures as well.
Schoodic Peninsula: One thing I wanted to make sure we had a chance to do was to visit the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park. Acadia National Park is mostly situated on Mt. Desert Island, but the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park is back on the mainland of Maine and you have to dive back onto the mainland and around to get there unless you want to take a ferry. Similar to the main part of Acadia on the island the Schoodic Peninsula area of the park also has a park road you can drive along and stop at scenic areas to enjoy along the way.
I love all aspects of nature photography but I am really enraptured by opportunities to photograph wildlife of any type. I wasn’t really expecting to have too many opportunities for wildlife photography on this trip based on what our plans were likely to be. So I was very happy when at the first place we parked to enjoy the scenery it was revealed that there were some Hearing Gulls about and I was able to get my long telephoto lens out and photograph them. After watching those gulls for a little bit we noticed there was a trail that seemed to go around this little inlet off of the ocean. We decided we were not really in the hiking mood so we found this really awkward stone bench to sit on near the inlet facing inland and just enjoyed the nature. The not hiking really worked out to our favor as I began to hear a sound of in the distance. At first I could not tell what it was then I realized it was an eagle or eagles calling. After a little while I could see the eagles approaching from inland across the sky. We moved from the bench to a more open area by the water to get a better view and so we would hopefully be more directly in their path as they flew by and I could take some photos. There ended up being two gorgeous bald eagles soaring and circling towards us. They flew within good range. They didn’t fly close enough to get really great individual close ups of one bird or the other but the fact that they kept their distance allowed me to capture a photo that to present is the best image of two bald eagles in one frame that I have been able to capture. I had read that there were eagles in the area but I had not actually expected to see any. This was the only sitting of eagles and it was great.
As the eagles were approaching and soaring overhead I noticed something else. Among the Hearing Gulls, which are pretty common even back home, there was one black headed gull, a Laughing Gull, which are pretty uncommon even on the coast of Maine. So, I split my attention between the Bald Eagles and the Laughing Gull trying to photograph the multiple birds all at once. This is one of the best joys of nature photography. When you have multiple options and you are just trying to pick out the best option for a photo at just the right time and also trying not to miss a great photo of the other subject. It is part guessing game, part instinct, part observational behavioral learning to get decent shots. My wife was there keeping me apprised of the eagles’ positions as I was photographing the gulls allowing me to have an easier time to switch back and forth between subjects. It was a fantastic experience and a huge highlight of the trip. It also allowed me to capture what are likely my best photographs to date of Laughing Gulls. I am so thankful to have had this experience and to get to share it with my wife.
There are nearly as many gorgeous viewing areas along the Schoodic Peninsula as there are on the island. As we made our way around the island we noticed ff in the distance it looks like there were storm clouds. It looked very likely that the storm was over the island from which we had just come. As we toured the peninsula and moved from place to place to enjoy nature we continued to see the storm clouds in the distance. But the distance was growing closer. The storm clouds were approaching us. The storm was approaching but at a slow pace. It was like getting chased by a slow moving murderer in your average horror film. You can see it in the distance but as long as you keep moving you can stay ahead of the storm. If I posted a series of photos from this period of time you would likely see in most of those photos a very obvious lighter side of the frame and a contrasting darker side of the frame with storm clouds. It was really a kind of cool experience to just watch the storm build as it moved across land and water. Watching the clouds swell and darken. Eventually we found a nice spot to stop for a while and relax and walk around and take many, many photos in my case. That is when the storm made its move. The storm closed in on us. You could see it visibly getting closer and the skies getting darker. I began to make my way back to the car. Then there were rain drops. It started off light and before long became a downpour. Fortunately I was wise enough to be in the car before that happened. We had the perfect view of the storm as we sat in our car. We were facing out over the ocean and we could watch the storm clouds and rain wash over the landscape, landscape including us. We took photos from the refuge of our car. The storm was intense but brief. It was over in a matter of minutes and we were able to resume our planned exploration of the peninsula. We continued to make our way around the peninsula and at one stop while I was out exploring the coastline I could see of in the distance the rainbow that was the result of the recent storm. This was a really cool experience to explore and watch as a storm approached your area and have it wash over you and then see the resulting rainbow all in one contiguous timeline of nature.
If you go to Acadia National Park do not sleep on the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park. It is as amazing and beautiful and scenic as the island portion of the park is. There are great rocky cliffs and ocean views to be had all along the peninsula. I am pretty sure there were so many that we didn’t even stop at all the possible sightseeing spots. It is just a gorgeous landscape. And for me one of the best parts is that it is much less crowded than many parts of the island areas of Acadia because it is away from the more well-known tourist attractions of the national park and away from the tourist towns that people go there to enjoy. The Schoodic Peninsula as I experienced it is primarily just that area of the National Park. There isn’t really much else to do there other than see the park lands and for that I am grateful. It was nice to find this little hidden gem of a refuge. I am very happy I made it a priority to visit this area of the park.
Cadillac Mountain: During our last visit to Acadia we drove up to Cadillac Mountain summit. This time we wanted to hike to the summit. This hike was perfect because we could leave right from our campground. We set off on the trail a little later than I think I would have liked to and it warmed up quickly and remained sunny the entire time. Leading to my wife getting sunburned, somehow I was unscathed. Acadia features a substantial amount of trees but it seemed on this hike you are not really in the woods for very long. This is good and bad. You are exposed to the sun and heat of the day more, but in trade you get to experience so many amazing views all along the hike. You can stop just about anywhere along the hike and look over the scenery. We tried not to linger too long at any one particular spot because we knew this was going to take a while to complete the hike to the summit and then return to the campground. Despite this photographs must be taken. Most of the hike is over rocky terrain. Most of it is not particularly challenging. One part of the hike that was really cool and different was the mountaintop pond that exists along the route to the summit from the direction we were hiking. Cadillac Mountain is one of the more popular destinations at the park and was very busy and crowded. We explored the mountaintop. We took pictures. We rested a bit. We even checked out the gift shop. We didn’t stay atop the mountain too long in part due to the crowd but also because we still had a long journey ahead of us. It was a nearly 8 mile hike and it ended up taking us around 4.5 hours to complete. As we descended the mountain we ended up running out of water. I had my UD running pack on with 2 liters of water which I thought would be enough, but I was wrong. This lead to Debby picking up a vest later on at the appropriately named Cadillac Mountain Sports store in Bar Harbor.
We drove back up on a different day for a keepsake from the gift shop and the views there were dramatically different from our first visit. It was a cloudier damp day. Not many visitors. The views were obviously not as good. I managed to slip and fall on the rocks. It is amazing how much a scene can vary from day to day.
Another mountain hike we had the opportunity to tackle was Gorham Mountain. The route was listed in my guide book as going up one side and then back down the other side and walking along the Ocean path. This was a fun short technical hike. At least it was shot in distance. We took our time and made it into a very long hike over time. We Took lots of photos and enjoyed the scenery. In a lot of ways it was actually a more interesting hike than the hike up Cadillac Mountain. There were plenty of other hikers enjoying the trail along with us. At one point my wife offered her services to take some photos for several groups of people. I had to encourage her to move along before she became the areas permanent official photographer as more and more people continued to arrive and wanted to take photos. She is such a nicer person than I am. She would have stood there all day happily taking peoples photos for them.
Once we were down off the mountain we found the Ocean Path and began travelling along that route. We stopped at all the scenic spots along the way instead of going right back to our car. This route is basically a constant stream of beauty. You can see the ocean and the cliffs essentially the entire way. This short hike took us almost as long to complete as our hike up and down Cadillac because of all the stops and fun side trips to other scenic location along the route we included. We stopped at popular spots like Sand Beach and Thunder Hole among the infinite other unnamed scenic viewing areas.
Thunder Hole repeatedly:
One of the most popular attractions at Acadia National Park is Thunder Hole. It is kind of hard to describe, but it is essentially a spot along the coast where the waves have carved a canal into the cliff face and when the tide is just right the water rushes into this little cavern and creates a huge thundering noise, thus the name. I initially thought we wouldn’t really spend time there, because we had gone there before and gotten to witness it at pretty close to its peak natural spectacle. Somehow this became a little obsession over the course of the trip. We just ended up nearby Thunder Hole on several different occasions so we would stop by and see if anything exciting was happening. We even tried to go at the recommended times of day, two hours before high tide. Soooo many attempts to hear Thunder Hole actually Thundering. No successes. But one of the great things about Thunder Hole and Acadia in general is that even if you don’t get to see that one specific aspect you came fore, there is so much else to enjoy. The views at Thunder Hole are just as stunning as anywhere else. On one attempt to try and hear Thunder Hole actually thundering we arrived an hour before what was supposed to be prime time or the noise making and I sat around taking photographs of the scenery and people for at least an hour. This is just a highly enjoyable place no matter what. You just can’t go wrong.
Jordan Pond: One nice place to visit that has this nice relaxed vibe to it that is just different than being on the top of a mountain or at the ocean cliffs with waves crashing is Jordan Pond. Jordan Pond is just a perfectly picturesque scenic spot. You walk down to the pond and you are just sounded by nature. Trees and woodlands surround the still waters and you can see the small mountains, The Bubbles, which this area is known for off in the distance. We came here because we wanted a place to just sit and relax. We perched ourselves on some rocks right at the water’s edge where you first encounter the pond. We sat and relaxed and I of course took photos. We eventually got up and meandered down the trail that leads around the pond a little ways. We went about a quarter the way around on one side then turned back and passed back by where we had started around to the other side and took a seat on a bench and sat and relaxed. I tried to photograph a few small fish swimming among the rocks at the shore. We walked a little farther down the path and saw a small flock of gulls perched among some larger rocks a little ways out into the water and my photography spun out into full swing. I tried to slowly approach so I would not scare off the gulls. I wanted to capture shots of them interacting with each other as well as including the gulls and their perch in context of the surrounding habitat. I wanted to include the gulls, their perch, the pond, and the mountains in the background. I could have sat there all day trying to capture the perfect scene as they moved and interacted with each other, but alas it was soon time to move on.
During our last visit to Acadia I only saw Jordan Pond at night, shortly after sunset. I wasn’t able to explore much or stay very long. I captured some nice long exposure images of the scenery and then I left. This trip it was nice to see it as a more active place. Having an opportunity to walk around and explore a little was nice. I don’t think I even knew there was a trail there during my last visit. There are always new sights to see.
Another spot we visited on this trip that we didn’t visit previously was the Wild Gardens of Acadia. That day it had been raining and was pretty overcast. It wasn’t really good weather for going out and trying to take grand landscape photos so we didn’t do that. Instead we went to the garden and photographed small wonders of nature. It was kind of the perfect opportunity. It was dark and overcast which lends itself to using my macro lens because its F2.8 feature allows it to let in a lot of light and function well in darker situations. The recent rain left many of the flowers with water droplets on them so that also created an added element that in my opinion almost always makes a flower photo better. We wound our way along the garden paths making sure we say all of the plants growing in the garden. I love to work my craft at trying to create beautiful images of flowers it can be very challenging especially with small or odd flowers. Gardens are interesting in many ways, but one way is that they can be very different depending on what time of year you visit. Visiting one garden on one relatively short trip you will never see everything that the garden has to offer because different flowers and plants grow and bloom at different times of year. But there were many beautiful flowers to see in July.
Blackwood Campground: During our trip we camped at Blackwoods Campground right in Acadia National Park. There are many campgrounds located in the area and even another campground in the Acadia National Park system, but Blackwoods is the perfect spot for us. This is the same campground we stayed at for our last visit. For this trip it allowed us to go hike Cadillac Mountain right from our campground which is awesome. Being able to just get up and get around in your own time without having to worry about driving to a trail head to start the hike is just a great experience. If you have never camped someplace you can just start a hike from you must do it. It will change the entire experience for you. Also right from Blackwoods campground there is a trail you can follow from the campgrounds right out to the rocky cliffs and just sit and watch and relax and take it all in. This short easy access to the ocean and scenery makes the trip. We went down there multiple times to just relax and breathe in the ocean air whenever we wanted. It also allowed us to do something else you don’t often get to do. I spent all vacation saying I should get up early and walk down to the ocean to watch the sun rise. Well I failed to do that time and again. Eventually we did get ourselves up early enough to walk down to those cliffs just a few minutes away and we watched the sun rise. Another key component of Blackwoods Campground is that as you walk down to those cliffs you actually cross the park loop road. The park loop road is the gateway to all the beauty of the park and you can access it by foot easily and then you can walk a mile in either direction and see so much beauty and to be able to do it easily at any time of day you want is just freeing. Also if you are a runner you can get in an amazingly scenic run any time you want. I took advantage of this three times on this trip. The Blackwoods Campground also has a bus stop for the FREE buses that will take you all over the island on different routes to see everything you want to see if you don’t want to drive.
Last night on Sand Beach:
When we were planning our trip we saw the listings of all the different ranger lead events that Acadia National Park provided. We really wanted to check out some of those. We almost managed to not make that happen. Thankfully the last night we were there we committed to going to the star gazing event, Stars over Sand Beach, that the park rangers were leading on Sand Beach. The rangers pointed out constellations and planets and told us about the myths about how the some of the constellations came to be. We even had an opportunity to see the International Space Station crossing the sk. Thanks to the large viewing area and clear skies we could actually see it moving across the sky for a long time. This location ranks highly as having a very dark sky that is good for star gazing. I really wanted to take this opportunity to try out some night sky photography, something I have been wanting to try, but have never really seriously attempted. So since I hadn’t tried to do it in a while, my brain knew what I wanted it to do. I knew that my camera had the capabilities to do what I wanted it to do. I simply could not remember how to access the functions that I wanted to use on my camera. It made for a bit of frustration. I blame this partially on my using several different models of cameras where all the functions are accessed a little bit differently, but it was mostly an artifact of poor planning. If was going to do this I should have practiced before going. Oh yeah, also don’t try to do something for essentially the first time ever in literally the complete darkness as is essential for good star gazing. I tried not to let the fact that my photography was tripping me up detract from my enjoyment of the night sky. It is still quite an amazing sky and I will get around to capturing more of it someday. The funny thing is when I got back to our car I remembered exactly what I needed to do and realized how I needed to do it on my camera. So we drove a little bit away from where we had been star gazing and found a nice spot to stop and I took some more photos of the night sky this time capturing the moon rise and the big dipper. That was a little more satisfying to my photographer’s soul after failing previously.
I think one of the best things about this trip was not overly planning and having too many MUST DO things on my list. We were able to just relax and visit many different places and visit some places multiple times to take them in, in different contexts and at different moments in time. No rush, care free, relaxation in nature. It was great time. Highly recommended.
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