Acadia National Park in June is a sight to behold. Situated southwest of Bar Harbor and covering most of Mount Desert Island and the associated smaller islands, it offers a beautiful environment and interesting history. Bar Harbor, with its fishing boats, lobster shacks, and stately former homes of the great industrialists, is as charming a village as you will find anywhere along the northeastern United States. So this chapter of Purposeful Travel is not about a foreign land and exotic culture, but about a homegrown American experience, a national park and a uniquely New England culture.
From Bangor International Airport our party of three joins two fellow hikers from Salt Lake City for the shuttle ride to Bar Harbor. This turns out to be a delightful ride on a bright sunny June Sunday. It is late morning and Helen, our driver, takes the scenic route on a two lane road. It is smooth sailing, barely another car in sight. Helen points out the tall purple Lupine that grow everywhere, wild and naturalized. She also gives us some history of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, answers our questions, and welcomes us to Maine, a place she clearly adores.
After a stop at our hotel to deposit our bags, we head straight to the heart of Bar Harbor on a mission….beer and lobster rolls. Joan and Pat, friends of mine since childhood, are perfect companions for a trip that involves strenuous outdoor activities, craft beer, and good food. After a stroll down Mount Desert Street, we turn left onto Main Street, where we land at Bar Harbor BeerWorks. Each of us orders a lobster roll, a selection of local craft beers, with sides of onion rings and a gigantic soft pretzel. We underestimated the size of both the pretzel and the iconic lobster sandwich, but it was so worth it. The lobster rolls were generously stuffed with flavorful chunks of pink, freshly caught Maine lobsters, and the onion rings were crisp and tasty. I resisted the pretzel, but thoroughly enjoyed the local wheat beer.
Before dinner we join our fellow hikers for a Victorian walking tour of Bar Harbor. Our guide, in character as a maid to the Vanderbilts, paints a picture of Mount Desert Island as it was during the cottage era when Bar Harbor was one of the world’s most illustrious resorts.
Day two is cold and overcast, but we manage to get almost four hours of hiking in before the rain comes. The hike up Gorham Mountain serves up views of the Gulf of Maine and the Cranberry Islands. The terrain up the mountain is mostly rocky and uneven which slows our pace. We periodically hoist ourselves over large boulders, then stop in several clearings to observe nature and gaze at the waves crashing on the rocks below. The rain commences after we have started our descent from the summit. All of those rocks and boulders become treacherously slippery when wet and we are thankful for the grip provided by our hiking boots.
A steady rain greets us Tuesday morning, but we head out nonetheless for George Dorr’s Oldfarm. In our waterproof jackets and boots we hike through the woods to the ruins of this old estate of Mr Dorr, considered to be the father of Acadia National Park. I should mention now that temperatures are under 45 degrees both yesterday and today….in the rain….but like good modern women, we persist. The story of George Dorr is worth the damp and chill. Dorr was a private citizen whose life covered the last half of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. He inherited fortunes from both his parents. He attended Harvard University and traveled widely in Europe with his parents. He was a gentleman scholar and lover of nature who first visited Mount Desert Island in 1868 on a vacation and made the decision to make the island his primary home. He never married; instead he focused his time, energy, and intellect on preserving the natural beauty of his beloved island. Over four decades he worked tirelessly to acquire tracts of land for protection. He donated scores of parcels of his own land and persuaded others to donate land or money. He was essentially broke when he died because he gave so much to Acadia. While little remains of the his home on Oldfarm, a walk through the forrest leads to the rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where George would scramble down the jagged path to swim in its frigid water.
My bicycle riding skills are limited. I can ride a bike. I can ride a bike with three or less gears. Bikes with 10, 20, 30! gears challenge me. I am always in the wrong gear, so that even on a flat road I feel like I am peddling through glue. Our group was scheduled to do a six mile bike ride on this chilly Wednesday morning in Acadia National Park. Our guide and my friends assured me they would get me into the right gear and not abandon me along the way. I had my doubts, but the cheapskate in me did not want to miss out on anything that is “included” in this trip. After the first mile, I was able to put aside my fears. Gears became my friend. Even though I stayed within a narrow range of shifting, I managed to make it up hills for the most part. There were a few times I fell short of the crest of a hill, hopped off the bike, and walked it a bit. In the end, it was worth it. I loved being able to cover so much more ground than can be accomplished on a hike. The route, Sargent Drive, boasts spectacular views of Somes Sound, a fjord with a varied shoreline of fields of wildflowers, rocky beach, and craggy pine trees.
After lunch, Pat, Joan, and I board a boat for a two hour harbor cruise that allows us to view the coast from a different perspective. Bar Harbor varies from docks with lobster boats, dinghies, and yachts to sheer granite cliffs topped by pine trees. Along the way we also spotted seals lounging on a pint sized rocky island, whose only structure is a small lighthouse. Egg Rock Light is a lighthouse on Frenchman Bay, Maine. Built in 1875, it is one of coastal Maine’s architecturally unique lighthouses, with a square tower projecting through the square keeper’s house. Egg Rock is midway between Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula. As we start our return trip, a shout from our guide sends our gazes skyward. An American Bald Eagle sweeps across a background of white clouds and gracefully lands on a tree branch above a stone cliff. The proudly magnificent bird poses long enough to be captured in a photo, then launches itself off to the sky once again.
Tonight we enjoy more lobster and local brews at Galyn’s, a slightly upscale establishment near the waterfront in the center of Bar Harbor. Our table, upstairs by the windows, is perfect for watching boats, people, and water. We turn in early to rest for another day of hiking.
Thursday dawns with sunshine! Finally! Before heading off to hike, we spend an hour learning about the second largest industry in Maine – lobster. I can now tell a male from a female lobster…who knew!
In 2017, Maine lobstermen (women are also called lobstermen) caught 111 million pounds of lobster, 80% of all the lobster caught in the United States. I think my friends and I made a serious dent this week in all that lobster.
By 10:00 am we commence our climb from the base of the majestic Cadillac Mountain. We chose the south ridge trail, which is like most trails in Acadia – rocks and boulders of all shapes and shades of granite. I actually like the challenge of hauling ourselves up on top of huge boulders, finding footholds and grips. It exercises your mind and body. Of all of the spectacular views from Cadillac Mountain, my favorite has to be that of the Porcupine Islands.
The islands are an archipelago or a group of islands. From our perch on top of the mountain, the islands take on the imaginary appearance of stepping stones for a giant making his way across the ocean.
On Thursday night we enjoy a feast of whole lobsters. I have always thought that trying to eat a whole lobster is more work than it’s worth. But with expert instruction from our hosts, it is a breeze. We crack open our lobsters, caught earlier that day, and they burst with pink and white lobster flesh. We end the evening with Bar Harbor’s signature desert, blueberry pie.
Clouds greet us Friday morning as we march off to our last hike, but we are grateful that it isn’t raining and the temperature has at last broken into the 60s. The Great Head Trail is an easy one compared to the boulder climbing required over the last four days. This trail is comprised of some pine needle tufted forest floor, planked paths over wet spots, and less treacherous rock climbs. We start at Sand Beach and join the trail that leads around Great Head peninsula. From the trail we have views across to the Beehive (a mountain named for its shape), and from several vantage points the beach, rocky cliffs, and ocean are visible. We come upon the ruins of of the Tea House. The house and surrounding acreage was a gift from J P Morgan to his daughter, Louisa, in 1910. A year after Louisa’s death in 1946, fire destroyed the homestead along with much of Mount Desert Island. Louisa’s daughter, Eleanor Satterlee, donated the property to the United States for Acadia in 1949.
We end our week with a picnic lunch in the picturesque Albert’s Meadow, under a warm and sunny sky. As we leave Bar Harbor and Acadia, our bellies are full and our muscles are tired, but we have a renewed appreciation for Mother Nature and the land and ocean she has gifted us.