Maine Travel: Acadia Park

Inspired by Vicki Conn’s question, I thought I would occasionally post on visiting and traveling in Maine. Years ago, one of our governors (I think it might have been Angus King, our current senator) said that we should all “live in Maine and vacation in Maine.” I took his words to heart and have seen quite a bit of my adopted state–although I have never been to Baxter State Park or Rangeley Lake, nor have I climbed Mt. Katadhin. But I’ve done plenty of other traveling and I am happy to share travel hints in anticipation of INANE 2014.

A few caveats: Maine is a large, rural state. If you want to see sights beyond what is feasible in a taxi in and around Portland, you’ll probably need to rent a car. Public transportation to get out and about is not a realistic option. Second, INANE 2014 is scheduled at the height of the summer season so it would be wise to plan an itinerary and make reservations (for rental car, hotel, etc) so you are not disappointed.

Acadia_national_park_mapSo…on to the sightseeing! Vicki asked about Acadia National Park. I would guess that Acadia is the most popular travel destination in Maine and with good reason–it’s beautiful. In August, it’s also crowded but with some planning you can still have an enjoyable visit.

Acadia Park is actually in three parts. The largest and most well known section is on Mt. Desert Island. The most remote part, requiring a boat trip from Stonington is on Isle Au Haut. Schoodic Penisula is the only part of the park on the mainland. Note that even though Mt. Desert Island is an island, you don’t need to take a boat to get there–there is a causeway that connects the island to the mainland.

The Mt. Desert Island part of the park is where the “famous” sights are: Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Jordan Pond House (serving very popular popovers–reservations are essential), and the carriage roads which are ideal for hiking and biking. There is a 26 mile loop road that will take you through the park and past all the popular spots. The Island Explorer is a free bus service that has itineraries in and through the park and is highly recommended. I’ve never ridden the bus but I have heard that it is very popular and is helping to cut down on traffic and overcrowded parking lots in the park.

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Schoodic Point, looking at the Gulf of Maine

Personally, I like the Schoodic Peninsula section of the park. It’s about an hour further east beyond Mt. Desert. It’s beautiful, unspoiled, and not crowded. When you are at the tip of the peninsula you are actually looking out at the North Atlantic (as opposed to viewing Frenchman’s Bay which is what you see on Mt. Desert). It’s a bit further to get to and you will definitely need a car, but I think it is worth it.

I’ve never been to Isle Au Haut but I’ve heard it’s beautiful. That is a destination that is ideal for hikers–no cars on the island and no way to get around except by foot. Coincidentally, it is the home of Linda Greenlaw, the swordfishing captain (and Colby College graduate) who became famous in the book, The Perfect Storm (and her own re-telling of that storm in the book, The Hungry Ocean).

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Penobscot Narrows Bridge

Travel: From Portland to Bar Harbor is about 3 to 4 hours (driving) depending on what route you take. My preferred route is to take I295 (from Portland) to Augusta, then Route 3 to Belfast, then Rt 1/Rt 3 to Bucksport, Ellsworth, and then to Mt. Desert. This gives you a nice fast interstate start but also includes some pretty views, plus a drive over the Penobscot Narrows Bridge (a stop at the Observatory is recommended!).

Planning a Trip: If you are going to make the trek to Acadia from Portland (or visit before INANE) you should probably plan on spending at least 2 nights in the area. Acadia Park is big–even if you only visit the Mt. Desert Island section. I think you need to give yourself enough time to relax and enjoy the scenery.

There is camping in the park (and campgrounds near the park) but somehow I don’t think INANE attendees will be traveling with tents and sleeping bags! Accommodations on Mt. Desert run the gamut from chain motels (Best Western) to B&Bs to swanky hotels. There are several towns on the island. Bar Harbor is the most well known and many people think Bar Harbor/Acadia Park are synonymous but Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor are also beautiful and have a variety of accommodations.  I recommend using TripAdvisor to do research about where to stay.

If you are a “hub and spoke” traveler (that would be me) you might want to investigate hotels/motels in Ellsworth. You won’t have a view and you won’t be right in downtown Bar Harbor but it is a good jumping off point if you want to see more than Acadia on Mt. Desert such as Schoodic Point and maybe heading to Deer Isle (I’ll write more about that location in a future post).

Last–there is a good airport in Bangor. Depending on how you configure your trip, it might be realistic to fly to Portland before INANE, spend some time after the conference exploring downeast Maine, and then fly home from Bangor. Of course, this itinerary could be reversed.

Comments and questions are invited. I look forward to welcoming everyone to Maine next summer!

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