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Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Maine in May.

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We need the tonic of wildness — we can never have enough nature.” — Henry David Thoreau

I saved the best for last — though really, it’s hard to pick a highlight of what was such an inspiring, soul-filling trip. After speaking at the Women in Travel Summit in Portland, Maine I headed north to the charming town of Bar Harbor for this: to finally make my dream of visiting Acadia National Park a reality.

I was traveling with one of my best hometown friends, Liz, who’d I’d first traveled to Maine thanks to in 2018. It turns out, early May isn’t exactly peak season to visit Acadia and loads was boarded up in Bar Harbor and it was quite chilly and we did quite a bit of laughing about how beautiful it would be if there were leaves on the trees. But there were plenty of stunning views, and there’s no wrong season for the healing power of friendship and the soothing sensation of filling your lungs with fresh air in nature and the good vibes of supporting America’s incredible National Parks system.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia has long tempted travelers to its home on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. In the mid 1800’s, landscape painters of the Hudson River School inspired city folk like us to head for these scenic hills, launching the area’s long history of tourism. Originally set aside in 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument, the land was finally crowned Acadia National Park in 1929, becoming the East Coast’s first National Park.

Today, it’s one of the most visited in the US. Admittedly, I’m taking it slow, but one of my life goals is to visit every National Park in the USA someday (I’ve been making a good dent in Thailand, too!) 

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

For our three night trip to Acadia, Liz and I made plans to rent a small trailer in Portland, Maine and glamp on Mount Desert Island. I wanted to get some towing experience to tend the seeds of my dream of owning a trailer someday, and this seemed like a great place to start. Yet less than a week before our trip, the host cancelled and it all fell apart. I’d already scheduled to get a hitch attached to my SUV, but now it was time to scramble and make a Plan B. Our super cute Airbnb in Bar Harbor — hand crafted with love by the bachelor carpenter who owns the house and lives upstairs — came to the rescue for our first two nights, but it was rented for our third.

So we decided to get a taste of the trailer life by renting an Airstream from Oceanside KOA. They were just opening up for the season so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, and wow were we impressed by it. The campground wraps around the waterfront with private rocky beaches dotted throughout the tent camping, cabins, RV spots, and even three shiny new Airstream trailers. And the amenities are plush — call the front reception, and wood and ice will be delivered to your campsite1

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

We fell totally in love with our spacious Airstream. It was great for the cooler weather — we were able to get that immersed-in-nature feel while still sleeping, cooking, and relaxing cozily. It really fueled my fire to get one someday (though admittedly a much smaller version!)

Blue Lobster in Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

We also learned at the campground about an amazing amenity that is in place in Acadia’s high season. The Island Explorer, a free transportation system that encircles Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, stops right at the campground! How handy is that? And get this — you can bring bikes or dogs! (The rule is if someone already seated on the bus has an allergy to dogs, you’ll be asked to take the next one. Isn’t that wildly sensible?)

I also do wish we’d brought Prada — I really wanted this to be a “visiting acadia with a dog” post, but our accommodation switch up ruined that plan. It would have been a special final memory with her as she passed so shortly after I returned. 

Anyway, The Island Explorer runs from late June through early October, and is a great way to reduce congestion around Park Loop Road, the 27 mile gateway to Acadia. For us, in early May, it wasn’t a concern. We pretty much had it to ourselves!

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

We spent a few days popping in and out of the park, with our very first mission being to head straight for Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the Atlantic Coast, and one of the highlights of Acadia. We were slightly startled by how narrow and winding the steep road to the top was, but the panoramic view was an incredible reward. 

One thing we learned right off the bat? Cell service is terrible in the National Park — grab a real map! We didn’t have one at first as we had pre-purchased our pass online to avoid having to wait in line at the Visitor’s Center, which was laughable considering the visitor’s center and all checkpoints were closed and the first day, we were freely driving around the park and never asked for our pass once! Our second day, we finally drove through a checkpoint with a ranger in it, which would have been validating had our Airbnb host not kindly left us one, perhaps left from previous guests. We joked about it but really, we did not mind a bit — we considered our $25 week’s vehicle pass a grateful contribution to the parks system we so love.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

We were closing in on sunset so hopped over to Jordan Pond, one of many jewel-like lakes across Acadia. We mused on what a nice hike a full loop around it would be, said hi to a few friendly fellow off-season park enjoyers, lingered until the sun slipped below the treeline, and then headed out.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

The next day, my blogging bestie Angie and her sis Rae joined us! We were tickled when we realized they too were planning to head to Acadia post-Women in Travel Summit, and we could team up for a day and night of off-season exploration. We decided to make a full circle of Park Loop Road, which thankfully we realized is largely one-way — plan accordingly! 

We made our first stop the much-loved Sand Beach, which, like many park attractions, we had more or less to ourselves.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Next up? Thunder Hole! Apparently timing is everything when visiting this famous blowhole, and we lucked out, watching her spout off several different times. 

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

Between stops, we marveled at the stunning coastal views and kept our eyes peeled in vain for moose.

While Liz and I had already been, we had loved the view at Jordan Pond so much we felt Angie and Rae needed to see it too — so we stopped again and were so glad we did. I have to imagine the diversity and accessibility of attractions around the relatively short drive that is Park Loop Road is part of what makes Acadia so amazingly appealing. 

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

And of course, we couldn’t resist heading back to Cadillac Mountain for sunset. I was glad we had made the journey twice — first, we were prepared for the slightly intimidating drive, which I don’t think I would have liked doing for the firs time at dusk. Second, it was beautiful to experience both at day and by night.
Acadia National Park, Maine

At the summit, we found the first real “crowd” we’d encountered since arriving at one of the the most popular National Parks in America. And it wasn’t a nuisance at all — it was kind of fun! We ran into a fellow Women in Travel Summit attendee who recognized Angie and I from our panel and poured all of us mini cups of champagne she’d packed for the summit (some people really know how to live) and there was a buzz about the place as the sun put on its nightly show.

Acadia National Park Sunset, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

We had hotly debated waking up for sunrise there for one reason and one reason only: it’s the first place in America you can see the sunrise. Ain’t that fun? But I guess we all care slightly more about sleep than about novelty sunrises, because after much debate we nixed the idea. Maybe next time.

Acadia National Park Sunset, Maine

The next morning, after rising at a non-ridiculous hour, we headed over to the less-visited west side of Mount Desert Island to take in another one of Acadia’s highlights — the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Acadia National Park, Maine

This was probably the hardest-to-reach point we stopped off at — steep stairs and some rock scrambling were required to get really epic views. But it was well-worth it.

What we found on the other side was quintessential Maine. 

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Aren’t these two the cutest? We were sure sad to see them go after this final stop together — but it was a huge bonus getting to see them at all and as always, I got a lot of joy out of getting to introduce friends from two worlds and see them click. 

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
 
After saying our goodbyes, Liz and I headed for what we agreed was a must-do — the enticingly named Wonderland Trail. At just 1.6 miles for an out and back loop and a beautiful pebble beach at the end of the route, it’s a majorly rewarding little walk surrounded by wildflowers.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Driving back towards the campground, we marveled at the ramshackle little communities that dot the West side of Mount Desert Island, making up a population of about 1,500 people. I’m always fascinated by what it must be to settle in a place like this — loved by so many, but lived in by so few.

Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in Acadia National Park, Maine
Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in Acadia National Park, Maine
Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Deer Crossing Sign in Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Our final morning, itching for a proper hike, Liz and I tackled the famous Bubble Trail. We had planned to do more hardcore hiking but I am kind of happy we didn’t as I was breaking in brand new boots, and this was a perfect note to end the trip on with a satisfying amount of exertion. 

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

It was such a joy traveling with Liz. After fifteen years of friendship, she’s like family.

I was so insanely blessed to have a super tight knit group of high school friends. In fact, despite being a class of about five hundred, it honestly felt like we all were friends — from the athletes to the art nerds (that’s me) to the super scholars and everyone in between! As I got older I realized how unique that was — and as time passes on and I still feel so close to so many of my high school besties, despite the distance and the years, I feel grateful all over again for these wonderful friendships.

Liz’s job has sent her all over the country since we graduated and so we rarely get true face time — but she is so close to my heart always! I am SO thankful she was willing to take a few days off work and come to Maine with me — and that we’ve been seeing a lot more of each other since.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

In conclusion? Well, the first weekend of May was not the most ideal time to visit Acadia. It still looked largely, for lack of a better word, “dead” from winter. But, on the upside, wee really did have pretty much a private tour of the place — and the company couldn’t have been more divine.

We all vowed, we’re coming back in the fall someday to see the place covered in autumn foliage! We assumed the crowds would be wild then but locals told us really it is a great time to come, with nowhere near the traffic the park sees in summer. And there’s so much to come back for, from the Wild Gardens of Acadia to the more than 40+ miles of car-free carriage roads, two of the top things on my wish list for my next trip!

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Overall, I just marvel at the treasure that is our National Park system. Isn’t it incredible, that in this capitalist world in which we’ve literally paved paradise to put up parking lots, that we have these huge swaths of public land preserved for any of us to enjoy and be in awe of? If you love these lands too, protect them! Your National Parks need you more than ever.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, Maine

Now the big question — which park should I tackle next?

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A Guide to Acadia National Park in Maine
A Guide to Acadia National Park in Maine
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14 Comments...
  • Sarah
    February 29 2020

    One great thing about the Island Explorer (aside from the obvious reduction in car traffic!) is that you can do one way hikes! One of my favorites is to hike from Jordon Pond House (get popovers first!) to Thuya gardens, along with the obvious getting off at Sand Beach and hiking down to Otter Point. They’ll even pick you up and drop you off anywhere along the route, doesn’t need to be a designated stop.

    Also, I think the best time to visit is probably early September. The weather’s generally still lovely, the Island explorer is still running, but the massive summer crowds end as soon as kids go back to school.

  • Jill
    March 2 2020

    Wow — even in “dead” season, Acadia still looks stunning! I visited last summer and biked on the carriage roads, which was so fun and unique. Like you, I can’t wait to go back in the fall someday!

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      I was really sad we didn’t get to bike but like you, love leaving something to go back for!

  • Noel
    March 2 2020

    YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK!! You must make it to Yellowstone, it is otherworldly. My mom spent a few summers working in Yellowstone, she loved it so much 🙂

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      Wow, how special! Love that you have that in your family history. I can’t wait to make it there someday!

  • Liz
    March 2 2020

    Oh don’t mind me, just bawling over here in a corner. Nature and friends are exactly what I didn’t even know I needed at that moment of life. And as always, you delivered. Even the movie you chose at the pizza theater was affirming. I’m so lucky to call you a friend. We’ve made it half our lives so I hope you know you’re not getting rid of me now 🙂

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      I wouldn’t dream of trying! Miss you and can’t wait for our next adventure.

  • Jemi
    March 19 2020

    Wow! Your photos are really lovely and refreshing. How I love seeing such photos because encounters with nature make me feel good. I’m from the Philippines and here in Baguio we have mountains so we can enjoy going on forest bathing (though I also love the beach and always look forward to going on an outing. lol)

    Also, I’ve been to one of magnificent groups of Islands here the Gigantes Islands. You might want to visit them too someday because they’re pretty amazing. 🙂

    • Alex
      April 3 2020

      I loved the Philippines and can’t wait to go back someday!

  • Lurlene
    March 25 2020

    Lovely post, Alex! 🙂 I’ll have to add Acadia National Park to my long list of places to go. I think I’ll begin by hiking some parks around my local area. I haven’t hiked since college, but my sorority sister just asked me to hike with her at a park 45 minutes from here. We have to start somewhere, right?

    Thanks for the inspiration. These pictures are absolutely gorgeous, and I’m glad you had some much needed girlfriend time!

    PS. I’ll love to visit all of the National Parks in the US too.

    • Alex
      April 6 2020

      Definitely hit some of the local and state parks when you can! They are often total hidden gems — I have so many more in Upstate New York I’d like to explore.

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