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Travel A Day of Hiking and Seafood at Maine’s Acadia National Park

20:57  20 july  2020
20:57  20 july  2020 Source:   cntraveler.com

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a rocky beach next to a body of water: The beautiful and rugged rocky shoreline at Acadia National Park in Maine. © L. Toshio Kishiyama/Getty The beautiful and rugged rocky shoreline at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Rose-colored granite peaks and sheltered coves frame Acadia National Park, which encompasses some of Maine’s most luminous seacoast. Less than a three-hour drive from Portland, the 47,000-acre coastal preserve is etched with a maze of trails, walking and cycling paths that lead to hidden tide pools, rain-fed lakes, and summits with views across the Gulf of Maine.

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It’s also among the best American national parks to visit without a car. Starting in summer 2021, the park will require advance reservations to access some popular areas by car, encouraging visitors to instead take advantage of the free shuttle buses that travel to nearly every corner of Acadia, stopping at trailheads, campgrounds, and seaside lobster spots. The shuttles loop right through Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park’s picturesque gateway town, and many hotels are walking or cycling distance from a bus stop.

Due to concerns over COVID-19, shuttle buses are suspended indefinitely, one of a handful of measures put in place since the pandemic. All national park campgrounds are currently closed, as are some picnic areas; Maine also has a 14-day quarantine in effect for out-of-state visitors. For now, that means the below itinerary is perfect for exploring in your own car. But by next year, this day-long route from Bar Harbor will likely be a blueprint for discovering the island without a vehicle.

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a body of water surrounded by trees: Sand Beach, on the east side of Mount Desert Island © Ken Canning/Getty Sand Beach, on the east side of Mount Desert Island

Morning

Sunrise comes early to Mount Desert Island, the 108-square-mile island where most of Acadia National Park is located. Just outside the park boundaries is summery Bar Harbor, home to many of the island’s hotels, restaurants, and services. It even has its own miniature islet, teacup-sized Bar Island, which is linked to the waterfront by a natural sand causeway at low tide.

Starting here, wake up with a cappuccino from Coffee Hound Coffee Bar as you stroll toward Bar Island, following a thin ribbon of sand flanked by tide pools and colorful starfish. Remember that timing is everything: You only have 1.5 hours on either side of low tide to explore the island’s mile-long walking path, winding through the forest with views of Frenchman’s Bay. (Tide times fluctuate from day to day, so check local tide tables before setting out.)

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From there, breakfast at 2 Cats Bar Harbor is blocks away, featuring triple-stacked pancakes topped with maple syrup and wild Maine blueberries or buttery lobster Benedict. After breakfast head to Sand Beach, where you can choose between two spectacular hiking trails: One follows the water, and the other climbs into the granite mountains.

Weaving between forest and ocean views is the mostly flat Great Head Trail, a 1.7-mile round trip that starts by crossing pretty Sand Beach. For something more challenging, test your vertigo on the 3.2-mile Beehive Loop, an adventurous trail that emerges from a forested gully onto bald granite boulders, traversing rock faces fixed with iron rungs and staircases.

How to get there with Island Explorer: Sand Beach shuttle to Sand Beach stop

a body of water with a mountain in the background: Jordan Pond is a popular spot for hiking. © Dermot Conlan/Getty Jordan Pond is a popular spot for hiking.

Afternoon

Next, head from Sand Beach to Jordan Pond, where a pair of rounded summits called The Bubbles are the backdrop for a long, slender lake excavated by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age. On the southern tip is Jordan Pond House Restaurant, with outdoor tables that spill across the lawn towards the shoreline. The kitchen does respectable takes on classics from chowder to crab cakes, but popovers are the real draw here; eating the hollow rolls with sweet butter and strawberry jam is a Mount Desert Island tradition.

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They’re also ideal fuel for an after-lunch stroll around Jordan Pond itself, which is ringed by a 3.3-mile loop trail that turns fiery with colorful foliage in the fall. In the spring and early summer, though, drive or climb back on the Jordan Pond shuttle towards Northeast Harbor and the Japanese-inspired Asticou Azalea Garden. Here, cherry blossoms in May usher in June’s azalea and rhododendron blooms, followed by blowsy water lilies in July.

How to get there with Island Explorer: Loop Road shuttle to Jordan Pond; Jordan Pond shuttle to Northeast Harbor

Wind down in Bernard, on the quieter side of Acadia National Par © Pat & Chuck Blackley/Alamy Wind down in Bernard, on the quieter side of Acadia National Par

Evening

As the afternoon deepens, follow the sun toward the island’s westerly “quiet" side, on a road that skims the southern coast’s pebble beaches and headlands. Take the Southwest Harbor bus to the end of the line at the fishing hamlet of Bernard, getting off near the waterside Thurston’s Lobster Pound. There’s always a line to order, but that means you can linger as chefs lower net bags of lobsters, clams, mussels, and corn cobs into steaming vats of boiling water outside the door.

This is the spot to tie on a napkin for lobster dinner with all the fixings, dining on an over-water porch with views of fishing boats and sleek yachts. Dessert is a slab of tender wild blueberry cake, which you can nibble while walking back to the bus stop, where the final Island Explorer shuttle of the day will take you back to Bar Harbor.

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How to get there with Island Explorer: Southwest Harbor shuttle to Bernard, then back to Bar Harbor

a group of people in front of a building: The town of Bar Harbor, a base for exploring the park © Miro Vrlik/Alamy The town of Bar Harbor, a base for exploring the park

Where to sleep

A walkable downtown and dozens of restaurants make Bar Harbor a central base for exploring the island with your own car or by shuttle bus. With views across Frenchman’s Bay from private balconies, the grand Bar Harbor Inn is located right on the Shore Path, a pedestrian trail crowded with wild roses and whitewashed fences. If you’d rather camp, the national park’s rustic Blackwoods Campground has walking-path access to the ocean, as well as frequent shuttles to Bar Harbor.

How to plan a car-free trip for 2021

Concord Coach Lines runs buses to Bangor from Boston (four hours, 35 minutes) and Portland (two hours and 10 minutes). From there, continue to Bar Harbor on the Bar Harbor Shuttle or a bus operated by Downeast Transportation. Flying into Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB) is another good option, and Island Explorer shuttles connect to the airport in season.


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