We never knew that someone could fall in love with a National Park, let alone an entire state. It should be said that we had only been to one National Park before and that would be the Great Smoky Mountains, which we have never truly explored. With our first stop in Old Orchard Beach, we could feel that there was something special here. I mean, lobster alone is pretty special. And blueberry pancakes with REAL maple syrup.
As we departed from the KOA in Old Orchard Beach, we headed north to Freeport, Maine in search of the famous L.L. Bean flagship store. Did you know that all of their stores in Freeport, except their Outlet, are open 24 hours, 365 days a year? Yikes! I am personally not a big shopper or a fan of crowded spaces, but I highly recommend stopping here, even more so if it’s not during a holiday weekend. This quaint town is full of outlet stores and the largest L.L. Bean store in the nation. Time and money was well spent, because we were able to find some much needed fall items for the entire family. Once we were on the road again, we were headed to Bar Harbor, ME to relax and explore. We probably did more exploring than relaxing, but that seems to be our thing. After laundry was done on Sunday and lunch was devoured, we headed into Acadia National Park.
Talk about a lot of people. As we were corralled down the walk way towards Sand Beach, we quickly realized this may not have been the best time to explore. (This happens to be a lesson we continue to learn.) Time to switch up the plan. Joseph suggested we hike the trail across the street and then head home. “It looks to be about a 1/4 mile and pretty easy. And it goes in a loop.” As we started our hike, climbing boulders at a pretty steep grade, I thought to myself that this may not be the easy hike we thought it would be. But onward we went. After getting to the “end” of our trail, we decided we needed a different trail to head back down. Trying to hike down such a steep grade with rocks and a klutzy five-year old didn’t seem like a good idea and none of us wanted to spend the weekend in the emergency room. So onward we went. We spoke with many hikers going in our opposite direction and all suggested checking out The Bowl and continuing up to the summit of Gorham Mountain. Again, we pressed on. The Bowl is a lake surrounded by mountains and forest, and what’s even better is that it’s an easy hike for kids. I highly recommend packing picnic lunch and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. After hiking upward for another hour, we made it to the most spectacular view from the summit of Gorham Mountain. From here we could see Sand Beach, Otter’s Cove, and The Beehive. We have seen some pretty beautiful views, but this one was earned, which made us appreciate it even more. This was the moment our family fell in love with hiking, and surprisingly enough, neither child fell or complained during our 4 hour hike, and this was probably because they were so busy climbing that they didn’t have time to think about how tired or hungry they were.
I can’t even lie that when we left the island, I shed a tear.
Once we were back to the truck, eating snacks and drinking water (nope, we didn’t pack any of that for the hike!), we looked at the map of the trails we had hiked. Our 4 hour hike was on a “moderate” trail, and as first time hikers along with a uncoordinated five year old in a skirt, we were pretty impressed with ourselves. When we ask the girls today if they want to go on a hike, they ask if it’s a walk on a trail or a hike like the one we took in Acadia. Most of our “hikes” are a walk on a trail, sometimes we find something a bit more interesting and difficult, but we have not yet found one as great as our first hike through Acadia. If you haven’t been to Acadia National Park or even just to the Bar Harbor area, we strongly recommend it. We have listed some of our favorite places we visited during our week in this amazing national park. Let us know which one’s you loved or look forward to the most! (Side note: Don’t be stupid like us. Be sure to check the map for difficulty level. Pack water and snacks. And wear appropriate clothes and shoes!)
Just a few things we learned:
- The Rangers at the Visitor’s Center are so helpful in suggesting hikes and trails for our family. They suggested easier trails that the girls would like and where to find the best tide pools. We also found our sticker, passport stamps, postcards here. Our Ranger offered the girls the NPS Jr Ranger book to complete and bring back for their official patch. If you have little ones, this is a great program to get them involved with learning about the park and how to protect the natural beauties of their surroundings. Our girls loved it.
- If you’re up for a long adventure, you should give our first hike a try. As you previously read, we were not prepared, so don’t forget to pack snacks and water and wearing appropriate clothes. Do remember that this is a moderate trail and do your research before heading out! We took the trail head that is across from the Sand Beach entrance. This will lead you to the intersection for The Beehive (very difficult from what I hear), The Bowl, to the summit of Gorham Mountain, and back to the parking lot for the trail head of Gorham Mountain.
- Be sure to head south to check out the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. We ventured out Monday morning in search of this famously photographed lighthouse and found the spectacular view from the rocks below. As you approach the lighthouse, stay to the left of the restrooms and continue to the stairs. This will bring you to the famous view. While we were here, the fog was still dense, but it didn’t stop Lillian and I from climbing to the water’s edge to snap a few pictures and check out the tide pools. Once we soaked up as much as we could, we headed to the Ship Harbor trail and the Wonderland Trail. Pack a picnic lunch for the Ship Harbor Trail and eat on the rocks. We could have spent all day here, climbing rocks, checking out tide pools, and exploring. Bring bug spray for Wonderland trail! It’s not as exciting as the latter, but smaller kids will enjoy it.
- After reading some blogs about what to do in Acadia, I came across the Bar Island Land Bridge. This natural sandbar reveals itself two hours before low tide allowing you to walk to Bar Island and explore tide pool up until two hours after low tide. The girls and I were on a mission to find sea stars; however the only sea stars we saw were hanging out of the seagulls beaks. What are you going to do? Be sure to check the tide charts before heading out there. I have read many horror stories of people getting stranded on Bar Island. Regardless of what you read, do your own research! If you plan to hike around Bar Island, you will need an NPS pass. After exploring the land bridge, we explored Bar Harbor’s shop and ate a picnic lunch in Agamont Park overlooking the sailboats and lobster boats. Before hoping the bus to head home, we grabbed some amazing ice cream from Mount Dessert Ice Cream. My children are plain vanilla, picky eater, kind of kids. Well, this place made them choose between stepping out of their comfort zone or not getting any ice cream. Hahahahaha! Mom win! Lillian got the Maine Sweet Cream, still like Vanilla, but with a different name. Chloe chose the Cookies n’ Cream, again not to out there, but still a win. I went with a scoop of the Maple Walnut (Oh my gosh!) and the Blackstrap Molasses Banana, which I liked but not with the Maple Walnut. Both girls tried mine, and both liked it. If you’re in that area and looking for something different, check them out! They change up their flavors and all are very unique.
- My cousin, Cody, suggested that we watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest point along the eastern shoreline. Well, we didn’t. Why you may ask? We aren’t morning people, plus our kids can barely get dressed by 8am. Instead, we drove to the summit one evening and WOW! The views are so amazing! The best part was when the girls could see Bar Island surrounded by water, which we had just walked to earlier that day. As we drove down the mountain, we were able to watch the sunset behind Eagle Lake, and it was beautiful. I’m not even going to lie, the next time we are here, we WILL watch the sunrise from this point. What’s even better was the girls discussing climbing Cadillac Mountain the next time we come to visit. It can be done. It will be done.
- Stargazing. Look up at the stars while you are here. Because Bar Harbor has a light ordinance, you are able to see more stars, including the Milky Way. Thankfully our site was near a clearing and away from harsh lighting. We got comfortable and stargazed, while searching constellations on Lillian’s iPad through Sky View. It really was amazing how much more we could see compared to when we were home.
- While reading other traveling families blogs on what not to miss out on while in Acadia, I found an article suggesting Thunder Hole. The trail from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff was actually originally suggested by a Ranger, but we hadn’t had time to check it out. After seeing pictures from this blog, I made a game plan immediately. Friday morning the girls and I packed a bag with a lunch, snacks, and our cameras and hopped on the bus. The best part of Bar Harbor is the Island Explorer bus system, which will take you all over the island. We were lucky to have a bus stop in Hadley’s Point Campground and would take you to the Visitor’s Center and even to the Village Green in Bar Harbor. From the Village Green you can take any of the six bus routes and even connect with the other four to any part of the island. This is extremely important when trying to visit bar Harbor, as parking spaces are very limited. We jumped off the bus and Thunder Hole and immediately took off down the trail to see what this place was all about. As the waves rush past you to the small inlet that house a cave, you can hear a distinct class of thunder. Take your time here and watch the waves crash into the cavern and then head back up the stairs to the rocks on the left. Get comfortable and listen. Listen for the thunder. We stayed here for sometime listening to the natural wander of the powerful waves. This is perfect spot for lunch or a snack break. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any place in Acadia National Park for a picnic, snack break, or just to relax and read a book.
Once back on the trail, we headed to Boulder Beach and grabbed a seat on the cliffs overlooking it for our lunch break. There is nothing like sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the sights, the smells, and the sounds of the buoy in the distance. After chowing down and chilling with a seagull, we were back on the tail and headed for Otter Cliff. There were several times we thought we were at Otter Cliff, but trust me, you will know when you’re there. You will emerge from the trail and be standing on the cliff, overlook the ocean and islands off into the distance. After climbing the stone stairs to the road above, we chose to head back towards Thunder Hole and Sand Beach. Beware if you have small ones, you may want start at Sand Beach and end at Otter Cliff, we however are crazy and off we went to Sand Beach. It was worth it, and would have been even better if the weather was a bit warmer. This natural sand beach is tucked in a cove, surrounded by cliffs and forests, and is one of the most popular destinations in Acadia. This oceanside trail, from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff, was an afternoon well spent, and we were definitely tired after arriving back home.
A week was not long enough here. We all agreed that we would be back again and this is our most favorite destination on the east coast.