Having some protection from our first Covid vaccination, we have decided to venture a little further from home and took our first weekend road trip in over a year! Our destination: Acadia National Park in Maine.
This delightful park is a little out of the way for most people, but if you are trying to decide where to go, it is sure to impress. Located 4.5 hours Northeast of Boston on the Maine coast, it reminded us a bit of the Big Sur/Monterey Bay area in California. Since we were visiting in early April, the full park wasn’t open yet, but we were still able to drive a short stretch along the coast, get into nature, take a few short hikes, and came away with a feeling of content with the beautiful outdoors.
We had really hoped to visit Acadia in the summer of 2020, but residents of states other than Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire were effectively covid quarantine banned. As of this spring, the quarantine on arrival is lifted for residents of the 6 New England states.
In our excitement from the warm early April weather last week, we decided to try a trek up to Acadia to see it, since it’s been high on our list. That said, in our Bangor hotel room on Friday night, we realized a little late that the loop road around the park is mostly closed for the winter until April 15 (oops, planning fail!).
For that matter, practically speaking, the “mud season” makes some of the trails trickier to traverse in April altogether, and the deciduous trees aren’t filled out quite yet either. Still, we also discovered that a short stretch of it was supposed to be open, so we decided to go with it and hope for the best. We ended up finding some beautiful stretches, and it was quite uncrowded – though in the future, we’d wait for at least late April.
On arrival, we tried a couple of different park entrances, but we kept encountering barricades like these:
To make matters worse, there was no signage indicating where the correct entrance was at and our cell phone reception was quite spotty, making it difficult to get information. Fortunately, we had visited the park 10 years earlier and kept a map/brochure of the park, so we had some idea of likely spots to try. Eventually, we made our way onto Schooner Head Road, which eventually lead to success!
What you need to know
Location: Acadia National Park is located in coastal Maine, near the town of Bar Harbor.
We chose to start our drive from Boston late afternoon, spend the night about an hour outside the park in Bangor, and then spent the day in the park. Once we finished all desired activities in the park, we drove an hour and a half to the small, but super cute, coastal town of Camden, where we spent the night before returning to Boston.
Cost: Currently $30/vehicle from May to October, with other discounts or fee options available. When we visited in early April, all entrance booths were closed and there did not appear to be a required fee.
Paved Roads: Typically open April 15 to December 1, but check website.
Unpaved Roads: Typically open May 15 to November 15, but check website.
Other Facilities: The carriage roads, beaches, campgrounds, and more all have quite complicated opening schedules, so check the park website to make sure you will have access to the activities that you care about.
Our first real stop was the overlook just before the Schooner Head Road entrance. Even though this wasn’t the most beautiful stop of the day, we were pleased to find something that resembled our expectations.
From here, we found a path that led down to the water.
Some of the views along the path were quite lovely.
And once we got to the rocky cliffs, the boys had a lot of fun scrambling around and exploring.
All in all, it was a fun stop!
After leaving the overlook, we finally made our way into Acadia National Park and onto the portion of the loop road that was open. Very quickly, we saw signs for Sand Beach and decided to stop.
The road is one way, so if you pass something up, there is no backtracking via car. In summer months, parking is a real issue, so if there are things you really want to see, the shuttle is your best bet. Just note that if you are in covid times, there is a good chance that the bus won’t be running.
The boys were quite pleased with this stop, and we would definitely recommend it if you are traveling with kids. If the boys would have been in swim suits, I think they may have gone swimming.
There was a nice little feeder stream that the boys enjoyed.
Our next stop was Thunder Hole. Ten years ago, I found this stop really fascinating. Unfortunately, this time around our visit did not coincide with proper tide levels. If you want to see a really cool spray of water, time your visit so that you arrive 2 hours before high tide.
But the boys still enjoyed climbing around on the rocks.
Just note that if there is a lot of spray, the rocks may be wet and slippery. Avoid climbing on them then, or you may have a nasty fall!
Otter Cliffs and Otter Point
Next, we could have made a stop at the Gorham Mountain Trail Head, but we were a little low on water, so decided to skip a more intense hike.
Instead, we intended to drive to Otter Cliffs and Otter Point, but being a bit early in the year, the road was still closed due to mud season. We wouldn’t want the road to slip away under our car! So, we ended up parking near the Fabbri picnic area and walking along the very empty road.
There were a few bikers on the closed road, but otherwise, we had the road mostly to ourselves. Eventually we made it to the Otter Cliffs lookout.
From here, we decided to get on the hiking trail and hike to Otter Point.
Being early May, the forests still didn’t have very many leaves, but we still enjoyed the walk.
The rocky cliffs were the really stunning part of the walk.
The boys were disappointed that we didn’t actually see any otters, but we still had a lot of fun.
On the walk back to the car, another hiker pointed out a bald eagle, too bad my camera wasn’t good enough to get a good picture (needed a good zoom lens). We also saw some chipmunks and a few other animals.
At this point, it was the end of the road for Acadia National Park in early April. The entire (paved) loop road typically doesn’t open until at least April 15, the unpaved roads don’t open until May 15, and we were early for both of these dates. In any case, lesson is to check their website for closures.
(Incidentally, another national park we ran into this with was Glacier National Park in 2011 – the famous Going to the Sun Road there is usually open by mid-June, but was still closed in early July that year due to heavy snows)
So we decided to head into the town of Bar Harbor and then enjoy a nice drive along the Maine coast! Not what we were expecting out day to look like, but it was still a fun family trip!