Acadia National Park: A Jewel Down East

Acadia National Park is on Mount Desert Island, across the bay from the village of Blue Hill. You can see it from atop Blue Hill, and the outline of the “sleeping giant” is easily visible from the outer bay.

If you haven’t yet been to our easternmost national park, put it on your bucket list. There are one-hundred-twenty miles of trails for hiking, forty-five miles of carriage roads for walking, cycling, and horseback riding; forty miles of rocky coastline to explore, and enough variety in sights and activities to bring you back year after year.

Before you go, practice saying “Mount Desert” like the locals do—with the accent on the second syllable, like “dessert.”  And if it seems strange to call the top of your map “down east,” just remember that sailors from most of New England head downwind and east to get to this part of the Maine coast.

By car, you can get to some of the must-sees on the island: the town of Bar Harbor, the top of Cadillac Mountain, and the Jordan Pond House. Bar Harbor is named for the sand bar that is bared at low tide. Walk right across to Bar Island and enjoy its trails—but watch for the returning tide!

The Jordan Pond House has been famous for serving tea and popovers since the 1800s. Most people stop here, and I suggest that you do, too. There’s something so civilizing about tea and popovers, even if you’re wearing bicycling togs.

“I can recommend the popovers. They always pop. They never let you down. Like jam?” She said she loved it, black-currant if they had it.   There Is Always Love

Stroll along Sand Beach, then head to Thunder Hole and watch it suck in ocean water and spew it out again. Drive on past to photograph fjord-like Somes Sound and Bass Harbor Head Light, or stop for a swim at crystal-clear, Echo Lake.

Acadia’s wide, automobile-free, carriage roads are its trademark. Originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, you can ride or walk all day on these, up to high vistas and down to the water’s edge. It’s easy to rent a bike in Bar Harbor and zip right on across to the park entrance.

Or choose a hiking trail and walk/clamber your way to one of many spectacular views over the surrounding bays and the Atlantic. Cadillac, Champlain, and Gorham Mountains are all welcoming to first-timers. If you come in late July or early August, you can even pick wild blueberries along the way—mmmm!

kayaking wprOne of my favorites is sea kayaking.  There are outfitters in Bar Harbor who will fix you up with a kayak, spray skirt, and all of the equipment and instructions you need for a successful, first-time trip.  They go with you, too, so no worries about getting lost.  You’ll be having lobster later; get close to the water and feel like you’ve earned it.

When is a good time to go?  Mother’s Day to Father’s Day is black-fly season. I call that a “no.” July and August are the busiest for a reason.  The weather is sunny and warm (except when it’s foggy and cold), and wild blueberries are ripe for the picking.  My favorite is September. Schools are back in session, the weather is still mild, and you may catch a peek at early fall color.

Acadia concert
Blackwood Campground concert

Acadia was declared a national park in 1919 but a national monument in 1916, prompting a 100-year “birthday” celebration this year. There will be special events all season, including arts and crafts, naturalist presentations, and concerts. One I’ve enjoyed in the past is the annual, symphony concert presented in the Blackwoods Campground. Culture and the outdoors—that’s Maine for you.

I’m surprised how little a visit to Mount Desert has changed in the last hundred years. Here’s a little excerpt from Happy Landings: The Life Behind Emilie Loring’s Stories:

Victor and Emilie crossed Blue Hill Bay in July, 1919 to join the Appalachian Club’s celebration of the brand-new Lafayette National Park (now “Acadia”) on Mount Desert Island. In their party was Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the prestigious landscape architect who wrote the National Park mission statement at the request of Theodore Roosevelt. Olmsted was there to advise on the design of the new park’s roads, trails, and public areas.

The party of fifty met first at the Jordan Pond House for its famous, broiled chicken dinner and popovers. Then, for a full week, they “tramped” on mountain trails by day and danced or played whist by night at Seal Harbor’s Seaside Inn. On the Fourth of July, they made patriotic speeches and danced to orchestra music around a huge bonfire. Another day, they took the steamer J. T. Morse to Bar Harbor and rode in automobiles to the home of George B. Dorr, donor of the first five-thousand acres of park land and its first superintendent. From there, they hiked over Dry (now “Dorr”) and Green (now “Cadillac”) mountains back to Seal Harbor.

While you’re making plans, give these popovers a try.

Jordan Pond House popovers with “The Bubbles” in the background

from The Story of Jordan Pond, published by the Acadia Corporation

Two large eggs
One cup whole milk
One cup sifted all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Speck of baking soda

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Beat the eggs at high speed until lemon colored (two to three minutes). On slowest speed add very slowly one half cup of the milk; beat until well mixed.

Sift and measure flour, salt and soda; add slowly (with mixer going on slow speed) the dry ingredients. When mixed, stop the beater, scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, turn to medium speed and slowly add the remaining milk; beat two minutes. Turn to high speed and beat five to seven minutes. Batter should be smooth and about the thickness of heavy cream. Pour batter through a strainer, and then into well-greased muffin tins or a popover pan.

Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven at 425 degrees for the first fifteen minutes. Without opening the oven, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake fifteen to twenty minutes longer. They are best served at once, but may be kept in the warm oven for up to five minutes.

Approximate yield: 6 large popovers

Emilie doubled everything but the eggs to make a dozen popovers.  She concluded, “This recipe makes a dozen muffins. If they are a success there will be none too many; if they are not, you will have just twelve more than you need.”


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