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Fall Foliage in Maine: Acadia National Park & Beyond

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: October 2010

This past October, SO and I took a break from international traveling to visit a U.S. destination we've always wanted to visit: Maine. Specifically, Acadia National Park. We came hoping to do plenty of hiking, lobster eating and leaf peeping -- and we got to do all three!

acadia national park coastline flowers loop road maineWe left our home in the Philly area on a Friday night around 8 p.m. and were lucky enough not to hit much traffic on I-95 as we passed through New York City. We made it to Hartford before deciding to stop and hunt for a hotel, which took us about half an hour (after following a "lodging" sign at one exit that didn't seem to lead us to any lodging at all). Finally we found a Holiday Inn Express that gave us a room for about $105 with tax. It was a little more than we wanted to pay, but at midnight we weren't going to argue or keep searching. The room was actually pretty nice, especially the bed -- which we promptly collapsed into.

The next morning we were on the road by 8:45, passing through Massachusetts and New Hampshire into Maine. The farther north we went, the more foliage we started to see (it was very early in October, so we were a little premature for the peak in most of New England). We stopped for lunch in Portland, Maine, which looks like a fantastic little city.

We parked near the Old Port/waterfront where an enormous cruise ship was docked. The area was swarming with tourists. Sidestepping the restaurants, shops and trolley tours, we wandered down a private wharf toward the water. It was clearly a working wharf, judging by the strong salty stench and the fish heads strewn all over the street. We stopped for lunch at the Porthole Restaurant, where I had a salad with goat cheese and beets (tasty!) and SO had a lobster sandwich (sadly, neither of us was that impressed with it -- too much mayo).

After lunch we were back on the road, traveling up I-295 and then I-95 to Bangor, where we caught Route 1A and then Route 3. It was mostly highway driving, but on a sunny fall day the colors were quite beautiful. We stopped in Trenton for some groceries (sandwiches, bananas, postcards) and then made our way into Bar Harbor. It was a Saturday and the town was absolutely packed with cars and buses and tourists. (I think a cruise ship may have been in town.) And I've never seen so many B&B's and hotels in a row in my life!

Route 3 got much quieter once we passed through Bar Harbor, and we saw some of the rocky hills and cliffs that Acadia National Park is known for. We were headed for Blackwoods Campground, which is one of the park's own campgrounds (there are also a lot of private ones nearby). It was a pretty campground, and very quiet even though apparently every single site was taken that Saturday night. We were right near the bathrooms, but unfortunately there were no showers; you had to leave the campground and drive a couple minutes up the road to pay for showers offered by a private company.

After we set up our tent, SO immediately started trying to light a fire. We didn't have our own kindling, unfortunately, but he spent a good hour using the sticks that were already in the fire pit as well as some paper towels we had in our truck to try to get a blaze going. Bless him for his patience -- I would have given up after five minutes! But he didn't have any luck, and with temperatures dropping into the 40's, we were not exactly warm. I went to bed wearing two shirts, a sweatshirt, a fleece jacket, two pairs of pants and two pairs of socks, and I was inside a sleeping bag and under two blankets. And despite all that, I was still quite chilly. (It didn't help that SO had forgotten the air mattress, so we were lying right on the cold rocky ground.) For some reason we were also both having allergic reactions to something -- smoke? Dusty sleeping bags? Something growing in the woods?

Between the shivering and the compulsive nose blowing, we didn't have the best night!

We woke at 7:30 to a brisk, clear morning. We took down the tent, deciding that if we could find a hotel to stay in, it would be worth wasting the $20 we'd prepaid for a second night of camping. Maybe we're soft, but it was so worth it!

We bought a hiking trail map from the ranger station on our way out of the campground and set off for Acadia -- specifically the Park Loop Road. We started midway through the route at Otter Cliffs, where we walked along the Ocean Path for a while. It was a clear, relatively level path along a rocky coast lined with fir and spruce trees. The Atlantic was beating against the craggy rocks, and at one point we made our way down to some tide pools where the ocean had retreated a bit. There were a lot of people clustered near the parking lots along the trail, but it seemed like most of them were just stopping for quick photo ops, and we had the rest of the trail largely to ourselves.

We continued along the Park Loop Road, stopping in several pullouts to take pictures of coves and coastal views. We arrived at the Jordan Pond House in the heart of the park just before noon. The place was crawling with cars and buses, and the restaurant there (the only restaurant in the park) was just gearing up. It's famous for its popovers -- these huge puffy doughy things -- so we figured we'd have lunch there just for the experience. I got a salad and SO got a grilled chicken panini with brie. Both were pretty good (if a little overpriced), and the service was the fastest I've ever had at a sit-down restaurant; we were in and out in less than 30 minutes. Final verdict on the popovers: Underwhelming! Kind of greasy and tasteless. Ah, well.

jordan pond trail acadia national park maineWe walked off lunch on the three-mile loop trail around Jordan Pond. It took us an hour or two but was well worth doing; the pond was gorgeous, set against a backdrop of mountains. The foliage in Acadia was just barely starting to turn, so there were splashes of gold and vermilion against the abundant green. The walk was relatively flat but not boring -- lots of eye-catching views, big smooth rocks and even about a half mile of boardwalk through the fragile forest ecosystem.

From there we worked our way around the rest of the Park Loop Road, skipping the Cadillac Mountain summit because we were trying to reach Thunder Hole by 4:30 or so. Before that, we went down to Sand Beach, which is a bit of an anomaly amidst all the rest of the rocky coastlines in the area. A few brave souls (mostly kids) waded into the icy ocean up to their ankles, and we saw one person surfing in a wetsuit. We snapped a few photos and made our way to the opposite end of the beach and the trailhead for the Great Head Trail. Clearly marked with blue blazes, the trail involved some rock scrambling but nothing hardcore. We didn't go all the way around the loop since it was getting a little late in the afternoon, but we still got some fantastic views over the beach. It reminded me a bit of Point Reyes in California with its dramatic rocky coasts and sweeping beaches.

Then it was on to Thunder Hole, which was packed with people. The tide was coming in, which we'd read was the best time to see Thunder Hole, but I'm not sure we were quite there at peak time. It was cool anyway -- swirling water that occasionally forced its way out with a big boom and splash. I was tired and hungry so we didn't stay too long before heading into Bar Harbor for dinner.

We ended up at Chowdah's, which had two things going for it: parking right out front, and a "sunset menu" (available between 4 and 7 p.m.) -- one appetizer, two entrees and two desserts for $22. A steal! (Clearly a lot of the older crowd agreed; we were the youngest people in the place besides the wait staff.) We got a Maine shrimp cocktail for our appetizer. I was expecting four or five nice big shrimp, but instead we got a bunch of teeny little shrimp drenched in mayo -- basically a shrimp salad. Not too impressive. Entrees: "broiled" haddock for me (looked fried) and grilled swordfish for SO (tasty). Dessert was by far the best part: strawberry rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream, which we mixed to delightful effect.

Fortunately for us, we were saved from a second night of camping by the Wonder View Inn, where we'd planned to stay the next night. They took us a day early for an only slightly higher rate. The place had the basic feel of a 60's motor lodge (and it looked as though it had the original curtains from back then!). Fortunately it was clean enough, and it had HEAT and a BED! Which was all we really wanted after camping.

The day started out gray and drizzly, and I worried that our planned morning hike -- a climb up Gorham Mountain -- might be a little treacherous over wet and slippery rocks. But we decided to go for it, and traction wasn't quite as much of a problem as I'd expected. The persistent drizzle was a little bit of a pain, but we'd waterproofed our coats and boots before we left home and that helped a lot. And we were sheltered by trees for much of the way.

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