Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine
After four canceled trips, countless missed opportunities, and 17 weeks in quarantine, it was about time to break out and put one of the rough draft creations to use. Evaluating destinations was tricky – international travel was off limits as the US cases continued to climb, and that meant many spots in the US were off limits as well. NJ/NY restricted travel to 16 states and the list continues growing. We needed somewhere with a low COVID case count, many outdoor activities, and not going to cost a fortune.
Time to put one of those rough draft itineraries to use… Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine!
Read here for the post on our planning and preparation for the first trip post quarantine.
We started the nine hour drive Thursday morning before 6AM and made good time, arriving to the island around 2:30PM. Before heading to the Airbnb, we were starving for some lobster. We headed straight to one of the most well rated spots, Thurston’s Lobster Pound.
Our first stop in Maine! And the view was lovely. I ordered a lobster roll and Kevin ordered a pound and a half lobster meal, complete with coleslaw, corn, and blueberry cake.
Oh man, this was heavenly and worth every mile of driving. The lobster was so amazingly sweet and juicy but had the meatiness of steak. I could barely fit the lobster roll in my mouth it was so stuffed with lobster meat. Everything was so delicious. We sat in bliss as Kevin rescued each piece of meat and we enjoyed relaxing by the sea. Also, the blueberry spice cake was delightful – it was spongy and light with a hint of cinnamon and full of blueberries. If this spot was not so far out of the way I think we would have made the stop again.
Since we were on this side of the island, we stopped by Bass Harbor Light House. There are two ways to access it from the parking lot. We first went right which is the obvious path where you get an up close view of the lighthouse. I recall a glam rocky view while researching so we walked down the left hand path that revealed a rock play ground and a magical view through the fog.
By now it was after 4PM and we were able to check into our Airbnb. It was perfectly located in Otter Creek which was a ten minute ride to many trails and downtown Bar Harbor. We had a comfortable stay and would recommend this spot!
After COVID sanitization, we unpacked the car and headed into downtown. What an adorable coastal town! There are several green spaces and the most notable one overlooks the harbor.
I recalled the Bar Island Trail and while I thought we were still awhile from low tide, we walked over to check it out. At low tide, a sand bar appears forming the Bar Island Trail connecting Bar Harbor to Bar Island. We happen to arrive a a good time! The sand bar was just starting to appear.
There are warning signs everywhere about the dangers of being caught in the sand bar or on Bar Island after low tide – it is a several hour rescue and over $150! We waited for the entire sand bar to appear – and yes even walking through the 55 degree water to finish the trail to the island. Among the rock was so much sea life! A very unique trail experience with very littler effort.
After our time on the Bar Island Trail, we stopped by Mt Desert Ice Cream for one of their unique flavor offerings.
In terms of what we saw with COVID, every establishment required masks to be worn properly to enter, some even had a max capacity they would allow into a store, all workers were wearing faces masks and a large majority of the visitors were wearings masks as well. There were even these COVID stations full of free face masks and hand sanitizer – how is that for COVID friendly?
Since it was a clear sky and it was predicted to be foggy and rainy for most of the trip, we drove up to the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunset. Without even making it to the top, we were blown away by the view.
We were not the only ones with this idea as the cars increased as we made our way to the top. After finding a parking spot, we stood and watched the sunset. Completely magical!
The top of Cadillac Mountain is great for sunrise, sunset and even stargazing. I was not sure how much of this we would be able to check off this list on this trip but seeing sunset was the perfect way to end a surprisingly accomplished first day in Maine!
We had hiking on the agenda and I read that Acadia can get packed in the late morning and afternoon so I had us out the door by 6:30AM to begin the adventure. Our first stop was The Beehive – one of the most difficult trails in the park (Precipice Trail was closed – always check trail status). It was a misty, foggy morning so I was nervous as I read that you should not do this trail in the rain as slippery rocks, rungs, and ladders make it easier to lose your grip, slip, fall, etc – I was nervous about this trail as it was. The trail starts with a warm welcome warning of the serious difficult of trail.
Read about our hike on The Beehive Trail here!
After we completed The Beehive, we walked to Sand Beach and drove to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff.
Sand Beach is an awesome cove area with an expansive beach to enjoy. It was blustery and still foggy so we walked to empty beach. The fog continued to make for interesting photo opportunities and there were no people around to interrupt a great shot. I think when the weather is nice, this is a common place to relax and swim in the 55 degree water (insane to me!).
While we could have walked to rest of the Ocean Path, with no one around we decided to drive to save some time for other hikes. Thunder Hole was the next stop and while it was not two hours before high tide as is recommended for optimal “thunder”, we were still amazed at how loud it was! It was again amazing to have this all to ourselves and not have to fight for a view while socially distancing. This is such a super cool spot. You can tell by the wet rock just how much of this can be under water at high tide!
The final stop along the Ocean Path for us was the Otter Cliff and unfortunately with the fog, there was not too much to see so we continued on with the rest of the day.
Lunch was at a popular stop in the park – Jordan Pond Restaurant for their famous popovers. They opened at 11AM so I wanted to make sure we were there for open.
We drove less than ten minutes away from the fog and like a new day it became crystal clear outside. With time before the restaurant opened, we walked down to the pond and my goodness we were stunned!
It was so beautiful! What a spectacular pond and clear view. Those two humps are The Bubbles and we would hike those after lunch. We walked a bit of the Jordan Pond Trail, admiring the views, loving the heat of the sun, and finding all the different wildlife occupying the lake.
Lunch at the Jordan Pond Restaurant was delicious. The COVID process had guests order the food outside, enter the lobby to pick up the food inside, then either take the food to go or sit out of the patio to enjoy the meal. This was also the first place we were asked into for COVID contact tracing.
We ordered the lobster stew that included two popovers with butter and strawberry preserves. The popovers hollow on the inside so stuff the butter and jam in while it is hot and it creates a delightful treat.
After lunch, we drove several minutes to The Bubbles – two peaks for one.
Read about our hike on The Bubbles here!
When we drove back around Park Loop Road to see if the fog lifted and wow, this part of the Park Loop Road was backed with people. We had to wait in a line near the Beehive Trailhead and Sand Beach – that’s how far back the cars were. And forget it, Thunder Hole was mobbed with people. It was certainly the right move to go early – we had the entire place to ourselves. And the fog was still there in the afternoon so we did not miss anything.
We returned to the Airbnb to freshen up after a long morning for dinner! Heading back into town, we were looking forward to our dinner at CIAO, which served up tapas styled plates. This menu looked so incredible!
Read all the details of our dining experience at CIAO here!
Did we get ice cream after dinner? Second desserts are necessary after months of no travel! We returned to Mt Desert Ice Cream to try different flavors before heading heading home for deserved rest.
As our rained out day due to a tropical storm, I did not have much planned. Not having Saturday as an optimal weather day initiated much of our jam packed hiking day yesterday. It was difficult to find COVID safe activities in bad weather but the forecast was hopeful for a decent afternoon.
After some deliberation, we decided that a little rain would be tolerable and we would walk the Carriage Roads – a network of over 45 miles of roads with no access by car.
Shortly into our stroll, we found the trailhead for Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak so figured we would see where it took us and if it was too much in this weather we would turn back. Welp, let’s just say it became a very wet summit.
Reaching the car felt like such victory. We were completely drenched, several pounds heavier due to the water weight of the clothes and shoes. We stopped back at the Airbnb for a change of clothes while we found a laundromat to dry everything – there was no way those clothes and shoes would dry on their own.
While we waited for the clothes to dry, we walked down the street to Lompoc Cafe which featured a tasty selection of sandwiches and a book store. We always love visiting book stores especially when traveling and it was like seeing an old friend – how long it has been since we entered a book store!
I ordered the Honeycomb (Sunset Acres goat cheese, roasted garlic spread, apple, mixed greens and a drizzle of honey on ciabatta) and Kevin ordered the Falafel Burger (Fried chickpea patty with Lompoc hummus, red onion, and pickled cucumbers on a challah bun) both of which were amazing. I think we would have ate here for lunch every day if we discovered it sooner. They have a lovely garden outdoor space where we enjoyed our sandwiches, the perfect way to wait for our shoes and clothes to dry!
Just in time to collect our things from the laundromat, we drove out of town to our afternoon activity – fishing! I thought it could be a good rainy day activity but still outdoor and socially distanced friendly. We both would have preferred to do some wildlife exploration but given the dense fog there was no way we would see anything. I was able to book same day with Acadia Boat Tours and we were excited to try our hand at fishing.
The sun came out to welcome us onto the boat before we disappeared back into the fog that we became so familiar with. Even though I pre-medicated for the boat, the water was still swelling to keep me on my toes – maybe because of the tropical storm still sitting in the wings. We both caught a bunch of fish (all pollocks about 12 inches or less in size) and the two guides were great making the experience easy and fun. I felt very comfortable with their COVID measures – there were only seven of us total for the entire boat which made for a very personal experience.
We returned to the Airbnb before heading out to dinner back in town at The Veranda Restaurant.
Read all the details of our dining experience at The Veranda Restaurant here!
After dinner, we walked out back through the veranda and followed the Shore Path around to the harbor.
We ended the night with another second dessert, spreading the ice cream love at CJ’s Big Dipper.
Exhausted after another eventful day, we had no issues falling asleep.
Our last day in Acadia! This morning we booked a kayaking trip with National Tours Park Sea Kayak Tours. This company was fantastic with their COVID measures. Normally they can take up to twelve people in six boats and there were only four of us in two boats. I know these times are not great for the businesses but the consumer really benefits from an one-on-one experience. *We made a point to over tip everywhere we went and if you can afford to, consider the same when traveling to help these places out during this time*
These kayaks were the most legit ones we have ever been on – complete with pedal steering and skirts to tuck us into the pod. We had a great, relaxing experience on the water, traveling about six miles through The Narrows. Our guide was awesome – super knowledgeable and laid back. It was low tide so we got to see a lot on the rocks that normally site below water such as sea stars. Unfortunately, another foggy day meant low visibility to see wildlife. We did hear an eagle and saw a juvenile one flying over, as well as a few osprey, seals, and porpoises.
So what was with all this fog? Since the water current flows from the north, the water temperature never really gets above 55 degrees. This paired with the hot land causes the fog to occur. Though locals said that this much fog for this amount of time was not usual.
After a long kayak, we were starving! We were going to eat again at Lompoc Cafe (so good) but instead opted for our guides’ recommendation at one of those seafood pubs – The Thirsty Whale. I ordered a lobster roll which compared to Thurston’s earlier in the trip was mediocre but in terms of having a lobster roll was good. Even better was the enormous salad that came with it. Kevin ordered the blackened haddock which was recommended by our guide and the specialty of the restaurant. He enjoyed this sandwich very much – super delicious, perfectly cooked.
These guys did an excellent job with COVID precautions. There were several tables set up outside and for the ones inside, they were very spaced apart, much more than six feet and they had windows and doors open for ventilation. They cleaned menus in between customers and firmly enforced the mask requirement – we heard the staff correct several customers that were not properly wearing a mask. We witnessed several tables turned over and the cleaning process was thorough. Also, we were asked for information for COVID contact tracing here as well.
After lunch, we headed to the Wild Gardens of Acadia for a free walk through of the plants, trees, and flowers that are local to Acadia. There are several gardens to visit in the area so pick one that interests you and fits into the schedule. Of the four I had tagged, this one was the only one open on Sunday afternoons.
Then I hit a wall of exhaustion – after 17 weeks of quarantine, this much activity in a few days was apparently a lot. After a much needed nap, we returned to town and walked to entirety of the Shore Path.
We made a bit of a scheduling faux pas – many dining places are closed Sundays so we had a very difficult time finding a place for dinner – so much so that we just decided to skip it and get more ice cream. Look ahead at where you may want to eat to prioritize. We had been eyeing up Project Social and slated it for Sunday night only to learn they were closed all day Sunday – super disappointing! And Lompoc was only open for lunch time on Sunday so we missed that opportunity as well. What we should have done was visit Project Social for lunch on Saturday, had Lompoc for lunch in Sunday, and ate at Thirsty Whale for dinner Sunday.
So in the end, we ate ice cream from Jordan Pond Homemade – ordered the chocolate implosion – and it was the best ice cream of the trip!
Deciding to hit the shore path one last time, we were pleasantly surprised to fine the harbor just as we saw it when we arrived – clear sky and sunny.
We returned to the Airbnb to pack up since we wanted to leave early the next morning to start the long journey back home. Dusk had passed and the night sky was clear, so we got back in the car to drive up to Cadillac Mountain in hopes of a starry night.
Within a few minutes of arrival, the sun completely set and the night sky began to transform into a massive sea of stars. It became so difficult pick out common constellations as so many stars filled the sky. We always try and seek out opportunities to enjoy the night sky with no light pollution. This was the perfect way to end a fantastic trip. You can kind of make out the photo of The Big Dipper sideways.
With a nine hour drive head, we were up at 5AM and off on the road within a half hour. While we did not hot a sunset while in Acadia, we were treated to some lovely morning skies as we departed. Thank you Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor for a fantastic trip!
Overall, my rough draft worked out pretty well. The weather certainly interrupted the ability to follow the proposed itinerary but having the major strokes planned helped organize the “must do’s” while visiting. I can certainly say the major dining establishment I found while researching were not the ones we ended up eating at – some were still closed and I found new ones along the way that stole the spotlight.
There really is something for everyone in Acadia and enough to supply new adventures for many return trips to come. I can definitely see us coming back up here – we could do this entire trip the same and if the fog was swapped out for clear skies, I bet it would feel like a completely different trip!