By Captain D
TO MANY VISITORS, the Park Loop Road, which includes Ocean Drive, is Acadia National Park. This is unfortunate in some waysthere is a whole lot more to this placebut just about every park visitor eventually takes this drive. My wife and I have been living here more than 30 years, and a season hasn't passed that we haven't driven the Park Loop Road. The beauty of the place never grows tiresome.
One writer who has written prolifically about Acadia devoted one book to the Park Loop Road and a second book to everything Else. You can begin your tour of the Park Loop Road from the Park Visitors' Center in Hulls Cove. Very early on this trip you'll see some wonderful panoramic views of Frenchman Bay. (During the French and Indian War, this bay's many jagged indentations provided wonderful cover for French vessels eluding the British.)
Proceeding past Bar Harbor, you'll come to Sieur de Monts Spring. Acquired in 1909, the spring is named for the proprietor the first French colony in North American, Pierre du Guast, Sieur de Monts. It houses the Nature Center, which contains exhibits relating to Acadia's plants and animals as well as books and park information.
Here you'll find two other attractions: Abbe Museum and the Wild Gardens of Acadia.
Abbe Museum was founded by Robert Abbe, a new York surgeon who was fascinated by Maine's earliest residents, the Indians of various tribes. He organized the first archaeological excavations along Maine's coast. In addition to its exhibits, the museum sponsors educational demonstrations, research, and conservation programs. A second museum building is operating in downtown Bar Harbor. The museums are operated by a private organization which charges a modest entrance fee.
Maintained by the Bar Harbor Garden Club, the Wild Gardens of Acadia are designed to showcase Acadia's botanical diversity. Divided into a dozen distinct habitats, from woodland to meadow, sand dune to mountaintop, the garden contains only plants indigenous to MDI.
Back on the Park Loop Road, you'll come to the Bear Brook Picnic Area and just beyond that Beaver Brook Pond. From here you can see The Jackson Laboratory, the world's largest center for the study of mammalian genetics.
Past the pond, you'll crest a hill and find a spectacular view of the entrance to Frenchman Bay. As you descend the hill, you'll notice a large brick building on your left. This is Highseas, the only "cottage" on this section of the island to survive the Fire of 1947. It was built in 1912 by Princeton professor Rudolph Brunnow for his bride-to-be who tragically went down with the Titantic. Highseas was given to The Jackson Laboratory in 1951 and today serves as a dormitory for visiting students.
Just down the hill from the Highseas overlook is the parking area for the Precipice Trail. Situated on the east face of Champlain Mountain, the Precipice Trail is most the island's most challenging and most popular climb. Not for the faint of heart, Iron rungs and ladders help out in some of the steeper sections. During certain periods, the area is a nesting site for peregrine falcons and the trail is closed until the chicks go out on their own.
The next left, just before the fee station, will take you to an overlook that offers a fine view of Frenchman Bay.
Egg Rock, the small rocky island at the mouth of Frenchman Bay, is so-named because of the many nesting birds found there. Included are laughing gulls; Common, Arctic, and Roseate terns. Also abundant are harbor seals. A lighthouse on the island was built in 1875; like the rest of Maine's lights, it has been automated. You'll be able to hear the fog horn alerting mariners to the island's whereabouts.
You're approaching a fee station where you'll be asked to pay $20 for a seven-day pass to the Park Loop Road. Locals know how to avoid the fee: They take Route 3 to the Otter Cliffs Road which allows free access to the Loop Road. We believe this info should be shared with our guests.
Philosophically, we are firm believers in the notion that America's national parks belong to the people, all of the people, even people who can't spare $20 to get in. We think a Federal government as rich as ours should not play skinflint when it comes to these treasures. Consequently, we were unhappy when in the late 80s most parks, including Acadia, found it necessary to charge user fees.
No question about it, the Park needs the money. Much of it supports the bus system, a good and worthy cause, but we still believe that low-income people shouldn't be shut out of the Park. Ideally, Uncle Sam would pick up the tab, or, if that's politically impossible, perhaps a system of voluntary donations could be established. In any event, we have no problem with people who want to avoid this fee; we'll even tell them how to do so.
Again, you can legally avoid paying if you don't mind missing Sand Beach and Thunder Hole. From Route 3, turn left onto the Otter Cliff Road. This road leads to public rest room facilities from which you can simply exit onto the Park Loop Road. This section of the road (Ocean Drive) is one-way, and you'll find yourself on the wrong side of Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, although it's an easy walk to the no-longer-so-thunderous hole (several years ago, a vital piece fell off) and the rest of the Loop is yours for the driving.
Cutting back on auto traffic is far from a new idea, and is certainly in tune with the founding spirit of this place. Until the early part of the twentieth century, autos were banned from all of Mount Desert Island. This didn't sit too well with the locals, and one enterprising Bar Harbor man got around the law prohibiting bringing cars onto the Island by building his own. After a child died because medical assistance couldn't be brought quickly enough, the ban's days were numbered. By 1915 cars were allowed everywhere on the Island.
Between 1925 and 1941, the park service, backed with financial and technical assistance from John D. Rockefeller Jr., build the Loop Road. Noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsead Jr. designed it to lead motorists through "a series of visual experiences..." The road is designed not to draw attention to itself, but to the beauty of its surroundings.
If you do make it to Sand Beach, you'll discover a rarity in these parts; most of our beaches are rocky, not sandy. Much of the "sand" is actually crumbled shells of clams and mussels drawn from a shell bed nobody has ever located.
A trail from the beach leads up Great Head, the massive granite peninsula on the far side of the beach. This is one of the highest headlands on the Atlantic Coast; a trail from the beach climbs the 145-foot wall. The views from the top are spectacular.
From the far side of the beach, you can see the Beehive, a small mountain whose shape can help you understand glaciation. The north side of the Beehive is steep while the south side slopes gradually. Just imagine a mile-thick sheet of ice advancing from the north, pushing up the landscape as it goes.
The Ocean Trail begins at the far end of the upper parking lot at Sand Beach. This 1.8 mile walk follows the shore to Otter Point and provides a wonderful way to observe Maine's rocky coast. Along the way, you'll see Thunder Hole, Monument Cove, and Otter Cliffs.
The best time to visit Thunder Hole is midway between low and high tide. This is when it is the most impressive. Thunder Hole is a bit like the proverbial irresistible force meeting the hypothetical immovable object. The force is ocean waves thrusting through a crevice in the rock formation, forcing its way into a tight cave where it meets trapped air. The water and air are forced out and up with a frequently thunderous roar. Thunder Hole is at its very best after a storm has passed out to sea.
About half a mile from Thunder Hole is a small, unmarked cove indicated by a low stone wall overlooking a boulder beach. This is just before the parking area for Gorham Mountain. This is Monument Cove. It gets its name from a 20-foot-high marine stack standing alone and erect against the left wall of the cliffs. The pillar was created when the ocean eroded weaker rock from its basea lesson in persistence. The great hardness of granite is no match for water over time.
The trees at the end of Otter Point are large, mature red spruce. They stand in sharp contrast to the sparse, low, deciduous vegetation found elsewhere in the area. The Great Fire of 1947 failed to reach the spruce, but took everything leading up to them.
Due east from the top of Otter Cliffs is a small rocky shoal marked by a bell buoy. This is most likely the ledge Champlain crashed against in 1604.
Little Hunters Beach is noted for the smooth, round stones known as cobbles. Early mariners used cobbles as ballast. They later were taken to pave the streets of growing cities in southern New England. )Visitors tempted by remove these stones as souvenirs should remember that it is illegal to take anything from the park. Please leave the park as you found it so that future generations will have it to enjoy.)
After Little Hunters Beach, the Loop Road comes to a promontory called
Hunters Head. From here you get a terrific view of the Great Harbor of Mount Desert.
Beyond Hunter's Head, the Loop Road enters a mature evergreen forest, an area spared by the 1947 fire. You'll pass the entrance to Wildwood Stables and an exit to Seal Harbor. Shortly beyond this you'll come to a large stone house patterned after a European hunting lodge. This gatehouse, as it is called, serves as an entry point to the park's carriageroad system.
Across the road from the lodge is the Jordan Pond House and gift shop. Italong with shops on Cadillac Mountain and Thunder Holeis run by the Acadia Corporation, which has a monopoly on park concessions. Many trails converge here, rather like spokes at the hub of a wheel. The original restaurant burned in 1979, and, three years later, the current structure was completed. The pond house has long been a place for island's families of great wealth to partake in afternoon tea and popovers. Here's your chance to rub elbows with Astors, Fords, and Vanderbiltsit this happens to be your cup of tea.
From the restaurant, you can look out upon Jordan Pond and the Bubbles. The pond's pristine waters attract canoeist, kayakers, and fishermen, but swimming is prohibited since it is the source of Seal Harbor's drinking water. The Bubbles are glacially rounded mountains perched between Penobscot and Pemetic Mountains. A huge boulder perched seemingly precariously on the face of South Bubble is a glacial erraticthe mile-thick glacier from the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago brought it from far away.
A short but steep trail climbs between the two Bubbles. From the summit of South Bubble, there is a spectacular view of Jordan Pond and beyond to the open ocean.
After leaving the Bubble Rock trailhead, the Loop Road travels downhill several miles. At the bottom of the grade, a right-hand turn leads to Bubble Pond. This is another place to get onto the carriage road system. There is a beautiful stone bridge here. It is one of 16 such stone structures built as part of John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s carriage road system. The structures of Acadia National Park fit beautifully into the natural landscape. Each bridge is a unique work of art that complements in form and line the rocks, trees, and contours of the land that surrounds it.
If you walk across the bridge and follow the carriage road, you'll find yourself at Day Mountain. A smaller bridal path follows the edge of the pond and connects ultimately to the carriage road.
For the next three miles, the Loop Road begins a long, gradual climb. On your left is Eagle Lake, the second largest body of fresh water on the island; the next right will take you to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. The 3.5-mile road up Cadillac is regarded as one of the best-engineeered mountain roads in the world. At each turn, a new vista beckons the driver to "take a look!" Bear in mind that traffic is two-way here, and it's best to pull over and stop before getting too wrapped up in the scenery. (If you forego due caution, you're liable to find yourself literally wrapped up in it.)
Cadillac's summit affords spectacular views in all directions. At 1,527 feet above sea level, the view is from the highest point on the Atlantic coast. To the north is inland Maine; to the east the seemingly endless coastline; and to the south is the open Atlantic. During the winter months, Cadillac receives the first rays of light from a rising sun. The western view, while impressive, is perhaps best seen from the Blue Hill Overlook, a popular location for watching the sunset.