25 – 29 August 2013: Somes Harbour, Mt Desert Island – 44 21N 68 19W
Acadia National Park, Mt Desert Island
We lifted anchor from Southwest Harbour mid morning to take advantage of the last of the incoming tide to cover the few miles up Somes Sound. This stretch of water is currently listed as a fjord however we read in the local paper that geologists are questioning the use of the term fjord – slight ice age hitch, I’m sure. Whether or not this is technically a fjord remains unclear, what is clear is the stunning natural beauty of this area, steep wooded cliffs drop down into the narrow sound, surely the most spectacular scenery we have sailed by so far on this eastern USA seaboard.
We slipped into the bay at Somesville, tucked deep at the top of Somes Sound, and found a spot to call home for the next few days. At high tide the anchorage appeared expansive – water, water, everywhere, but at low it was a different sight, especially with the full moon and spring tides, what an amazing difference 12 feet of water makes!
We had come here to explore America’s 2nd most visited National Park (Yosemite is 1st), Acadia National Park. Most of the parklands are located on Mt Desert Island, but it extends to some of the neighbouring islands also.
Originally named in 1604 Isle de Mont-desert (literally island of barren mountains) Mt Desert – pronounced Dessert – was yet another area the British and French fought over for many years. Rich in granite, lumber, fish and ice; and with several safe harbours surrounded by protected waters it was another strategic point along the coast.
In the mid 1800’s it began to gain favour as a popular spot for East Coasters to come to experience a slice of nature, then the extremely wealthy moved in and built grand “summer cottages” whilst enjoying the peace and tranquillity. In 1916 Woodrow Wilson established the park with 6,000 acres of land. Since then thanks to some of the summer cottage owners; Morgans, Fords, Astors, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers and Rockefellers, the parks acreage has increased to over 49,000 acres, all of this land has been donated.
1947 was a dry summer and in late October a fire started in the park that raged for nearly a month, over 14,000 acres of parkland, 170 houses and 67 summer estates were destroyed, 3 lives were lost. Few summer cottages were rebuilt, but the towns bounced back, tourism boomed as people flocked to see the fire damage and the islands economy somehow survived.
There are over 120 miles of signposted hiking trails and 55 miles of superbly maintained carriage roads in the park making it an outstanding hiking and biking destination. John D Rockefeller Jr, one of the parks major benefactors had the carriage roads and several granite bridges built, initially for his families enjoyment – now because of the Rockefellers generosity in donating thousands of acres we got to enjoy them too.
Starting with Some Hiking
We caught the free Island Explorer bus from Somesville to Bar Harbour each day. Bar Harbour is the hub for all the free buses that operate throughout the island as well as the main tourist and shopping destination and home to Park Headquarters. We purchased park passes and a hiking/biking map, grabbed a latte (amazing – several decent cafes to chose from!!) digested all the information we had collected then caught a bus to one of the trailheads.
We spent the afternoon walking the Bubble and Jordon Ponds Paths and hiking the Bubble Rock Trail. At 768 feet it was a reasonably easy climb up with a great vista at the top, but the trail downhill sure had some steep bits. We timed the bus well and had enough time in Bar Harbour for a wander around and a well earned drink at a waterfront bar. Mark tried yet another local brew “Thunder Hole Ale”, not a bad drop so I am told. There are so many boutique breweries in New England producing beers with some pretty funky names, will there be enough time for skipper to try them all?
And Now For Some Biking
We awoke to another perfect day so it was back ashore, on the Island Explorer bus to Bar Harbour and off to the cycle shop to hire mountain bikes for the day. Coastal Kayaks run a very slick operation and we were sorted out with our excellent bikes within 15 minutes, then back to the bus stop for the special bike bus to Eagle Lake, and we were off to explore.
Of the 55 miles of carriage roads we covered 24.8 miles, an excellent days effort considering we have not been on bikes since Cuba. Once we got a couple of miles away from the bike bus stop we almost had the paths to ourselves. It was such a pleasure not having to worry about traffic, the tree cover kept us cool but there were plenty of breaks in the foliage for some wonderful views over the ponds and lakes on the island, across the bays and out to the ocean.
Cadillac Mountain – Just Had To Be Climbed
Day 3 dawned another ripper, with some energy left and remarkably few aching muscles we once again headed for Bar Harbour. Enough time for a latte and muffin then on the next bus to the trailhead of the Cadillac Mountain hike. Never a good sign when you are the only ones to get off the bus!!
Now although it’s called a mountain it is only 1,530 feet high, not quite up there with the 17,000 feet we have hiked to in Nepal, but it is the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. There is even a road that goes almost to the summit for those who want to enjoy the great outdoors without actually having to go outdoors!! This meant the trail was almost deserted for us hardy hikers, just perfect.
We did the 8 mile trail from north to south, made countless stops to enjoy the outstanding views on another cracker of a day, then rendezvoused with another bus to return us to Bar Harbour for more New England Beer Tasting. The “Bar Harbour Summer Ale” seemed not even to touch the sides after a hard day on the mountain!
West or East – It’s Decision Time
Mt Desert Island had been our goal for the season, now we needed to decide whether to carry on east (its not actually north and south up here, east is towards Canada, west is back through Maine and then south), or turnaround from here and start heading back.
Our immediate destination was easy, we headed south back down Somes Sound and spent the night back at Southwest Harbour. We went ashore and had a walk into the sleepy little town - such a contrast to busy Bar Harbour - then wandered back to the docks to a shacky little restaurant perched lopsided over the water that we had spotted on the way in.
It was time for lobster again, accompanied by a local “Lobster Ale”, I am told it didn’t taste fishy at all but can not confirm that, sensibly I just stuck to the chardonnay.
Decision Made – Time to Turn Around