To be footloose and fancy-free, car-free and carefree in Acadia

Imagine being able to walk or run the Park Loop Road of Acadia National Park, or bike the Cadillac Mountain Road, and take in the magnificent scenery without worrying about watching out for cars.

cadillac mountain road

Cars ride off into the sunset on Cadillac Mountain Road. They won’t be allowed on the road on a couple of car-free Saturday mornings, in an Acadia National Park experiment to encourage bikers, hikers and others enjoying non-motorized activities.

Visitors can do just that on the mornings of Saturday, May 16, and Sept. 26, up until noon, in an experiment by the park service to encourage more people to experience Acadia on foot, bikes, roller blades or skateboards, as well as to help inform development of a transportation plan to ease park congestion.

Another added enticement: No park entrance fee will be charged the morning of May 16, and the whole day of Sept. 26, National Public Lands Day, will be free.

While the concept of experiencing Acadia car-free seems foreign in today’s car-dominated society, in the days of old, rusticators – or summer residents, tourists and artists – would think nothing of walking 5, 10 or 15 miles in a day, from village to mountains to shore and back.

In fact, many of Acadia’s footpaths were built in the late 1800s, early 1900s, with connector trails linking to the villages of Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor. Experiencing Mount Desert Island on foot was such a part of the lifestyle then, that some summer residents actually opposed construction of the Park Loop Road for automobiles. John D. Rockefeller Jr. helped fund construction of the Park Loop Road to keep automobiles off the carriage roads, which he’d built for horse and carriage use.

Island Explorer bus in Acadia National Park

While the Island Explorer bus is fare-free, be sure to get an Acadia National Park visitor pass to help support that and other park services. (NPS photo)

With the Acadia Centennial in 2016, perhaps these new car-free mornings, along with the fare-free Island Explorer bus, refurbished village connector trails and other initiatives, can be viewed as part of a larger plan to reconnect visitors and area residents to a simpler, less traffic-congested time, and more directly with nature and the beauty of Mount Desert Island.

In that spirit, here’s a roundup of some of the many ways to experience Acadia car-free, whether in getting to Acadia via public transportation, going by foot from village to shore, or creating unique trips using the Island Explorer bus, among other options. You don’t need to rely on a special car-free Saturday during the shoulder season to harken back to less hectic times.

A car-free guide to enjoying Acadia National Park

    • Getting to Acadia National Park by public transportation – While less convenient and taking longer than driving yourself, getting to Acadia via plane, train or bus has the advantage of freeing you to read, nap or perhaps even work. Best attempted when the Island Explorer is running between late June and Columbus Day, so that you can explore the park car-free once you get there. The Island Explorer Web site outlines 7 different routes to arrive in Bar Harbor, whether flying, riding the rails or taking the bus. Acadia on My Mind is tempted to try out one of those car-free routes, and blog about it en route. Stay tuned!
Schooner Head Path in Acadia National Park

Runner booking it down Schooner Head Path, one of Acadia National Park’s many village connector trails

    • Walking or running village connector trails – From Bar Harbor, it’s possible to walk or run to Sieur de Monts via the Great Meadow Loop and Jesup Path, and to Schooner Head, Great Head and Sand Beach via the Schooner Head Path, as if you were a rusticator of yore. From Northeast Harbor, it’s possible to walk or run to Jordan Pond via carriage roads or the newly refurbished Asticou & Jordan Pond Path, an historic village connector trail dating back to the late 1800s. Since 1996, the non-profit Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park have been working together on re-opening many of the historic village connector trails, as a way to encourage car-free use. No biking allowed on these well-graded gravel paths, except for the Western Mountain Connector that links the south end of Lurvey Spring Road to Western Mountain Road in Southwest Harbor.
    • Biking, running or hiking carriage roads – Why fight for a parking space during a busy weekend at the popular Eagle Lake carriage road entrance, when you can take the Island Explorer Bicycle Express? If you’re staying at any of the hotels or motels on ME 3 near the College of the Atlantic, you can use the Duck Brook Connector to access the carriage road around Witch Hole Pond, which Runner’s World has included in its list of “10 Can’t-Miss Running Adventures.” You need to walk your bike on the connector, which is a little hilly and rocky in spots, but it makes for a nice hike or trail run. The connector trailhead is next to Acadia Inn, and kitty corner from Atlantic Oceanside, the host hotel for the Mount Desert Island Marathon.
    • Taking the Bar Harbor-Winter Harbor ferry to Schoodic – This is just one of 3 bus and boat excursions available during the peak season, as described on the Island Explorer Web site. You can even bring your bike on these trips, allowing you to explore Schoodic, Swans Island and the Cranberry Isles on two wheels. While the Island Explorer portion of the trips is fare-free, you’ll have to pay for the boat, and there may be an extra charge for bringing your bike on the boat.
schoodic head trail

Campers at the new Schoodic Woods campground will be able to hike outside their tent to this view on the Schoodic Head Trail, west to Cadillac and the rest of Mount Desert Island.

    • Hiking outside your tent in Blackwoods or the new Schoodic Woods campground – There’s long been a connector trail from Blackwoods to the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, but last year’s addition of the Quarry and Otter Cove Trails now means you can hike outside your tent to Otter Cove, Gorham Mountain, Thunder Hole or Sand Beach. The privately owned but park-run Schoodic Woods campground, opening Sept. 1 and available this year on a first-come, first-served, basis, will have a trail linking you to Schoodic Head, the prominent peak within the only section of the park on the mainland. The campground, adjacent to the park, will also have bike paths linking to the one-way Schoodic Park Loop Road.
Trying to push Bubble Rock in Acadia National Park a popular activity

Our nieces were glad to have the option of riding the Island Explorer after the exertion of trying to push Bubble Rock.

  • Creating a unique trip with the Island Explorer bus – Maybe you want to hike up South Bubble to Bubble Rock, descend to Jordan Pond, and have popovers at the Jordan Pond House, before catching the Island Explorer back to the start, as we did with our nieces one day? Or maybe you want to do a long one-way hike of the full length of Cadillac’s ridge, from north to south, and take the Island Explorer back to town? There’s no end to the ways you can use the Island Explorer to create a special trip. The Island Explorer Web site even has a page entitled “One-Way Hikes for the Serious Hiker.”
  • Visiting Acadia in winter – Much of the 27-mile Park Loop Road, including the 3.5-mile Cadillac Mountain Road, is closed to cars December through mid-April. If it’s a mild winter with little snow and ice (unlike this past winter), bikers, hikers and runners can have a field day. Otherwise, pull out the MICROspikes(R) (see note in sidebar about links in this blog), snowshoes or cross-country skis.

What’s your favorite car-free experience in Acadia? Let us know!

9 thoughts on “To be footloose and fancy-free, car-free and carefree in Acadia

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  5. Gail Melhado

    We have the book – thanks. We are here until Labor Day and two of us would
    Like to hire a guide to go with us. We are good hikers but want someone
    to show us the trails. Any ideas?

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Oh you meant a person as a guide, not a book as a guide! There are a couple of Registered Maine Guides who have been helpful on some of our blog posts, primarily relating to birdwatching. You can ask them if they can guide you on hikes in the Southwest Harbor area. We haven’t gone on hikes with them, so not sure if this is within their area of service or not. Doesn’t hurt for you to ask! Not recommending one over another, but here are links to each Bar Harbor-based guide’s info, in alphabetical order:

    2. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Gail, another idea for you: You can find a ranger-led hike in Southeast Harbor area in this park calendar. Just noticed the park is doing Beech Mountain fire tower open house throughout summer – very unusual! Firetower usually closed, with occasional open house in fall.

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Gail, thanks for the question. Our big book, Hiking Acadia National Park, includes nearly all 155 miles of trails in Acadia, including those in Southwest Harbor. The easier trails like Flying Mountain in Southwest Harbor, are also in our Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park, a handy pocket guide. Or you could go to the Acadia Chamber of Commerce Web site, which represents Southwest Harbor and Tremont, and get their PDF for hiking on the Quietside:

      Happy trails!

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