Another in a series of “Ask Acadia on My Mind!” Q&As
If you have a question about Acadia National Park on your mind, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time fan, leave a comment below, or contact us through the About us page. We may not be able to answer every question, or respond right away, but we’ll do our best. See our new page linking in one place all the Q&As.
We will be visiting Acadia for the very first time in August and would like to use the car as little as possible. The kids would prefer to stay within walking distance to the trails and park. While we don’t want to be too far from town, I don’t want to sacrifice privacy. We were thinking of renting a home in Otter Creek. Would this be the best area to satisfy walking distance to hiking trails and access to town via Explorer? Would appreciate any insight you can provide. Thank you. – Evelyn Sullivan
Thanks for your question! Otter Creek is definitely off the beaten path and seemingly a world away, even though it’s only 5 miles south of Bar Harbor on Maine Route 3 and within walking distance of the newest Acadia National Park trails.
That’s great that the kids want to walk to the park, and that the family wants to use the car as little as possible. Otter Creek offers that, although visitors to Acadia National Park who want tons of restaurants and retail shops at their doorstep would be disappointed.
What the village doesn’t offer by way of hubbub, however, it more than makes up for with privacy, history and character. You sound like atypical visitors, perhaps even pioneering and adventuresome; the fierce independence of Otter Creek and its residents may suit you.
For these reasons, it seems Otter Creek would meet your needs, of easy walking distance to the park, and as car-free an Acadia experience as you would like:
- An old village connector trail at the end of Walls Street in Otter Creek takes you less than half a mile to Acadia’s newest trails, the Quarry and Otter Cove Trails, providing access to Gorham Mountain, Ocean Path, Blackwoods Campground and beyond. This historic trail continues to be used by residents to access the waterfront, and park officials last year asked for public input on their plans to upgrade this and another village trail.
- The Island Explorer’s Sand Beach / Blackwoods Campground route (Bus 3) runs past Otter Creek about every half hour to an hour in season, from late June through Columbus Day. Although the Island Explorer schedule doesn’t specifically list an Otter Creek stop, there is one on the east side of Maine Route 3 near Walls Street.
- You can fashion as ambitious a one-way hike – say to the Beehive, one of the park’s premier cliff climbs – or as leisurely a stroll – say along the easy Ocean Path to Thunder Hole – as you would like. Then hop on the Island Explorer’s Sand Beach / Blackwoods Campground bus for the return to Otter Creek. Or you can do a long loop or out-and-back trek, even as far as Cadillac and back. The possibilities are endless.
Roots run deep in Otter Creek despite economic challenges
Historically rooted in fishing and lobstering, Otter Creek was cut off from the waterfront in the 1930s when John D. Rockefeller, Jr., bought land along Otter Cove as part of his vision for Acadia National Park.
Even though those industries aren’t as important to villagers anymore, residents continue to have a strong connection to those roots, as documented in a 2012 report, “The Waterfront of Otter Creek: A Community History,” by Douglas Deur, PhD, an associate research professor at Portland State University, who prepared the report for the National Park Service’s ethnography program.
At times, the relations between Otter Creek and the park have been strained, especially during the 1970s when the park tore down some families’ fish shacks along Otter Cove, some of which had been abandoned with changes in the fishing industry and local economy.
But last year, at a hearing held by park officials at Otter Creek Hall, residents had a chance to provide input on park plans to upgrade and better mark old village connector trails to the park, and create an interpretive plaque on Otter Creek’s history.
Otter Creek is the only village on Mount Desert Island to be cut off from the waterfront and completely encircled by the park, and residents have grappled with trying to spur the local economy. Fishing and lobstering may not represent as much of a livelihood anymore, but the village hasn’t transitioned to a tourist-driven economy.
Only limited visitor services are available in Otter Creek itself, such as the Otter Creek Inn and Market and The Burning Tree Restaurant.
Hopefully, upgraded village connector trails into the park, and the new Quarry and Otter Cove Trails that begin at the nearby Blackwoods Campground, will help. The Otter Creek bus stop – where the 5 millionth Island Explorer passenger, Otter Creek student Marisa Gray, got on board in 2014 – is also vital.
On the Island Explorer, you can get from Otter Creek to there
The Sand Beach / Blackwoods Campground bus can take you from Otter Creek to Bar Harbor, where you can transfer to other routes to get to Jordan Pond House, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and trails along the way.
You can also rent bicycles in Bar Harbor and take the Island Explorer Bicycle Express to the Eagle Lake carriage road entrance. Or you can take a ranger-narrated cruise from Bar Harbor to Baker Island. You can even get to Schoodic Peninsula from Bar Harbor, by taking the Bar Harbor-Winter Harbor ferry and then the Island Explorer around the Schoodic section of Acadia, the only part of the park on the mainland. Check out the park’s online calendar of activities, or look for the free weekly tourist guide in town, for details.
The Island Explorer can also take you to the mail boat to the Cranberry Isles or the ferry to Swans Island. The only places the Explorer can’t take you: Isle au Haut, the most remote part of Acadia, or up Cadillac Mountain. For Cadillac, you can take one of the guided bus tours, Oli’s Trolley or National Park Tours, or you can hike up the tallest peak in Acadia.
You can also take the bus from Otter Creek to Blackwoods Campground, where there are ranger-led programs, although you’ll want to know the last bus out of Blackwoods if you’re attending an evening program.
To catch the bus south to the campground, you would cross to the west side of Maine Route 3 and flag down the bus driver. The Island Explorer has a policy of allowing bus drivers to drop off or pick up passengers even if there’s no official bus stop, as long as it’s safe to do so.
The Explorer is fare-free, but be sure to buy a park pass, available at the Village Green park information center across from the Bar Harbor bus hub, at the Blackwoods Campground, or at the main Hulls Cove Visitor Center (which can be busy with people buying passes or asking basic questions, but you can bypass the line if you already have your pass and want to just see the video about Acadia or go to the park bookstore).
Taking the Island Explorer is a great way to enjoy Acadia and surrounding areas during the peak season, without the hassle of traffic or circling around looking for parking. In 2019, the bus service carried a record 643,870 passengers, and since it started operating in 1999, the service has carried more than 8 million passengers.
Funding for the Explorer comes from the park, the US and Maine Department of Transportation, contributions from L.L. Bean and the nonprofit Friends of Acadia, local municipal dollars, fees from businesses that receive front-door service, and passenger donations. And in line with Acadia’s pet-friendliness, leashed pets are allowed on the Explorer.
All hiking trails lead to and from Otter Creek
To access park trails from Otter Creek, take Walls Street to the end and head south-southeast on the village connector trail. Even if the connector trail is not yet fully upgraded and marked by the park, it’s a well-worn path and should be easy to follow.
In less than half a mile, reach the new, well-graded Quarry Trail. If there’s no sign marking the intersection here yet, be sure to make a mental note (GPS may not work well here) for your return.
If you turn right, or southwest, onto the Quarry Trail, you reach Blackwoods Campground, where you can attend a ranger-led program, or hook up with a spur to the longest trail to Cadillac, the Cadillac South Ridge Trail (the quickest way to access the trailhead would actually be to take the Explorer south to the Blackwoods entrance, since the trailhead is right across from the campground).
If you turn left, or northeast, onto the Quarry Trail, you will arrive at the one-way Park Loop Road at Otter Cove at a causeway and three-arched bridge that Rockefeller helped build. From there, turn left and pick up the new Otter Cove Trail along a grassy strip on the left of the Park Loop Road.
Take the Otter Cove Trail until it ends at the Gorham Mountain Trail. You can bear left to hike up to Gorham Mountain, a mountain pond known as the Bowl, and beyond to Champlain Mountain. Or you can bear right to the Gorham Mountain parking lot, cross the one-way Park Loop Road to Ocean Path, and turn left to access Thunder Hole, Sand Beach and the Beehive, or right to head down to Otter Cliff and Otter Point.
The latest edition of our “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” includes trail descriptions and maps for the Quarry and Otter Cove Trails, inaugurated just last year, as well as for Gorham Mountain Trail, the Bowl Trail, Ocean Path and other easy or popular trails. (Pardon the shameless plug! See link to the 3rd edition in sidebar.)
Remember to have a copy of the Island Explorer schedule in your day pack, in case spotty cell phone service in the park doesn’t allow you to download the schedule from www.exploreacadia.com. That would come in handy if you decide to do a one-way hike and hop on the Sand Beach / Blackwoods Campground bus back to Otter Creek.
There’s no snack bar at Sand Beach, although you may be able to buy cold drinks and snacks at the Thunder Hole gift shop. There are changing rooms, rest rooms and a pay phone at Sand Beach, and a chemical toilet at the Thunder Hole parking lot. Official Island Explorer bus stops are at Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff.
Evelyn, thanks again for your question. For a family that doesn’t mind walking or otherwise getting around car-free, Otter Creek can be a great jumping-off point for a pioneering Acadia adventure.
As local resident Karen O. Zimmerman, creator of a map about the trails and historic sites around Otter Creek, says about her hometown in her “From the Creek” blog: “Geographically near Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, but light years away in attitude. Tales from Otter Creek, capital of the world and center of the Universe.”
And on the page where you can order her map, Zimmerman notes: “Just passing through, or spending your life here, Otter Creek would never pretend to have it all, but it has all you need.”
May you have tales to tell from Otter Creek, and may you find all you need.