Camping or cruise ship question? Ask Acadia on My Mind!

Bubble Rock in Acadia National Park helped prove the Ice Age

Ask Acadia on My Mind!

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 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.

1) So I am planning on visiting Acadia the weekend of Oct. 24th this year. I am coming from Boston so leaving Friday afternoon and camping Friday and Saturday night. How crowded do you think the campsite will be? I was going to stay at Blackwoods and I hear that it’s pretty tightly packed with not much room between tents. I was hoping since I am going pretty late in the year that it won’t be very crowded and I can get some quiet time to relax by the fire. I am not much of a hiker, just like to take pictures and enjoy the quiet. Any advice you can give would be great. Thanks. – Robert F. of Boston

Blackwoods campground

Blackwoods Campground is open year-round, with 214 tent sites and 61 RV sites. (NPS photo)

2) We are arriving on Holland America and will be in Bar Harbor from 7am – 3 pm. 7 adults (good shape) would like to do some hiking in Acadia – an hour or so hike. We would like to take the public bus as transportation round trip. Can you suggest which bus to take from near the pier and trails to hike? Thank you! – Lynn M.

Dear Robert and Lynn,

Your questions are good ones, and illustrate the broad appeal that Acadia has, whether to campers looking to rough it a couple of nights, or cruise ship passengers getting off in Bar Harbor for a few hours. Thanks for asking them!

Blackwoods quieter in late October; reservations still recommended

Robert, we don’t think you’ll have trouble finding quiet and solitude at Blackwoods Campground the weekend of Oct. 24. That’s because fall foliage will most likely be past peak, group camping is not allowed at Blackwoods after Oct. 15, and it will be well into the off-season for Acadia National Park.

Quarry Trail in Acadia National Park

Quarry Trail in Acadia National Park goes from Blackwoods Campground to Otter Cove.

Most of the tent sites are a bit close together, but it should be possible to get one of the more secluded ones if you show up early enough and ask the ranger when you check in. It’s recommended that you make reservations on, even though you can’t pick specific campsites online.

There are 214 tent-only sites at Blackwoods, but a recent check of shows only about 80 such sites available for the dates you’re planning your trip. That’s why it would be important to make a reservation once your plans are firm, and to show up as soon after the noon check-in time as possible to have the best ranger-assigned site available.

It might be a good idea for you to print a copy of the campground map and bring it with you, to help you figure out which site to ask for. You can also get a copy of the campground map as you’re checking in, but it never hurts to do your research in advance.

Loop A is the one closest to the water, with a spur to the Cadillac South Ridge Trail and to the Park Loop Road. The new, easy Quarry and Otter Cove Trails, which lead to Gorham Mountain, Ocean Path and beyond, start across from the ranger check-in station, between Loops A and B. But if you’re not much into hiking, proximity to trailheads may not be important in choosing your campsite.

After Columbus Day, the Island Explorer bus isn’t running, so you may be driving to the park for your photo opportunities. It’s a short trip to the Park Loop Road from Blackwoods, or to the top of Cadillac. For some ideas of places to photograph, you can check out another Ask Acadia on My Mind! post we did, answering one reader’s question about scenic places to take photos for an engagement announcement.

Cruise ship passengers arriving by Columbus Day have more options

Lynn, that’s great your party is wanting to hike Acadia! Too often, cruise ship passengers don’t realize that they are able to get off the ship and explore the area they’ve docked in. By using a marine ladder, from somewhere like Platforms and Ladders, passengers can easily get on and off the ship as they please. These ladders are lightweight and can be kept on the ship, meaning that leaving is an option. If you’re arriving by cruise ship by Columbus Day, the Village Green park information center and Island Explorer bus hub will still be operating, allowing you the chance to take the fare-free bus to hiking trails.

cruise ship acadia national park

A view from Bar Island puts into perspective one of the many cruise ships visiting Bar Harbor.

Walk over to the Village Green park information center (straight down Main Street and right on Firefly lane) to get your visitor’s pass, park map and Island Explorer map.

If there are members in your group that are age 62 or older, up to 3 other adults can get in free with each Senior Pass holder. If they don’t yet have the lifetime Senior Pass, they can get one at the Village Green park information center for $10 with proper ID, getting them and up to 3 other adults in for free. And if the party is visiting on Oct. 8, there’s a voucher that seniors can use that day to get a lifetime pass for free, through Senior Skip Day sponsored by Humana and the National Park Foundation.

And if none of the members of your party are yet 62, a group of up to 4 can get in for $25, the normal 7-day pass.

After getting your park pass and maps from the friendly and knowledgeable rangers at the information center, walk across the street to the Village Green and take the Island Explorer’s Sand Beach line, or the Jordan Pond line, depending upon which area you would like to explore. Here are a few ideas for 1-hour (or about 2-mile round trip) hikes accessible by bus.

Jordan Pond house

View from the Jordan Pond House observation deck toward the twin mountains known as the Bubbles.

Sand Beach to Great Head Trail – Easy to moderate, and a great way to get a flavor of Acadia’s magnificent coast line. Walk to the far end of the beach, hop across the narrow channel – or take your shoes and socks off and wade across if it’s high tide – and climb Great Head for its spectacular views. You would take the Sand Beach line to access this trail.

Ocean Path – Very easy. Can start at Sand Beach and walk south past Thunder Hole and as far as Otter Point. Can hop on bus whenever you get tired, back to Bar Harbor. No need to turn around to Sand Beach since the bus parallels Ocean Path on the one-way Park Loop Road. Official bus stops are at Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff, but you can flag the bus down at any safe spot, such as at the Gorham Mountain or any of the other parking areas on the right side of the Park Loop Road. Be sure to take the Sand Beach line back, and not the Loop Road line, to return to the Village Green.

Jordan Pond Path – Take the Jordan Pond line from the Bar Harbor Village Green to access this trail. Take the easier east side of the path, and turn around after half hour so you have 1 hour out and back. It’s easy and you can have lunch or tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House afterwards. If you’re fast hikers and don’t mind the more rugged west shore, you can just do the whole loop around the pond, about 3 miles, ending back at the Jordan Pond House, which serves until the end of October.

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)

The Island Explorer doesn’t go up Cadillac, and you may not have enough time to get off the bus at the Cadillac North Ridge Trail for the hike up, since you need to be back to your cruise ship by 3 p.m. So in order to summit Cadillac, you would need to buy tickets for one of the two authorized commercial tour bus lines, Oli’s Trolley or Acadia National Park Tours.

Cruise ship passengers arriving after Columbus Day won’t have the option of taking the Island Explorer, so Oli’s Trolley or Acadia National Park Tours would be the way to get a ride around the park, and up Cadillac – unless you have the time, interest and fitness level to walk or bike into the park, that is!

Passengers in good hiking shape can walk from downtown Bar Harbor to the park, along such easy village connector trails as Schooner Head Path and Great Meadow Loop. The trails lead to such popular sites as Sieur de Monts Spring and the Wild Gardens of Acadia, and as far as Sand Beach and Great Head, beyond Schooner Head Overlook.

From downtown Bar Harbor to Sieur de Monts via Great Meadow Loop, it’s about 2 miles one way, and to Schooner Head Overlook via Schooner Head Path, about 3 miles one way.

Or you can just walk the approximate 1 mile from downtown Bar Harbor to the Compass Harbor Trail, a short hike that takes you to the site of the former mansion of George B. Dorr, the “father of Acadia” and its first superintendent. At the end of the trail, you may even get views of a cruise ship passing by one of the Porcupine Islands.

A tour of the Compass Harbor trail at Acadia National Park

The last ranger-led “Missing Mansion” tour of George B. Dorr’s former estate on the Compass Harbor Trail is happening on Oct. 14 this year, beginning at 10 a,m.

There won’t be any snack bars along the way on any of these hikes, so you would want to be sure to carry water and snacks in a day pack. Rest rooms can be found in downtown Bar Harbor, Sieur de Monts and Sand Beach, but not along Schooner Head Path or Compass Harbor Trail.

Our “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park” book includes detailed directions for the village connector trails and Compass Harbor, as well as for the easy hikes you can connect to. But for the more difficult hikes, such as up Dorr Mountain from Sieur de Monts, you’d want to check out our bigger book, “Hiking Acadia National Park”, which features more than 70 hikes, from easy to difficult. (NOTE: See sidebar about links on this site.)

Be sure to leave yourself enough time for the return to downtown Bar Harbor, whether you’re taking the Island Explorer, or walking into the park. You don’t want to miss the cruise ship’s departure!

Thanks again, Robert and Lynn, for checking out Ask Acadia on My Mind! And hope you have a great visit.

3 thoughts on “Camping or cruise ship question? Ask Acadia on My Mind!

  1. Pingback: Wanted: Acadia camping with a view, or in the backcountry

  2. Jim Linnane

    Thank you for this advice to visitors wishing to camp in Acadia National Park and especially for cruise ship passengers visiting Bar Harbor. Sadly, few cruise ship passengers consider hiking or biking in Acadia. There will be many cruise ship visits after Columbus Day and those arriving will be faced with a choice of paying for a guided tour or biking or hiking because the Island Explorer will have ceased operations for the season.

    It is possible for the cruise ship passenger arriving early to hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain which is a round trip of 10 miles from the tender dock via the Great Meadow Loop, the Kebo Brook Connector which branches off the GML at Holy Redeemer Cemetary, and the North Ridge Trail. Considering the elevation gain of 1500′ from the tender dock, a good hiker could do this in about six hours.

    Dorr Mountain or Champlain Mountain are shorter hikes for the cruise ship passenger wishing to enjoy Acadia’s unique combination of ocean and mountain views. The Sieur de Monts area is a level 2.5 mile hike from the tender dock via the Great Meadow Loop and the Jesup Path. From SDM there are many hiking options on beautifully constructed mountainside trails. Champlain Mountin is 1.5 miles via the Wild Gardens Path and the Beechcroft Trail from the Tarn. Dorr Mountain can be climbed by a choice of trails that merge with the Schiff Path and reach the summit within 2 miles from SDM. From either Champlain or Dorr hiking passengers will have a fine view of the ship that brought them to Bar Harbor.

    Biking Acadia is also possible. The Blackwoods camper could carry a bike to the Park Loop Road via a short trail from Loop A and then ride the one way PLR to a carriage road bridge which crosses the PLR near Wildwood stables. From there it is possible to bike to the summit of Day Mountain, 583′ above sea level with unobstructed views of the ocean. To return to Blackwoods the cycling camper should consider continuing on the one way road from Wildwood, turning left on to the Stanley Brook Road, left again on to the Jordan Pond road through residential areas in Seal Harbor and left again on to Route 3, which has wide shoulders, back to Blackwoods.

    The cruise ship passenger can rent a bicycle on Cottage Street within a few blocks of the tender pier at West Street and then ride 2 miles to the idyllic carriage roads. From the tender pier it is 1.3 miles on West St. and West St. Extension to the Duck Brook Road, which is closed to traffic. The Duck Brook Road leads to the beautiful Duck Brook Bridge and access to Acadia’s 45 miles of scenic carriage roads. The cycling passenger should consider turning right after crossing the bridge and then right again at intersection 3 for a ride up Paradise Hill to gain a view of the cruise ship moored off Bar Harbor. Be sure to obtain a good carriage road map either from the bike rental shop of a box at the carriage road entrance for navigating the sometimes confusing carriage road loops.

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Jim, thanks so much for these great ideas. All visitors can benefit from them, whether they’re campers or cruise ship passengers. You could write a hiking book!

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