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.
I am coming up to Acadia. I figured you probably know a thing or two. So my girlfriend and I will be celebrating our year and a half anniversary on the trip (not really the reason for going, just kind of a coincidence), and I want to do something special or romantic. Of course the obvious answer for the most romantic thing would probably be to watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, but I was wondering if perhaps you know of any other cool spots in the park we should check out. We are beyond ourselves with excitement, especially to see the fall foliage. We will be up for three days, arriving the morning of Thursday, Oct. 15 and leaving on Sunday, Oct. 18. – Aaron from Cleveland
Congratulations on your 1-1/2 year anniversary! You and your girlfriend have timed your visit well for fall foliage in Acadia National Park, especially since the colors haven’t yet peaked according to last week’s official state of Maine leaf-peeping report.
There is no shortage of romantic things to do in Acadia and surrounding communities. You could hike or bike the miles of scenic trails and carriage roads; watch the sunrise or set; have popovers and tea or a lobster dinner, feast on the Main lobster tail all evening and enjoy the flavors; see a shooting star, or walk across at low tide to Bar Island.
Making it even more romantic this time of year: It’s less crowded after Columbus Day, and the trees are ablaze in autumn’s colors. No wonder many couples consider Acadia a perfect place to get married, go on their honeymoon, take photos for an engagement announcement – or celebrate their anniversary, like you and your girlfriend!
Here are some suggestions for romantic things to do in Acadia National Park:
The sun also rises, and sets, over Acadia National Park
Watching the sunrise on Cadillac can certainly be romantic, especially between Oct. 7 and March 6, when it is the first place in the United States where the sun’s rays first appear. (At other times of the year, other Maine communities farther north lay claim to being the first.)
You’ll most likely have company, though. Watching the sunrise on Cadillac is a popular activity for visitors, and even led to such overcrowding one day this summer, park officials had to close the summit road before dawn.
If you and your girlfriend would find the sunrise more romantic with a bit more solitude, you can consider Schooner Head Overlook.
The park recently reopened the historic vista here, so you can see east clear across Frenchman Bay, and also northwest toward the Precipice of Champlain Mountain, which would glow even pinker with the sun’s first rays. It’s the kind of vista that inspired the Hudson River School of artists in the mid- to late 1800s.
There’s plenty of parking at Schooner Head Overlook, and there’s a paved walkway down to the top of the sea cliffs, that heads right along the split-rail fence. From ME 3 just south of Bar Harbor, head southeast on Schooner Head Road to the intersection with the spur road to the park’s Sand Beach entrance station. Turn left into the Schooner Head Overlook parking lot.
Even if you won’t have bragging rights for seeing the sun’s first rays as you would atop Cadillac, Schooner Head Overlook makes up for it with more solitude and up-close ocean views.
Among the best spots to watch the sunset in Acadia (wouldn’t it be fun to see the sun rise and set the same day in the park?):
- Blue Hill Overlook, just below the Cadillac summit.
- Beech Mountain, featuring the park’s only fire tower, reachable by a 1.1-mile loop hike at the end of Beech Hill Road, south of Somesville on ME 102. Bear right at the first junction to go counterclockwise around the loop, so you get the west-facing views over Long Pond. You can also climb to the first landing of the fire tower for some awesome views, but unfortunately the park’s last fire tower open house of the season is Oct. 14, before your arrival. Remember to bring a flashlight or head lamp for the hike back down after the sun sets.
- Bass Harbor Head Light in Tremont, at the southwestern tip of Mount Desert Island. The lighthouse is a favorite photographic subject. Located off ME 102A, the lighthouse can be viewed by going down the sea cliff via a set of stairs beyond the parking lot.
Special trails for hiking and biking in Acadia National Park
With 155 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads for biking and hiking, Acadia offers plenty of options to suit all interests and abilities. Here are some favorites to consider. You can get more ideas from one of our hiking books (see sidebar), or from the park’s historic hiking trail brochure or carriage road map:
- Low tide walk to Bar Island – Like Moses parting the Red Sea, you can walk across from Bar Harbor to Bar Island, but only during the 1-1/2 hours on either side of low tide. The days you’ll be visiting, the morning low tide will be between 6:46 a.m. to 8:38 a.m. If you’re up early for the sunrise anyway, this might be the perfect second stop of the day. It’s 2 miles round trip, from the start of the hike at the end of Bridge Street in Bar Harbor, to the top of Bar Island. Be sure to be mindful of the tide. You don’t want to be stranded on the island – even if it might be romantic! It wouldn’t be fun to have to be rescued, or to wait until the next low tide in 12 hours.
- Sand Beach and Great Head Trail – Walk across Acadia’s only sandy beach to a rocky peninsula with views so grand, they’ve attracted generations of visitors. You can do a 1.5 mile loop. Go to the far end of the beach and hop across the channel if it’s low water, or take off your shoes and socks and wade across, to pick up the Great Head Trail. At the top of the stairs, bear right to go counterclockwise around the loop, following the trail as it hugs the edge of the peninsula. After the trail rounds the tip of the peninsula and heads inland, turn left at a junction in a birch grove to close the loop back at Sand Beach. Sand Beach is a great place to visit at night as well, to see Acadia’s famed night sky that’s celebrated every year during a festival. The ranger-led Stars over Sand Beach program will have ended by the time you visit, but you can still bring a blanket down to the shore to lay under the night sky. Maybe you’ll see a shooting star! Bring extra blankets to stay warm, and a flashlight to get you between the parking lot and the beach.
- Cadillac South Ridge Trail – If you and your girlfriend are up for one of the longest treks in the park, you can hike outside your tent at Blackwoods and connect with the 3.5-mile Cadillac South Ridge Trail. It’s a moderate climb with great views along the open ridge of the tallest mountain in Acadia. You can take a spur trail to Eagles Crag for a view down toward the village of Otter Creek, or stop and rest at the benches along a small mountain pond known as the Featherbed. Pack a picnic lunch. Or reward yourself with a drink and a snack at the gift shop at the top of Cadillac.
- Carriage road loop around Witch Hole Pond – President Obama and his family biked this loop, and it’s been featured by Runner’s World as a rave run. The park has been reopening historic vistas along the carriage roads so you’ll see some great views toward some of Acadia’s mountains from this loop as well. The loop goes by Duck Brook Bridge, one of the many bridges built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., along the carriage road system. You can walk down the stairs at the end of the bridge to get a view of the brook, and the bridge’s intricate stonework. You can access this loop from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, or off Duck Brook Road just outside downtown Bar Harbor. You can rent bikes on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor.
Memorable meals among romantic things to do in Acadia
While some restaurants may be closed for the season around mid-October – such as Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard, near where you are staying in Tremont the last couple of nights – there are still plenty of options for memorable dining experiences.
- Lobster for dinner, and dessert? –Since you’re camping at Blackwoods the first night, you might want to see if the nearby Otter Creek Market is still cooking up lobsters for campers. When we stopped in last month, the market was telling campers to place their order before 5 p.m. It sure would be memorable to have lobster by the campfire! But if they’re not cooking to order this time of year, you can always get a lobster meal in downtown Bar Harbor or Southwest Harbor. President Obama and his family had dinner at Stewman’s Lobster Pound on West Street in Bar Harbor, if you want to dine where the president did. And if you want to have lobster ice cream for something unusual, that flavor is on the menu at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium on Main Street, Bar Harbor.
- Tea and popovers – It’s an Acadia tradition to have tea and popovers with a view of Jordan Pond and the distinctive twin mountains known as the Bubbles. The Jordan Pond House is open for lunch and tea until Oct. 26, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s even possible to have an ice-cream filled popover for lunch, as one of our nieces did as a nice reward for doing a long hike over the Bubbles and along Jordan Pond. There are plenty of hiking trails and carriage roads that intersect at Jordan Pond House, giving you lots of opportunities to work up an appetite, or to work off some calories.
Other things to see and do in and around Acadia National Park
Even though you’re arriving after Columbus Day, now called Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Maine, there are plentiful activities still available. There may not be as many ranger-led things to do (the only ones going on during your visit are on Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland, about a 45-minute drive away from Bar Harbor), but local chambers of commerce have full calendars and listings of local businesses for shopping, dining and other activities, and such museums as the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, the Wendell Gilley bird carving museum in Southwest Harbor and Seal Cove Auto Museum are open.
You also happen to be visiting during the weekend of the Mount Desert Island Marathon and Half Marathon. So if you want to see some elite runners battle to the finish, or the mass of runners at the start, the marathon organizers have a handy spectator’s guide to the Sunday, Oct. 18, event, as well as other information.
Of course you must drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road, and stop along the way at such sites as Thunder Hole and Otter Point. There are new wayside exhibits all along the road and throughout the park, even on top of Cadillac, explaining some of the sights and history of the park.
Again, congratulations on your anniversary, Aaron! You couldn’t have picked a more special place to celebrate, with as many romantic things to do, than Acadia National Park.