Good friends, great weather, spectacular scenery, and smooth roads. These were the ingredients of a recent cycling weekend at Acadia National Park.
Acadia National Park is one of 58 national parks in the U.S. located on Mount Desert Island along Maine’s rugged Atlantic coast. It is one of the smallest national parks at 49,000 acres but still sees over two million visitors annually. So, it can get quite crowded, especially during the summer months. Our trip, though, was in mid-June, well before the summer rush.
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Cycling Park Loop Road to Seal Harbor
After a big breakfast and a couple of gallons of coffee, we cycled from our cottage at Hulls Cove on the northeastern edge of the park. After a short climb, we were on Park Loop Road. The Park Loop Road is a 27-mile (43.5 km) road around the park’s eastern side; as a cyclist, I can’t say enough good about it. It was some of the best asphalt I have ever ridden. In fact, I don’t think I once dodged a pothole or even felt a seam in the road.
The speed limit is 35 miles per hour in most places, less in others, so cars are not zipping by you. But maybe the nicest part was that the first 13.5 miles (21.7 km) were two lanes in one direction. So we basically had the entire inside lane to ourselves. While I doubt this would be the case in the middle of the busy season, it was great to ride side by side with no concerns about getting hit.
There is no question that cycling in Acadia National Park is hilly, but every climb was rewarded with a stunning view. Our first climb was about 15 minutes into the ride, and we looked out over the town of Bar Harbor, the many small islands of Frenchman Bay, and over to the Schoodic Peninsula.
But, for every uphill, we had to struggle through, there was a magnificent downhill. I have to say it was a lot of fun cranking it out on some of these long, winding descents.
Cycling Northeast Harbor to Somes Sound
At the small community of Seal Harbor, we left the Loop Road and continued along the coast to Northeast Harbor. This whole stretch of road was just one excellent ocean view followed by another with a lovely beach, aptly named Sand Beach, about halfway along.
Then, at Northeast Harbor, we stopped for lunch. Not all restaurants were open since it was before the official start of the tourist season. However, we could still find a great fish and chips take-out. Northeast Harbor is more of a fancy yacht harbor than a working lobster harbor, and some of the yachts moored here are absolutely stunning.
After lunch, we turned north on Sargent Drive and followed the eastern side of Somes Sound. Somes Sound is a narrow inlet about six miles deep into Mount Desert Island. Geologists refer to Somes Sound as a fjard which, to probably oversimplify, is similar to a fjord but smaller. The coast here is a lot tamer than along the Atlantic itself. But whatever term is used to describe it, it’s still a very impressive bay to cycle along.
At the end of Sargent Road, we joined Route 233 and headed back across Mount Desert Island to our cabin to shower up for a drive into the town of Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor is the largest town on Mount Desert Island, with about 5,500 people. It is undoubtedly a tourist town, and even before the official start of the tourist season, finding a place to park wasn’t easy. Having said that, it is still a great place to have dinner or maybe pick up a souvenir in one of the unique shops.
Cycling Park Loop Road to Cadillac Mountain
We enjoyed cycling the Loop Road so much that we canceled our plans to cycle the island’s west side the next day. Instead, we decided to cycle the entire Park Loop Road and add the challenge of summiting Cadillac Mountain.
Having a little familiarity with the route, I think I liked it even better the second time- that is, right until we started to climb Cadillac Mountain. A 3.5-mile (5.6 km) ride to reach the summit at 1,530 feet (466 m) was, to me, a challenge.
Clearly, it wasn’t a challenge to everybody as I didn’t have the wind to answer the guy who said, “Good work, guys,” as he breezed by us. But the climb was worth every ounce of sweat. The panoramic view from the summit is truly stunning. There are few places on the northeast coast where you can see 100 miles (161 km) in any direction.
The top portion of Cadillac Mountain is barren. With no trees on the side of the road, I could see down to the ocean, which made the descent very uncomfortable for me, to say the least. Furthermore, concrete blocks were used in place of guard rails, and I couldn’t help thinking that if my brakes failed on one of the switchbacks, I would fall a long way.
But we made it down without incident. Then, it was an easy ride to the cabin to pack up and head home. In two days, we cycled a little over 70 miles (112.6 km) of Acadia National Park. Moreover, we covered various terrain from wooded roads, fishing villages, past lakes and wetlands, and along the rugged coast.
Read More: Acadia National Park: A Hiker’s Paradise
Cycling Cranberry Isles
Maybe the best litmus test of a good trip is that you can’t wait to return. That is how I feel about Acadia National Park. There is the whole western side of the island we didn’t get a chance to explore.
Also, a ferry from Northeast Harbor goes out to the Cranberry Isles a little over 2 miles (3.2 km) offshore. The Isles are small, and it wouldn’t take long to cycle them, but they look very intriguing on the map. And I certainly wouldn’t be averse to doing the Loop Road again.
Other Activities in Acadia National Park
In addition to cycling, Acadia National Park is well known for its wide variety of outdoor sports. So, maybe next time I won’t bring my road bike but some other toys.
There are over 120 miles (193 km) of trails for hikers ranging from easy walks to strenuous hikes. Hikers can pick from a wide choice of terrains; along the ocean, through woods, or, for the more energetic, up Cadillac Mountain. The National Geographic topographic map is an excellent resource for hikers. It lists all the trails complete with their length and difficulty level.
Sea kayakers have what seems to be an endless choice of paddling routes. With numerous islands, a short way offshore to explore, and Somes Sound cutting through the middle of Mount Desert Island, it would be almost impossible to get bored kayaking here. The topo map mentioned above is an excellent resource for kayakers also.
One of the more unique aspects of Acadia is the series of hard-packed gravel carriage roads ideal for wide-tire cyclists (and cross-training). With 45 miles (72.4 km) of carriage roads, travel throughout the park is easy and popular. In addition, since cars are banned on carriage roads, this is an excellent way for young families to explore the park.
Finally, rock climbers can get into the action at Acadia with some dramatic routes on the sea. Climbing with the ocean right below, you must be pretty cool. Those interested can obtain instruction and information about rock climbing from Acadia Mountain Guides and Atlantic Climbing School in Bar Harbor. A climber’s guidebook for the area is also available for sale locally.
Visit Acadia National Park
Even with all the activities available, Acadia is not just a destination for summer. Once the snow flies, the carriage roads and another 40 miles (64 km) of unplowed roads are available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. I can imagine that the woods of Acadia must be beautiful when covered in snow.
Overall, there is no question I will return to Acadia National Park. The only question is how long I can stay and which outdoor equipment I will bring.
Have you been cycling or completed other activities in Acadia National Park? Please share your insights and experiences in the comments below.
This article was originally published on September 17, 2012. Susan Wowk most recently updated it on May 23, 2023.
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