OK, I admit it.I’m directionally challenged, but just look at a map of Acadia National Park in Maine and you’ll understand how it’s easy to lose your way. There are water and mountains no matter where you look, but I’m not complaining. This unique, tiny corner of the country is worth the extra effort that it takes to get there.
With lakes and ragged coastline everywhere, Maine’s topography is clearly unlike Southern California’s, but that’s why we wanted to see it.
The park consumes the lion’s share of Mount Desert Island, oddly named from a Californian’s point of view because it’s hardly a desert. This fragmented island also is home to the town of Bar Harbor and many other small towns and villages.
Where the town boundaries end and the park’s begin is not easily ascertained For instance, the park’s Cadillac Mountain, which at 1,532 feet is the highest point on the Atlantic coast, is technically within the town limits of Bar Harbor.
So we quit worrying about the map and followed the signs, which took us up a winding, 3.5-mile road to the top of the mountain, a pink-granite mound with a spectacular 360-degree view.
Like ants on a picnic, people fanned out all over the expansive, flat-rock summit, just enjoying the panorama, the space and the crisp, late-September air.
Later we hiked the Jordan Pond Shore Trail, a 3.3-mile loop that hugs the pond and gave us our first glimpse of autumn color — glowing crimson maples and pyracantha bushes with fire-engine red berries.
And we finally saw the much-touted Bubble Mountain with two rounded mounds rising about 800 and 900 feet. On a clear, still day, their reflection in Jordan Pond makes a striking scene.
Among Maine’s distinctions and delights are the musical, clickity-clack names of the Native American tribes who first inhabited this area: the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet and Micmac, known collectively as the Wabanaki or People of the Dawnland.
This name may derive from the fact that Cadillac Mountain is the first land on the Atlantic seaboard to receive the sun’s rays from Oct. 7 to March 6.
According to the National Park Service, some Wabanaki still come to the area “to gather sweetgrass, sell handmade baskets, and to show respect for this sacred landscape, as their ancestors did for thousands of years.”
Like any town on the edge of a national park, Bar Harbor is a busy little burg that provides the usual tourist amenities — hotels, restaurants, souvenir and ice cream shops.
Not being much of a shopper, I was delighted to discover the beautiful pier and harbor at the base of Main Street, which often plays host to cruise ships. On this brilliantly clear day, Frenchman Bay looked like a vivid, high-definition backdrop.
To keep auto traffic at a minimum around the islands and in the park, frequent free bus transportation is available, thanks to generous funding by outfitter L.L. Bean. (Acadia National Park and L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport are the two most visited attractions in Maine.) The buses, which stop at many Bar Harbor’s hotels, also make long, one-way hikes possible.
There are many hotels in the Bar Harbor area, but two of the top choices are the Bluenose Inn and the Atlantic Oceanside.
The free shuttle stops right in front of the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel, just a mile north of downtown Bar Harbor on Highway 3.
Our spacious room in the new Atlantic View Lodge building gave us a breathtaking view of Frenchman Bay and the hotel boat dock, which sees a lot of action in the summer.
The 12-acre property provides plenty of space for play. The hotel also is only minutes from the park’s entry and plenty of restaurants that serve one-and-a-half-pound lobsters and all the fixin’s for $18. (Check out the restaurant catalog in the lobby.)
Also on the property is a stately historic home that has been converted to accommodate 13 bedrooms and a penthouse. Visit barharbormainehotel.com or call (800) 336-2463.
About a thousand feet south on Highway 3 is the Bluenose Inn, which sits atop a hill.
The outdoor pool and deck (there’s an indoor pool, too) bids visitors to sit and ponder the beautiful Maine landscape below.
The purple-appointed Great Room is features crystal sconces and an inviting fireplace — the perfect setting for wine, cocktails and light fare. Evening brings accomplished local talent to the grand piano. A bit of a hike will take you even further uphill to the hotel’s Looking Glass Restaurant, but the effort is worth it. (You also can drive.) The airy dining room and large deck afford expansive views of coastal topography and make you want to linger.
Visit barharborhotel.com/ or call (800) 445-4077.