Acadia National Park is one of our best loved national parks, but most folks only know the popular 27 mile loop road on the right "lobe" of Mount Desert Island (known as MDI and pronounced like the yummy after dinner treat, even though it's spelled like the parched landscape!) But the actual National Park also encompasses land on the "quiet side" of MDI (the "lobe" of MDI on the left side of Somes Sound) as well as several island parcels which can only be accessed by boat. (I'll write about Acadia National Park on Isle Au Haute another time!) An off the beaten path part of the National Park can be accessed by your average land ark, and you don't even need to cross a bridge. It lies further "Down East" in the towns Winter Haven and Gouldsboro.
The next time you visit Acadia National Park, take time to steer the family truckster a little further north and East to the quieter Schoodic Peninsula. The views are no less dramatic or beautiful, but you will enjoy less traffic and company from your fellow tourists.
The journey starts by staying on Route 1 in Ellsworth and going further north, in a sort of easterly direction around Frenchman Bay, this part of Route 1 is called the Schoodic Scenic Byway. Almost immediately, after passing a few mock neighborhoods of model homes set up by manufactured home companies, you'll notice fewer "commercial" enterprises. A few quick stop shops and little roadside restaurants will appear, but not much else. If you prefer not to drive, you can take the free National Park shuttles from the Hulls Cove Visitor center out to the Schoodic Penisula and bike or hike the park and return by shuttle.
Tidal Falls Preserve
Once you've arrived in the town of Hancock, there is a nice diversion called the Tidal Falls Preserve, maintained by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy.
(Take Eastside Road on your right and follow the signs.)
One of the remarkable things about this part of Maine are the dramatic tides. As the tides go in and out of the jagged coast of Maine there are places where the land causes narrows in the waterways and this creates dramatic rushes of water (called falls) which actually change direction (reversing) depending on the whether the tide is headed in or out. This happens twice a day, with two low tides each day. The time of the tides changes each day by about 1 hour, so check the tide charts to be there about an hour or so before low tides to view the phenomenon. In addition to being neat to watch, the rushing waters also suck small fish into the tidal falls and where seals and birds of prey (bald eagles and osprey) will follow to fish. This spot is preserved with a lovely picnic area, where you can see this phenomenon and maybe see some of the wildlife it attracts.
A little further downeast, you'll find one of our favorite spots; Chesters Pike restaurant right on Route 1 in the town of Franklin. Get there for breakfast or lunch before 2 PM. Or choose any of the other little roadside restaurants for a quick bite. This area is not so touristed that these places can afford to operate only for tourists, so if they are able to stay open, it's because they are popular with the locals and can be counted on to provide a decent meal at a decent price! I've always followed the good travel advice to look for the local license plates on the cars in the parking lot!
Traveling further along Route 1, take Route 186 into the town of Winter Harbor. Route 186 appears to "end" at the sea, to go to Acadia National Park Schoodic Penisula, go left. Or for a quick look at how the 1% spends their summers, go right. While the "cottages" on MDI are well hidden from the masses, the fancy summer houses of Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor are more easily visible from the roadways.
Acadia National Park Schoodic Penisula (map)
Eventually, if you can tear yourself away from lifestyles of the rich and famous, and follow Route 186 in the other direction, you'll come across the sign for the Schoodic Loop Road on your left. This is a one way loop, but the part in the park is only about 5 -7 miles long. It appears there is construction of additional roads and possibly bike paths in this part of the park. I can't find much information, but it appears after construction that the loop can be completed entirely within the park, where at present it requires an almost equivalent distance trip through the roads of Winter Harbor to complete the circuit.
The first stop on the loop is Frazer point, with a fishing dock, picnic area, visitors center and restrooms. There is a small parking area here, but it gets filled quickly with people trying to bike or hike the loop and leaving their cars, and adding parking may be another reason for the construction just across from Frazer point.
Traveling along the loop road, a spur to the left leads straight up a narrow road to Schoodic Head, a scenic overlook trail about 400 feet in elevation. You can drive to a view point and then hike further up on foot for even more panoramic views.
On the right side of the loop road, just after the Schoodic Head trail, there is an inlet, with Pond Island on view, and a wide break of stones. These stones have been so pummeled by the sea that they are nearly smooth. This makes them a popular souvenier, but signs clearly remind visitors that nothing - even the rocks, are to be removed from our National Parks! Walking along the top of the break yields an interesting "squeak" as the rocks settle among themselves with each footstep. This is another gentler place to alongside the water to relax and I know I can spend hours examining these fascinating rocks! But I always leave them all where I found them, so my fellow citizens can get as much enjoyment from them as I did!
Continuing along the loop, bearing right for Schoodic Point reveals the dramatic coast line Schoodic is known for. Just after coastal storms people often flock to Schoodic to see the dramatic waves. Often times the Park Rangers close the road, only allowing very limited viewings sites far from the crashing waves. I've personally visited after a major coastal storm and seen waves crashing up over the tops of the pine trees on the islands, and once just before Park Rangers decided it was was safest to move us all away, I've seen the surf toss 20-30 pound stones from the beach right up onto the loop road! This is the Atlantic Ocean at its most powerful, and as the sign below indicates, it's not to be trifled with, especially during bad weather! It seems every year there is a tragic story of visitors being swept out to sea after venturing too close to the powerful and unpredictable waves.
The views are dramatic and beautiful. You can see lobster boats making their way to the traps the fishermen have set out. There are distant views of the mountains of MDI. The Atlantic Ocean pounds the granite creating dramatic sprays, especially at high tide. There are plenty of wide, flat rocks, safely back from the edge where you can set out a chair or a picnic blanket and enjoy nature's show!
As this video shows, although the Schoodic Penisula may be quieter when it comes to tourist traffic, it is not a quiet place at all, with the dramatic Atlantic Ocean meeting the granite shores of real Down East Maine!