Acadia, in Maine, is one of the top 10 national parks in the U.S., with more than 2.5 million visitors annually.
Come summer, it’s wall to wall people from Ellsworth to Bar Harbor and everywhere in between. You might think it would be hard to get off the beaten path here, but not so!
For at least a little while longer, until the crowds discover it, you can enjoy a quiet experience in this spectacular park by heading north and east to the Schoodic peninsula, a remote section of the park across the water from Mount Desert Island. From here, you can take a ferry across to the main part of the park, and both sections are served by an extensive free shuttle bus system.
Schoodic Woods Campground will surprise you if you’ve done a lot of national park camping. This is its second full season since opening late in 2015, and it offers some things you don’t usually fine in a national park. Loop B has pull-through sites to accommodate RVs in excess of 40 feet, and full hookups. Even the outer loops have electricity. The bathrooms are bright, new, and pristine. Sadly, no showers. We can understand why there aren't showers in the parks out west where water is scarce, but here where it’s plentiful, the reason is mystery. We drove 10 miles up the road to a 1950s-style mom and pop campground and paid for showers there.
Bike trails, part of a vast network that covers the park, come right through the campground, and several hiking trails are easily accessible. The park shuttle, free and frequent, stops at the headquarters building. Turn left out the entrance and you’re on the Schoodic loop road, with a number of pleasant surprises in front of you. As we navigated this two-lane, one-way road, we came first upon an excited group of birdwatchers huddled around a ranger’s spotting scope. The cliffs above were home to nesting peregrine falcons, and the birds—mom, pop, and the kids—were putting on a show.
Winding through salt marshes, tidal creeks, and along the cobbled shore, we came eventually to the turnoff for the Schoodic Institute. In the early 1930s, John D. Rockefeller (who masterminded Acadia and gave it to the nation) wanted to clear the spectacular Otter Cliffs area of Schoodic for a scenic drive. At the time, the U.S. Navy had a very busy listening post sited there. Rockefeller offered to build a new facility for the Navy if they’d relocate. It all worked out, and about 10 years ago the Navy turned the site over to the National Parks. Several buildings were razed, several renovated, and the centerpiece Rockefeller building fully restored. The result is a stunning location for an institute that supports research in the national park. The Rockefeller building includes a visitor center and is open every day. Don't miss it.
On down the road is Schoodic Point. The waves, rocks, and scenic view here are every bit as good as those at Thunder Hole across the bay, and infinitely less crowded. The best times are sunrise, sunset, and when the tide is coming in. Along the rest of the loop road are many pullouts suitable for exploring and taking pictures. As you exit the loop road, notice the narrow Wonsqueak Harbor on your right. If you’ve visited in the morning, take a right when you get back to route 186. Go a couple of miles and take another right on route 195. Follow signs for Corea Lunch on the Wharf.
At Corea, a fully functioning fishing harbor, you can walk out on the newly reconstructed wharf and enjoy lobster or a steaming bowl of haddock chowder. Joe Young, the owner, will likely be around to chat. Joe is a lobsterman, and brings in the items on the menu every morning. In the off season, he weaves doormats from old lobster pot rope, and you can buy one for a lot less here than at LL Bean. Also on the wharf is a photo gallery featuring the work of Joe’s aunt Louise from the early 20th century. Several of the photos were taken at Wonsqueak Harbor. He will tell you, if you ask, that his was one of the first families to settle on the peninsula when the emigrated from Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1812.
There’s a surprising lot to see here on Schoodic. The Tidal Falls Preserve offers a spectacle comparable to the tidal bore rafting on the Bay of Fundy. At U.S. Bells, you can see bells being cast and shop a gallery of beautiful items that include pottery and woodworking made by members of this artistic family. Prospect Harbor United Methodist Church offers a meal on the first Saturday of the month—we enjoyed a traditional New England baked bean supper. And this may be the only place in the country you can get pickled wrinkles. We’ll let you decide whether you’re willing to eat one. While you’re thinking about it, keep an eye out for us, Patti and Tom Burkett, way out there off the beaten path.