Acadia National Park is located, for the most part, on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine. It’s a fantastic destination for anyone interested in coastal landscape photography, with a many photo opportunities mountains, rocky shores, sandy coves, fishing harbors, lakes and woods. There are parts of Acadia on the Maine mainland and on Isle au Haut, but for this guide I will be focusing on Mt. Desert Island.
The biggest and liveliest town on Mt Desert Island is Bar Harbor, but my personal preference is for the quieter western side of the Island I usually stay in the fishing village of Southwest Harbor or Mt Desert campground if I am camping. Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and the other villages offer a wide range of accommodation. There is a bus service on the Island in the summer months that covers much of the island. Your entry pass to the national park allows you to ride the bus for free. Although outside the peak of the summer season, driving isn’t typically a problem. There are plenty of pull outs on the scenic roads.
Please note that guide is not intended to be comprehensive, there are many more trails and photo opportunities than those I describe here.
On the Great Head Trail, early afternoon
National Geographic sells a very nice topographic map of Acadia. All roads and trails are clearly marked. The trails are ranked by difficulty, distance, elevation gain etc. Very useful if you want to be sure you will be at a specific location by a specific time. The National Geographic map also includes a larger scale map of the east side of the island, but west is only shown on the smaller scale overall map. Fortunately, there is a large scale map of the west of Acadia that you can purchase on the island. It’s called the Quietside Trail Map.
To make sure I get best use of the light, I usually print a sunrise and sunset calendar and print off a list of tide times. For sunrise and sunset, I use www.sunrisesunset.com, for time times I use me.usharbors.com. I will also track weather on Accuweather and/or the National Weather Service.
Most of the major harbors on the island offer various nature and scenic cruises, sometimes visiting nearby islands, such as Islesford and Frenchboro. The nature cruises will usually manage to find plenty of seals and various birds such as cormorants, eider ducks, gulls etc and an occasional bald eagle or osprey.
At 1,500 feet, Mount Cadillac is the highest point on the New England coast and has fine views back to the mainland in the west and over Frenchmen’s bay and the Porcupine islands to the East. The summit itself has plenty of rocky outcrops and stunted trees for foreground interest. With good views to east and west, it’s a great spot for both sunrise and sunset. There is an auto road to the summit, which means it can get busy in the summer months. Sunrise generally has a few less visitors and a better chance of framing shots without the omnipresent tourists. If you have the time, the ridge trail to top of mount Cadillac provides some alternate view points once you get above the tree line. The hike is about 4 miles in one way, but you can catch the bus for the return journey.
Mt. Cadillac at sunset
From Sand Beach on, the one-way park loop road hugs the ocean and provides multiple access points to the rocky ledges, beaches and the ocean. This provides great photography all the way. Being on the east of the Island it’s a great sunrise location. At sunset, the ledges and beaches tend to fall into the shadow of the adjacent mountains. In this stretch of road, my personal favorites are Monument Cove and Otter Cliffs. Sand Beach itself typically fills early with beachgoers early in the day. However, at the back of the beach there is a nice view back to the Beehive and Mt Enoch across a pond.
Just before you get to Sand Beach, there is a side road to a viewpoint, with some sweeping views of Schooner Head. You can also get to Schooner Head via route 3 south out of Bar Harbor. You can use this route out of the park, if you don’t want to continue on the one-way park loop road. Very near to Schooner Head is a parking lot for the Great Head trail. This is one of my favorite trails with great views of the shore and ocean at multiple points. Some points go down to the beach, others are at the top of the cliffs.
Just past Monument Cove, There is moderate hike up Gorham Mountain, about a mile and a half hike to the top. At the top you will be rewarded with spectacular views over Great Head in one direction and Otter cove in the other.
Monument Cove, early morning light
A little further on the park loop road, there is a nice secluded cobble beach at Hunters Beach with good views out to Hunters Head. The beach also had some great driftwood the last time I was there. From the park loop road, you will need to pickup route 3 and then Sea Cliff Drive. There is a small parking area at the trail head. The beach is about ½ mile from the road on a trail through a wooded area.
From route 3 you can follow the coast road round into Northeast Harbor. Near to Northeast Harbor are the Asticou Japanese garden. The garden has a large number of azaleas and rhododendrons. I would imagine very colorful, if you was there at the right time in Spring.
A little North of the Asticou Garden, there is a trail around the Hadlock Ponds. Although there isn’t much elevation gain, the trail is rough underfoot in a number of places with a lot of tree roots and rocks. I found I was spending more time looking where I was walking than at the surrounding scenery. At the end of the trail there is a very scenic stone carriage road bridge.
Hunters Beach, midday
If you continued on the park loop road you will come to Jordan Pond, an inland glacial lake. There is an easy three mile trail that circuits the pond. My favorite views of the pond are from Jordan Pond house at the south end of the pond and then heading counter clockwise about a quarter way around the pond. This will give a number of photographic opportunities with foreground rocks in the pond and the twin Bubble mountains in the background. I haven’t tried other times in the day, but the late afternoon light was pretty good, providing some nice side lighting on the mountainside.
The Bubbles at Jordan Pond, mid-afternoon
There are a couple of good access points to the harbor. One is on Town Wharf Road, where I got some good early evening light and the other just off Main Street (route 102) where I got an excellent sunrise. Both locations offer the usual dockside interest of lobster pots, fishing tackle etc. and a mixture of fishing boats and pleasure craft. If you are interested in a lobster dinner and a slice of blueberry pie, I can recommend Beals Lobster Pier at the end of Clark Point Road.
Close to Southwest harbor there is a moderate trail to Flying Mountain, which provides fine views over Somes Sound from the summit. On the other side of the mountain is Valley Cove, a cobble beach with views into Somes Sound. If you don’t want to climb back over the mountain, there is a fire that will take you back to the trail head.
Further north out of Southwest Harbor on route 102 will get you to Somesville where there is a pretty little arched bridge over a pond. The bridge gets its best light in the early morning.
Southwest Harbor sunrise
South on route 102/102a from Southwest Harbor, you can find Seawall and the Ships Harbor and Wonder Land trails within a few miles of each other. Seawall provides roadside access to Rocky Ledges and tide pools, Ships Harbor and Wonder Land are a little over a mile round trip, but on very easy trails. Seawall faces east and is good for sunrises. Ships Harbor is facing southwest and mostly in the shade in the morning. The land to the west of these three locations is primarily flat, so there aren’t any mountains to block the end of day light.
Beyond Ships Harbor on route 102a, you will come to the well known Bass Harbor Light. This is a very scenic shot and offers possibilities at sunrise and sunset. However, check the tide times, there are more photographic opportunities when the tide is out and you can get out on the rocks for a shot back to the lighthouse. This location is very popular with photographers and its likely you will have a good amount of company. Bass Harbor itself, offers some dockside shooting with lobster boats and a boat yard. To get to Bass Harbor take Dockside Road from route 102a.
Bass Harbor Light, Midday
In the Northwest corner of the island you will find Pretty Marsh, Bartletts Landing, Blagden Preserve and Indian Point. Pretty Marsh is a wooded picnic area, but at the end of the park road is a short fire road and some stairs that lead down to a scenic little beach. The beach faces west so it’s a good spot later in the day. Nearby is Bartletts Landing with a small dock and a number of anchored lobster and leisure boats. You can pick up Pretty Marsh Road from route 102 and then Indian Point Road to Bartletts Landing Road from there.
Further north on Indian Point Road you will find Blagden Preserve. This is a one mile trail through pretty woodland with many ferns and much moss. I found the trail very atmospheric. Indian Point is at the end of the trail and provides some west facing ledges for some good afternoon and evening shooting. If you don’t want to walk back through woods when it is getting dark, there is a paved road that runs parallel to the trail back to the parking area. No parking is allowed on the road itself, so you do have to use the parking area at the head of the trail.