Acadia National Park is located in Maine less than an hour’s drive from Bangor. One of the oldest National Parks on the East Coast, Acadia offers an abundance of opportunities for outdoor activities and a wealth of subjects for the photographer. The park is spread throughout Mount Desert Island and extends to the Schoodic Peninsula.
The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the areas that I found should be on a list of places to photograph when traveling here. Having said that, there is so much to see and do, I am not sure it can covered in less than a week. Please keep in mind, what I have stated below is my experience which will vary based on the season, weather and other conditions. We were there in September 2015.
Over 80% of my ‘keeper’ photos, you know the ones that I like to display and sell, are taken either in the early morning or late evening – The Golden Hours. This is when the sun is low and produces the ‘golden’ glow that makes photographs just pop with color. The only problem is that there are so many wonderful places in Acadia, it becomes a challenge to pick which spot to mark for the sunrise/sunset shot.
And, for a number of locations, getting there early can be a challenge when slippery rocks, steep inclines and darkness can make getting around a bit interesting. Then, there is always the group of tourists that seem to end up in frame with the shot you have set up for over an hour. That is why you need to have a backup plan – just in case things don’t go as planned.
- Take a tour of the island first. You may want to hire a tour guide (i.e. acadiatours.com) to drive you around when the sun is high and photography is not optimal. You can get an idea what works for a shot and what does not (and get some background about the island at the same time). Look at the position of the sun for best lighting conditions. Reference what others have posted on the internet to get an idea of different POVs and look at the terrain so it will not come as a surprise if you come back in the dark. Check tides. High tides will make for more crashing of waves on the rocky shores. Low tides will reveal sand bars and tide pools. Check out the sunrise/set and moon rise/set times. There is nothing like the dark skies in Maine for Milky Way shots – or a rising full moon over the cliffs. Have a plan.
- Know what equipment to carry before heading out. You will not want to negotiate some of the trails with heavy backpacks. You should only take what you need. In the early morning hours you will need a tripod – that goes without saying – but you may not need all of those lenses you brought. As the light gets stronger, you may want to consider using a Graduated Neutral Density Filter (Reverse at sunrise) to counter the brightening sky and add a Circular Polarizer to reduce water reflections.
- Have a wide-angle lens always handy. The majority of my ‘keeper’ coastline shots were taken with a wide-angle lens. I carried either a 14mm-24mm or a 20mm Prime at all times (on a full frame body). I often found my standard zoom, 24mm-70mm, was not wide enough at a number of locations. (Remember to include some foreground in your image to add perspective and effect) [/box_light]
You may think it odd that I would address getting to Bar Harbor when it is only about an hour’s drive from Bangor. The issue is not Bar Harbor – it is Bangor. Only a few airlines actually fly to Bangor. And, if your flight gets cancelled – as was ours both going and coming, you may find it more difficult than you imagine getting to and/or from this location. Bangor is a small airport and only supports ‘shuttle’ style aircraft.
Where to Stay
There are many fine places to stay in and around Bar Harbor. I generally do not like to single out specific places to stay in my articles, but, I felt that I had to mention Harborside Hotel Spa and Marina was fantastic in terms of location, accommodations and had a great restaurant on property. Here you are virtually steps from the harbor, shops, restaurants, tour companies, Bar Island Sand Bar and Shore Path. We found the ground floor – oceanfront to be perfect. We could virtually open our door and were steps from the harbor to watch the sunrise and lobster boats getting ready for the day. Most of the harbor shots posted here were taken steps from our patio door. Another top rated hotel with great views and that is centrally located to the town is the Bar Harbor Inn.
In addition to walking/hiking, biking and using your own car, tours can be arranged through Oli’s Trolley and free shuttle bus service (in season) is provided to major points within the park. If you use your own car, the fee is $25 for a 7 day pass. Boat are available for whale watching/puffins, (be warned you go out 15 miles and it gets really, really cold and puffins go on vacation mid-August), lighthouse tours and nature tours.
Plane rides are available at the nearby Bar Harbor Airport that can provide some great positions for areal photography.
Where to eat
This is Maine – and if you don’t try the lobster, you won’t know how great it is here. Most every restaurant has some form of lobster dish – from whole lobster to lobster roll. As mentioned before, the restaurant at the Harborside Hotel Spa and Marina, “La Bella Vita” had one of the best lobster rolls I tried – and I tried a lot of different ones while visiting Maine! TripAdvisor is always a good source to reference. You may find some great photo opportunities of lobster dishes.
Bar Harbor, founded in 1796, is a world renowned for its blend of seashore community, Downeast character, and Maine Lobster. Bar Harbor is pronounced like “Bah-Hah-Bah” and lobster sounds like “lob-stah!” The town consists of residences, hotels, shops and restaurants – most everything is in just a few blocks. In the photo above, the island to the left is Bar Island and during low tide a sand bar is revealed (seen here) making it possible to walk across to the island. You can also see two cruise ships that are docked. Cruise ships, such as the majestic Queen Mary, visit this Maine harbor town providing their passengers with one of the most unusual visual experiences available on the east coast of North America. You will want to avoid going into town from 10-5 when cruise ships come in. After 5pm, it is becomes quiet again.
The harbor is very quaint and is the home to fishing boats, tour boats, yachts and, yes cruise ships.
Lob’stah Boats in Ba’Ha’Ba
Throughout the waters of Maine, you cannot help but notice brightly colored lobster trap markers dotting the waters. And, as you sit on the cliffs, you may be able to watch the locals at work. (Here I would use a long telephoto > 200mm to get in close.)
Fog can make for some very interesting images – both in the harbor and cliff side. It generally does not last long but can give you enough time to capture some creative images. This is a good time to play with B&W as well. Be careful your lens does not get damp from the fog.
There are really no bad photo opportunities along the Maine coastline.
Sunrises and sunsets can be quite spectacular in Maine. But, it does require knowing where to be to catch that special moment.
Sun over the ocean, sun from the cliffs or sun in the harbor? Just keep in mind that it is very possible fog and clouds can shut down the best made plans – so have a backup plan.
Directly north of the town pier is Bar Island. This island is accessible by foot at low tide and provides a spectacular view of the town of Bar Harbor with the mountains behind it. Be sure to plan ahead and allow enough time so that you do not get stranded or wet! Check the tide schedules – you have about a 3 hour window, one and half hours before and after low tide to make your journey across to the island. There is a trail on the island, steep at times, that goes through the woods to the summit overlook of Bar Harbor. (You will use a wide-angle and possibly a telephoto, making this a good opportunity for a zoom i.e., 28-300).
Bass Harbor Lighthouse
The Bass Harbor Lighthouse is located in the village of Bass Harbor (about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor) and marks the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. The lighthouse was built of brick in 1858 on a stone foundation, stands 56 feet above mean high water and is accessible by car off Route 102A. Parking is free and is open daily from 9:00 AM to sunset.
The path down to the water’s edge is at the back of the parking lot and marked with a small sign “Lighthouse Trail”. Once on the trail, you are brought to some steep steps and then you are on your own climbing over boulders to get a good angle of the cliff and lighthouse. If you are too close, you will not capture the beauty of the cliff. It is better to take this shot either early in the morning for a warm light on the cliffs or just before sunset with the sun behind the lighthouse and hope for clouds and color (take a center weighted exposure on the lighthouse/cliffs if the sun is behind the lighthouse. The photograph above was taken at 24mm. You may want to try an even wider shot.)
Cadillac Mountain is a short drive from Bar Harbor. It sits at 1,530 feet (466 meters) and is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. It is one of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island that were pushed up by earth’s tectonic and volcanic forces millions of years ago. Were it not for the once enormous glaciers that sheared off their tops, they would be even higher than what we see today. The glaciers crept across the land here from the left to the right (in a southerly direction) and stretched out to sea as far as 400 miles (644 kilometers)! You can hike up the mountain or drive to the top (my first choice of course.)
During the normal season, there is a free shuttle bus service available that connects most important points on Mount Desert Island as well as to a few on the mainland.
If you do go for sunrise – you will not be alone. It is best to stake out an area early that will potentially have no one in front of you. This is one location that you should absolutely scope out before you arrive in the dark. During the daytime, visitors are only allowed 15 minutes to park – the view is wonderful, but the sun can be harsh mid-day and can make it difficult to get a good shot of anything. Before sunrise, however, there is no limitation on parking and the small parking lot soon fills to capacity. When shooting directly at the sun, I would bracket your exposures for use with HDR since you will have truly have a high dynamic range of light between the dark shadows that surround you and the bright sun. I would stop down to f/16 to try get a starburst – I wasn’t so lucky with a bank of clouds just filtering enough light to prevent a starburst from appearing. This is also a great location for Milky Way shots.
The Carriage Roads and stone bridges were financed and directed by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., between 1913 and 1940. Not wanting cars in these areas, the Carriage Roads were designed for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and carriages. The network includes 57 miles of woodland roads free of motor vehicles, of which 45 miles are within Acadia National Park. These allow seasonal cross-country skiing and limited snowmobiling. Twelve miles are on private land. Time ran out before we could explore the Carriage Roads with their unique bridges, streams and water falls.
Gardens (Asitou and Thuya)
Thuya Garden is a gorgeous flowering garden located on a granite hillside overlooking Northeast Harbor. It was originally designed and built in 1956 – 1961 by Charles K. Savage, a long-time resident of Northeast Harbor, along with financial support from John D. Rockefeller. The garden exhibits an English style influence with special input from Beatrix Farrand so that it will incorporate the unique character of the Maine coast. A variety of annuals and perennials line the two long sides of the garden. An open observation pavilion sits at the top of a slight incline on the north end overlooking the main garden that cascades down to a shallow reflecting pool below.
This garden is in bloom most of the Spring through Fall. The Asitou garden, located nearby, consists mostly of azaleas which are not in bloom in the Fall.
I should mention that there are over 200 steps leading from the parking lot to the top. There is a small parking lot at the top if you are not looking for anymore exercise.
Jordan Pond is a glacier formed tarn with a maximum water depth of 150 feet (46 m). There are steep inclines on the left and right sides (West and East). The water is exceptionally clear with an average visibility depth of 46 feet (14 m) but this has been measured as high as 60 feet (18 m), the most ever recorded in the State of Maine. Swimming is not allowed. However, non motor boats such as canoes and kayaks are permitted. The kayak and canoe launch site for this is via the Jordan Pond North parking lot, a short distance from the restaurant. Carriage Roads are adjacent to the restaurant and pond area.
Auto access to the restaurant is provided via the Park Loop Road. (There are three parking lots – always crowded). If you expect to have lunch there (before or after your 4 mile hike around the lake), I would call for reservations. The food is good – but the ice cream is to die for.
For most all shots of the lake, a wide-angle lens is a must. Be sure to use a Circular Polarizer to cut the glare so you can see the rocks below the water surface.
The hike around the lake consists of a “board walk” for a good portion of the left side before you come to boulders that you will need to negotiate. If you that the trail in the afternoon, you will be shaded on the left side (clockwise) but must deal with the sun on your way back. It takes about 2 hours to work your way around.
Otter Cliff is considered one of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard. On the east side of the Park Loop Road, about .7 miles past Thunder Hole, is the famous 110 foot high Otter Cliff – one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands north of Rio de Janeiro.
Just before Otter Cliff is a beautiful spot called Monument Cove. Right after this, the road begins to curve to the left. To the right is a small parking area with portable rest facilities for the Gorham Mountain Trail. On the other side of the street is a path that leads a steep trail down to the water. This area is best seen early in the morning and the closer to the water you are, the more color will be revealed by the rocks. (I would use a wide-angle lens with Circular Polarizer. If you have a 10 stop filter and tripod, slowing the water down can make for a great shot here.)
Seawall is a naturally occurring granite and loose boulder and rock seawall located on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island about four miles south ofthe main city section of Southwest Harbor. This is a beautiful spot for viewing the sunrise over Great Cranberry Island. There is a nice picnic area right next to the ocean and space where you can park and view the ocean waves from your vehicle if desired.
There is a picturesque and historic Shore Path you should walk on at least one morning during your visit or anytime during the day. The path, originally created about 1880, begins near the town pier and Agamont Park, and continues for about 1/2 a mile along the eastern shore of town. Off shore to the east are the four Porcupine Islands which are especially beautiful at sunrise.
Thunder Hole is the place to experience the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores of Maine! To get the impact, you need to be there when tide is near high and the waves are rough. When the tide is low, you will see little excitement. It is a small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks, where the waves roll into. At the end of this inlet, down low, is a small cavern where, when the rush of the wave arrives, air and water is forced out like a clap of distant thunder. Water may spout as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! Hence the name: Thunder Hole. (A parking lot is nearby.)
Getting an unobstructed shot is a matter of time at this popular tourist location. (A wide-angle lens is a must.)
There is a 3 mile or 3.8 km (round-trip) long ocean side walking trail called Ocean Path that begins at the Sand Beach upper parking lot directly to the north of here and follows the eastern coastline of Mount Desert Island in a southerly direction past Thunder Hole and then continues until it reaches Otter Cliff to the south. You should consider doing this walk as it is highly recommended for its unrivaled coastal beauty on the eastern seaboard of the continental United States. The Park Loop Road follows in the same direction but is one-way on this side of the island. (You will use the wide-angle lens the most.)
But no matter you do, take some time to just sit, listen to the waves crashing on the rocks and enjoy nature at its finest. You will be glad you did.
There are a number of areas that I was not able to visit or mention here such as Bubble Pond, Eagle Lake, Sand Beach and Schoodic. But those will be left for another adventure.
I hope this brief article gave you some ideas of what this amazing National Park has to offer. We were there for less than a week and did a lot – but there is a lot more still to do – especially if you are active. I am ready to go back.
For more photographs, please see myImagez.com/Maine
For a good reference on Acadia, see AcadiaMagic
Equipment I used: Nikon D810, 14-24, 24-70, 80-400, 20 prime, 28-300, RRS Tripod + various filters