Budget Travel Maine

Northeast Road-trip, Part II: Cape Cod to Bar Harbor, Maine & Acadia National Park

Tip #1: Go right before or right after high season

Tip #2: Once again, pack layers! Layers are vital!

From Hyannis (Cape Cod), Massachusetts we continued north to our final destination, Bar Harbor, Maine. This was about 7 hour trip as we actually stopped for food along the way.  Once again resorting to the handy-dandy Food Network app, we located the A1 Diner as seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  The A1 Diner took us about 10 minutes out of the way, but was well worth it.  It’s located in the small town of Gardiner, Maine, and has, if I’m remembering correctly, six booths and counter space at which you can eat.  Its small, in what looks very similar to an old railway car, and obviously owned by foodies.

My mom and I both had the Reuben, and it was delicious! We enjoyed it so much, we stopped there again for breakfast on the way back.

We made it to Bar Harbor and checked into the Highbrook Motel.  If you didn’t read the first part of this road trip, I was very hesitant about staying at motels, thought they were all generally shady places and didn’t want to stay in the any.  This trip proved me very wrong.  The Highbrook Motel was the second motel of this trip and was unbelievable clean (I wish my bathroom at home was ever that clean) and incredibly charming.  It’s located about a 15 minute walk from the downtown area and about the same distance the other way to the entrance of Acadia National Park.  If you go during off-season, its easy to drive into town and find free street parking.

It was less expensive the hotels in town and less than most of the B&B’s.  The B&B’s all looked very charming, but tend to be more for couples and less for someone whose travelling with their mother or any other person they don’t particularly want to share a bed with. It was family run and breakfast came with the room.  Now, this breakfast was much better than the one we got with the room in Cape Cod.  The Highbrook had homemade bacon, egg, and cheese on an English muffin, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, bagels, and oatmeal.  It was wonderful and saved us from having to buy breakfast, or lunch the day we nabbed a little extra to take with us into the park for a picnic.  Honestly, this place was excellent and I would recommend that anyone who is going to the area stay there.

As I’m on the subject of sleeping, I’m going to talk about eating before I move on to how amazing Acadia is and what we did in the park.  There’s a couple of places I would recommend trying.  For breakfast (should you decide to splurge), we had blueberry pancakes (with Maine blueberries) at Jordan’s Restaurant.  Jordan’s is in the town area, and the pancakes for delicious.  For a late lunch/early dinner, hit up Fish House Grill. Between 4-6 (happy hour) you can get a lobster meal consisting of a cup of soup, cornbread, an ear of corn, and a lobster for $16. Probably one of the best and least expensive meals we had on the whole trip.  Plus, you can eat at their outside deck right on the water in the marina. And, I mean, you can’t beat $16 dollars for a lobster meal, at least not anywhere around where I live.

 Lobster bisque (this is not the size that comes with the meal)

The #1 place I would recommend eating is Cafe This Way.  It’s a charming restaurant off on a small side street in the town.  IT WAS AMAZING! Seriously, I think it’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had out…ever. My mom had a duck tostada appetizer that was soooo good. For my main meal, I had pecan encrusted halibut that was omg delicious! It’s not the cheapest place to eat, but it’s pretty on-par with the other restaurants in the area. If you only splurge on eating one time, do it at this place. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any clear pics of this food (only had my phone camera), so you’ll just have to trust me that it was beautiful

As for desert, you can try it out where you’re eating, or head to one of the many shops selling homemade ice-cream.  For those of you with adventurous palates, I came across lobster ice-cream, but I didn’t try it.  I stuck to more typical ice-cream flavors, and it was very good.

Now, onto Acadia National Park. I am in love with this park.  It has trails for all levels, from very easy with no hills to very difficult and steep (which I did not try) and carriage paths for biking. Another tip: go to the park in the morning if you prefer less people around.

Before Acadia was a national park it served as a vacation area to the wealthy of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.  These wealthy families bought the land and eventually donated it to create the park.  John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was the member of one such family and was responsible for the creation of the carriage roads which are used for biking today.

 We went a little crazy our first day and ended up doing more than we meant to.  We started with the ocean path which is an easy walk that takes you from beach to cliffs and which the park website says is 4.4 miles, but which I felt like much less. There is a clear, paved path you can follow, but you can also venture out onto the rocks and walk along them for a ways. This was a great path to start with as it had beautiful views and let us get a feel for the park.

After completing this hike, we hopped on the free shuttle that goes around the park.  We should have just walked back, and that would be my recommendation to anyone else.  The shuttle was stuffy and it took ages for us to get back to where we started.  Also, seeing the park from the bus just isn’t that much fun, it’s much better to walk or take your own car around.

We did that hike in the morning, left for lunch, and returned to the park in the afternoon.  We had wanted to do another short hike, and though that’s what we were doing when we started around Jordan Pond Path. The park website says that this is a moderate, 3.2 mile loop.  Now, we thought 3.2 was the whole loop.  Nope.  That’s closer to half the total.  My phone has a pedometer app that calculated the hike as closer to 7 miles.

While it wasn’t on a paved path, it was flat, with a tiny bit of climbing over some rocks.  Most of the path is gravel and part of it is boards.  It is a beautiful walk, just be prepared for it to be longer than 3.2 miles.

 Jordan Pond (below) and trail (above)

The next morning we went into town in search of bicycles to rent.  We got packs that went on the back of our bikes to put our stuff in (food, camera, etc.) and biked our way from town into the park.  It’s necessary to ride along the road for a few minutes to get into the park, but once your in there are designated bike paths called carriage roads.

We entered the park via Duck Brook Road and started our journey around Eagle Lake. This is not a flat path and if your in not-so-great shape (like us), if you’re going to do this path you want to make sure your alright with getting off your bike and walking it up some of the steeper hills.  I would also recommend turning right onto the path, that way you avoid going up the steeper of the hills.  It’s definitely doable, even for those of is who aren’t expert bikers and it’s fun. The scenery is beautiful and it was nice to have the excuse that I needed a picture to get off my bike for a minute.

We stopped along the way and had a picnic on some rocks by the lake and watched the little fish swim around the shallow water.  This trip took a a few hours (2-3), was great exercise and a fantastic way to see more of the park.

 Scenery along the way

Carriage Path

View from our picnic spot

We completed the loop and headed back into town, returned the bikes, and went back to the motel a for a mini-rest, and headed back into town for an early dinner for that lobster meal I mentioned earlier.

Acadia is home to the highest point along the east coast, Cadillac Mountain.  We headed up there in time to catch the sunset, and it was magnificent. During the day, you can see out to Nova Scotia ,and as a side note, there is no longer a ferry from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia, but there is one from Portland. If you feel like you might want to do this, bring your passport.

The next night we went back for star gazing on the top of the mountain, which I also recommend.  For both events, bring warm clothes and a blanket. To star gaze we spread our blanket out next to the car and admired the stars.  I even saw a shooting star, which was pretty exciting for me.  I’m pretty sure about 85% of the “stars” we see where I live are actually satellites as we have too much light pollution for much else to shine through.  On top of Cadillac Mountain, there isn’t any light pollution and it feels like the stars are at your fingertips. Really, though, wear warm clothes and bring blankets or you won’t last long out there.  Unless its the middle of summer, then you might be alright.

The next morning we were still feeling beat from our activities of the previous two days and decided to take it easy.  From the town there is an island you can reach during low tide when a path becomes available.  We headed on over and hiked around there a bit before heading back before the tide came back in.  If you miss the tide, your stuck over there unless you can get a boat to come fetch you.  It’s a short hike and there are good views of Bar Harbor from the top of a hill.

There is a CD that was available at our motel (I’m fairly certain it’s available at most accommodation) that will guide you through the park while telling you about its history, all from the comfort of your car.  In keeping with our lazy-day plans, we opted to do this. It was actually really interesting to learn about the park and its history.  This includes stops at most of the lookouts along the way and winds all around the Park Loop road.  I didn’t think I’d really enjoy this, but I definitely did.  Its also possible to park and do some of the hikes around where the CD guide takes you.  We did this, and it led to a very pleasant day that was easy, active and included stops at the Nature Center, which had lovely flowers, and other sites we may otherwise missed.

 The view from the top of Cadillac Mountain

This was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken and I hope I get to return to Acadia soon.  Quite frankly, by the end of the trip I was looking into becoming a park ranger just so I could move there.  Just not so sure I would handle the winter well.  This park is beautiful and it felt great to get out into nature and breath fresh, clean air.  The Highbrook Motel was great, the food was terrific, and the views were breathtaking.  If you’re going to travel in the U.S., try to go here, you won’t regret it.

 Neat looking rock

 Jack in the Pulpit

View from the Park Loop Road



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