50 Hours On Mount Desert Island
Post author: Kitty McSweeney
We arrived at the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor late Friday afternoon. Both my husband and I were happy to have reached Mount Desert Island in three hours driving from Portland, which typically is the travel time but seasonal traffic can make it longer on busy summer and autumn weekends. Our choice of the Claremont also brought us joy in its unique character and charm. My husband wanted to book this historic hotel, built in 1884, because they accommodated us with a room that offered a private screened in porch and fireplace. Whereas, I was interested in booking the Claremont because they have an awesome bar located in the property’s original boat house.
We had a few hours to kill before dinner, so we started to take in the many breathtaking sights the island has to offer. Our dinner reservation was in Otter Creek, a small town in between Bar Harbor and Seal Harbor. We decided to start in Seal Harbor and head straight for the Cooksey Drive Overlook. It was a twenty-minute jaunt from the Claremont, but worth it as we passed world-class mountains and lakes the entire drive. The Cooksey Drive Overlook, a hidden nature preserve, begins with a small dirt parking lot at the end of the crooked Cooksey Road squeezed in between early twentieth century summer mansions.
We bounded down a well groomed trail of planks and wood chips to a series of cliffs dropping into the ocean that are so grand for a moment it seems as though you are standing on Mount Olympus. We immediately discovered a bench-like-slab of pink granite among the rolling cliffs and sat down to gaze at the Atlantic Ocean pitch itself against the sprawling cliffs. The view to our right was the beginning of the dozens of small islands that dot the coast off Mount Desert. To our left cars slowly traveling on the cliff side area of Park Loop Road, the main artery through Acadia National Park.
Our little respite at Cooksey Drive Overlook lead us right up to our reservation time at The Burning Tree restaurant in Otter Creek. We traveled just five minutes to what looks like a beautiful old family home just off Route 3. We noticed the restaurant had many raised beds in front of the main entrance that goes into a screened in porch. Upon entering my husband and I felt as though we'd walked into a family home and were greeted by a charming hostess who showed us to our table on the screened in porch that allowed for a wonderful late summer breeze.
We both ordered rhubarb gimlets made with ingredients grown on site. For an appetizer we enjoyed the fried squash blossoms, also grown on site, and the highly recommended chicken liver pate with grilled bread and pickled grapes. For dinner I had the dover soul, which was lightly breaded and accompanied by a delicious pernod sauce. My husband had the chicken pan bake made up of dark meat chicken, clams, chorizo, and a delicious light broth fusing all the flavors together.
For dessert we took a ten minute drive into Bar Harbor for MDI Ice Cream. This small shop just on the cusp of town right after the baseball field was reported to us from a good friend in Portland as having the best ice cream in Maine. There is a location in Portland as well, but we decided best to try this acclaimed ice cream at the source. It was as delicious as it is said to be. I had the thai peanut ice cream with actual bits of chillies and peanuts throughout. My husband had the butterscotch and miso ice cream in a waffle cone with chocolate sprinkles. He said it was the perfect union of salty and sweet. It was very apparent that all their ice cream was made from scratch on site with great care.
We took our ice creams to the Bar Harbor Agamont Park, an oceanside recreational area with gardens, a gazebo, and walking trails with benches. We grabbed a bench and watched the boats travel into 3 Town Pier from around the Porcupine Islands.
We spent the morning hiking. Rather than do a single hike we embarked upon a two mountain adventure.
The first was Parkman Mountain just outside of Northeast Harbor. It is considered notoriously easy to well versed hikers so we thought it would be the perfect warm up. The trail to the top is a very nice walk into the woods until about two thirds of the way through when the trail begins to ascend. We walked upwards on the large slabs of pink granite to the summit. For such a simple hike the views were incredible. We saw a series of islands directly off Northeast Harbor, and incredible views of Somes Sound, the only natural fjord in America.
Photo Credit: Liza via Flickr CC 2.0
As soon as we had completely soaked in the summit of Parkman, we continue down the Grandgent Trail east and descended into a large forest valley with a lot of bright green mossy stones. At the bottom of the valley we connected to the Giant Slide Trail and then ascended to Gilmore Peak. This summit was very different than Parkman Mountain in that it was more of a crag than long slabs of soft granite.
The views from the summit of Gilmore are even better than Parkman. You can see The many islands spanning the ocean around Mount Desert Island, Somes Sound, and also parts of Seal Harbor into Bar Harbor. The summit of this mountain puts you at a peak that gives the illusion of being in the center of Acadia National Park.
We followed the Parkman trail down, and used the carriage roads to connect to the part of the Parkman trail that leads back to the parking area off Route 3 where we left our car. If we had taken the parkman trail straight down without slightly traversing the carriage roads we would have had to walk down Route 3 for half a mile to get back to our car.
After the long hike my husband and I decided to head into Northeast Harbor in search of Ted’s Food Truck. We found it in Great Harbor, the main port of the town.
My husband ordered the Lobster Club Wrap, a large tortilla filled with fresh lobster meat, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and bacon. It was unbelievably delicious. I ordered the classic Maine Crab Roll. Both sandwiches came with hand cut and fried potato chips that were quite possibly the best potato chips we’ve ever had.
After lunch we headed to the Echo Lake Beach for a swim. This lake, at its center, reaches depths of 66 feet. Of course the swimming area off the beach is much shallower and has a clear view down to the sand below. This lake is known for having a large population of Brook Trout and people are welcome to fish there. The beach was much larger than we expected and the water was the perfect temperature right around 70 degrees.
After showering and a quick nap at the hotel it was time for us to finally go to the Claremont boathouse bar for a blueberry margarita. The bar was full of people coming and going by boat. You could see the small vessels full of family and friends pulling up to the dock for drinks and bar food. The atmosphere was wonderful as the whole interior of the boathouse had been painted white and had a crisp nautical feel. The view was that of most of the large mountain ranges of Acadia in the backdrop with a closer view of Northeast Harbor and Somes Sound. We both ordered margaritas and a plate of nachos to share between the two of us.
As soon as we were finished with the margaritas we could see The Delight Water Taxi, owned and operated by John Dwelley pulling up to the dock to take us to dinner. It was very apparent that John had been operating this water taxi for many years as he was well known by most people at the Claremont dock as he docked the boat. Our destination was the Islesford Dock Restaurant and Gallery, both operated in a combined structure on the Islesford Dock itself. We boarded the boat and took off to see Mount Desert Island from the ocean, and it was more spectacular than we could have possibly imagined.
From the back of the boat we had a perfect view of the Bubbles, two mountains in the center of the park that stand next to each other. The boat motored past many little islands including Bear Island with it’s historic lighthouse, Great Cranberry Island, Sutton Island, and Baker Island which was settled in the mid 19th Century as a farming community. What was most interesting about all the islands is they each had houses that people inhabited during the season and in some cases year round.
We arrived at the restaurant located on Little Cranberry Island, this restaurant serves an eclectic mix of pub food and lobster shack fare with an upscale twist. The atmosphere was that of the inside of a galley of a large ship with wooden walls and floors. It was the sort of place where you wouldn’t be surprised to run into a fishing captain who’d been trawling the local waters for most of his life. The many beautiful paintings covering the walls scenic moments captured by way of oil paint to canvas escalated the feeling of the interior of the restaurant breathing an upscale feel into the classic maine fishing atmosphere.
We sat down at a table overlooking the dock and coastline of the Island and ordered dinner starting with the ribs and a dozen Maine oysters. I had a steamed lobster dinner that came with fries, cole slaw, and of course a bib to protect my clothes when cracking the lobster open. My husband had the Dock Burger with came with cheddar cheese and caramelized onion jam. For dessert we split the blueberry pie a la mode.
Once dinner was over we had a little time to wait for the water taxi to pick us up so we decided to view all the beautiful paintings in the gallery connected to the restaurant. The paintings were all well displayed and very well lit landscapes capturing many of the beautiful sites we had seen since our arrival to the Island.
There was also a local pottery shop on one of the docks that offered lots of handmade mugs, pates, bowls, and sculptures from local potters that live on Little Cranberry year round.
Photo Credit: Guillén Pérez via Flickr CC2.0
We awoke at 6am on a Sunday morning, got two complimentary coffees from the lobby of the hotel, checked out, and went directly to Cadillac Mountain to drive to the top and see the new morning over Mount Desert Island. It is the highest peak on the Island from which you can see every harbor and all the islands the surrounding islands from various points at its Peak. We didn’t get there in time for the actual sunset but that didn’t take away from the incredible views of early dawn over Acadia. Specifically, the views of islands off Bar Harbor were the most amazing from the top of Cadillac.
We worked up a big appetite on top of Cadillac Mountain and immediately headed in the park to The Jordan Pond House for breakfast. Known for its outstanding popovers, homemade strawberry jam, and raw lemonade served with honey syrup so you can sweeten to taste, we were really excited for an amazing breakfast. The lady at the front desk of our hotel also advised that the best time to go there were before 11:30am and after 3pm, so we figured breakfast was the perfect time.
Upon arrival we were greeted warmly and immediately seated at one of the outdoor picnic tables overlooking Jordan Pond. Our server recommended we order popovers, fresh fruit, and a lobster omelette to share between the two of us and couldn’t have been more on board with that exact order. The popovers were amazing with butter and homemade strawberry jam. Fruit is always great after a big weekend of traveling. The lobster omelette was incredible, filled with lobster claws and tail meat complemented with Gruyere cheese.
As soon as breakfast was over we immediately ventured to Park Loop road to drive to Thunder Hole. This long standing Acadia National Park attraction is a series of cliffs with a long winding granite staircase that leads to a spot at the bottom that leaves you standing directly in the wake of all the breaking waves. The area is called Thunder Hole because the sound waves make as they crash upon the cliffs is that of the sky midst a raging thunderstorm.
The prime time to visit this wild place is in the afternoon when the winds commonly pickup and create swells that allow for board breaking waves. As we were there in the morning it wasn’t quite as intense but still a sight worth seeing. We even got a few splashes as we ventured to the bottom of the staircase. It was a great last stop before heading back to Portland.