Any time is a good time to visit Acadia National Park, yes, but right now may be the very best time given that it’s peak foliage on Mount Desert Island right now. Every which way you turn you’re going to get dazzled by big splashes of great color, never mind the already amazing mountain and ocean scenery.
Another good reason to get on up to Acadia this coming long Columbus Day weekend is the 19th annual Acadia Oktoberfest, which will be held on Saturday, October 11th at Smuggler’s Den Campground on Route 102 in Southwest Harbor.
I’ve not yet been to this big event, but I’m going this time around. I’m told the fest is a heckuva good time, drawing some 4-5,000 people over the course of the 6-hour extravaganza that goes from noon to 6 pm.
Yep, six glorious hours of beer, beer, and beer. And good food, live music, games and crafts. And beer. What’s not to love about that?
Plan to make a weekend of it, beer-festing it on Saturday and touring around the park on Sunday.
The Acadia Oktoberfest is on the western side of Mount Desert Island, which is also known as the “quiet side” of the island, it being somewhat removed from the hubbub of Bar Harbor and the main part of Acadia National Park to the east.
A lot of people don’t bother with the quiet side of MDI, but that’s too bad because there’s a lot to see and do, and it really is – or certainly seems to be – less crowded over that way.
Most everyone is familiar with the Park Loop Road, the famed 27-mile route past Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff, Jordan Pond, Bubble Rock and such. Pretty spectacular indeed.
Over on the quiet side of the island there’s another loop road that is in my book very much on par with the Park Loop Road scenic-wise, but a lot less busy. I call it the Other Park Loop Road, which is also known as Route 102A.
I’ve driven the loop dozens of times and explored everything along its way but damn if I can tell you how long the total drive is. Maybe 10 miles plus or minus. No matter, it’s beautiful and fun and I think you’ll love it.
THE OTHER PARK LOOP ROAD
Here’s how to drive the loop to maximize your sightseeing pleasure.
Get yourself to Southwest Harbor on Route 102, then head south out of town to begin your less-crowded quiet side tour, which includes nine stops. You’ll need just a few hours to see and do it all, so relax and enjoy. I mean, where else do you need to be, really?
1. Head of Southwest Harbor
Just before the junction with Route 102A, pull into the gravel turnout to enjoy the awesome view at the head of the harbor, which is chock full of lobster boats, sailboats and other watercraft. The grand mountains of Acadia loom in the distance. Just beyond the turnout, turn left onto Route 102A.
2. Sawyer’s Lobster Pound
Your second tour stop is this classic lobster pound, on your left a few miles south of town on Route 102A. Sawyer’s Lobster Pound has a vintage 1950s look, which is fitting since it used to be a drive-in restaurant. You can get a good variety of chow here, but I recommend the lobster roll. Eat at the outside tables, or take your bag o’ food to go and head for the oceanfront cobbles at Seawall, which just so happens to be Stop #3.
This amazing natural wall of rocks—a real seawall—extends along the ocean for nearly a mile. A short distance beyond the causeway that separates the ocean from Seawall Pond is Seawall Picnic Area, just opposite the entrance to Seawall Campground (now closed for the season). Some of the best picnic spots on the planet are found right here. Grab one, eat your lobster roll and enjoy the incredible view. Then take a long stroll up or down the seawall.
A mile or so southwest of Seawall is the trailhead for the Wonderland Trail. It’s about a mile out to an oceanfront point and back, easy walking the whole way on what is an old fire road. A great way to walk off that lobster roll lunch. At low tide you can scamper out onto the broad shelf of beautiful pink granite rocks at Bennet Cove and enjoy mega-island views that range from Great Cranberry Island to Swans Island.
5. Ship Harbor
A quarter-mile past Wonderland is the trailhead for Ship Harbor. What, another hike? Yes, and you’ll love this one too. It’s a 1.3-mile figure-eight loop that leads along the lovely Ship Harbor out to the ocean. I like to bear right at the first fork and then left at the second to mix things up. This is one of my favorite short hikes on the island. If you only have time to do one of these two hikes, pick this one. But I do recommend both!
6. Bass Harbor Head Light
After your Ship Harbor walk, continue on Route 102A to a T-junction (really a real sharp right) and Bass Harbor Campground. Turn left here and drive to the end of the road, which is where you’ll find Bass Harbor Head Light. You can walk the paved path down to the right, which leads to the light and the lightkeeper’s house. Better is to take the path and wooden stairs down to the rocks below, then scramble over to get the best seaside look at the lighthouse. Bass Harbor Head Light has been standing guard at the entrance to Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay since 1858. It’s still an active aid-to-navigation, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.
7. Thurston’s Lobster Pound
From the Bass Harbor Light, drive north on Route 102A to Bass Harbor, then around the harbor to the west side it via Route 102 through Tremont to Bernard. That’s where you’ll find Thurston’s Lobster Pound. Muscle through the people in line just inside the door placing their lobster orders to get to the bar on the deck. Order up a cold one and enjoy the fantastic view of the working harbor.
8. Gott’s Store
From Thurston’s Lobster Pound, backtrack on Route 102 to McKinley’s Market and turn left to continue on Route 102A. A short distance ahead on the right is a little red store, Gott’s Store. Make your way to the back of the store to order what is perhaps the best pizza on Mount Desert Island. The pizza business at Gott’s is brisk, so plan on waiting a while (the standard answer seems to be “25 minutes”). Or you could call in your order ahead of time (244-3431).
9. Bass Harbor Marsh
Take your Gott’s pizza and a couple of road sodas and double back west along Route 102A to the turnout for Bass Harbor Marsh. Enjoy the great view north over the marsh to the two peaks of Western Mountain, Bernard and Mansell respectively.
Well, that concludes our road tour of the “other park loop road” on the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. Hope you enjoyed it. And I hope to see you at the Acadia Oktoberfest! Cheers!