Paddling lets visitors drink in the scenery at Jordan Pond from a different perspective. Photo by Collin Blunk
Paddling Stonington Archipelago. Photo by Collin Blunk
Paddling Jordan Pond. Photo by Collin Blunk
Long Pond Rentals. Photo by Collin Blunk
Somes Sound. Photo by Collin Blunk
Landing at The Ovens. Photo by Collin Blunk
Jordan Pond. Photo by Collin Blunk
Approaching the Ovens. Photo by Collin Blunk
Cathedral Rock at The Ovens. Photo by Collin Blunk
The Ovens. Photo by Collin Blunk
Porcupine Islands seen from Dorr Mountain. Photo by Collin Blunk
Somes Sound. Photo by Collin Blunk
Bass Harbor Marsh. Photo by Collin Blunk
Bass Harbor Marsh. Photo by Collin Blunk
Island hopping in Stonington. Photo by Collin Blunk
Mount Desert Narrows. Photo by Collin Blunk
Top of South Bubble over Jordan Pond. Photo by Collin Blunk
Acadia National Park is a place where land and sea intimately mingle. Thousands of visitors flock to Acadia’s many great natural destinations every year. But much of Acadia’s beauty is missed without a visit beyond the water’s edge.
Paddling provides visitors an intimate opportunity to experience the wildlife and magic of the North Atlantic and Maine’s pristine, inland lakes and ponds. The waters of Acadia give intrepid paddlers a chance to interact with the magnificent powers that helped shape Mount Desert Island and the region surrounding it. Compiled below are must-see paddling highlights of the park and nearby waters. These are places where one can find an experience unlike any other, an experience that is strictly Acadia.
1. JORDAN POND – FRESH WATER
Jordan Pond is the most iconic body of water in Acadia National Park. This is due to its two recognizable neighbors, The Bubbles. The two granite peaks at the northern end of the pond provide a picturesque backdrop to this subtle and serene location. Nestled just off the western side of the Park Road on Mount Desert Island, Jordan’s pristine shores may be explored via a loop trail that encircles the entire pond. Jordan Pond is a great paddle destination not only for the views but also because its sheltered shores are usually manageable even in windier conditions.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: Launch your boat at the public ramp on the southern side of Jordan Pond, next to the parking area. Paddle your way north up the mile-long stretch of water. Dock your vessel on the rocks near the small pedestrian bridge on the northeast side of the pond. Hike the 0.4-mile trail up to the summit of the South Bubble for grand views of Jordan Pond and surrounding area.
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: Less than 2 miles of required paddling, less than 1 mile hiking.
NOTE: There is no swimming at Jordan Pond. The Bubbles Trail climb from Jordan Pond is rated as strenuous and requires navigation over large areas of rock scree on steep slopes – may not be suitable for smaller children.
2. SOMES SOUND – SALTWATER
Somes Sound is the only “fjard” on the eastern coast of the United States. Lacking the shear vertical cliffs found in typical coastal Norwegian fjords, experts adapted the name to suit the 5-mile-long glacial embayment that nearly divides Mount Desert Island in two. Here visitors can enjoy the ocean environment in a fairly sheltered location. Bordered by Norumbega Mountain to the east and Acadia and St. Sauveur mountains to the west, the impressive bay boasts great scenery.
Situated in the center of Mount Desert Island, Somes Sound gives way to the open Atlantic at its southern mouth between the towns of Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: There is plenty of opportunity to paddle in Somes Sound. There are access points all around the bay, many of which can be very busy during the peak season.
On the eastern side of Somes Sound along Sargent Drive, there is a small, designated picnic area that has its own small boat ramp. This is a nice area to launch from as the views across to the west are stupendous and you will be in the middle of the bay, giving you the opportunity to head north or south depending on your interest.
Bar Island, part of Acadia, can be found to the north and the Narrows (shallow, glacier moraine waters at the mouth of the bay) can be reached to the south. Enjoy the scenery, spot a seal, watch a loon and then have lunch at the picnic tables overlooking the water.
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: Paddle as much or as little as you like.
NOTE: Even though the waters of Somes Sound are fairly protected, it is an expansive bay that can be tremulous in windy conditions. Paddle with caution, remembering that however far you explore is how far you have to come back.
3. BASS HARBOR MARSH – SALTWATER & FRESH WATER
Bass Harbor Marsh resides just north of Bass Harbor and is a great spot for avid bird watchers. While the marsh itself is not the most accessible – visitors must park alongside the road and launch from the natural shore – its waters do offer plenty of sheltered exploration.
The marsh is fed from a small brook at the north and filled throughout the day from tidal flooding. Be sure to hit this location at higher tide levels to ensure enough water is around to paddle. Enjoy the winding brook at its most northern reaches and be on the lookout for nesting eagles and other seabirds as you paddle.
Make sure to bring your binoculars and give wildlife a wide berth.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: The marsh provides a relaxed environment for beginners and pros alike to explore shallow waters. Launch your vessel from Flat Iron Road, just south of the bridge dividing the harbor from the marsh, and paddle north. Make your way up the winding brook to your liking, enjoying the distant views of the western mountains as you go.
Bass Harbor Marsh is known for its magnificent sunsets.
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: It is a 1-mile paddle to the mouth of the brook.
NOTE: There is limited parking at this location, 1 or 2 cars maximum. Please do not disturb nesting birds – enjoy from a distance.
4. “GREAT” LONG POND – FRESH WATER
“Great” Long Pond, on the western side of Mount Desert Island, is Acadia’s largest inland body of water (there is a smaller Long Pond in Seal Harbor). It is an excellent option for paddlers because of its proximity to boat rental establishments. At the north side of the pond just beyond the parking area is National Park Canoe & Kayak Rentals. Due to its size, Great Long Pond offers plenty of water to explore. The pond is concealed from the bulk of the wind unless it’s blowing from the north or south.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: Launch your boat at the northern tip of the lake and paddle south. Explore the western cove of the pond, and land on Rum Island for a snack off the western side of Northern Neck. Or enter Great Long Pond from the south boat ramp and enjoy the narrow stretches of the pond surrounded by Mansell Mountain and Beech Mountain.
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: Paddle as much as you like along the nearly 4-mile-long pond.
NOTE: The western shores of Great Long Pond are national park property and are preferred for any landings.
5. MOUNT DESERT NARROWS/ THE OVENS – SALTWATER
The water dividing Mount Desert Island from the mainland to the north is known as the Mount Desert Narrows. This waterway hosts a wide range of paddling opportunities sheltered from the lively movement and harsh winds of the open seas. The Ovens are sea caves on the northern side of Mount Desert Island between Salsbury and Hulls coves. This incredible hidden gem of Acadia is often overlooked due to its inaccessibility. There is no public land access available, so the only way visitors can explore these caves is via kayak.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: Drive north off of Mount Desert Island on Route 3. Head east to Lamoine State Beach in the town of Lamoine. There you will find fewer crowds and one delightful beach ready for launch. Enter the water and paddle 143 degrees southeast across the MDI Narrows toward Mount Desert Island, where you will find the sea caves (GPS Coordinates: 44.4378, -68.2644). Explore the multiple outcroppings and either walk or paddle through Cathedral Rock (depending on the tide level).
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: From Lamoine State Beach it is a 1.3-mile paddle to The Ovens, 2.6 miles round-trip.
NOTE: The tides will affect how much of the caves are exposed. At low tide you will be able to land and walk around the caves. At high tide the caves are accessible by water only. High tide may also allow you to paddle through Cathedral Rock.
6. THE PORCUPINE ISLANDS/ FRENCHMAN BAY – SALTWATER
The Porcupine Islands of Frenchman Bay are seven tightly knit islands off the northeast side of Mount Desert Island near Bar Harbor. The town’s working harbor is protected from the full force of the ocean by a breakwater off the western side of Bald Porcupine Island. Thanks to the breakwater, this island group offers semi-protected sea kayaking that is close to amenities and plenty of rental locations.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: Launch your boat from the Bar Island access road, paddle along the northern side of the islands and loop back around the southern edges.
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: Paddle as much as you like. A loop around the main chain of islands will call for at least 8 miles of paddling.
NOTE: Only experienced paddlers, proficient in navigation and water rescue, should paddle on open seas. Seek a guide or instruction if you do not feel confident on open seas. Watch the tides and do not paddle the Porcupine Islands in high winds or bad weather.
7. STONINGTON TO ISLE AU HAUT – SALTWATER
Often referred to as the “Caribbean” of Maine because of its pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and blue-green shallows, there is no better Acadia paddling destination than the islands off Stonington.
This beautiful archipelago stretches south off the mainland of Deer Isle all the way to Acadia’s Isle au Haut. The 5-mile paddling trip from Isle au Haut to Deer Isle can be completed in a day, but we would suggest a multi-day trip. Meandering through the many island destinations this area offers will afford you an unforgettable Down East experience.
Public camping is available throughout the archipelago and many of the small islands offer their own hiking trails to explore.
Beyond the sheer beauty of the area, the islands offer decent shelter from the full force of the ocean and can provide some very peaceful sea paddling in ideal conditions.
From the Stonington archipelago, paddlers are graced with amazing views of both Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island and Mount Champlain on Isle au Haut.
RECOMMENDED TRIP: Drive to Stonington, about an hour and a half southwest of Mount Desert Island. If you have your own boats, head straight to the Isle au Haut ferry terminal to park and launch.
If you need to rent, head to Old Quarry Ocean Adventures on Buckmaster Neck, Deer Isle. The length of your visit and your paddling skills will determine the route you take.
Some highlights include Green, Russ, Little Camp, Saddleback, Wreck, Harbor and Wheat islands.
TOTAL TRIP MILEAGE: Beginners can enjoy a range of beautiful islands just a mile or so off the coast of Stonington, while more experienced paddlers should weave their way down to Isle au Haut, soaking up the beauty of the entire archipelago as they go.
NOTE: Only experienced paddlers, proficient in navigation and water rescue, should paddle on open seas. Seek a guide or instruction if you’re not confident on the open ocean. Always give yourself additional time for return if poor weather should present itself.