Whirlwind Visit to Acadia: Day 2 Sea Kayaks and Carriage Roads

By Charleen - September 12, 2021

On our second day at Acadia National Park, we enjoyed a bit of sunshine and seeing 3 of the "Big Four" for Maine kayaking wildlife sightings. We rounded out our visit with an afternoon stem-loop walk along the carriage roads, enjoying spooky, misty scenes along a string of ponds near Witch Hole Pond, before some rain from the tail end of Hurricane Henri finally caught up with us.

Kayaks on a Bartlett Island Beach
Passing Indian Point on the way to Green Island
Eagle Lake
View from an Acadia Carriage Road between Duck Brook Bridge and Witch Hole Pond

Day 2.

After hitting many of the popular attractions along the coast from Sand Beach down to Otter Point, we ventured to the quiet side of Mount Desert Island with the help of National Park Sea Kayak Tours

Click here to read about Day 1: Great Head, Beehive, Pink Granite

We had made the kayak tour reservation less than a week prior to our departure to Boston. At that time, we were not sure if we wanted to extend our drive out into northern Maine. If we were able to get a kayak reservation, we would go ahead and drive north from Boston, but if not, we planned to visit upstate New York on our way back down to Pennsylvania. National Park Sea Kayak was fully booked for 9 and a half days out from our initial inquiry, but we were able to get a Monday morning reservation.

After struggling with parking in Bar Harbor the prior day, we were a bit concerned with the 4 hour parking meter time limit. But as it turns out, there are certain parking lots and areas on Historic West Street, Cottage Street and Mount Desert Street where the meters can be paid for up to 11 hours of parking between 9 am and 8 pm.

Blueberry pancakes at Jordans 

We were supposed to arrive for our 10:30-2:30 tour by 10 am.  So we stopped by Jordan's Restaurant down the street for some breakfast.  The guys at the kayak outfitter told us they have the finest blueberry pancakes anywhere.  And they were right!  

The wild Maine blueberry pancakes are fantastic, especially with the wild Maine blueberry syrup and the mounds of fluffy butter provided. 
Jordan's wild Maine blueberry muffin, pancakes and syrup (with ample butter)
If you are hungry, the Pancake Club Special is a great deal, and you can elect to have both blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffin, plus two eggs, and a choice of breakfast meats. 

Later on, we found out that a favorite local way to enjoy the blueberry muffins is to ask them to split and toast them. 

As the parking meters do not have to be paid until 9 am, you can park for free while enjoying a great Jordan's breakfast.

Sea Kayaking in Western Bay and the Mount Desert Narrows

We had a group of 12 paddlers and 6 double kayaks, complete with spray skirts. While we have done our share of river, ocean and lake kayaking, we learned a new way to enter a kayak while keeping your weight completely centered. Straddle the kayak and sit down on the deck just behind the seat, making sure your spray skirt is behind and not below your bottom. Then bring both feet inside the kayak and scoot forward and down into the seat. A simple and effective way to prevent pulling an inner leg muscle when the kayak shifts as you step in from the side.

After checking the wind and tides, our guide Isaiah selected our paddling location and route, and we divided into two vans for the drive to the put-in at the end of Clark Cove Road. Along the way, he pointed out one of the few swimming beaches in the area (many of the lakes are off limits to swimming to prevent fouling the town's water sources).  Apparently, there is also a set of ledges of different heights for jumping into the lake.

While no one can predict wildlife sightings, our goal was to see how many of the "Big Four" we could view, while enjoying a pleasant paddle among islands and sea shelfs supporting nesting birds, and red and yellow seaweed. These being: harbor seal, eagle, osprey and loon. In addition, there were two types of jellyfish we were to look out for -- one that could be held and one large enough for stings to be felt. I think these were the moon and lion's mane jellyfishes, respectively, but am not sure as we did not see any.

As we headed into Western Bay, Isaiah pointed out a grey seal, but we were too far ahead and did not see it. The tide was still heading in, but we had a nice tailwind so the paddling was pretty easy.

A bit later, we saw another grey seal. These seals are larger than the harbor seal. They have eyes set further back along the side of their head, so we got lots of great profile views of a curious grey seal.
We saw cormorants diving, and lots of white birds in flight -- some sort of tern. 
Grey seal
Then the sun came out, lighting up the yellow and red seaweed around Indian Point. It was glorious to bask in the sunlight after so much rain, fog and overcast conditions.

As we headed towards Green Island, we saw our first harbor seal. Then another, and another.  At one time, our group of kayaks was surrounded by curious harbor seals.  Although smaller than the grey, we got some great views of their faces. Their eyes are set further forward, allowing them to gaze directly at us.
Harbor seal

There was no beach to stop at, so we set our sights to Bartlett Island.  This island has been owned by the Rockefeller family since 1974. It was bought by David and Peggy Rockefeller to protect it from development. David Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., had played a pivotal role in making sure that Acadia National Park could be enjoyed by the public. As we had learned from a Ken Burns documentary a few years ago, Acadia is one of the few National Parks that was formed from donations of privately held land by Charles Eliot, George Dorr, Rockefeller and others. 

Peggy wrote: "Bartlett’s Island was ravishingly beautiful, deserted, neglected, only three-fourths of a mile from Mount Desert Island, and it became an obvious target for those seeking likely places to develop. . . . To tell the truth, at that time our knowledge of the island was mostly by hearsay. We bought it, hardly having set foot on it, with no intention of doing anything to it, other than to protect it."

Just as we turned our bows to head towards Bartlett's island, a bald eagle flew from behind us and led our eye to a tree at the edge of the beach that we were aiming for. Just at that point, we head a loud splash between our kayak and another kayak. They said a harbor seal had come up for air and surprised itself as much as it surprised them, splashing as its spotted body dove quickly back down.
Bald eagle in flight
We stopped on a pebbly shore for a stretching and snacking break. I headed to the right and found a nice trail leading back to a private area in the woods.

As we left Bartlett Island, we spotted a loon bobbing in the water and turning its head this way and that. 

Isaiah pointed out some expensive sailboats docked along the mainland, but our attention was drawn to a pair of islands with lots of nesting seabirds, including young seagulls and young cormorants.
Nesting seabirds in Bartlett Narrows
Gaining a boost from the tide as it went out, it took us no time at all to paddle under a bridge to a dock to reach the ramp at Bartletts Landing Road.  We had been on the water from 11 am to about 1:45 pm. After convening back on Cottage St around 2:30, Isaiah drew our route out on a map and labeled the approximate locations where we saw the wildlife.

Lobster rolls and Carriage Roads

Since this was our last day in Maine, having checked out and packed all our things into the car, we did not want to spend too much time grabbing a late lunch. So we returned at around 3 pm to a bakery we had spotted because they advertised blueberry popovers (available each day at 2 pm but they quickly sell out). The Stadium advertises itself as having the best lobster roll around with 4 ounces of meat on their own baked roll. We walked back to the little park next to where we had left the car and enjoyed an outdoor picnic.
Stadium Lobster Roll
The Classic Lobster roll with butter was better than the Stadium Lobster roll, which featured a bit of brown butter concentrated on a single small spot in the center of the bottom bun; both brown butter and lobster meat were overpowered by a rather strong mayo aioli slathered across the top bun. 

However, both offerings from the Stadium bakery were on bulky rolls that were stale, tough and hard to eat. Just as the whole Maine lobster was a bit of a let down, these lobster rolls were nowhere near as good as the "wicked fresh lobsta roll" at Pauli's in the Boston North End (our all time favorite). 
Lobsta roll from Pauli's in Boston's North End
The buns at Pauli's are just regular, lightly toasted buns, but at least they do not detract from the mounds of delicious, minimally dressed chilled (or hot) lobster with its rich flavor. Nor, as it turns out, was the Stadium lobster roll as good as the one we could get right at home at Merchant Oyster Co on a crusty on the outside and tender on the inside, brown butter toasted roll.

But the Stadium lobster roll was a quick and easy lunch, allowing us to move quickly to the final phase of our visit. Given how cloudy/foggy it was in Bar Harbor, we did not feel that it was worth paying for the privilege of driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Instead, we hoped to walk along the historic carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and view a few of the famous bridges. Each carriage bridge is unique, as each bridge was built to complement the landscape at its particular site. 

On our drive around Park Loop Trail the day before, we had passed beneath the Triad-Day Mountain Bridge while a horse drawn carriage was crossing. 
Triad-Day Mountain carriage bridge
We had also paused at a beautiful overlook on Park Loop Road with a view of Eagle Lake below. So we planned to park near the Eagle Lake Bridge and walk at least partway around Eagle Lake to the Bubble Pond Bridge. We arrived at the Eagle Lake parking area around 3:30 pm.
Eagle Lake Bridge and closed Eagle Lake Carriage Road beyond
Unfortunately, the entire Eagle Lake loop of the carriage roads was closed. The nice ranger, who was stationed beneath the Eagle Lake Bridge allowed us to walk in far enough to see the lake, but advised us to walk two miles to Witch Hole Pond instead.
The end of Eagle Lake
So we set off down the one mile connector trail, passing some lovely views of the Breakneck Ponds. In some areas, the carriage road, which is all gravel, was lined by spaced boulders affectionately called "Rockefellers Teeth." 
Rockefeller's Teeth
When we got to the branch point, we met a guy walking clockwise (the shorter way to Witch Hold Pond) who was searching for his wife. With no reliable phone service, we concluded after our separation at Jordon Pond House, that is is generally not worth splitting up while the driver tries to find a parking spot. 

We opted to walk counterclockwise with the goal of seeing Duck Brook Bridge. This is a fantastic bridge, crossing over Duck Brook down stream of a set of small waterfalls and cascades. 
Duck Brook Bridge
Thus inspired, we decided to complete the loop instead of turning back. We had reached a beautiful vista at the northeast corner of Witch Hole Pond before the side effects of Hurricane Henri caught up with us around 5 pm. However, the drizzle only added to the spooky charm of Witch Hole Pond and Beaver Pond, with its haphazard piles of dead trees in the center.
Witch Hole Pond
We completed this 6 mile loop around 5:50 pm, and started on our 850 mile journey home. We are so glad we extended our trip to Boston to include these two fantastic days on Mount Desert Island!
Beaver Pond

Future aspirations

The outdoor portions of our visit were 100% satisfying, despite the fog and drizzle. I wonder, though, if it would have been more scary climbing the Beehive with full visibility down to the ocean. Would I have completed the ascent as confidently?

This is something I will have to find out on a later visit. And perhaps add the Precipice trail ascent to the top of Cadillac Mountain. The Bubble peaks are another destination for a future visit -- and maybe bike rentals to see more of the carriage trails.

Our dining experience in Maine could be improved.  Getting away from the highly touristed Bar Harbor in favor of lobster places on the quiet side, or even along the road back to the mainland may be necessary.

The lobster and lobster roll pictured in Yelp reviews of Rose Eden Lobster and Bistro on Eden seem promising.  Or we could skip the lobster altogether and try out the recommendations of our kayak guide. He raved about the duck fat fries and wood-fired, brick oven pizzas at Blaze, mentioning that he saw them bring out a lobster roll that looked pretty good.  He also gave high recommendation to Galyn's Bar Harbor as one of his favorite places for atmosphere, food and drink.

Finally, if we had not had a deadline to return back home before a visit from family, we would definitely drive down the coast of Maine to try Primo in Rockland, ME, which we hear is a superb, farm to table restaurant. 
Lilies at Breakneck Ponds


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