Early Morning at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

“You don’t improve nature. You reveal your impression of nature or nature’s impact on you.”
– Ansel Adams

The sun was bright the morning after a long drive from Brunswick to Bar Harbor, Maine. I almost didn’t make the trip to Cadillac Mountain, a highlight of trips to Acadia National Park — I had forgotten to reserve my timed vehicle entry ticket until after dinner and a drink the evening before; I was exhausted. Had I been sure of my ability to awake early, I would have reserved a sunrise spot, but I played it safe and was satisfied with the result.

cadillac mountain acadia
The view from the summit of Cadillac Mountain

I was checking information for entering Acadia National Park before I went to sleep when I realized I needed to reserve a ticket to drive to Cadillac Mountain. For the half year that is peak season, that reserved ticket is required (go during low season to avoid dealing with it). I contemplated the sunrise tickets, but didn’t think I could get out of bed that early, so I booked a spot for 8:30, thinking that I might be able to get in a little earlier. I entered the park about 7:00 that morning after taking a couple wrong turns from my hotel — I drove along the empty road past the turn-off for Cadillac Mountain in search of quiet views.

acadia hiking
The trail to the North Bubble

There were few places to pull off to take pictures until I arrived at a small parking lot for the trails that led to the Bubbles. Seeing the trail marker that said it wasn’t far to the North Bubble, I set out on my first trek in the national park. It was a moderate hike and the cool morning air helped get the heart rate going — I only saw a few people on their way down who told me I was about halfway there and it was worth the hike.

It was beautiful.

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View from North Bubble

The first views of Acadia National Park from the North Bubble reaffirmed my choice of destination for vacation despite the exhausting drive. I took it all in and considered hiking farther, but determined it was time to get back to the car and drive up Cadillac Mountain to see why it was worth an additional fee.

bar harbor maine
Bar Harbor in the distance from Cadillac Mountain

It’s a slow, winding road up the mountain — it’s difficult to not get distracted by the view while driving. Fortunately, in the early hours, there are few cars and bikes on the road, making the trip to the summit less slow.

As I drove up Cadillac Mountain, there was a turn-off for the summit — a small parking lot and a rocky area to wander around an take in the view. There weren’t many people when I arrived, and most remained along the edge near the parking lot. I, and a few others, ventured farther along for greater views, taking care to only step on the rock and not any of the small plants that grow there.

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Cadillac Mountain summit

I took my time admiring the view, but knew there was more to see. I drove a little farther up to the main parking lot, which was less than half full when I arrived.

The crowd was spread out along the marked trail on the rocky mountainside. There were more adventurous travelers scrambling farther down the side of the mountain — I followed the non-path as well to look for the best photo spots, but didn’t get as far as some others. It was bright on that clear morning, which made taking some pictures a little more difficult.cadillac mountain panoramicI headed back toward the parking lot to have some coffee and stop for a bathroom break before venturing out again along some trails with fewer people.

acadia hiking
Trail down Cadillac Mountain

As I realized that the main trail nearby was an out-and-back hike that would have been strenuous, I turned back to take take a drive through Acadia National Park and seek more sights and hiking trails. On the way out of the parking lot at a little after 10 am, I noticed that there were no more spots available — visitors were now waiting for people to leave to get a parking spot.

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Crowd in the distance toward the end of my stay at Cadillac Mountain

The drive down Cadillac Mountain was slow — there were more cyclists on the road who needed space, and it wasn’t easy to pass them with all the traffic heading up the mountain. On the way through Acadia National Park again, I noticed the small parking lot for the Bubbles was full, as was the lot for Jordan Pond when I reached it later (it was much easier to park the following early morning).

The entire day was a reminder how important it is to plan the route and arrive before the crowds to avoid missing the best sights. Fortunately, I found plenty of smaller attractions in the park that had parking on the side of the road.

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