Destination: Acadia National Park

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Visiting Acadia NP with his family as a teenager, Chris Ward did not enjoy the experience of staying there. Now, more than 15 years later, he explains what it is that has completely changed his mind

What is your favourite place to photograph?
While I don’t have one favourite place to photograph in particular, I have made several trips out to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island over the course of my life. Growing up, our family would make yearly camping trips down to Maine to check out the park, just as my mother had done when she was a kid. To be honest, I never really enjoyed the trips much at the time as I saw them as the typical ‘family vacation and ‘forced family fun’, which took me away from my friends and the golf course at the height of the summer. We stopped visiting the park when I was 14 or so, and it took me almost 13 years (and a newly discovered photography hobby) to really appreciate the park and the memories I had of it. I returned and introduced my wife and our dog to the park back in 2015. Just recently I came back from a trip there in the summer of 2017.

What is the best time to visit?
I have only visited Acadia during the spring and summer months over the several trips I have taken there. Starting with the Independence Day holiday, the high season and crowds definitely pick up, which leads to more congestion within the park. While not comparable to the crowds at Zion or similar parks, traffic and parking are difficult but still workable, provided you show up early enough in the morning. The last two trips we took there were photography-focused, therefore we chose to visit during early May and end of June. The crowds were minimal and we had no issues finding parking at the trailheads, or getting reservations in town. While I haven’t experienced it, I have heard the fall colours in the park are amazing, and hope to visit next October.

How much time should be allowed for the trip?
We typically aim for a week each time we visit. Acadia is not a particularly large park and its location on the east coast makes it a short drive from many major cities. The major attractions within the park can be photographed easily within a week. However, two weeks would be ideal if you are looking to scout new compositions or explore some of the less popular trails and mountains.

What is the best way to get there and where should you stay?
We have always driven to Acadia, as it’s only a ten-hour drive. There are numerous large cities within ten hours of the park and most people we have run into have brought their own vehicles. Bangor would be the closest airport to fly into, but would still require ground transport to get you to the island (one hour approximately). There is an island shuttle that runs throughout the peak season that offers visitors an option of avoiding some of the parking congestion but, unlike Zion, it is not mandatory within the park boundaries.

Accommodation options on the Island are numerous. Bar Harbor is the largest town, offering lots of hotels, but you can also camp, trailer, yurt and AirBnB. Growing up, we would camp on the North side of the island, which was only ten minutes outside of the park. More recently, we have stayed in Otter Cove, which was still ten minutes outside of Bar Harbor, but was right next to the ocean side of Acadia, allowing for a lot of early morning shootings without a long commute into the park.

A favourite photo locations while there?
The ocean side of the park is one of the most photogenic locations within Acadia, offering lots of seaside cliffs, beaches, pink granite boulders and, of course, some amazing sunrises. There is a level path that runs from Sand Beach to the Otter Cliffs and is home to Monument Cove and Boulder Beach. These two locations are from the most photographed areas of the park and combine large rounded boulders with towering cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean.

Is there a great deal of physical activity required?
Most who visit Acadia will do so to hike and check out the views from atop the mountains scattered across the island. There are varying degrees of difficulty/intensity depending on the mountain or trail you pick. As I mentioned earlier, there are some amazing photographic opportunities along the Ocean Path Trail, the Carriage Paths and within the town of Bar Harbor, which have very little elevation change. Easy to intermediate hikes are plenty and take less than an hour or two over a steady elevation gain. Longer and more difficult trails up Penobscot or Cadillac Mountain offer stunning vistas, especially at sunrise or sunset.

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Besides photography, what do you enjoy most about this location?
Photography has pretty much been what dictates the destinations we have travelled to in the three years since picking up a camera. In order to maintain the balance between shooting and enjoying a relaxing vacation, I typically plan two shootings around sunrise and sunset and keep the rest of the day for hiking and scouting other locations. The island itself has avoided commercialization and retains a lot of that New England feel; offering every opportunity to relax and enjoy your surroundings. The big highlight for us, and a major motivator to return (besides photography), was how dog-friendly the area is. Leashed-dogs are allowed throughout the park and within a number of stores and restaurants in Bar Harbor. On several occasions our dog was served with treats and a bowl of water on the patio before we were served!

Was there a time when you found something unexpected that surprised you?
An ongoing theme of my photography over this past year has been an appreciation for tide charts and how they can affect a scene. I visited Oregon back in the spring and had several framings on the coast where I scouted a composition in the afternoon, only to return at sunset and realize the difference in tide completely changed how the scene looked.

Fast-forward to the opposite coast, my first sunrise at Monument Cove turned out to be at low-tide, which left two-thirds of my scene full of grey rocks and seaweed. Realizing my lack of planning, I checked the charts only to discover that the most opportune tides for sunrise and sunset would occur on the last two days of our trip. Needless to say, my shooting plan had to change and I had to put a lot of faith in the weather to cooperate in order to get the images I wanted.

What is your favourite image from this location, how did you create it, and why?
I haven’t mentioned Jordan Pond yet, which sits in the center of Acadia and offers some amazing hikes and access to the network of Carriage Roads. I had planned for a picture of this location later in the week, but due to a continued lack of appreciation for the tides, our opportunity to shoot it presented itself earlier than expected. The original shooting that night was to take place at Little Hunter’s Beach on the South side of the island. I had scouted a location earlier in the afternoon (conveniently at high tide) and had picked out a frame with some nice tide pools in the foreground, the beach and some cliffs in the background. Thirty minutes before sunset we arrived only to realize the tide had receded several feet and changed the entire look of the scene. Behind us, the sky was starting to explode with colour, so we rushed back to the car and zipped around the Park Loop Road to the Jordan Pond House and out to the shoreline. Within five minutes of getting setup, the show was over, the frames were captured, and I was able to walk away with the featured image of this article.

What inspires you to keep going back to this location?
The proximity of Acadia to where we have lived has always made it an attractive option when looking to get away for a quick and relatively cheap vacation. While I have only explored a fraction of the possible photographic opportunities in a limited number of seasons, I know that there is still a lot more to discover and capture.

We are also expecting our first child towards the end of this year, so Acadia may very well become the “go-to” destination when we need a little mandatory family fun. All jokes aside, the park holds a pretty special place in my life and I’m glad that I can continue on the family tradition there.

If you are planning a trip here, you must absolutely not miss this:
If your schedule allows it, try and swing by Portland, Maine and check out the Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park. The location is about three hours south of Bar Harbor on I-95 and features a stunning lighthouse and coastal views.

Best advice you would give to our readers?
While not Acadia-specific, my advice is start early before the crowds show up. Sunrise shootings in most locations are a lot quieter than during sunset for the obvious reason that getting out of bed at four in the morning sucks! While I can’t always persuade my better half to join me, there is something awesome about being in an iconic location and having it all to yourself. I have so many amazing memories of sitting on beaches, atop mountains, wading through rushing streams or deep within slot canyons and being in complete isolation without the threat of selfie sticks, people bumping your tripod or jumping into the scene.

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