Acadia National Park in Autumn 2021 Trip Report

By Mark Thomas on Nov 09, 2021

The first thing that comes to mind for most people when asked about autumn in Maine is the wonderfully colorful fall foliage. Interspersed between the dark greens of the boreal spruce-fir forests are stands of deciduous trees including maple, beech, oak and other hardwoods with their brilliant yellows, oranges and reds harkening the fast-approach of winter.
While this brilliant display provided our October photo group plenty of photographic opportunities daily, Acadia National Park and coastal Maine offer so much more. Acadia National Park covers some 47,000 acres and is one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S. The Park and surrounding area are uniquely diverse. Acadia is home to Cadillac Mountain. At 1527 feet, it is the highest point on the east coast of the United States. Its other claim to fame is that from early October through early March, Cadillac Mountain is the first point in the United States that sees the sunrise each morning. Our group spent one early morning on the top of Cadillac Mountain to capture those first rays of the sun breaching the horizon, and we were rewarded with pastel skies as the sun peaked over the early morning clouds.
Another early start found us photographing at Sand Beach—unusual in that most other coastal areas here consist of jagged cliffs or beaches strewn with large wave-worn boulders. Sand Beach is covered with fine sand, much like a typical Florida beach and it yielded several unique photo opportunities. The pre-dawn sky, with its hues of magenta, blue and orange were occasionally punctuated by the distant light of a fishing boat. As the sky brightened, the granite cliffs on the west end of the beach took on the warm reds and oranges of the slowly rising sun, with patches of fall color on the cliff behind. The low angle of the sun created intricate patterns in the sand revealed by the retreating waves. That beautiful light and pattern offered virtually unlimited abstract photography possibilities.
A bit further south along the coastal road was another sunrise spot called Monument Cove. No sand beach here. Just the iconic granite cliffs and a beach full of boulders. The early morning light reflecting off these cliffs was spectacular.
Each day found us visiting a variety of shooting locations with reflecting lakes and streams, reed-lined ponds, rustic carriage roads and arched stone bridges. We ultimately ended each day at one of several dramatic sunset locations. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was one of our favorites. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located at the southern tip of Mount Desert Island. Ominous, storm clouds set the mood for excellent compositions of the lighthouse, with its glowing red beacon warning ships to steer clear of the unforgiving cliffs below.
We were not limited to exploring Acadia National Park on this tour. We spent a good deal of time investigating and photographing other coastal areas with tranquil harbors, fishing wharfs strewn with lobster traps and even tide pools as the retreating tide left sea stars, periwinkles and other aquatic creatures temporarily stranded. The tidal change can be as much as 12 feet, so the water moves very quickly. This was most evident at a spot called Tidal Falls, a narrow channel between the ocean and a large inland bay. The boulders in this channel create surging rapids often used by kayakers to test their skills. Because this bay is filled almost entirely by the tidal flow, the rapids switch direction with the tide giving the impression of a waterfall that falls in one direction on the outgoing tide and the other direction on the incoming tide. At low tide, the tide pools here present great photographic opportunities with colorful sea stars.
Traveling even further from Mount Desert Island we reached the Schoodic Peninsula. This small peninsula lies just to the east of Mount Desert Island and offers photogenic hiking trails surrounded by moss and lichen-covered rocks and trees, gently sloping granite “beaches,” and one of the most picturesque sunset locations of the entire trip. The southern tip of the Schoodic Peninsula also lies within Acadia National Park, so the area is protected and preserved. With easy access to the rocky shoreline here it is a great location to photograph the power of a storm coming ashore as the waves slam against the unyielding rocks. There were no storms during this year’s tour. But if one comes ashore next year, you know where we will be.
As our shooting day ended, we returned to our comfortable hotel in the coastal town of Bar Harbor. You won’t find your typical fast-food franchises and big box stores here. The quaint shops and restaurants harken back to a simpler time. In fact, the counter seats at a popular breakfast diner were reserved for locals only. If you like seafood, you’ll love it here. Lobster fishing is done year-round. The seafood is caught locally and is always fresh.
The Acadia National Park in Autumn Tour covers a variety of diverse photo opportunities from colorful fall foliage to magnificent granite cliffs to quiet fishing wharfs and interesting tide pools. We had a great trip. I can’t wait to visit again next fall!