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Trip Report: Bear Island from Seal Harbor, Acadia NP, ME

Posted by on January 18, 2012

I had made my first trip up to Acadia with my girlfriend to meet up with a group of college friends at Black Wood Campground for Memorial Day Weekend in 2011. It was nearly sinful in the kayak world for me, an instructor of 10 years, to have never been paddling in Acadia! It was time to get acquainted with Acadia and “The Best Paddling on the East Coast” as the guide books boasted. It would turn out to be the most attention deficit outdoor weekend I’ve ever had! My station wagon was packed to the roof and beyond with sea kayaks, camping gear, climbing gear, and mountain bikes. The only thing that we didn’t have was the weather. We were enveloped in a pea-soup fog from the instant we crossed the bridge onto Mt Desert Island. The fog didn’t stop me from taking a quick trip out to the Cranberries but it did make me weary about bringing out a dozen of my close friends who don’t paddle frequently.

Everyone had been looking forward to paddling all weekend long as we waited for the fog to clear up a bit. They went as far as to dub me the “Waterfront Director” and I felt that responsibility for everyone to have a fun and safe time so we waited for better weather. Monday morning dawned and the fog was socked into Seal Harbor but as we ate breakfast it began to lift. Within an hour we had ourselves a blue-bird day. The tide was high and the winds were light. Only a trace of ground swell and the occasional lobster boat disturbed the bay. What better way to wrap up a wonderful long-weekend at Acadia National Park than with a sun-filled paddle.

The plan was to give my friends a taste of the Maine coastline. This meant that we needed to see at least three things: a lighthouse, lobster anything, and some seals. This wouldn’t be too hard! I had been lucky enough to hook up with the MIT outing club the day before to guide a trip with an instructor friend and he gave me access to a trailer full of kayaks parked at Seal Harbor. I showed up early to lay out the gear on the beach. Then my college friends showed up and I gave them the typical beginner talk before we shoved off into the great, blue, Acadian water. I could actually see the Cranberry Islands which we had found yesterday in the pea-soup fog. Our first strokes took us through a school of lobster boats resting in the calm harbor. Check one off of the list!

We exited the mouth of the harbor and made our course SW toward Bear Island which the chart showed to be home to the closest lighthouse. The trip to Bear Island was magnificent. We laughed, splashed, and snapped pictures with the Bubbles standing prominently in the back drop. The lighthouse came into view as we rounded the southern tip of Bear Island. There it stood high above the rocky cliff, surrounded by pines, as a beacon to the lobstermen of Northeast Harbor. It was quintessential Maine! Check another one off of the list!

I then decided to lead the group on a quick hop across the channel to the South to take lunch on the rock bar at the western tip of Sutton Island. The views were spectacular from this vantage point. Bear Island Light stood proudly in foreground with Cadillac Mountain looming on the horizon. A small, white sailboat passed into our view on a course along the channel. We munched down on our picnic lunches and took it all in as the sail boat sauntered along in the light breeze. After lunch we decided to explore the rock bar. We came across a pile of washed-up lobster gear arranged into some sort of sculpture. Some of the girls also found large pieces of sea weed and proceeded to model these as shawls.

There was only one item left on our list of things to find: seals. I knew exactly where to look. About a mile ENE of Sutton Island lies a rock ledge that is home to a small colony of seals. We launched our boats from the rock bar, rounded Sutton Island to the South and proceeded on a course directly to the ledges. It was now about noon-thirty and the wind has picked up slightly. The tide was outgoing and we began to feel the ground swell more off of the Atlantic as we approached the ledges. I was concerned about the onset of sea sickness in the group but we kept moving forward and tucked in behind the ledges to the North. There they were; a whole colony of seals basking on the warm Acadian rocks. That was until they spotted us and promptly wormed their way into the water for safety. Then they performed a synchronized periscope show as they assessed the level of threat that we posed to their pups. Our list was complete!

We had only spent a few minutes bobbing in the ground swell but a few of the girls were starting to look a little green. The best cure for sea sickness is to keep it moving so we made an about-face and headed directly back to Seal Harbor with the swell on our sterns. A quick trip back to the beach wrapped up a marvelous day on the water in Acadia. The guide books had it right: the Acadian waters offer some of the best paddling that I’ve ever experienced on the East Coast. I could spend a lifetime there and never get bored of the picturesque landscape, the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks, and the days when blue-bird skies leave a twinkle in my eye!

Trip Details:

Launch: Seal Harbor, Mt. Desert Island, ME

Landing: Seal Harbor, Mt. Desert Island, ME

Highlights: Bear Island Lighthouse, Lobster Boats, Picturesque views, Seals

Duration: 3 hours round trip w/ stop time

Distance: ~5-6 miles

Good Eats: Jordan Pond House @ Acadia National Park

Kayak Dave Rating:

Map:

Pictures:

Bear Island Light house

Acadia National Park from Sutton Island

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