Slightly more than 2,366 of Acadia National Park’s acres are on the mainland Schoodic Peninsula—the rest are all on islands, including Mount Desert. World-class scenery and the relative lack of congestion, even at the height of summer, make Schoodic a special Acadia destination.

The Schoodic Peninsula is just one of several “fingers” of land that point seaward as part of eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. Sneak around to the eastern side of Frenchman Bay to see this region from a whole new perspective. One hour from Acadia National Park’s visitors center, you’ll find Acadia’s mountains silhouetted against the sunset, the surf slamming onto Schoodic Point, and the peace of a calmer lifestyle. The towns and villages salting the region—Winter Harbor (pop. 516); Gouldsboro (pop. 1,737), including the not-to-be-missed villages of Birch Harbor, Corea, and Prospect Harbor; Hancock (pop. 2,394); Sullivan (pop. 1,236); and Sorrento (pop. 274)—seem suspended in time. They are quiet and rural, with lobster fishing still an economic anchor.

A rocky beach off the Schoodic Head Loop. Photo © Hilary and Tom Nangle.

A rocky beach off the Schoodic Head Loop. Photo © Hilary and Tom Nangle.

As with so much of Acadia’s acreage on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic section became part of the park largely due to the deft diplomacy and perseverance of George B. Dorr. No obstacle ever seemed too daunting to Dorr. In 1928, when the owners objected to donating their land to a national park tagged with the Lafayette name (geopolitics of the time being involved), Dorr even managed to obtain congressional approval for the 1929 name change to Acadia National Park—and Schoodic was part of the deal.

This section of Acadia National Park isn’t as overpowering as that on Mount Desert, but it’s no less powerful. Even though it’s on the mainland, it feels more remote, and the landscape has a raw edge, with too-frequent fog shrouding the stunted and scraggly spruce clinging to its pink granite shores. Opened in on 2015 conserved lands adjacent to the park, the Schoodic Woods Campground hasn’t yet done much to change this, despite adding approximately 100 campsites, a day parking lot and a welcome center.

While you’re this far east, explore a couple other natural treasures: the Petit Manan and Corea Heath sections of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, spectacular spots for bird-watching; and the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land, an inland trove of lakes and peaks that lures hikers and anglers. Although beyond any traditional definition of the Acadia region, they’re well worth discovering. Better yet, you can loop them together via two scenic byways, one national and one state.

Planning Your Time on the Schoodic Peninsula

While most visitors still arrive by car or RV, the propane-powered Island Explorer bus service’s Schoodic Route operates between late June and Labor Day and connects with ferry service from Bar Harbor. If you want to tour beyond the service routes, you’ll need a car, and there’s much to see. Besides the jaw-dropping scenery, the region’s calling cards are outdoor recreation and shopping the artists’ and artisans’ studios tucked here and there.

The biggest attractions are the spectacular vignettes and vistas—of offshore lighthouses, distant mountains, close-in islands, and unchanged villages. Check out each small and large finger of land: Hancock Point, Sorrento, and Winter Harbor’s Grindstone Neck. Circle the Gouldsboro Peninsula, including Prospect Harbor, and detour to Corea. Meander down the Petit Manan peninsula to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. If you still have enough time, head inland and follow Route 182, a designated Scenic Highway noodling between Hancock and Cherryfield, making it a point to visit the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land. En route, be sure to dip in and out of at least some of the artisan’s studios and galleries that dot the byways. Accomplish all this and you’ll have a fine sense of place.

The rocky coast of the Schoodic Peninsula.

View from Raven’s Point along the Schoodic Peninsula. Photo © Colin Young/123rf.

Local Towns

Winter Harbor

Winter Harbor is known best as the gateway to Schoodic. It shares the area with an old-money, low-profile, Philadelphia-linked summer colony on exclusive Grindstone Neck. Only a few clues hint at the colony’s presence, strung along the western side of the harbor. Winter Harbor’s summer highlight is the annual Lobster Festival, the second Saturday in August. The gala daylong event includes a parade, live entertainment, games, and more crustaceans than you could ever consume.

Gouldsboro

Gouldsboro—including the not-to-be-missed villages of Birch Harbor, Corea, and Prospect Harbor—earned its own minor fame from Louise Dickinson Rich’s 1958 book The Peninsula, a tribute to her summers on Corea’s Cranberry Point, “a place that has stood still in time.” Since 1958, change has crept into Corea, but not so as you’d notice. It’s still the same quintessential lobstering community, perfect for photo ops.

Hancock and Sullivan

Between Ellsworth and Gouldsboro is Hancock. Venture down the ocean-side back roads and you’ll discover an old-timey summer colony at Hancock Point, complete with a library, a post office, a yacht club, and tennis courts. Meander inland and you’ll be rewarded with artisans’ studios, especially in Sullivan. In its heyday, Sullivan was a center for shipbuilding and quarrying. It also has the distinction of being where two Nazi spies, William Colepaugh and Erich Gimpel, landed in the dark of a snowy November night in 1944, dropped off by the submarine U-1230. Their mission: sabotage the Manhattan Project. Interpretative signage at two roadside pullouts, one before the bridge and another next to Dunbar’s Store, provide information on the area’s heritage, flora, and fauna. Route 1 ties the region together, providing just enough glimpses and vistas of Frenchman Bay.

Sorrento

Tiny Sorrento isn’t really much more than a classic summer colony, and that’s all the reason you need for a leisurely drive down the peninsula. It has tennis courts, a yacht club, a nine-hole golf course edging the ocean, and a swimming pool, created in 1913 by damming a cove just above the village. If you fall for the place, try to find a copy of Sorrento, A Well-Kept Secret, by Catherine O’Clair Herson, published in 1995 for the town’s centennial. It’s filled with historical photos and stories.

Steuben

Continue northeast beyond the Schoodic Peninsula, and you’ll arrive in Steuben, on the far side of Gouldsboro Bay. Not that you’ll notice; frankly, there’s little here to mark its presence on Route 1, and only a small village if you venture off it, although that’s changing as the land is carved up by developers (the number of Land for Sale signs is frightening). Only a small sign indicates that the Petit Manan section of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refugeawaits those who turn down Pigeon Hill Road.

Travel map of the Schoodic Peninsula

Schoodic Peninsula


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Acadia National Park.