ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Acadia was the first national park east of the Mississippi, originally called Lafayette National Park. But in 1929, it was renamed “Acadia” in tribute to observations by Florentine explorer Giovanni de Verrazono, who in 1524 compared its coastline to that of Arcadia, Greece.
This place is unique among national parks in that it arose from land holdings donated by private citizens, including John D. Rockefeller Jr. The park is best known for its rugged coastline and for Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the east coast of the United States.
Although unnamed on park maps, Boulder Beach is among the most photographed icons in Acadia. The shoreline here is littered with red granite boulders that were deposited during the last ice age.
At sunrise, the round granite boulders alight with color to embellish the rugged coast that also encompasses the dramatic Otter Cliffs to the south.
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
Boulder Beach is photogenic any time of year. But if you come here during the 2nd or 3rd week in October, be prepared to elbow your way around a crowd of photographers and workshop attendees who are intent on capturing the iconic scene.
For that reason, I avoid the place during foliage season. Go any other time of year and you may have the place to yourself. This is especially true in winter when you may be the only photographer in the whole of Acadia National Park. The accompanying image was taken in mid-January. During that winter visit, I never crossed paths with a single visitor or photographer.
Boulder Beach faces east, so this is mainly a sunrise destination. I always arrive at dawn to assess conditions and settle on a composition. The absence of light pollution also makes Boulder Beach a good destination for night photography. In early summer, the Milky Way rises over Otter Point, making it possible to include its colorful band in the composition.
GETTING TO BOULDER BEACH
Boulder Beach is on Ocean Drive, a short distance from Otter Point. From Bar Harbor, head out on Park Loop Road in the direction of Ocean Drive and Sand Beach, and continue driving past Thunder Hole. The next parking area is for Gorham Mountain Trailhead. Drive past the Gorham Mountain Trailhead pull-off and stop at the next parking lot some 500 feet further down Ocean Drive.
From the parking area, walk south to the intersection of Ocean Drive and Otter Cliff Road. Amidst the trees on your left side, find the small path leading you down to the rocky beach below.
The short path leading down to the beach is steep and obstructed by twisted tree roots. The sandy descent can be more hazardous in the aftermath of mist, rain, or snow. Step very carefully.
As its name suggests, Boulder Beach is full of granite rocks that have been shaped and polished by centuries of wild surf and wave action. These rounded rocks are extremely slippery when wet — those covered with moss or black ice are notoriously dangerous. One wrong step and you could find yourself crashing down onto a highly unforgiving stone surface.
If you decide to visit Acadia in winter, be aware that only a portion of the Park Loop Road is accessible to vehicle traffic. And since Ocean Drive is exposed to harsh seaside elements, the road surface is often covered with ice patches and snow. A Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) equipped with good tires is recommended. Winter weather in northern Maine can be unpredictable. Anticipate the weather.