Cycling the Acadia Carriage Roads

The weekend before last, Cindy and I took a trip to Mount Desert Island to visit Acadia National Park and its famous 45 miles of carriage roads.

It was our fist time on the carriage roads though we’d each been to Mount Desert Island before. Having only experienced Bar Harbor and, superficially, Acadia, on the park loop road in an automobile, this experience was comparably amazing!

We brought our road bikes and were not disappointed. I’d been uncertain about the best type of bike to bring but was reassured by a friend our selected road bikes would be up to the task.

Though mountain bikes have the usual advantage of a triple crankset, their wider tires aren’t entirely necessary on the carriage roads.

My 1984 Fuji Touring Series III road bike performed admirably. I benefited from its triple Sugino RT crankset and wide range of gearing.

My tires are mismatched. I have a 27×1 1/4″ Continental Gatorskin up front and a 27×1 1/8″ Continental Super Sport Plus in the back. I’d recently lost the rear Gatorskin to a bad tread puncture with related sidewall tear coming off of the Casco Bay Bridge.

Replacement Gatorskin tires didn’t arrive in time for our trip but I found a Continental Super Sport Plus locally. It seems to have much tougher sidewalls compared to the Gatorskin but is also a lot less supple. Nonetheless, it works great and I don’t particularly notice the performance hit. I’ll still likely switch it out for a matched 27×1 1/4″ Gatorskin soon.

I have other bikes with Continental Super Sport Plus tires and they also ride great, though the performance hit I feel with a pair of Super Sport Plus tires seems greater than with just one.

I’d never experienced a Gatorskin sidewall tear or puncture this bad. It seems the sidewall can be particularly vulnerable. The “DuraSkin” sidewalls are a woven material less tough than the tread. I imagine it saves weight and helps create a more supple feel. I know some would never use the words supple and Gatorskin in the same sentence, but for 27×1 1/4″ commuting, they are often the best tire choice.

Cindy’s 1985 Trek 600 Series with Shimano 600 double crankset and Bontrager Sport B / 700x25c tires was also a fine choice, though without a granny gear, a bit more challenging to get up steep mountain grades.

Road bikes have the added advantage of being great on paved roads, for traveling to and from the carriage roads. The carriage roads appear very well maintained, so much so, that a road bike with slightly wide tires might be the ideal choice.

Acadia must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The views, bodies of water, plants, smells, and animals are incredible. On a beautiful summer day, it’s a place that might lead you to consider the wonders of being alive in the world.

Though very popular this time of year, we experienced several stretches of carriage road where passing a stranger was infrequent. We are inspired to visit again soon, hopefully in between peak seasons.

On the Saturday we arrived, parking near the Eagle Lake entrance, we cycled approximately 16.8 miles, getting a feel for what to expect on the carriage road system. On Sunday morning, we cycled from our lodging in Bar Harbor to the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center entrance and rode approximately 28.5 miles.

Over the course of the Sunday ride, we ascended approximately 2,260 feet in total. There were some steep grades but each seemed offset by equally steep, fun, and exhilarating descents, especially towards Northeast Harbor and on parts of the Around the Mountain Loop, among a few others.

Some of the carriage roads in Acadia National Park are on private property, and although not completely off limits, are not open to cycling. We used the map below to route around private carriage roads, i.e., the carriage roads in the lower and lighter section of the map.

To traverse this area, we rode the park loop road instead.

Navigating with the above map and carriage road signposts was a challenge. I guess due to the loopy nature of each trail, it was not uncommon to see a signpost destination appear accessible by following trails in opposing directions. Thus, orienting oneself using the signposts and map was sometimes difficult. An improvement would be to note the number of and distance to the next signpost around the directional arrows of the current signpost. I believe this would help greatly to orient users.

Before Acadia, the park was known as Lafayette National Park. Prior to this, its name was Sieur de Monts National Monument.

Apparently, Acadia is an Anglicization of the French Acadie which itself was a Francization of the Mi’kmaq people’s name for the area, which means land of plenty. It would be interesting to know if there is any evidence of the Mi’kmaq word.

The region called Acadie by the French was much larger than Acadia National Park and was mostly situated in present day Canada’s maritime provinces and Quebec.

A different etymology says Acadia is derived from the Greek Arcadia region, the name explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano apparently gave to a broad swath of east coast North America.

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