NEW ENGLAND'S ONLY NATIONAL PARK, Acadia manages to shoehorn some 2.8 million annual visitors into its compact landscape, the bulk of it on Mount Desert Island (with smaller tracts on Isle au Haut and nearby Schoodic Peninsula). The finest way to lose the crowds and take in the park's cymbal-crash surf, craggy stone-shored islets, and requisite cliff-top lighthouses is to venture out of bounds SEA KAYAKING. Because Mount Desert Island isn't particularly well situated as a launching point for overnight paddle tripsthe closest campable public islands are a daunting six to eight miles of open-ocean slogging to the east or southwestday trips are more inviting. Put in at the public boat ramp in Manset, near the island's southern end, and mosey up Somes Sound, the Lower 48's only bona fide fjord, for a laid-back five-hour voyage through the Maine that sets watercolorists' hearts aflutter. Watch for porpoises, seals, and cliffs more than 400 feet high (and do yourself a favor, Cap'n: Time it so you're paddling in and out of Somes with the tides). Another day's ramble begins at Seal Harbor's beach and aims south for the Cranberry Islands; Little Cranberry, with the Islesford Historical Museum and decent seafood at Islesford Dock, is a fine spot to stretch your sea legs. The most reliable marine-mammal ogling goes down in Frenchman Bay, off Bar Harbor, where you can paddle among Bar Island and the magnificent and uninhabited Porcupine Islands. Keep a polite distance from seal ledges, please. Conditions in these parts can include 50-degree water, 10- to 12-foot tides, persistent fog, and wicked currents; unless you're adept at wet exits, hire a guide. For group trips and boat rentals, contact Acadia Bike and Coastal Kayaking Tours (207-288-8118) or Aquaterra Adventures (207-288-0007). The Inn at Bay Ledge, perched atop an 80-foot cliff overlooking Frenchman Bay, is a most civilized base camp ($160 and up, in season; 207-288-4204, www.innatbayledge.com).
WHEN TO GO: In the spring, the birds are nesting, seals are pupping, and the July 4th through Labor Day crowds haven't arrived.
ANNUAL VISITORS: 2.8 million. (High: August, 630,240. Low: January, 18,090.)
MORE CHOICE ADVENTURE: Also on Mount Desert, MOUNTAIN BIKE the 40-odd miles of crushed-stone carriage roads, originally laid out by one John D. Rockefeller Jr., over stone-arched bridges and into the park's aspen- and birch-packed interior.
HEADLAMP READING: The Sea Kayaker's Guide to Mount Desert Island, by Jennifer Alisa Paigen; Discover Acadia National Park: A Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking, and Paddling, by Jerry and Marcy Monkman
LOCAL SPECIALTY: Don't miss tea and popovers on the lawn at the park's Jordan Pond House restaurant on Mount Desert Island, blueberry daiquiris at Poor Boy's Gourmet in Bar Harbor, and lobster (of course) at Thurston's in Bernard on the western "quiet side" of Mount Desert.
PARK HEADQUARTERS: 207-288-3338, www.nps.gov/acad