THE NORTHEAST'S ONLY NATIONAL PARK, Acadia manages to shoehorn some 2.8 million annual visits into its compact landscape, mostly 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 clifftop lighthouses is to venture out of bounds by SEA-KAYAKING. Put in at the public boat ramp in Manset, located on the southern end of Mount Desert Island, and mosey up Somes Sound, the only bona fide fjord in the lower 48, for a five-hour voyage through the Maine that sets watercolorists' hearts aflutter. Watch for porpoises, seals, and the mountains, which rise more than 400 feet in elevation from the shore. (And do yourself a favor, Cap'n: Time it so that you're paddling in and out of Somes Sound with the tides.) Another day's ocean ramble begins at Seal Harbor beach and aims south for the Cranberry Isles; Little Cranberry, with the Islesford Historical Museum and classic seafood served at the Islesford Dock restaurant, makes 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 around Bar Island and the magnificent and uninhabited Porcupine Islands. Keep a polite distance from the seal ledges, please. Hazardous conditions in these parts can include 55-degree water, 12-foot tides, persistent fog, and currents; unless your kayak schooling includes a master's in wet exits, hire a guide. For group trips and boat rentals, contact an outfitter: Try Acadia Bike and Coastal Kayaking (800-526-8615, www.acadiafun.com) or Aquaterra Adventures (207-288-0007, www.aquaterra-adventures.com). Post-adventure, the Inn at Bay Ledge (doubles, $160$375; 207-288-4204, www.innatbayledge.com), perched atop an 80-foot cliff overlooking Frenchman Bay, makes a most civilized base camp.
CUTLER COAST PUBLIC RESERVE LAND
Acadia's watery splendors are a mere warm-up for the astounding sea views you'll encounter on the Bold Coast, two hours north of the park on routes 3, 1, and 191. Spend two days BACKPACKING one of the East Coast's longest seaside trails, the ten-mile Fairy Head Loop, opened seven years ago. Few people take in the raw beauty of this unpolished coast. See for yourself on a figure-eight loop that combines the Coastal Trail with the Inland Trail. The path meanders through blueberry heaths and boardwalked swamplands before opening up atop 70-foot cliffs jagging out over Cobscook Bay. You'll hike through fog-nourished spruce woods, in and out of seal coves, and to Black Point Beach, littered with sea urchins, a good spot for a 50-degree cold plunge (beware of currents). Watch for eagles overhead and sprays on the horizon from the whales that cruise past from May to October. At Fairy Head, the farthest point of the loop, you'll find three designated campsites tucked into the woods atop the cliffs. From here, Canada's Grand Manan Island looks otherworldly in the orange blush of sunrise. Maps are at the trailhead, and you can pick up supplies in Machias.