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Acadia National Park is a little more than 160 miles up the coast from Portland, Maine. Covering 47,000 acres, the bulk of the park is located on Mount Desert Island. The park is home to the highest mountain along the East Coast all the way down to the Yucatán Peninsula, Cadillac Mountain, whose towering 1,527-foot pink granite summit is the first location in the U.S. to see the sun's morning rays during the fall and winter seasons. Once in the park, you can follow the Park Loop Road by car or via an extensive system (nearly 50 miles) of carriage trails by bike or by foot. Park Loop Road has several scenic overlooks and will deliver you to wonderful spots for seascapes, landscapes and nature shooting. For those who don't mind putting in a little more effort, there are also 125 miles of hiking trails, ranging from the very easy Jordan Pond Nature Trail to the challenging Precipice Trail, an exposed and often nearly vertical 1,000-foot climb up the east face of Champlain Mountain. (The Precipice Trail is generally closed from mid-March through mid-August due to the nesting of endangered peregrine falcons.) The closest major airport to Acadia, Bangor International Airport, is about 50 miles away.
Because of its proximity to the ocean, Acadia stays a little warmer in the winter and a little colder in the summer than most of Maine. But this is still Maine, so winter temps easily can plummet to below zero. Although the Park Loop Road closes, the carriage trails make for excellent cross-country skiing. Winter in Acadia is a beautiful time, and a nice layer of freshly fallen snow on top of one of the many stone bridges makes for stunning black-and-white imagery. Summer is very comfortable in Acadia and also popular. The best bet is to get up early and find a good location, but be forewarned—in the middle of June, the sun rises before 5 a.m., so don't forget to pack your alarm clock!
What you carry for equipment can vary greatly depending on the location in the park. With its rocky beach and 110-foot headland, Otter Cliffs, for instance, is a favorite for many photographers looking for seascapes. I'll bring my 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 wide-angle zoom to this area, alongside a good selection of split graduated neutral-density filters for working with the surf and sky, a good polarizing filter, a cable release and a sturdy tripod. For years I've been using a Manfrotto aluminum tripod. Although big and heavy, it's plenty sturdy. As I'm often in the saltwater when shooting, it soon will need to be replaced. Two medium zooms (a 24-105mm ƒ/4 and a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8) and a longer zoom (a 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6) fill out my backpack for hiking.
Just like the rest of New England, fall is spectacular in Acadia. It's also not as busy as the summer months. Get off of the road and follow one of the many streams that run through the park where you'll find old stone bridges, clear flowing water and fall foliage, which is always a great combination. If you have more than one day to photograph Acadia, you could spend a day driving the Park Loop Road and the next day hiking the strenuous trails. Peak autumn colors can range from late September through mid-October. Timing is important here. You want to be in Acadia after the leaves come out, but before the black flies and tourists arrive. Plan it right, and you could have the whole park to yourself!
When working on uneven terrain, a big concern is getting the horizon level as you compose. Leveling bases allow you to perfectly align your shot even when the tripod legs are extended to alternate lengths. Leveling bases are also ideal for panoramic work because they allow you to pan while staying level. Among other leveling bases, Really Right Stuff produces the Universal Leveling Base for all tripods with 3⁄8" threads. List Price: Begins at $180. Contact: Really Right Stuff, www.reallyrightstuff.com.