Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park (courtesy, NPS)

If you have never tried—really tried—doing nothing, Acadia is a good place to begin. A brief look at the map of Acadia National Park shows that it is all ocean island and peninsula, so the sea's the thing. First you need a rocky ledge or stony beach, perhaps at Schoodic Point, along Ocean Drive, or near Seawall. Sit down and relax and wait for things to happen. A gull may sail up over the ledge with a sea urchin in its beak. The gull drops the urchin onto the rocks below to smash its shell-like, spiny armor. The gull dives right behind the creature and then devours it. Besides watching the activity, listen for the chuckle of pebbles moving in the surf and smell the salt air as the sun warms your skin. Doing nothing on the shore is an art, a pleasure, and a long-standing tradition.

Little of New England's rockbound coast remains in public ownership, undeveloped and natural. Acadia National Park preserves the natural beauty of part of Maine's coast, its coastal mountains, and its offshore islands. Weather permitting, you can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point here, for a spectacular view of this coast. Or better yet, park your car and walk or bike into the nature and history of the park on its many trails.

Acadia, as the name suggests, was French before it was English and then American. French frigates hid from English men-of-war in Frenchman Bay, screened from detection by the Porcupine Islands. The French and English battled for possession of North America from 1613 until 1760. French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed into the Bay in 1604 and named this Mount Desert Island because of its landmark bare top.

The sea encircles, thrusts inland, and fogs here. In the midday sun its bright-blue surface is studded with lobster buoys. In fog all is gray and muted. Somewhere out at sea engines may mutter, but the lobster boat is blurred or lost in a formless world. Seen at sundown from Cadillac Mountain, the sea glows in soft pinks, mauve, and gold. Gulls wing silently home to distant islands, and, like fireflies, navigational aids flash warnings from reefs, islands, and headland. Between the sea and the forested mountains here is the small, fascinating, almost nether world of the tidal zone. Twice daily exposed to air and drowned by sea water, it is a world of specially adapted organisms. Tide pools, pockets of sea water stranded in rock basins, are microhabitats brimming with life and exposed to view. In these natural aquariums you can watch marine animals going about their business. This zone of life is amplified here by Acadia's tides, which vary from 9 to 14 feet, averaging 11 to 12 feet. It is the primeval meeting place of earth and water.

Behind the sea lie Acadia's forests and mountains, made easy for exploring by an extensive system of carriage roads. These broad, smooth, graveled byways encircle Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake and wind around the flanks of Sargent and Penobscot Mountains. They offer stunning views of Somes Sound and Frenchman Bay and they lead you along beaver-dammed brooks. The grades are gentle, but the vistas are long. The loop around Eagle Lake is a bicycle path.

The story of the people who lived on this island when Champlain first saw it is told in the Abbe Museum at Sieur de Monts Spring with Indian artifacts and exhibits. Take the ferry to Little Cranberry Island to see the Islesford Museum, whose ship models, tools, and pictures reveal island life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Villages near the park present the variety of lifestyles on the island today, Northeast Harbor shelters sailboats, large and small, and a summer colony. Bar Harbor caters to tourists, offering many accommodations and amusements. Bass Harbor and Southwest Harbor, and Winter Harbor at Schoodic, retain more of the traditional flavor of Maine coastal villages. Those who earn livings from the sea—whether lobstering, fishing, building boats, or guarding the coast—tie up here. And canneries, lobster pounds, and boatyards have not yet been replaced by summer homes and motels.

You should not neglect the opportunities for exploring marine environments. On the tidepool walks conducted by National Park Service naturalists, you will learn about plants and animals in the microhabitats between land and sea. On cruises led by a naturalist you may get to see porpoises, seals, eagles, and nesting colonies of sea birds. Or you may get to watch an osprey catch a fish and cart it off to its nest of hungry youngsters. Explore an offshore island and you can reflect on the lonely life of a lighthouse keeper's family. These are just a few of the scenic, natural, historic, and recreational wonders that comprise Acadia National Park.

Who built the carriage roads? Who had the vision of a national park on this popular vacation coastland? This national park is unusual because it was neither carved out of public lands nor bought with public funds. It was envisioned and donated through the efforts of private citizens. Many people loved Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, and the nearby islands. Maine residents and summer visitors alike donated their time and resources to preserve Acadia's beauty. George B. Dorr and Charles W. Eliot, a former president of Harvard University, saw the dangers of development and acted to avoid them. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., also played a critical role. He built the carriage roads and gave more than 11,000 acres, about one-third of the park's area, to what became known as Acadia National Park.

Trails and Paths

The more than 120 miles of trails in the park range from short level surf walks to the steep Precipice Trail. Connecting trails enable hardy hikers to scale several Acadia peaks in one trip. Between 1915 and 1933, John D. Rockefeller Jr. financed and directed the building of 57 miles of carriage roads, a network of woodland roads free of motor vehicles for hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, and carriages. Activities on some of the 50 miles of carriage roads that are within the park today include cross-country skiing and limited snowmobiling. The Eagle Lake Loop Road is specially graded for bicycles.


The French explorer Champlain, who named Mount Desert island and Isle au Haut , ran aground here in 1604. His was the first of many boating mishaps on these shores. The rocky shoreline, hidden ledges, and fog posed treacherous hazards for boats and ships until after the Civil War. By that time foghorns and lights were installed to make navigation generally safe. Today the U.S. Coast Guard maintains five lighthouses in this area: Egg Rock, Bass Harbor Head, Bear Island, Baker Island, and Great Duck Island. The romance of the often lonely life of lightkeepers and their families is a thing of the past. Modernized lighthouses are run by remote control.


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