Home to the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast, the first national park east of the Mississippi River celebrates an anniversary today. It's had three different names during its 93-year history—and the taxpayers got a real bargain when this area was added to the National Park System. The vast majority of the land in the park was donated to the people of the United States.
First proclaimed as Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, it was established as Lafayette National Park in 1919 and finally renamed Acadia National Park on January 19, 1929. Under any name, it has a lot to offer present-day visitors.
Acadia's 47,000-plus acres includes a rugged coastal island, dramatic cliffs, beautiful forests, excellent opportunities for wildlife watching and hiking and much more.
How spectacular is the scenery in this park? In the late 1800s, families with names such as Rockefeller, Ford, Vanderbilt and Astor could afford to spend their summers anywhere they wanted, and they chose Mount Desert Island, along the coast of Maine.
The Great Depression and World War II marked the end of that era, but visitors to Acadia can still enjoy the legacy of those former great estates. Between 1913 and 1940, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. constructed 45 miles of rustic carriage roads on Mount Desert Island for travel via horse and carriage.
Rockefeller took a personal role in design of the carriage road network and aligned the routes to follow the contours of the land, preserve mature trees and take advantage of scenic views. The result is a series of routes that blends harmoniously with the landscape. The Rockefeller family has since donated about 11,000 acres and the carriage roads to the park, where today they offer outstanding opportunities for walking and bicycling.
If you'd like a more rustic route for foot travel, Acadia is described as a hiker's paradise. A 125-mile system of trails offers a wide variety of terrain and views for anything from an easy stroll to a challenging hike.
Wildlife watchers will find plenty to occupy their time as well. The park is considered one of the premier sites in the country for bird-watching, with 338 bird species recorded so far in the park. Peregrine falcons, once on the brink of extinction, were successfully reintroduced the park in 1984, and along with bald eagles and loons are a favorite with birders.
At 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest mountain on the U. S. East coast, and it offers an outstanding vantage point for viewing raptors during their fall migration southward. Last year, 2,637 of these magnificent birds were counted during the park's HawkWatch program, including sharp-shinned hawks, American kestrels, osprey and merlin. Best time for viewing is typically mid to late September.
Incidentally, you'll find plenty of trees and other vegetation on Mount Desert Island. According to a park publication,
Samuel Champlain, a French navigator and cartographer, sailed by Mount Desert Island in 1604. He named it "Isles des Monts Desert," with the accent on the last syllable, as it is in the French language. He wasn't implying that it was a desert. The phrase means "island of barren mountains." That's why it's pronounced both as it is spelled and as the French meaning would be pronounced (dessert).
Get that pronunciation down before a visit so you won't immediately label yourself as a tourist!
A great way to enjoy—and learn about—this park's many attractions is on a ranger-guided program. From late May to early October, you can choose from a variety of walks, talks, hikes, narrated boat cruises, bike rides, and more. You'll find more information in the downloadable park newspaper or by stopping by one of the park visitor centers.
This is an easy park to see without a car. From late June until early October, propane-powered Island Explorer buses provide service between park destinations, local communities, and the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport. Regularly scheduled buses stop at specific destinations in the park—including campgrounds, carriage road entrances, and many trailheads.
You can also flag down buses along their route; drivers will pick up passengers anywhere it is safe to stop. Here's the best news: You can ride at no charge, so you can feel virtuous about saving gas, reducing pollution and traffic congestion…and saving a little money.
Acadia is 264 miles from Boston and 50 miles from Bangor, Maine. Driving directions and other travel information are available on the park's website. The park is open all year, but this is Maine, and most facilities are closed during the winter. The "off-season" does offer special rewards for those who enjoy cold-weather activities. Check on-line for details on opening and closing dates and other key information.
This is a must-see on any park-lover's list, and allow plenty of time. The average stay for visitors is three to four days, but you could spend much longer. The rich and famous definitely got it right when they flocked here over a century ago.