“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” ~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Acadia National Park
I feel like this guide has been a long time coming. I have been visiting and exploring Acadia and Mount Desert Island, which is the Island it resides on for years. My best friend lives there, and I have been doing work on MDI the last couple years. It was the perfect place to go during the pandemic. An oasis to escape to amongst the craziness, much like the original rusticators of the island in the eighteen hundreds. And it still is a dazzling landscape of escapism and peace. Despite being the most visited destination in Maine and one of the top ten visited National Parks in the country with four million visitors a year.
While many people call Mount Desert Island, Acadia, and Acadia does make up a large portion of the island, as well as part of the main land of Maine. The island itself is stunning and has so much to offer with all the different towns that call it home. While summer and autumn are the pinnacle seasons to visit, Acadia is stunning year round, and there is something magical about the off season, when no one is there. You truly feel like you have the 48,000 acres of land to yourself.
Acadia has a long history, and has had many names, some of which you might recognize, as they are also the names of trails and towns, to honor it’s varied past, as well as its’ Native American heritage. Acadia, was home to four tribes, which together, were known as the Wabanaki. They visited and even lived on and off the island, until Samuel de Champlain led an exploration which began the colonization of the island and saw it being fought over between the French and English for years.
After the Revolutionary War, there was relative calm as families settled on the island, farming and fishing. It was in the 1800’s that saw the influx of tourists from artists, and journalists looking to get away, but also the rusticators, wealthy travelers who returned to the island every summer in an attempt to escape the city heat. It was these rusticators, who brought affluence and prominence to Mount Desert Island, as well as made it what it is today. From the Rockefellers, who were prominent in Acadia’s preservation, to the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Astors just to name a few, they called Mount Desert Island their summer home and built grandiose “Cottages.” It was also these rusticators, who realizing how damaging the new tourism industry could be, began to organize groups, and fund conservation efforts to protect the island. Acadia was the first national park to be created entirely from gifted lands. In 1916 Acadia received protected park status and was finally designated a national park in 1919 and names Lafayette National Park. In 1929 after several expansions, the park was renamed and Acadia National Park was established.
There is so much to do and see. Not only was Acadia founded in order to further conservation efforts, it was also built to share in the beauty of the land and makes it a true oasis for all to enjoy. You can hike, camp, bird watch, practice photography, and take in the scenes. Reservations are required at certain spots, and a park pass is necessary when in the park itself. It is good for a week, or you can get an annual pass which is more economical, if you plan on going on making multiple trips.
The Carriage Trails
Now used for; biking, running, horseback riding, and walking in the summer, and snowmobile, skiing, and snowshoeing in the winter, the 45 miles of carriage roads were built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a way to separate pedestrians and horses from the cars. Winding up through the mountains they are as gorgeous as they are practical and blend into the landscape. Made of broken stone, Rockefeller built stone bridges and used coping stone to form barriers and cedar signposts at “intersections” much a Rockefeller wanted to create accessible transportation, that blended into the landscape and he succeeded. Whether you are biking or walking, the trails are a must visit and a beautiful way to get exercise in and experience the beauty of the park.
It wouldn’t be a National Park without the countless trails and hiking available to visitors. While trails were foraged by the Native Americans and subsequent settlers, it wasn’t until the 1800’s when the rusticators began constructing paths as a way to socialize. Those who financed the trails, could name them after themselves and they became known as Memorial Paths. The first one was created in 1891. They would place plaques on the trails and as the years went on they got more creative, carving out stone steps, putting metal rungs into the side of the mountains, and during up walls using coping stone. Many of them still exist today and hiking them is an experience with views as the reward at the end. There are trails for everyone of every level, from the Ocean Path which, much like the name says, goes along the ocean, to the heart pounding Precipice trail which involves climbing ladders that go strait up the cliffs.
The Park Loop
The Park Loop is a 27 mile long road that goes around the East Side of the island and is a stunning drive. You are able to take in some of the most gorgeous views as well as landmarks and many of the scenic attractions the island has to offer. While parts of it do shut down during the winter, you are still able to explore some of the more well known spots, like Sand Beach and Thunder Hole. The road has plenty of pull outs to stop and take pictures or just pause to take in the unique scenery.
Sand Beach might be my favorite beach. It truly feels like a hidden oasis as it is a cove surrounded by Great Head and Old Soaker as well as other cliffs. It is the only sandy beach in Acadia (which is actually not unusual for Maine known for its rocky coast) and was formed by the collision of continents which created a shelf, as well as the melting of glaciers. Because of its pretty cool, but unusual creation the water is freezing, never getting above fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit. It is a great place to hang out, have a picnic, go for walks, or just take in the views. A bonus, is that there are bathrooms and changing rooms. You can also access several hiking trails from Sand Beach. While the lot is big, it does fill up and I recommend getting there on the early side.
Thunder hole just might be the crown jewel of Acadia. EVERYONE wants to visit Thunder Hole. Which is aptly named because there is an underwater cave and depending on the tides and weather, as air escapes and the water comes rushing out meeting the wind, it will sound like thunder. Be warned though, it has to be just right. One of the novelties I found so interesting about Thunder Hole is how they have built it up and marketed beginning in the 1930’s. Restrooms were built in the 1940’s and in the 1960’s they put in walkways and had the old rangers station converted into a gift shop. The gift shop is still there today as are the walk ways.
Cadillac Mountain is the other crown jewel of Acadia and you will have to see for yourself whether you think Thunder Hole or Cadillac deserves that title. Cadillac is not only the highest point on the eastern seaboard and the first (though that is debatable) to see the sunrise from October to March. It is also the most visited place in Acadia. While there are hiking trails most people drive up it. They do require reservations and it does get crowded. It is well worth visiting at least once. The views are stunning and you can truly take in all of what Maine has to offer.
Jordan Pond and Jordan Pond Tea House
Jordan Pond and Jordan Pond Tea House is the third top stop in Acadia, and one I had never been to until I went in June. Shocking, I know! It was well worth the wait. Jordan Pond while named a pond is really a lake at 18 acres with countless hiking trails, including one that goes all around the pond. It was formed by glaciers, and provides neighboring Seal Harbor with drinking water. The water is so clear you can see down into the bottom in most parts of the lake, there are hiking trails to take in the views and afterwards you can stop by at the Jordan Pond Tea House for popovers and adult lemonade. Serving popovers since 1893, it is a tradition to go and either enjoy it in the building which was rebuilt after a fire in 1982, or enjoy them on a sunny day on the lawn looking out at the pond. It does get busy, so get there early. There are also bathrooms and a gift shop on site.
There is so much to do and see in Acadia, from Schoodic point to Otter Cliffs, to Seal Cove, you could visit a hundred times and not see it all. And even if you do, the landscape is constantly changing that there is always something different to witness. Some of my favorite places are exploring the cliffs and going off the beaten paths, (though still respectful of the signs) to places that aren’t as built up as others. Acadia truly has so much to offer, and as one of the view places where the ocean meets the mountains it truly is worth a visit…or ten.
Have you been to Acadia? What is your favorite National Park you have been too?