Acadia National Park is located on an island called Mount Desert (pronounced “dessert”) Island. It’s thought that Native Americans were here, hunting, digging shellfish and fishing for at least 6,000 years.
The first documented visitor to the Island was Samuel de Champlain in 1604. He called the island “Isle de Mont-Deserts” or island of barren mountains after noting that it was “very high and cleft into seven or eight mountains, all in a line”.
Hector and I are huge fans of the National Parks and very much looked forward to visiting this furthest northeast park. Another interesting fact about this Park is that it’s the first national park whose land was donated entirely by private citizens.
The first permanent settlement on the Island was established in present day Somesville in 1761. Today, its main tourist town is Bar Harbor, which was incorporated in 1796 and was a destination for “rusticators”, folks who wanted a getaway and prominent families built lavish “cottages” there.
There was a ban on motor vehicles, backed by the wealthy summer “Cottagers” who wished to escape the “infernal combustion engine”. The first bridge to the island, built in 1837, was for walkers, riders and horse-drawn wagons only until 1913, when the ban was lifted.
The rain continued to follow us and forced us to plan our activities according to the weather forecast. Apparently, this level of rain is unusual here for the month of June, just another freaky weather pattern.
Our campsite faced the water, but, on the day we arrived, we were looking at a large expanse of rocks and mud. Hours later, there was a body of water. The change in sea level in this area between low and high tides is about 10-12 feet. Much more than we’re accustomed to.
We began our exploration of the National Park by driving the scenic 27-mile loop park road. The drive goes through evergreen forests, meadowlands, marshes and stunning granite cliffs diving into the sea.
The tallest mountain on the island, at 1,530 feet, is Cadillac Mountain. It’s also the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil. Its summit is the first place in the United States to see the dawn.
Cadillac Mountain was named after Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, one of the owners of the Island during a period during which it changed hands many times between the French and the English. Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac later became the founder of the city of Detroit and of course the namesake for a car company.
There is a paved road to the top of Cadillac Mountain where there are stunning vistas of the many islands and bays. We drove up to scope it out since the moon was going to be full in the next few days and it was supposed to be a “Super Moon”, the closest this year. So our plan was to go up Cadillac Mountain to see (and photograph) the “Super Moon”. Great plan, huh?
Well, the full moon plan from the mountaintop was a bust. On full moon night, we drove up to the top of the Cadillac Mountain once again. It was very cloudy and Hector was very skeptical. And he was right. The moon was never visible. The next night we drove up again, knowing it would still be a pretty big moon. No moon again, but as we reached the campground, she made a brief appearance higher in the sky and we wound up with a nice view after all.
We were more successful finding a place to kayak in the Park. There are several fairly large ponds, and we kayaked on Long Pond, nearly four miles long and the largest of the ponds. Amazingly, the deepest part of this pond is 113 feet!
So Acadia National Park shares the island with various communities. As we kayaked on Long Pond, we saw private homes all along much of the shore. A pretty cool place to live. In fact, we kayaked by some ladies who’d just braved the water for the first time this year for a swim (Brrr!) and a gentleman along the shore gave us directions to an eagle’s nest nearby.
The next nice weather day, we went bicycling on one of the Carriage Roads in the Park. Forty-five mile of Carriage Roads were gifted to the National Park by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family. Rockefeller Jr., one of the original “Cottagers” on the island, was the Park’s most prominent and generous donor, donating more than a third of its acreage. He built the roads from 1913 to 1940 as a refuge from the “horseless carriage” for hikers, horseback riders and horse-drawn carriages. They were made with broken stone and aligned to follow the contours of the land and take advantage of scenic views.
The Roads were rehabilitated between 1992 and 1995 in a partnership between the government and Friends of Acadia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the Park. Then, between 2001 and 2005, using federal funds and a portion of Park user fees, they were re-pointed and cleaned and the road bridges were water-proofed.
All of that work translated to a totally smooth 13-mile ride for us while crossing a number of handsome bridges built with local granite and cobblestones, overlooking beautiful vistas and with no morotized vehicles disturbing us (carriage roads only allow hikers, joggers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, carriage riders and horseback riders). Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller.
After biking, the only way to get around some areas of the park is via the one way loop road, so we again got an eyeful of amazing coastal scenes.
Tough to follow that, but we found a way, hiking the Great Head Trail, a cliff walk loop which has views of Frenchman’s Bay, Sand Beach and Gorham Mountain. We took side trips out to the cliffs overlooking the ocean, and each view was better than the last one.
Then, towards the end of the hike, there was a stairway down to Sand Beach, which is the Park’s only sand beach on the ocean. The beach had beautiful clear water, very inviting. But, at 55 degrees, we stayed out. The hike was incredibly diverse, including rock climbing, the sand beach, forest and some mud. One of the best hikes ever.
When we arrived here at Acadia, our annual National Park pass had expired. Since we planned to be in Canada for the next two months, it didn’t make sense to buy another annual pass yet. We lucked out arriving just before peak period and paid only $10 for one week of access ($20 in the summer).
Where else but in a National Park can you experience all this beauty for ten dollars?