Photograph by Mauricio Handler, National Geographic Creative
Established: February 26, 1919
Size: 49,600 acres
Sea and mountain meet at Acadia, where, as one presumably ambidextrous visitor wrote, "you can fish with one hand and sample blueberries from a wind-stunted bush with the other." Most of the park is on Mount Desert Island, a patchwork of parkland, private property, and seaside villages that seasonally fill with what residents call "the summer people." Other bits are scattered on smaller islands and a peninsula.
Mount Desert Island once was continental mainland, a mountainous granite ridge on the edge of the ocean. Some 20,000 years ago, towering glacial ice sheets—sometimes a mile thick—flowed over the mountains, rounding their tops, cutting passes, gouging out lake beds, and widening valleys. As the glaciers melted, the sea rose, flooding valleys and drowning the coast. The preglacier ridge was transformed into today's lake-studded, mountainous island, which thrusts from the Atlantic like a lobster's claw.
Samuel de Champlain, who explored the coast in 1604, named the island L'Isle des Monts Déserts, sometimes translated as "the island of barren mountains." From his ship he probably could not see the mountains' forested slopes. The summer people rediscovered Mount Desert in the mid-19th century, built mansions they called "cottages," anchored their yachts in rock-girt harbors, and cherished the wild. To preserve it, they donated the nucleus land for the park, the first east of the Mississippi. The original name, Lafayette National Park, was changed in 1929.
Dependent on donated land since its inception, the park took what it could get, skirting around private property and growing piece by piece. Acadia's real estate was so patchy that not until 1986 did Congress set its official boundaries.
Although one of the smaller national parks, Acadia is one of the most visited—by almost two and a half million people a year. Heavy traffic can produce a phenomenon unknown to Mount Desert's first summer people: gridlock. The Island Explorer shuttle bus has helped alleviate the problem.
How to Get There
From Ellsworth, 28 miles southeast of Bangor, follow Me. 3 south for 9.5 miles to Mount Desert Island, where most of the park is located; the visitor center is 3 miles north of Bar Harbor. Another section lies southeast of Ellsworth, on the Schoodic Peninsula, a one-hour drive from Bar Harbor. Airports: Bangor and Bar Harbor.
When to Go
Year-round, but main visitor center is open from mid-April through October. Expect heavy traffic in July and August. Spectacular foliage also attracts crowds from September to mid-October. Snow and ice close most park roads from December through mid-April, but parts of the park are open for cross-country skiing.
How to Visit
Allow at least a day for Mount Desert Island, with a drive on the 20-mile Park Loop Road and the road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. If fog comes, enjoy its gift: a softening of sights and sounds. On a second day, enjoy an uncrowded view of the rocky coast of Maine by visiting the Schoodic Peninsula. If you have more time, take your pick of one of the trails or smaller islands.
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