Known to the native Wabanaki people for millennia and then battled over by European colonial forces for almost 200 years, Maine’s remote and serene Mount Desert Island didn’t enter widespread American awareness until the late 1800s. Although the inhabitants have changed over the years, today it stands as a gorgeous and fascinating paradise for millions of visitors from across the country and across the globe.
For most of its history this quiet corner of North America saw little human activity. Native people engaged in subsistence fishing, hunting, trapping and farming. The arrival of French explorers in the sixteenth century saw an increase in economic activity and trade. The French maintained relatively good relations with the native Americans, and their new colony became known as “Acadia.”
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries expanding British interests brought them into conflict with the French and Wabanaki, and for decades they fought to occupy this land. Their competing interests were brought to an end in 1783, when the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution and made this region part of the United States. Although remaining relatively quiet for decades, the economic growth of the late nineteenth century saw much of Mount Desert Island develop into a summer resort for wealthy industrialist families like the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Astors.
During the 1890s the published exploits of the “rich and famous” combined with the impressive works by painters of the Hudson River School helped promote Mount Desert Island to national attention. By the turn of the century expanding development began to concern some of the wealthy summer inhabitants, and they turned their attention to preserving this idyllic landscape not just for the privileged few but for all Americans.
The affluent George Dorr, in particular, spent much of his life and family fortune preserving Mount Desert Island for posterity. Acquiring 6,000 acres of property through purchase or donation from like-minded individuals, he eventually turned ownership over to the federal government. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson established basic protection for this land by declaring it Sieur de Monts National Monument, but that wasn’t enough for George Dorr. He continued to acquire land and support and by 1919 President Wilson signed the Congressional bill establishing Lafayette National Park, named after the Marquis de Lafayette, a prominent French supporter of the American Revolution. In 1929 it was renamed Acadia National Park in honor of the French colony that once flourished here.
As America’s first “eastern national park” there was some concern whether Acadia possessed the same superlative wonder of our first western parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. As curious visitors and critics alike came to know this land, however, their concerns were overcome and the idea of an “eastern national park” helped pave the way for other eastern parks like the Great Smoky Mountains and the Everglades.
Today Acadia National Park spans over 74 square miles (192 square km) of not just Mount Desert Island, but the equally impressive shores of nearby islands as well. Some of Maine’s most pristine rocky coasts, sandy coves, prominent mountains, quiet ponds, lush forests, and abundant wildlife await discovery and exploration by the hundreds of millions of Americans who now own this land.
The center of activity here is the quaint but bustling village of Bar Harbor. Although accessible year-round, it’s from spring through autumn that this town is really active. Hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, shops, and other establishments cater to the majority of visitors brought by car or cruise ship.
Those seeking a more remote wilderness experience can turn their attention to one of several campgrounds on the fringes of the park. Although busy during the summer, by October many are only sparsely occupied. The Blackwoods Campground, in particular, gives visitors quick and easy access to the Park Loop Road and all of the features along its length.
Acadia is especially impressive in autumn when the vast array of hardwood trees and shrubs exhibit a blazing array of colors. Even the relatively modest peaks of the Beehive and Champlain Mountain become stunning this time of year.
In addition to the abundant rocky outcrops and verdant foliage, water is also a ubiquitous feature at Acadia. A variety of inland lakes can be found, framed by photogenic peaks.
Many miles of Atlantic coastline also provide thunderous drama as waves crash into the rocky shores.
Acadia National Park is one of the best destinations in the eastern United States for many reasons. From fascinating history to pristine wilderness, from waves battering the coast to quiet inland ponds, and from lush lowland forests to panoramic mountain views, this park has it all.