Acadia National Park.
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’s 49,600 acres is on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine, a patchwork of parkland, private property, and seaside villages that seasonally fill with summer visitors. 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.” Established on 26 February 1919, the original name, Lafayette National Park, was changed in 1929. 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 the tenth most visited—almost two and a half million people a year. The Island Explorer shuttle bus has helped alleviate the problem of high traffic gridlock during the summer months. From Ellsworth, 28 miles southeast of Bangor, follow Maine State Route 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. The Park is open to visitors year-round, but the main visitor center is open only 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. 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.
U.S. National Park Service Website here:
Credit: National Geographic Society, U.S. National Park Service