|Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor ME|
|New England's only national park has dramatic landscapes and lots of history.|
By the late 1800s, summer visitors began to arrive here in force, and it became obvious that this natural beauty needed to be protected.
Founded as Lafayette National Park in 1919, renamed Acadia National Park in 1929, it was well along to its present size of over 30,000 acres (12,141 hectares) by the end of World War II. The park controls about half the land on the island; the other half is in private hands.
Admission to the Park
You must have a park entrance pass to enter, drive in, park in, and explore the national park: $15 per person, or $30 per vehicle. Order it online at www.recreation.gov and print it at home to take with you to the park, or buy it at a park entrance (Hulls Cove or Sand Beach), at the Village Green Information Center, Thompson Island Visitor Center, or at one of the campgrounds.
Visitors 62 and older can buy an America the Beautiful National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass ($20 annual, $80 lifetime) which admits you and others in your private, non-commercial vehicle to 2,000 national parks and other federal recreation lands. The Senior Pass does not cover all special recreational permit fees (for camping, boat launch, etc.) and fees charged by concessionnaires (for tours, etc.), but it may entitle you to discounts on those fees.
Just display your pass through the windshield of your vehicle whenever you are in the park. (Annual passes: signature & barcode side up.)
Free Buses & Paid Tours
Free propane-powered Island Explorer buses circulate on ten routes through Bar Harbor, the national park, and Mount Desert Island stopping at many hotels, all the major sights in the park, and indeed pretty much anywhere a rider wants to get off or on, if it's safe to stop. More...
Various companies operate guided tours of the national park and its attractions.
A focal point of park activities, and the must-climb goal of nearly every visitor, is Cadillac Mountain, named in honor of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. At 1,530 feet (466 meters), the mountain's summit is the highest point on America's Atlantic coast.
Drive, bike or hike to the summit for the panoramic views. Note that traffic to the summit, especially for sunrise and sunset, can be heavy, especially on weekends. At some peak times in summer and foliage season, you may need to make a reservation for your motor vehicle with a set time to visit. More...
Those who see the sun break forth on the horizon from Cadillac Mountain are the first people in the United States to greet the new day—at least from October 7 through March 6. At other times of year, the point and angle at which the sun rises makes it first visible at West Quoddy Head in Lubec, Maine, or at Mars Hill. (And, after all, Atlantic Canadians have already seen the sun by that time...).
Never mind! Sunrise and sunset are still pretty sights on a clear day. Check the weather report before you plan your ascent—rain and/or fog will significantly dampen the visual experience; and in June you will have to awaken by about 4:00 am to make the drive to the summit in time for sunrise. (In mid-October, you can arise around 6:00 am to make it to the summit in time.)
The Loop Road
You'll also want to drive the Loop Road, a mostly-one-way scenic ocean drive which takes you past many of the most interesting scenic, topographic, and geologic features of the island.
Stop at Thunder Hole when the surf's up to feel the bashing and pushing of the waves, or at Sand Beach for a chilly ocean swim.
There's national park camping at Black Woods (follow the signs). This is the only campground where you can reserve ahead, which you do through www.recreation.gov.
On the island's western peninsula, Echo Lake is the park's freshwater swimming area.
There's a lookout tower atop Beech Mountain, and a park campground is down near the peninsula's southern tip at Seawall.
Hiking, Biking Horseback Riding
Throughout the park are 100 miles (161 km) of hiking trails (maps are sold online and at locations in the park), and 45 miles (72 km) of well-engineered crushed-stone carriage roads good for hiking, bicycles, or horseback riding (horses can be rented in the park).
Note that you can take the free Island Explorer buses to some of the trailheads in the park, eliminating the need for a private vehicle, or finding a parking space in the limited-capacity trailhead lots.
Not far from the town of Bar Harbor, in the park at Sieur des Monts Spring, is the Abbe Museum of Stone Age Antiquities, a wildflower garden, and a nature center.
Seal Harbor Beach
The beach at Seal Harbor is very fine, and open to the public for free. It is one of Mount Desert Island's poshest summer resorts, with all sorts of famous and wealthy people inhabiting the big houses secluded along the forested streets of the village. Park in the lot across the street.
A visit to Acadia National Park wouldn't be complete without tea and popovers at the Jordan House (tel 207-276-3116). A tradition for almost 100 years, the restaurant serves lunch on the porch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, afternoon tea on the lawn from 2:30 to 5:30 pm, and dinner by the fireside from 5:30 to 9 pm.
You can get snacks and beverages on the overlook throughout the day from 9 am to 6 pm. Whether you dine or not, you are invited to stroll around the gardens and spacious grounds; the view of the lake and mountains from the lawn is stunning. Open late May to late October.
Acadia National Park
—by Tom Brosnahan