By Chris Burnett
May 24 2017
Maine may be famous for its delicious lobster rolls and plentiful moose, but if the state’s name doesn’t also inspire you with thoughts of its rugged coastline and majestic, granite-tipped mountains, it most definitely will after a visit to Acadia National Park. As one of the country’s oldest and most popular National Parks, each year Acadia attracts more than two million visitors, who travel from far and wide to see some of the most impressive natural sights in all of New England.
The story of Acadia National Park begins a little more than a century ago with the founding of the park’s predecessor, Sieur de Monts National Monument, on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Two forward-thinking New Englanders are credited with establishing what eventually became Acadia National Park: George B. Dorr, a trailblazer of the island, and Charles W. Eliot, whose late son had been enamored with the beauty of the area. With support from some of the island’s well-to-do visitors, as well as President Woodrow Wilson himself, Sieur de Monts was expanded to Lafayette National Park in 1919 and Acadia National Park ten years later.
Since then, Acadia has acquired additional land both on and off Mount Desert Island, growing in size to almost 50,000 acres and cementing its future as one of New England’s most beloved year-round destinations.
Acadia’s popularity is thanks in part to its fantastic location. The park is far enough away from any city for it to feel like the true outdoors and near enough to some of Maine’s most popular vacation towns for it to be accessible. The majority of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, which sits about two-thirds of the way up the Maine coast in a region known as “Down East.”
Parts of the nearby Isle au Haut and Schoodic Peninsula also fall under Acadia’s jurisdiction, but offer a more rustic experience. The popular coastal town of Bar Harbor sits at the park’s northeastern reaches and acts as one of several main access points to the park, along with Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and Winter Harbor.
Thanks to the efforts of Acadia’s thoughtful (and wealthy) forefathers — John D. Rockefeller Jr. being among the most famous of them — Acadia National Park is outfitted with a great number of scenic and well-curated trails, ready to be explored. Forty-five miles of carriage roads were carefully carved out of Acadia’s wilderness during the early twentieth century and still wind through the park today, making for excellent car-free biking or walking trails. These gravel paths are supplemented by an additional 125 miles of pure hiking trails.
LEARN MORE: Art of the Trail | Acadia National Park
At 1,530 feet in both elevation and prominence, Cadillac Mountain has the honor of being the highest point of not only Acadia National Park, but of the entire North Atlantic coastline. Due to its height and northeastern longitude, the mountain is very first place in the continental United States to be bathed in the sun’s rays each morning. And for those who are less hiking-inclined, not to worry: Cadillac Mountain is one of New England’s many drive-to-the-top mountains.
LEARN MORE: Cadillac Mountain Sunrise
Enjoying afternoon tea at the Jordan Pond House is a tradition that pre-dates Acadia National Park by nearly a quarter of a century. In fair weather, the legendary breakfast popovers and tea can be consumed on the restaurant’s lawn, which overlooks gorgeous Jordan Pond. Be aware that the Jordan Pond House can get quite busy at the height of summer, so a reservation is recommended.
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Acadia’s wild beauty gives even the most photographically challenged a chance to get that one-in-a-million shot. With waves crashing on rocky shores, mountains lined with twisted conifers, and lighthouses that couldn’t be much more picturesque, Acadia is unimaginably photogenic. The park’s diverse landscape offers endless opportunities to see wildlife, too — from bald eagles soaring overhead, to sea life clinging to coastal rocks below.
LEARN MORE: 5 Best Photo Ops in Acadia National Park
With more than 25 miles of scenic views, the Park Loop Road offers guests with only a few hours to spend in Acadia a chance to experience its beauty too. The road encircles the main part of Mount Desert Island and hits on most of the park’s best features, such as Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, and the Cadillac Mountain summit.
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Acadia has something for everyone — including swimmers! There are a number of freshwater lakes and ponds scattered throughout Mount Desert Island, though swimming is only permitted in one (Echo Lake). For those who prefer saltwater, there’s Sand Beach, which is a popular spot to cool off at in the summer months. Whether it’s taking a dip in the chilly ocean surf or going for a paddle in the warmer inland waters, you really can’t go wrong.
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The popular vacation town of Bar Harbor makes for an excellent jumping-off point from which to explore the rest of Mount Desert Island. Ranking among theprettiest coastal towns in Maine (and the rest of New England, too), Bar Harbor is an attractive destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway. Before heading into Acadia National Park, stop at one of the town’s many restaurants for an authentic Maine lobster lunch.
LEARN MORE: Exploring Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park
Acadia is known for its sprawling nature, which makes it a great place for campers who want to experience Maine’s rugged coastline. Backcountry camping isn’t allowed, but thankfully, there are several excellent campgrounds located within the park’s vast territory — two on Mount Desert Island and a third on Schoodic Peninsula. At each one, you’ll experience a different side of the park!
LEARN MORE: Camping in Acadia National Park
There are a number of private cabins and cottages on Mount Desert Island that can be rented for a night, a weekend, or longer. Ranging in quality from rustic to luxurious, and ranging in privacy from secluded to lakeside, there’s something suitable for everyone.
LEARN MORE: Favorite Acadia National Park Cabins You Can Rent
For the above reasons and more, Acadia National Park deserves its status as New England’s most popular National Park. What’s your favorite thing about Acadia?