Acadia National Park: A Wilderness That Takes You Back to America’s Early Days

October 6, 2020 Updated: October 6, 2020

Carved like a sculpture by the last gigantic North American glacier, the rounded mountaintops of Acadia National Park stand as stoic sentinels guarding sacred natural treasures. Acadia, which is among the 10 most-visited U.S. national parks, welcomes more than 3.5 million visitors each year. This stunning park boasts more than 27 miles of historic roads, almost 160 miles of hiking trails, and at least 45 miles of old carriage roads, but the splendor of this American wonder is beyond measure.

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Acadia National Park welcomes more than 3.5 million visitors each year. (Romiana Lee/Shutterstock)

Acadia is a part of Maine that makes people recollect the days of the great pioneers. Here on the wild northeast coast of the nation, the pristine forests march as if forming an assault into the Atlantic Ocean. The first national park east of the Mississippi River, it’s here that New Englanders traditionally get back to nature. And nowhere is nature more compelling and awe-inspiring than this place of pure melancholy, charm, and mystery. Acadia is a clear picture window into our country when it was unscarred by the march of progress. Places like this remind us of the wrong and the right turns we made along the way to the present.

President Lyndon B. Johnson once said: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

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Cliffs on Great Head Trail, Mount Desert Island. (Donna Carpenter/Shutterstock)

Land of the Algonquins

A place of strikingly diverse resources, the area around Mount Desert Island has attracted humans for more than 12,000 years. First, Native Americans made camps and later lived permanently here. The famous Wabanaki Confederacy (“People of the Dawnland”) was established in this region by the five Algonquian nations: the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot tribes. French and English explorers and pioneers settled in the area and traded with the Algonquins. In the 1800s, the settlers on these lands had built large-scale fishing, shipbuilding, farming, and lumbering operations.

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The view from Cadillac Mountain. (Eric Urquhart/Shutterstock)

The biggest part of Acadia National Park is on Mount Desert Island, but the Schoodic Peninsula and seven other islands are included in the more than 48,000 acres of pristine Maine shoreline. There are 26 mountains within the park, eight of them exceeding 1,000 feet and Cadillac Mountain being the tallest at 1,530 feet. The park also has 26 lakes and ponds, the deepest being Jordan Pond (150 feet). Visitors have a chance to discover 1,101 species of flowering plants and 40 species of mammals. Acadia is also home to more than 330 species of birds.

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A hiker and her dog at Jordan Pond. (Michael Carni/Shutterstock)

Best Park Experiences

Any visit to Acadia National Park has to begin in Bar Harbor, which was once a beehive of Victorian-era activity that led to the foundation of the park. It was here that America’s affluent, creatives, and the so-called rusticators migrated to get in touch with nature. Today, the old stomping grounds of the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, and Astors is a place where whale watching, organized sailing adventures, and a mysterious symbiosis between civilization and nature exists.

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Acadia National Park in October. (Barbara Barbour/Shutterstock)

From Bar Harbor, be sure to make the trek across the Bar Island Land Bridge at low tide, to one of the park’s least visited and most fascinating little islands. Also in Bar Harbor, you’ll find interesting the Abbe Museum dedicated to the Wabanaki Alliance of Native Americans, and the Dorr Museum, named for the man considered the “Father of Acadia National Park,” preservationist, George Dorr.

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Thunder Hole. (Dr_Yu/Shutterstock)

Not far from Bar Harbor, visit Hulls Cover Visitor Center to get oriented. From here visitors can take Park Loop Road up to the famous Cadillac Mountain. For hikers, the visitor center is also a perfect starting point for trekking up to the mountain’s summit and nearby islands. Sieur de Monts is where you’ll find the stunning Wild Gardens of Acadia, as well as the nature center.

Once you’ve visited Cadillac Mountain, another road heads down to the coast and Sand Beach. The area between Sand Beach and Hunters Head is iconic, and a craggy, rock-strewn canvas of seashore that visitors never forget. The crashing of the sea through the famous Thunder Hole symbolizes the clash of sea and land that formed the character of the world’s continents. For kayakers, the Loop Road also leads to Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake, and amazing hiking trails. The carriage roads built by the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., are also in this part of the park.

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A wooden bridge in Acadia National Park. (f11photo/Shutterstock)

In the center of Acadia, Somes Sound is a wonderland of hiking trails leading up to Bernard Mountain, down the coast via Ship Harbor Nature Trail, and around Long Pond. The main sightseeing attraction in this part of the park is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse atop an awesome cliff. Other park experiences include the ferry trip to Isle au Haut, Town Landing, and Duck Harbor. At these more remote locations, hikers and nature enthusiasts will find hidden covers and some of America’s most fantastic seascapes. At Baker Island, which is only accessible by a park ranger-led boat tour, you’ll find pioneer homes and a strange natural granite slab known as the “dance floor.”

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The town of Bar Harbor, Maine. (Miro Vrlik Photography/Shutterstock)

A Natural Playground

Acadia National Park is a natural playground. For many people, the park is home to the essence of what made the United States a great nation. It’s as if the spirit of wonder and adventure that gave birth to the idea of America still lives within the borders of this extraordinary refuge. Vacationers and adventurers will find limitless opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, biking, guided and unguided touring, and unique photography opportunities. Every trail and carriage road in the park delivers the visitor into a time and a world where priorities are transformed.

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Bass Harbor Lighthouse. (Jon Bilous/Shutterstock)

Here, the sound of the deep blue Atlantic waves crashing onto the immovable granite shore drown out the busy modern world. Onshore, the giant spruce and hemlock trees echo the call of the peregrine falcons up on the cliff tops, charming nature lovers like stoic sirens of green. Many people claim Acadia is America’s most beautiful park, but as one recent visitor put it, “Beautiful just doesn’t cover it.”

Phil Butler is a publisher, editor, author, and analyst who is a widely cited expert on subjects from digital and social media to travel technology. He’s covered the spectrum of writing assignments for The Epoch Times, Huffington Post, Travel Daily News, HospitalityNet, and many others worldwide.