It is before sunrise and you stand on top of the mountain staring out across the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind is blowing cold across the rugged granite weathered through the ages by time, the crushing weight of glaciers and the very sea itself. The leaves have long changed color on this late October morning and frost has covered everything. The glow on the horizon continues to get brighter until the sun finally breaks, adding a tinge of orange and red to the horizon and adding some contrast to the features around you. You are standing on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, and you are the first person in the United States to see the sunrise.
The creation of Acadia National Park owes a great debt to the super wealthy of the late 19th century. John D. Rockefeller and George B. Dorr had the greatest influence in the protection and development of Mount Desert Island, which is the heart of modern day Acadia.
Working in close cooperation with the US Government, Sieur de Monts National Monument was created in 1916 and encompassed an area of about 6,000 acres. Sieur de Monts was the first National Park east of the Mississippi River. In 1919 Sieur de Monts was renamed by an Act of Congress to Lafayette National Park. In 1929 it was renamed again and became Acadia National Park. The park has continued to grow and now covers over 46,000 acres of ancient boulder mountains, stands of fir, birch, and maple, meadows, cliffs, and what seems like endless miles of rugged shoreline.
The history of Acadia National Park includes a savage forest fire. In October of 1947 a fire started in the underground depths of a cranberry bog south of Hulls Cove. Fanned by winds the fire burned south along the eastern edge of Mount Desert Island. The passing of a cold front brought gale force winds and turned the flames north. The raging inferno consumed everything in its path and advanced six miles in just three hours. At the peak of the fire, Bar Harbor, Maine was complete cut off and residents had to seek refuge on the piers of the city. Over 400 were evacuated by boat and the remaining 2,000 found safety in a harrowing auto caravan down Route three through the flames. Over 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park burned and five people lost their lives. The scars of this great fire can still be seen today along the eastern side of the park, which is covered in birch and aspen trees, not typically found directly along the Maine coast.
Originally a playground for the super rich, Acadia National Park remains one of the most popular destinations in the United States. The primary reason for this is the wealth of activity it offers. Whether your interests are hiking, climbing (nothing terribly technical), mountain biking, horseback riding, sailing, kayaking, fishing, bird watching, or just simply auto touring you can find it all here. Acadia is also a park for all seasons. Whether it is the wildflowers of the meadows in the spring, escaping the heat of the eastern cities in the summer, or being dazzled by the palette of golds, reds, and oranges in the fall, Acadia is a feast for all of the senses. When the snow starts to fly in the winter cross-country skiing and for the hearty winter camping can be found.
Acadia National park is a mountain biking and horseback riding paradise, with over 45 miles of carriage roads closed to motor vehicles. The carriage roads were created in part by the vision of John D. Rockefeller who commissioned their construction at the turn of the century. Stretching from Hulls Cove in the northern reaches of the park, the carriage roads crisscross their way southward all the way to Long Pond and Seal Harbor on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, covering more than 15,000 acres. These roads, made primarily out of crushed stone, are an engineering masterpiece with tunnels, stone bridges, long climbs, and natural archways of fir, hemlock, birch, and maple. All of the carriage roads north of the Park Loop Road are accessible by mountain bike and offer incredible views through meadows and forests, and of lakes, mountains and streams.
The Park Loop Road is a 27-mile trip that hugs the eastern and southern coast of Acadia National Park, before turning north and cutting through the heart of Acadia along the shores of Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake. It is considered one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the United States. Starting at Hulls Cove, the road heads south for about three miles before turning east and becoming one way. Along the way every turn offers a new view. If you are feeling brave you can stop at Sand Beach and take a swim in the Atlantic, which rarely gets over 55° F. Past Sand Beach the road hugs the coastline and offers spectacular views of ancient cliffs and ocean vistas.
The road continues along the shoreline passing Black Woods Campground. About a ten-minute walk to the ocean, Black Woods is open seasonally during the summer months and offers the most basic of accommodations. Built in 1933, it lacks showers, hookups, or hot water. It does have a dump station, fresh water, picnic tables and fire rings and is ideally located within Acadia National Park. It is undergoing major renovations during 2000 and reservations are strongly recommended.
Wildwood Stables, (207) 276-3622, is also located along Park Loop Road. Here you can take a variety of one to two hour carriage tours of the park. The highlight of these tours is a two-hour sunset ride up to Day Mountain near Seal Harbor. One of the tours even recreates an Acadia National Park tradition of enjoying high tea and popovers on the lawn of the Jordan Pond House. Individual horses for riding are not available but if you have your own horses, stable facilities are provided.
The Park Loop Road turns northward through the heart of Acadia National Park and passes by Jordan Pond, the deepest fresh water great pond in the park with a depth of 150 feet, and Eagle Lake, the largest of 22 ponds and lakes within the boundaries of Acadia. As the Park Loop Road reaches its end, you can head east again up Cadillac Mountain Road that leads to its summit. At 1,532 feet, Cadillac is the tallest of 26 mountains that can be found in Acadia National Park, and is the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast north of Rio de Janeiro.
Over 120 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to extremely difficult are available. Acadia National Park offers some of the finest and earliest examples of iron rung ladders and stone steps to navigate along its steep and rocky shores. One of the finest hikes in Acadia National Park is to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. The North Ridge Trail is a moderate hike about 4-1/2 miles round trip that starts at the North Ridge Cadillac Parking Area close to the Park Loop Road. For a more rugged experience, you can take the more difficult 7-1/2 mile round trip trail from Black Woods Campground along the south ridge of Cadillac Mountain.
For an easier hike you can take a one-mile self-guided stroll through the forest along the Jordan Pond Nature Trail. If you visit the southwestern section of the park, take a walk along the Wonderland Trail. Located on Route 102-A about a mile from the Seawall Campground, this 1-1/2 mile easy trek leads through forest which then gives way to the thunder of rocky shoreline.
If you bring your kayak not only can you explore Acadia's many lakes, you can also explore a variety of outlying islands including Bald Porcupine, Bear, Baker and Isle Au Haut. A bird watching paradise, Isle Au Haut is located southwest of the main section of Acadia and offers a greater degree of solitude. The only island in Acadia National Park that has ferry service, Isle Au Haut can be accessed through Stonington, Maine, a significant drive from Bar Harbor due the nature of the craggy Maine coastline. Over 270 species of birds including osprey, bald eagle and the 200 MPH peregrine falcon can be spotted in Acadia. If you're looking for more adventure you can camp on Isle Au Haut at Duck Harbor, but a permit and advanced reservations are required.
Despite being one of the smallest National Parks, Acadia National Park proves that good things do come in small packages. John D. Rockefeller and George B. Dorr would be proud if they could see Acadia today, and know that three million people each year enjoy the land that they worked to protect and improve.
Just The Plain Facts
Name: Acadia National Park (formerly known as Lafayette National Park)
Location: Central Maine coastline, Bar Harbor
Nearest Major Air Service: Bangor, Maine, Portland, Maine, Manchester, New Hampshire, Boston, Massachusetts
Fees & Permits: $10 per car for 7 day pass, $5 per motorcycle for 7 day pass, $5 per person for 7 day pass, $25 special camping permit at Duck Harbor on Isle Au Haut
Why Visit: Rugged Maine coastline, historic carriage roads, deep water great ponds, extensive wildlife. Cadillac Mountain, first place to be hit by the sun in the United States. Twenty-seven mile Park Loop Road passes through forests, fields and coast. A park for all seasons - world famous New England fall colors. Remote islands and quaint Maine countryside surrounds the park.
When To Visit: Year round, best from late May to early October, some roads may be closed in winter, park services limited during the off-season
Essential Gear: Depends on activity, sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellant, sunglasses, binoculars, camera and water (other equipment strongly recommended)
You Should Know: Very crowded during the summer months. Make reservations as far in advance as possible for campgrounds within the park or lodging outside of the park. Campground services within Acadia National Park are very limited, no hookups, showers, or hot water is available. Many services outside of the park close down in the winter months. Fresh water swimming is only aloud in Echo Lake, all other ponds are protected and are part of the Acadian watershed. Saltwater fishing does not require a permit, but freshwater fishing does.
More Information: Acadia National Park, Box 177, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609, (207) 288-3338