advertisement

One of the earliest national parks, Acadia was established in 1919 as the Lafayette National Park, but was renamed Acadia in 1929 as an English land donor was said to dislike the French name. It was the first national park east of the Mississippi, as well as the first be donated entirely by private citizens (many with familiar names such as Astor, Ford, Morgan and Vanderbilt, but, especially, Rockefeller -- John D. gave 10,000 acres and 45 miles of horse carriage roads). Occupying much of the island of Mt. Desert (pronounced dessert), nearby Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut, Acadia National Park is about 50 miles by road from Bangor, Maine 160 from Portland and 265 from Boston, definitely in the "Down East" portion of Maine's coastline.

The park is a glorious combination of severe cliffs along the sea, towering forest, and wildflower-bedecked meadows and marshes, with more than 120 miles of historic hiking trails, many established by locals in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Hulls Cove visitor center is open from April 15 through early October, the park headquarters year round. Acadia NP publishes its own weekly newspaper, the Beaver Log, full of helpful information, between June and October. Winter sees the closure of much of the Park Loop Road and most facilities, including museums, picnic areas, the Seawall Campground and many other roads. That's the main reason there's no admission fee from November 1 through April 30.

Among the highlights that you should try to see are Frenchman's Bay (for the gorgeous views), Jordan Pond (for birds and sylvan quiet), Thunder Hole (if you time correctly the tides that make all the noise) and Somes (rhymes with "homes") Sound, the latter said to be the only true fjord on America's east coast. At Jordan Pond, you'll find a good restaurant (in season) and gift shop. A peaceful horse carriage ride along Mr. Rockefeller's roads is the way to go, if you have the time. If you can stand water temperatures below 60 degrees, you might want to try the island's only oceanside sandy beach, named, well, Sand Beach.

No major new plans are in the works for 2007 except the continuation of the popular Baker Island Cruise, which was restarted in 2006 after many years of not running (due to the demise of the boat company). The cruise lasts four hours and 30 minutes, and is just one of four cruises on privately owned boats during which rangers narrate the sights and history of the venues. Reservations for the Baker Island Cruise can be made at 207/288-2386.

Experts estimate the federal budget for all the national parks is about $800 million below what is needed, but Acadia is doing its bit for the economy. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, Acadia puts at least $14 into the state and local economy for every $1 spent by the federal government on the park. (On average around the country, the parks provide at least $4 for every $1 spent by the feds, the NPCA says.) Around Acadia, the park generates $100 million in annual recreational benefits and visitors spend about $140 million a year here, supporting over 3,500 people, the NPCA claims.

Ranger Wanda Moran says one of her favorite places in the park is the Beech Mountain Trail (1.2 miles), which she considers a mostly moderately rated hike. From the top on a clear day, she says, you can see the Isle au Haut (a separate island also part of the park) as well as Somes Sound. On the west side of Mount Desert Island, near Pretty Marsh Road, the trail affords a nice vista of Great Long Pond on the northwest. "Just follow the signs from Somesville to Beech Mountain."

National Park Rangers offer talks and take you through the park on several programs, lasting from 90 minutes to 5 hours, during which you can check out animals, take a boat cruise, climb Cadillac Mountain (the highest on the US east coast at 1,530 feet), explore sea creature life between the tides, spot peregrine falcons (in season), or walk around Mr. Rockefeller's carriage road and its bridges. There's also a Junior Ranger program for children.

Acadia National Park takes up more than 47,000 acres, and is perfect for hiking, biking, kayaking, bird watching, carriage rides and dozens of other activities. There are more than 4,000 hotel rooms in the neighborhood, and many good eating-places, not to mention hundreds of shops. The best museum in the area is the Abbe, with many artifacts from the past, including a large number of exhibits relating to the Webanakis, the original Native American inhabitants. The Abbe is located in Bar Harbor, with a smaller branch on Park Loop Road.

From June 23 through Columbus Day (October 12), there are free Island Explorer buses to take you across the island, with eight stops in Bar Harbor and other principal village centers as well as sites within the park. They also can take you to hiking trails, carriage roads and island beaches.

You have to pay to enter Acadia NP between May 1 and October 31, and there are several ways to accomplish this. The Individual Entrance Pass costs $5 per person, no matter how you enter, or an Entrance Pass costs $20 and is good for one vehicle for seven days (including passengers) from June 23 through early October, $10 for May 1 through June 22 and again from early October through October 31. You can get an Annual Pass for $40, good for one vehicle for a year.

You can also buy an Interagency Pass, usable at any federal recreation site (National Park Service including Acadia, USDA Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, etc.), of which the following are the most popular: Annual Pass $80, Senior Pass $10 (lifetime, ages 62 and over), Access Pass (free and for life, for those with permanent disabilities), Volunteer Pass (free, for those with 500 hours or more of service). Volunteers help keep Mr. Rockefeller's roads in shape, for instance, some coming from as far away as Germany, the park says.

Visitors

Though one of the smallest parks in area, Acadia is wildly popular, getting more than 2.5 million visitors per year. (By contrast, Yellowstone gets about 2.9 million.)

Additional Online Resources

Among many websites devoted to Acadia, here are our choices:

General websites for all national parks include:

Discuss this column on our Maine Message Boards today.