Mount Desert Island has been luring visitors since French explorers first answered the island’s siren song in 1604. Raw, remote, and seductive, it dangles like a pendant into the Atlantic, flashing its voluptuous profile to passing navigators and mainland drivers. Although only 15 miles from north to south and 12 miles from west to east, the island is home to about 30,000 of Acadia National Park’s roughly 46,000 acres.
It’s a miniature masterpiece, a gem of a natural and cultural resource that’s laced with hiking trails and carriage roads, etched by a craggy coastline, sprinkled with ponds, and lorded over by bald peaks.
Acadia’s appeal is contradictory: It’s accessible, and yet it’s not. More than two million visitors annually arrive on Mount Desert by car, bus, plane, or cruise ship, all eager to view the park’s icons. The park loop road makes that easy. But even on the most crowded days, it’s possible to slip away and find solitary peace on a hike or a paddle or a bike ride.
While the park is the region’s flawless gem, it’s set amid other precious ones.Step off the major thoroughfares, and birdsong replaces idle chatter, pine perfumes the air, and signs of civilization disappear from view. Off-the-beaten-path gems might lack the drama of the icons, but they feed the soul, ease the mind, and restore much-needed balance to a hectic life.
Truth is, there is no one Acadia. Beyond Mount Desert Island, more sections of the park beckon. Islesford and Baker Island are connected by passenger ferries and excursion boats, as is the mainland Schoodic section of the park; oh-so-remote Isle au Haut lets the curious view from the safe confines of a boat while inviting the hardy to hike and camp in near solitude; and Schoodic’s pink granite shores receive far fewer visitors than Mount Desert Island.
While the park is the region’s flawless gem, it’s set amid other precious ones. If stretched taut, Hancock County—with Acadia as its centerpiece—would have more than 1,000 miles of coastline. No saltwater locale on the entire eastern seaboard can compete with the region’s variety of scenery or its natural resources, which include the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land, three scenic byways, and countless preserves. It’s inspiring scenery that feeds dozens of artists and artisans, whose galleries and studios pepper the region’s byways.
A recent quotation put this area in its proper contemporary perspective: “Maine is so lovely,” a British visitor to Acadia sighed nostalgically, “I do wish England had fought harder to keep it.”
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Acadia National Park.