With so many weeks spent inside, now is the perfect opportunity to head into the great outdoors! This week finds us along the coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island, home to dazzling Acadia National Park. In the 19th century, wealthy east coasters realized Mount Desert Island was an ideal vacation spot, and many of them started building opulent, mansion-like “cottages” on the island. Charles W. Eliot, then-Harvard President, was one of these “cottagers.” Eliot’s son was a passionate conservationist who fell in love with the island but suffered an untimely death, so Eliot honored his son’s memory by forming a trust tasked with buying up local wilderness lands and maintaining them for public use. One of Eliot’s key recruits was George B. Dorr, an island resident who became so committed to the cause that he would later serve as the park’s first superintendent. His passion for Acadia earned him a reputation as “the father of Acadia National Park.”
Dorr spent decades buying up available parcels of land with his own money and convincing other wealthy landowners to donate their own plots for preservation until 1913, when it was officially established as Sieur de Monts National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson. The park was redesigned and renamed Lafayette National Park by Congress in 1919, making it the first national park east of the Mississippi and the only one in America’s Northeast. It was renamed “Acadia” for the third and final time in 1929. Learn more about the founders of Acadia here.
Of course, you can’t delve into the history of Bar Harbor without mentioning the Rockefellers. A passionate supporter of national park conservation in America, John D. Rockefeller Jr. is responsible for purchasing and donating 11,000 acres — that’s roughly one-third of Acadia — to the National Park Service. He also designed and financed the park’s famous carriage roads between 1913 and 1940. The network is made of 57 miles of motor-free woodland roads, 45 of which are within the park’s borders. An avid horseman and lover of the outdoors, Rockefeller Jr. felt the wilds of the park would be best experienced without the sound of motors. Even the park’s natural climate was taken under consideration during construction, both in choosing construction material native to the park and designing structures in a way that did not interfere with the park’s ecosystem. These meticulously designed and landscaped roads contain several striking features, including cedar signposts and stone bridges. Perhaps the most memorable are the large stones that serve as the roads’ answer to guardrails. Inspired by their fondness for Rockefeller Jr., workers humorously referred to cleaning the stones as “brushing Rockefeller’s teeth.” Hop on a bike and explore the carriage roads with us here.
Now that we’ve covered the park’s colorful history, let’s hit the trails! You’ll find a variety of vistas along Acadia’s 126 miles of trails, from shaded forest paths lined with fairy-tale toadstools to steep granite staircases to glittering beach-side cliffs. Depending on your vantage point, you’ll be rewarded with stunning sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, Somes Sound and whimsically named islands like Cranberry and Porcupine. You’ll find 26 mountains to explore inside Acadia. One of the park’s peaks, Cadillac Mountain, is the East Coast’s tallest mountain. At 1,530 feet, it offers incredible views from its pink granite summit. During certain times of the year, Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States to see the sun rise. One of my favorite day hikes here is on South Bubble Mountain near Jordan Pond. In addition to being a wonderful park viewpoint, South Bubble also has a famous attraction — Bubble Rock, a large boulder that was carried by glaciers and deposited at the seemingly precarious edge of a cliff. Follow some hikers to Bubble Rock and see for yourself!!
While it's easy to think of Acadia as just mountains and uphill hikes, an important part of the ecosystem includes the networks of streams and lakes that exist within its boundaries. About 20 percent of the park is wetlands, each with their own ecology and rare plants. Not into hiking? Acadia is also a birdwatcher’s paradise! From August to October, birdwatchers, rangers and volunteers team up to monitor and count the thousands of birds flying through the region. Among other species, Acadia is a good vantage point to witness the amazing comeback of the peregrine falcon. Acadia began taking part in the falcon restoration in 1984; the last known nesting had been reported in 1956. To help protect these regal birds, the park closes the hiking trails on the east face of Champlain Mountain from March to August. Watch the Acadia National Park staff band three juvenile peregrine falcons here.
Hungry after all that exploring? You can’t visit Maine without enjoying its ruby jewel — the lobster! About half of the cold water lobster enjoyed in North America comes from the coast of Maine. Today, we associate lobster with fine dining, but at one point, lobster was so common in Maine that it was the cheapest meal around. In fact, lobster was so inexpensive that locals who ate them buried the shells in their backyard to hide them from their neighbors, and they were even served in the Maine state prison system! For decades, it was fairly easy to obtain a lobster fishing license, but around 35 years ago Maine tightened up the application procedure. Today, you have to serve a two-year apprenticeship first — that is, unless you’re the son or daughter of a working lobster fisherman. Since it’s a long and proud tradition passed down through families, in this case the state assumes you’ve already served your time. While the law permits you to fish wherever you choose after obtaining this permit, lobster gangs have very specific culture rules when it comes to their turf, so be sure to pay attention to the rainbow buoys bobbing along the water’s edge! Want to learn more? Check out this lobster fishing documentary shot south a few miles south of Mount Desert Island.
Road Scholar has been leading educational trips to Acadia National Park since 1997. We hope to see you there soon! Until then, you can browse our collection of learning adventures here.
Road Scholar Recommends: Hiking in Acadia National Park → Multi-Sport Adventure: Sea Kayaking, Bicycling & Hiking in Acadia → New England's Gem: Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park →
About the Author JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President, Program Development and Strategy, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn’s extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world’s most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.
Stay in the loop on our new blogs, special offers, new adventures and more.