America's Best History ... Acadia

When people think of the great natural national park, they often think of those located in the west, like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.  For others its the large Appalachian parks like the Great Smokey Mountains, but for many in the northeast, their experience with national parks starts in the highly attended landscape of mountains, forest, and sea further up the Appalachian chain in Maine known as Acadia, the first national park east of the Mississippi.  (Photo above) Along one of Rockefeller's Carriage Roads.  On the Witch Hole Pond Loop, Hull Mountain Road.  Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The diverse landscape of Acadia National Park has been drawing visitors, both famous and not, since the beginning of American independence.  Before that, of course, the area was home to the American Indians, dating back 6,000 years.  The Wabanaki Indians lived off the land; hunting, fishing, and gathering plantlife within the variety of landscapes that dot the rugged coast and forests.  But it was on September 5, 1604, sixteen years before Plymouth Road, that European influence began to take root.  After French Jesuits attempted to inhabit the area, but were defeated by British loyalists, the land became contested for 150 years, until the British triumph at Quebec in 1759 effectively ended French dominion.

Over the next hundred years, the area transformed from a sight of fishermen and sailors to a tourist haven for rich families.  By 1901, conservationists led by George B. Dorr, had begun to preserve the land, eventually acquiring 6,000 acres for public use by 1913.  Three years later, the land was accepted into the National Park system by President WIlson, who created Sieur de Monts National Monument.  Three years later it was made the first national park east of the Mississippi when WIlson established Lafayette National Park.  

But much of the infrastructure, at least of the roads, came courtesy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his family.  Their gift of 45 miles of rustic carriage roads that weave through the scenery have provided a majestic and historic vantage point to view this land since their construction between 1913 and 1940.  They were an integrated construction model for road building in the era, utilizing breast and retaining walls, and seventeen stone-faced bridges spaning the various streams and cliffsides along the Mount Desert Island route.  These roads underwent a large rehabilition between 1992 and 1995, undertaken by the National Park Service and the Friends of Acadia.

Acadia Dates of Importance

1604 - European influence begins when French explorer, Samuel Champlain led an expedition that landed on Mount Desert.
1613 - French Jesuits established the first French misison in America on Emerald Point.
1759 - French dominion of Acadia halted for good after defeat by the British in Quebec.
1880 - By this time, 30 hotesl had established Acadia as a tourist retreat for prominent individuals.
1901 - Effort to conserve the area for public use begun by George B. Dorr.
1913 - John D. Rockefeller begins his construction of the carriage roads.
1916 - Transfered to the National Park system as Sieur de Monts National Monument.  Three years later established as Lafayette National Park.
1929 - Park name changed to Acadia National Park.
1940 - The carriage road system is completed.
1992-1995 - Extensive rehabiliation on the park's 45 miles of carriage roads undertaken.
1999 - The Island Explorer bus system for visitors begins.

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Things You Should Not Miss

Much of what is available to do at Acadia has to do with how long your visit will be.  You could spend more than a week in this national park.

1.  For all.  Stop at the Hull Cove Visitor Center and watch the 15 minute video about the park, then step on one of the many Island Explorer buses, free with your entrance fee, to start your exploration.

2.  Join a ranger for one of the many free walks, or take one of the many boat and bus tours for a fee.  There are four different boat tours; Baker Island Cruise 4.5 hours, Dive-In Theater Boat Cruise, 3 hours, Frenchman Bay Cruise, 2 hours, and the Islesford Historical Cruise, 2.5 hours.

3.  Take a drive along the Park Loop Road, 20 miles, and the road to Cadillac Mountain, 3.5 miles.  The variety of views of the mountains, forests, and ocean are breathtaking.

4.  For a step back in time, take a horse-drawn carriage tour around some of Roosevelt's 45 miles of carriage roads.  Fee service.

What is There Now

Hulls Cove Visitor Center - Open April 15 to October 31.  Although the park is open all year long, varoius museums, campgrounds, and most of the Park Loop Road are not.  Check with the Part Headquarters for the visitor amenities available after October 31 through the beginning of April.

Park Headquarters 
- Open all year long and serves as the park winter visitor center.

Thompson Island Information Center
- Mid-May to Mid-October.

Islesford Historical Museum
- Open late June to September 30.

Sieur de Monts Nature Center
- Open early May to early October.


There is no motel or hotel camping within Acadia National Park, although both are available in the towns of the area around the park.  There are two large campgrounds; Blackwoods and Seawall, both wooded and within a ten minute walk of the ocean.  There are also two smaller, limited spaces at Duck Harbor Campground and Wildwood Stables Campground (for visitors with stock animals).

Blackwoods Campground - 306 sites.  Off Route 3 five miles southwest of Bar Harbor.

Seawall Campground - 214 sites.  Off Rt. 402A four miles south of Southwest Harbor.

Acadia National Park Area Links

Acadia National Park
Friends of Acadia
Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce
Mount Desert Chamber of Commerce
Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce

Nearby Attractions

Maine Office of Tourism
St. Croix Island International Historic Site

Acadia Then and Now

Acadia National Park lighthouse

Acadia Then

Baker Island Lightkeeper's House - At Frenchman's Bay in 1933, the picture above shows the Light tower and Lightkeeper's house on Baker Island, just east of the Cranberry Isles.

Although much of the focus of Acadia today has to do with its recreational wonders, the history of the area is replete with the stories of its Indian ancestors, the French versus British struggle for control of the territory, its seafaring and forest history, plus the recreation prospects begun in the late 1800s by many of the nation's richest citizens.

Acadia Now

Acadia National Park

Hiking - Over 120 miles of historic hiking trails throughout the park.  These trails stem from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Above photo, Visitors enjoy the view of Mount Desert Island from Baker Island.  Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Concession Bus Tours
- These narrated bus tours offer hour and 2.5 hour tours of the park during the summer season (May to October).  They are offered by the National Park Service as well as Oli's Trolley from downtown Bar Harbor.

Carriage Tours
- From Wildwood Stables on the Park Loop Road, jump onto a horse drawn carriage from Carriages of Acadia and witness the park from the perspective of a bygone day.

Other Outdoor Activities - Biking, birdwatching, camping, boating, climbing, fishing, horseback riding, picnicking, driving tours.

Indoor Activities - From the exhibits of the visitor center to the Islesford Historical Center, Nature Center, and the Abbe Museum, learn the history of the Acadia region on those days when you need a change of pace from the many exterior pursuits.

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Visitor Statistics
Acadia National Park

2,254,922 visits (2014)
#32 Most Visited National Park Unit

Source: NPS 2013 NPU (National Park Unit); NHS (National Historic Site) Rankings among 369 National Park Units.

Park Size

Acadia National Park
46,189 acres (Federal)
47,389 acres (Total)

Source: NPS

Park Entrance Fees

Acadia National Park
Per Vehicle for 7 Days
May to October - $20

Individual for 7 Days (Walk, Bike, Motorcycle)

Arcadia Annual Pass

Acadia Weather
Summer - Wide variety of weather with rain and fog possible.  Temperatures from 45 to 85 degrees F.  Spring and fall temperatures between 30 and 70 degrees F.

Winter - Snow and ice common with typical New England weather.