Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine Visited: April 21, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 29 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? The first National Park east of the Mississippi. The majority of Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Rugged Maine Atlantic Ocean coastline, granite-domed bald mountains, 45 miles of paved carriage roads paved by John D. Rockefeller and over 120 miles of hiking trails.
BEAUTY (7/10) Acadia first came to prominence as the idyllic subject of the 19th-century Hudson River School landscape painters. Their paintings brought the first wave of tourists to Acadia National Park. Things have not changed. If you have a TV or if you subscribe to any magazine with advertisements, you have seen Acadia NP. Its rocky ocean coast vistas and round granite mountains provide a constant commercial backdrop. We had almost felt as if we had already been there. Yet there was no awe, no overwhelming feeling of an American experience. Acadia’s beauty is understated, subtle and lacking in great drama.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) The Park is unique in that private owners donated the entirety of Acadia’s land to the U.S. Government for the sole purpose of preserving it as a public land for generations’ enjoyment. In the 19th century Mount Desert Island had become one of wealthy America’s premier vacation retreats. The affluent vacationers bought up most of the island where they built ‘rustic’ mansions. Their subsequent donation of their purchase land created the East’s first National Park.
CROWDS (6/10) We came to Acadia pre-season. We had most of the Park to ourselves. The downside was that it was windy, cold and rainy. A volunteer at the Visitor Center estimated that between June and September nearly three million people visit Acadia NP. We can only imagine how unbearably crowded the two lane, 27-mile Park Loop Road must get. Acadia NP is not really that big, and the Park Loop Road is one of the few places where you can drive.
At the same time, there are over 120 miles of hiking trails. We have been told by faithful visitors and by the Acadia NP Welcome Video that solitude can easily be found. Both have also praised Acadia’s powers of quiet introspection. We will take their word.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Park is not far from I-95 and easy to get to. Problem is that it is not that close to anything. 161 miles from Portland, Maine, 264 miles from Boston and almost 500 miles from New York City. It is way up there. If you want to go, you must make it your holiday destination. You are not going to happen on to it.
At the Park, all of the trails are clearly marked. The carriage roads are blocked off from motor vehicle usage through edict from road builder John D. Rockefeller. They are paved and in good condition for all your bicycling needs.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) Pretty average.
COSTS (3/5) $20 per car is good for a week’s entry into the Park. If you have the $50 National Parks Pass, the entrance fee is covered. There is no charge in the off-season. There are only two campsites in the Park and no backcountry hiking is permitted. Numerous lodging opportunities exist on Mount Desert Island. They could get pricey during the summer.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) The closest we came to seeing a Park Ranger was a National Park Service truck parked in the driveway of the house next door to the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed. The Visitor Center was staffed solely by volunteers. They were helpful, but they were not Rangers. We also saw no postings for Ranger-led tours. We are sure that Rangers exist at Acadia NP but they may not return until summer.
TOURS/CLASSES (5/10) We enjoyed the introductory video at the Visitor Center. The well-done 20-minute film immediately addressed our criticisms. It started by acknowledging that Acadia NP is not especially striking and continued to state that the Park is not about superlatives and not particularly unique. A strange but accurate way to introduce the Site. The video answered many questions about Acadia NP’s geological and cultural history. It concluded that Acadia NP was a Park for the people. Well done.
Ranger-led tours and classes were seemingly non-existent. Maybe things change in the summer.
FUN (7/10) Our fun was severely limited by the time we choose to go to Acadia. The weather was much colder than we expected. As a result, we did not do much hiking. Our time atop Cadillac Mountain was a frigid, blustery blur. We did not even consider returning to Cadillac at dawn to see the first bit of sun rising above America. Biking was out of the question too. Windburn windburn windburn. As was outdoor solitude, inspiration and prolonged bird watching. We still ended up taking a lot of pictures.
As we were exiting the park, we turned into one of the Site’s parking areas. About 10 yards away in a clearing was a herd of six whitetail deer, including two young ones. We got out of the car and up pretty close before they gamboled off. For some reason, the rather mundane deer sighting was awfully exciting.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10) Sure, but come when it is warm so you can enjoy everything the Park has to offer. Mount Desert Island really is a seasonal place.
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