Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean, woodlands and lakes make up Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi River. This stunning 73-square-mile park in Maine covers Mount Desert Island and smaller islands such as Isle au Haut, Baker Island and parts of the Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland. The lichen-covered, pink granite summit of Cadillac Mountain is one of the first places you can see the sunrise in the United States, while Somes Sound is described as the only fjord on the East Coast. Visit the park between mid-April and October, when all roads and facilities are open to the public.
Start your trip here with a stop at the visitor center to pick up a map of the park and a copy of the Beaver Log, the newspaper that will update you on events at the park. You can even check out a 3-D map of Mount Desert Island. Familiarize yourself with the park on the 20-mile Park Loop Road for stunning views of the ocean, mountains and forests. While on your road tour, take the 3.5-mile road up Cadillac Mountain. Here you can walk a one-third mile loop trail at the top of the mountain. You’ll find plenty of places to stop along the way on Park Loop Road to see wayside exhibits or enjoy the scenery. Your entire trip can take three to four hours with stops.
One of the most enchanting places to discover in Acadia National Park is the 45-mile carriage road system that you can explore on a bike or horse-drawn carriage tour. Seventeen stone-faced bridges, each with its own design, span streams, waterfalls, cliffs and roads. Philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family gifted the roads to the park. Rockefeller, who was a skilled horseman, built the system of roads from 1913 to 1940 to take advantage of the sweeping views and close ups of the breathtaking landscape here.
These handmade broken-stone roads, commonly used at the turn of the 20th century, span 16 feet and use granite quarried locally. Look for stone culverts, wide ditches, three layers of rock and a substantial six- to eight-inch crown to ensure good drainage for Maine’s rainy weather. Breast walls and retaining walls preserve the line of hillsides and save trees. The roads follow the contours of the land and offer up some scenic views. The roads were even graded so they weren’t too steep or curves weren’t too sharply drawn for the horse-drawn carriages.
Coping stones, dubbed “Rockefeller’s teeth,” consist of large blocks of granite lining the roads as guardrails, giving the road a rustic feel. Cedar signposts direct carriage drivers at intersections. Two gate lodges serve as your welcome to the system. One sits at Jordan Pond, the other near Northeast Harbor. Rockefeller also constructed 17 stone-faced bridges, each unique in design, to cross over streams, waterfalls, roads and cliffsides. These steel-reinforced concrete bridges feature native stone for the facing.
Not to be missed are the 125-miles of historic hiking trails that take you through forests and over mountains. On the west side of Mount Desert Island, you can find the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Carroll Homestead guided trail and the Ship Harbor or Wonderland trails. You can even get out on the water on a ranger-narrated boat cruise to learn about sea life, island history and more.
Wrap up a day of exploring with tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House, a century-old tradition.