It may not be as large as many of our country’s western National Parks, but Maine’s Acadia National Park offers plenty of diverse and beautiful scenery, a colorful history, unique towns, and villages sprinkled about and miles of hiking trails and driving loops throughout the Park.

Image by Sue Bray

The Park is located on Mount Desert Island, one of several islands in beautiful Frenchman Bay. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, living off the land by hunting, fishing and gathering fruits and berries. The French were the first European settlers to visit the island, with the first documented expedition landing in 1604, 16 years before the arrival of the Pilgrims in America. In 1613, Jesuits established a French mission on the island but it was destroyed by the English. For the next 150 years, the island remained mostly uninhabited but gradually began attracting farmers and settlers attracted by the sea and wood available.

During the 1800s’ the island became a popular spot for artists and as a retreat for wealthy New Englanders. The small farmhouses and fishermen’s huts gave way to new hotels for tourists. In 1901, conservationist George Dorr, disturbed by the growing development, formed the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, with the sole purpose of preserving land for the public. They acquired 6,000 acres and offered the land to the federal government. In 1916, President Wilson preserved that land by establishing the Sieur de Monts National Monument, and in 1919 it became Lafayette National Park. Dorr became the first park superintendent. In 1929, the name was changed to Acadia National Park.

Image by Sue Bray

Today, the park consists of more than 47,000 acres, offering ocean, forests, lakes, and mountains to millions of visitors each year. Although this land mass covers much of Mount Desert Island, there are also some picturesque towns and villages sprinkled about. The largest and most well-known is Bar Harbor, which actually consists of several small villages within the town. Bar Harbor has become a major port for cruise ships and as a result offers many restaurants, souvenir shops and a very picturesque pier and waterfront. When we were there, there were three cruise ships moored in the harbor and many passengers milling about.

We visited Acadia during October, taking advantage of the amazing fall colors. We spent a day driving the Park Loop Road, just 27 miles long but packed with spectacular scenery and ocean views. There are plenty of overlooks to pull off and enjoy the ambiance, and many offer hiking trails to further explore. Sand Beach was a beautiful spot to visit, but at that time of year, the ocean was very very cold! We drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain which is the highest point on the Atlantic coast and offers 360-degree views of the surroundings.

And did I mention the lobstah? Fresh Maine lobster tastes like a completely different species from lobsters in other parts of the world. We feasted on fresh lobster every night we were in the Pine Tree State – from whole steamed lobsters (which we picked out live) to lobster bakes to lobster rolls.

Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds in Acadia National Park. However, there are plenty of private campgrounds and RV resorts nearby, many offering seaside views and campsites.

It doesn’t matter that Acadia National Park is smaller than many of its sister parks. It’s packed full with Maine’s hardy culture, amazing scenery, and a spirit all its own which will remain with us forever.