Take out a map and eyeball the Western U.S. and you will see that it is well-peppered with national parks.
Utah alone has seventeen. California has 34.
But swing your focus east, to the other half of the U.S., and you have to work a might harder to find parkland.
In fact, in the 12 northeasternmost states, there’s only one national park: Acadia, all by its lonesome up along the coast of Maine.
Acadia is the prominent feature of Maine’s Mt. Desert Island. It’s a bumpy, lumpy, swirvy, curvy place punctuated by fishing communities that all seem to have the word “harbor” in their names.
Acadia National Park was named after the former French colony of Acadia, which once included the land that is now Maine. It’s the oldest national park in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.
It became Lafayette National Park in 1919, and renamed Acadia ten years later.
While not as sprawling or dramatic in scope as its western counterparts, Acadia has a singular allure that Yosemite or Yellowstone might envy.
Land meets sea
Everywhere you go in Acadia, you are reminded of where land first meets sea in the U.S.
Acadia is rocky, and yet it’s green, and its mountains rise up in a hurry from the ocean.
Cadillac Mountain is its high point at 1,529 feet of elevation.
It’s known as the place where “sunrise first touches the United States.”
While 1,500 feet might not seem that impressive, please remember that the highest point in Wisconsin — Timm’s Hill — is 1,951 feet high — but 1,300 miles from the sea.
Many of Acadia’s “itty bitty peaks” shoot up from the coast in startlingly sudden statements.
Good for hiking
Which leads to one of Acadia’s best traits — the hiking.
It’s not only possible, but desirable to hike a mountain or two before breakfast. Most mountain trails have colorful names that promise high adventure like the Beehive Loop Trail, or Precipice Trail, or Dorr Mountain Ladder Trail.
And most of them offer you a choice — the easy way, or the hard way.
Me and mine are big fans of the “hard way,” which usually entails some of the aforementioned ladders.
They’re a unique feature of Acadia — sets of metal ladders embedded in the granite rock of its sheer cliffs, and an intriguing part of the ascension process.
And once you’ve managed to scale those rungs and wind around the cliffs and scramble up the bare rock, you are of course rewarded with the view.
From even the 681-foot summit of Acadia Mountain, the vista is stunning and well worth any scare the trail’s name might first have conjured.
As the sea features so prominently at Acadia, any visit requires tidepool exploration — or at least a walk along the shore.
The aptly-named Ocean Path provides access to meet the waves and tide-dwelling denizens like urchins and crabs, and seabirds like Black Guillemots.
If you’re desirous of meeting Atlantic Puffins or whales, you’ll need to hire one of the boat trips out of Bar Harbor, or venture further up the coast.
Visit Bar Harbor
Another of the “maine” attractants of Acadia National Park lies outside the park, in a charismatic town of Bar Harbor. People come to Bar Harbor to troll the colorful shops, or to promenade the town’s The Shore Path.
They come to sample Maine’s local beers or fudge or chowder, but like all up and down the 3,478 miles of Maine’s shores, folks mostly come for lobster.
When my wife and I first visited the coast of Maine in 1990, we discovered Duddy’s — a legendary lobster shack that every lobster joint since has been trying to duplicate with arguable success.
At Duddy’s, you selected your lobster, settled into a chair, and watched them plunk down your steaming meal on a plate beside a slice of Maine blueberry pie and a roll of paper toweling.
An entire lobster cost $5. Twenty-some years later, Duddy’s is long gone, and that same one-pound lobster will cost a diner twenty-some dollars.
One of the reasons for that is that it’s become tougher to find and harvest large lobsters. Lobster harvests declined significantly from 2016 to 2017 — by about 20 million pounds in a typical Maine annual harvest of more than 100 million pounds.
The reasons? Varied and complex, but including — you guessed it — climate change.
The Gulf of Maine has been warming for years, and while that initially instigated a boom in lobsters, it is now likely leading to a smaller harvestable population near-shore and off.
We visited several restaurants that specialized in fresh lobster while on Mt. Desert Island. The best was the highly popular Thurston’s Lobster Pound in nearby Bernard.
Bed and Breakfasts are another key ingredient of Acadia. They’re as common as lobster traps or Common Eiders.
The best times to visit Acadia are in June, when the Puffins are breeding, or in mid-October when fall foliage is at peak color.
Crowds in July or August can be intimidating: Acadia is the 6th most-visited park in the U.S. — after Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Yellowstone, and Olympic.