Impressions: Acadia National Park
Take your family to this park.
Acadia National Park is one of the nations oldest, most popular, and (IMO) most family friendly.
Acadia is a shining example of what you can do with a bit of ingenuity, unsparing use of human muscle, and a couple million dollars of Robber Baron money. Whether the early 1900’s summercators were true pioneers of the conservation movement, or just wanted to keep their paradise from being polluted by riffraff, the vision and donations of John D. Rockefeller Junior, George B. Dorr, and Charles W. Eliot, among others, facilitated establishment of the nation’s first eastern national park.
The parkland is wild and ancient; dense pine forest interspersed with silver barked birches and dripping mosses and lichen. The bare granite tops of Acadia’s peaks survey the Atlantic with a grandiose drama that belies their modest altitude and offer incredible views in exchange for steep ascents.
Impressively, while much of the park appears undisturbed, borders of patron interaction are well trodden and carefully maintained. Acadia’s trails mix root-webbed pine tunnels and stretches of exposed bedrock with plank walkways and steep stone staircases, each massive step an improbable feat. On the popular Beehive (Beehive Mtn.) and Precipice (Mt. Champlain) trails, bold park goers climb exposed cliffs with embedded iron rungs. From the road, the peaks recall over-the-top amusement park structures as multicolored figures crisscross the face. For precocious kids (& kids at heart), both ‘trails’ are grand adventures that fit in an afternoon. As we ascend, I wonder who decided to make these epic scrambles accessible to the public, and how many man-hours it took to complete them.
In the center of Mt. Desert Island, 65 miles of pristine carriage roads wind sedately through the forrest, climbing to ocean vistas and descending to crystalline lakes at a much more moderate pace. Closed to motorized vehicles, the carefully maintained cinder paths are enjoyed by horsemen, carriages, cyclists, walkers, runners, and people with wheelchairs and strollers.
However and wherever you leave the main road, Acadia is an immersive wilderness experience, but all paths are well kept, blazed and marked with cairns and signposts. Rugged or smooth, your way forward respects the landscape but remains distinctly other. The overt intentionality of carriage roads and stone staircases calls to mind impossible beach lawns, impeccably trimmed and sustained by perpetual watering. Though some may bristle at restriction or artificiality, when the nation’s ninth most visited national park clocks at only 47,000 acres, these defined human areas attempt to preserve a delicate balance between the public, and their park.
At busy trailheads, rangers remind visitors not to leave established trails, move rocks, leave trash or take mementos. For everyone’s safety and the health of fragile ecosystems, it’s imperative that every visitor heed their directive.
Acadia is definitely worth visiting as an adult, but to show your kids real magic and save a lot of cash over a theme park vacation, head to Acadia. Call it a real-life Jurassic park, climb some peaks, pick wild blueberries, take a boat ride, stay in one of many excellent campgrounds to make s’mores, and encourage them up to become junior rangers. These memories will last a lifetime, and with any luck, so will appreciation and care for our world’s natural treasures.