Acadia National park

Acadia National Park sees more than 3.5 million visitors each year

Covering most of Mount Desert Island and other coastal islands, Acadia National Park features the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast of the United States, granite peaks, ocean shoreline, woodlands, and lakes. There are freshwater, estuary, forest, and intertidal habitats.


The story of Acadia started 500 million years ago…

The geologic history of Acadia National Park stretches back in time through millions of years to the formation of the oldest rocks on Mount Desert Island and continues to the present with the persistent forces of erosion. Evidence of this rich geologic past can be seen across the island, along rocky shorelines and atop windswept mountains.

The landscape that we know as Acadia had its beginnings more than 500 million years ago, when mud, sand, and volcanic ash were deposited in an early ocean. With time these sediments were buried, and pressure turned them to rock. Forces deep within the earth and tectonic (plate) activity deeply buried, heated, and squeezed this rock, changing it into the Ellsworth Schist, a metamorphic rock characterized by contorted, thin bands of white and gray quartz and feldspar, and green chlorite. It is the oldest rock known in the Mount Desert region.

The combined forces of erosion and the shifting of the rigid plates that make up the earth’s crust (tectonics) brought the deeply buried Ellsworth Schist to the earth’s surface. Approximately 450 million years ago, when a micro-terrane (mini-continent) called Avalonia collided with North America, this schist formed a platform on which sand and silt accumulated. Burial hardened these fine-grained deposits, creating the Bar Harbor Formation, a sequence of brown to gray bedded, or layered, sandstone and siltstones. Simultaneously with the creation of the Bar Harbor Formation, volcanoes erupted in the region. Volcanic Flows and ash accumulated in the ocean basin, and formed the light-colored Cranberry Island Volcanics and deposited layers of ash in the developing Bar Harbor Formation.

A complex series of events led to the intrusion of several different types of molten, or igneous, rocks. The intrusive rocks cooled beneath the earth’s surface, allowing the crystals of various minerals to form and grow. Each rock type is composed of a unique set of minerals. The first and oldest is a gabbro. This rock is dark in color and is made up of iron-rich minerals.

The granites of Mount Desert Island are approximately 420 million years old. Because their mineralogy is so similar, the granites are identified by the size of individual mineral grains and the composition of the scattered dark minerals present. One of the oldest granites to appear was the Cadillac Mountain Granite, the largest granite body on the island. It oozed up through existing rocks, stressing and fracturing the overlying bedrock and causing large chunks to fall into the molten magma body. Some chunks of bedrock melted in the intense heat, while others were suspended in the magma. When the granite cooled deep in the earth, these blocks remained, surrounded by crystallized granite. This region of granite and broken rock, called the shatter zone, is still visible on the eastern side of the Cadillac Mountain Granite. A medium-grained granite formed to the west of the Cadillac Mountain Granite.

Later volcanic activity injected diabase, a fine-grained, black igneous rock into the granites and surrounding rocks. These diabase bodies, or dikes, can be seen along the road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and on the Schoodic Peninsula.

Little record of the following several hundred million years remains. Erosion wore away the rocks covering the large granite bodies, bringing them to the earth’s surface. The same process removed much of the softer rock surrounding the granite, leaving behind resistant granitic mountains ringed by lowlands. Streams ran between the ridges, and a succession of plant and animal life inhabited the region.

Evidence from many parts of the world suggests that a succession of ice sheets Flowed across northern North America during the last two to three million years. Each glaciation removed traces of previous ice sheets, leaving a record of only the last ice sheet to move through the region.

The glaciers eroded the mountains and cut broad U-shaped valleys. Materials carried at the base of the ice polished the mountains and left long scratches (striations) and crescent-shaped gouges (crescentic gouges) in many places. This episode, called the Wisconsin Glaciation, reached its maximum extent 18,000 years ago with its terminus far to the south of Maine.

As the climate warmed, more ice melted in the warmer months than accumulated in the winter. Although ice continually Flowed south from more northern portions of the ice sheet, the southern edge of the glacier began to recede, depositing material carried by the glacier. Accumulations of rock, gravel, and sand dammed valleys. Boulders carried 20 miles or more were left behind by the melting ice. These glacial erratics are found in valleys and on mountaintops. A carpet of glacial debris was spread out upon the landscape.

The vast weight of the ice depressed the land surface, so that in Maine’s coastal region the melting of ice was accompanied by an invasion of the sea. Marine waters covered the lowlands and created islands of Acadia’s mountains. Beaches and sea caves formed at almost 300 feet above the present-day sea level. Fine-grained material settled out of the sea and draped low areas with a layer of marine mud. With the continued recession of the ice, the land surface rose and stabilized. Lakes, such as Jordan Pond, formed in valleys dammed by ridges of glacial debris. Plants and animals colonized the uncovered land. Rivers and streams carved new drainage paths, and by 9,000 years ago, the region became home to people.

The varied landscape of Acadia National Park is the result of continuing geologic processes. The weathering of granite ridges is one such activity. Large joints, or fractures, in the rock form square blocks. The joints enlarge and expand when water fills them and freezes. Eventually the rock breaks away from the cliff, leaving behind granitic rubble and bright pink scars on precipitous rock faces. The cliffs above the Tarn, south of Bar Harbor on Route 3, show evidence of this activity.

Along the coast, the sweep of tides and waves continually shapes the shoreline. Rocky headlands bear the full brunt of the wind and waves of the open ocean. Salt marshes, rich with life, grow in protected tidal valleys, while beaches occupy sheltered coves.

Many different types of beaches are found on Acadia’s shores. The size of material composing the beach depends on the energy of the waves that create it. Coves protected from strong wave action are made up of fine-grained material, such as Sand Beach. Beaches facing the open ocean and only minimally sheltered by rocky headlands consist of pebbles, cobbles, and even boulders. The stronger the wave action, the larger the material the waves can carry. In the case of a beach open to the storm-driven waves of the Atlantic Ocean, only the largest boulders remain.

The source of the beach material varies. In some places, glacial debris is washed in by the waves, and finer material is removed, leaving cobbles and pebbles to be rolled and rounded by the surf. Sea cliffs can provide beach material, such as large, rounded boulders. Sand Beach is composed primarily of bits and pieces of the shells and hard parts of marine life, such as mussels and sea urchins.

Acadia’s landscape is the product of great expanses of time. Massive geologic forces – mountain building, molten magmas, and huge ice sheets – formed the landscape, while the persistent forces of erosion – water, wind, and waves – ever so slowly continue to shape what we see today, leaving a record of Acadia’s geologic past written in the rocks.

While the term “geologic formation” often conjures images of the spectacular arches and pinnacles of the western parks, many of Acadia’s geologic features are subtle, but equally as impressive. Just as the sedimentary rock of the Grand Canyon was carved by the effects of millions of years of water and wind, ridges of granite were sculpted by glaciers measuring up to 9,000 feet thick, creating the landscape of Acadia that we see today. Evidence of the glaciers can be seen just about everywhere: broad U-shaped valleys hold lakes, glacial erratics dot the landscape, as do glacial erosional scars like chatter marks, striations, glacial polish, potholes, and kettle ponds.

Perhaps the most obvious reminder of Acadia’s glacial legacy is the Somes Sound Fjord (the only feature of its kind on the U.S. Atlantic Coast) with its deeply carved head and shallow mouth of glacial deposits. Several other interesting geological features were formed when the sea level rose as the glacier melted, flooding today’s coastline to a depth of about 300 feet. The earth’s crust, freed of its burden of ice, started to rebound. Terrestrial deposits of marine clays, raised shorelines like the cave on the Cadillac Cliffs trail of Gorham Mountain, and raised cobble stone beaches are all examples of the effects of this glacially caused depression and rebound.

Acadia’s landscape had its beginnings long before sunbeams first caressed the slopes of Cadillac Mountain. About 500 to 600 million years ago, nameless rivers transported sand, silt, and mud onto the floor of an ancient sea. These sediments built at a rate of about one inch every hundred years until they accreted to depths of thousands of feet. Pressure and heat transformed these sediments into the earliest bedrock. Next, titanic forces lifted and warped the bedrock of the sea into a mountain range, a range perhaps as mighty as the Rockies. But inexorably, the forces of air, water, and gravity ground these mountains down until little was left.

Today, only schists and gneisses, rocks of the Ellsworth formation, remain as testimony to those mountains of long ago. The mountains were built up by tectonic and volcanic forces, and scraped down and shaped by a succession of glaciers. The land sank beneath the weight of mile-deep ice as glaciers inexorably ground their way toward present day Georges Bank, Long Island, and Cape Cod. As the glaciers receded, they filled a vast valley surrounding the mountains with meltwater, creating the Gulf of Maine.

Relieved of the great burden of the ice, the land slowly rebounded. These processes, over the eons of time, created the landscape of which Acadia National Park and its mountains are a part. The shoreline is also a work in progress, constantly being shaped and reshaped by waves and wind and storms. Slowly the ocean works away at the hard edges of the island, carving sea stacks and leaving pockets of beaches filled with surf-rounded cobblestones.

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Native American History

The Wabanaki: People of the Dawnland

Native American peoples have inhabited the land we now call Maine for 12,000 years. Today four distinct tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot—are known collectively as the Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawnland.”

Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park have remained in the center of Wabanaki traditional homelands for thousands of years. Long before Europeans arrived, the Wabanaki traveled here in seaworthy birchbark canoes. Setting up temporary camps near places like Somes Sound, they hunted, fished, gathered berries, harvested clams, and traded with other Wabanaki. Some called Mount Desert Island “Pemetic,” meaning “range of mountains.”

In the nineteenth century, Wabanaki people came to sell their handmade ash and birchbark baskets to wealthy travelers, and to harvest precious basket-making resources like sweetgrass. Summer tourists and summer residents alike were entertained by elaborate Wabanaki dance performances at venues such as Sieur de Monts and the town of Bar Harbor. Led by Wabanaki guides, canoe trips around Frenchman Bay and the Cranberry Islands were a convenient and pleasurable way for visitors to reach the outer islands.

Today, each tribe has a reservation and government headquarters located within their territories throughout Maine. Still, Wabanaki people have a unique and spiritual relationship with this land, from the first rays of dawn seen from Cadillac Mountain to the last light of dusk slipping behind Bar Island. Many Wabanaki people today come for much the same reasons as others—to hike the mountain trails and enjoy the striking scenery. Yet some still come to gather precious sweetgrass, sell handmade baskets, and to show respect for this sacred landscape, as their ancestors did for thousands of years.

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Park History

The story of how Acadia became a park

The striking scenery and diverse resources of Mount Desert Island have attracted people for thousands of years. The first inhabitants, Native Americans here more than 5,000 years ago, were followed by the French and English. By the 1800s, settlers were arriving in large numbers and engaging in fishing, shipbuilding, farming, and lumbering. The island became known to the world in the late 1800s, when artists depicted its beauty in paintings. The rush to experience Mount Desert Island, and the desire to protect its lands, had begun.

Early History

Deep shell heaps indicate Native American encampments dating back 5,000 years in Acadia, but pre-European records are scarce. The first written descriptions of Maine coast Indians, recorded 100 years after European trade contacts began, describe Native Americans who lived off the land by hunting, fishing, collecting shellfish, and gathering plants and berries.

The Wabanaki people knew Mount Desert Island as Pemetic, “the sloping land.” They built bark-covered conical shelters and traveled in birchbark canoes. Historical records indicate that the Wabanaki wintered in interior forests and spent summers near the coast. Archeological evidence, however, suggests the opposite pattern: to avoid harsh inland winters and take advantage of salmon runs upstream, Native Americans wintered on the coast and summered inland. There may even have been two separate groups, one inland and another on the coast. Read more about the Wabanaki.

New France

The first meeting between the people of Pemetic and the Europeans is unknown, but a Frenchman, Samuel Champlain, made the first important contribution to the historical record of Mount Desert Island. He led the expedition that landed on Mount Desert on September 5, 1604, and wrote in his journal, “The mountain summits are all bare and rocky….. I name it Isles des Monts Déserts.” Champlain’s visit to the island 16 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock destined this land to be come known as New France before it became New England.

In 1613, French Jesuits, welcomed by native people, established the first French mission in America on Mount Desert Island. They had just begun to build a fort, plant corn,and baptize the natives when an English ship commanded by Captain Samuel Argall destroyed their mission. The English victory doomed Jesuit ambitions on Mount Desert Island, leaving the land in a state of limbo lying between the French, firmly entrenched to the north, and the British, whose settlements in Massachusetts and southward were becoming increasingly numerous. No one wished to settle in this contested territory. For the next 150 years, the island’s importance was primarily its use as a landmark for seamen.

There was a brief period when it seemed Mount Desert would again become a center of French activity. In 1688, Antoine Laumet, an ambitious young man who had immigrated to New France and bestowed upon himself the title Sieur de la Mothe Cadillac, asked for and received a hundred thousand acres of land along the Maine coast, including all of Mount Desert Island. Cadillac’s hopes of establishing a feudal estate in the New World, however, were short lived. Although he and his bride resided here for a time, they soon abandoned their enterprise. Cadillac later gained lasting recognition as the founder of Detroit.

New England

In 1759, after a century and a half of conflict, British troops triumphed at Quebec, ending French dominion in Acadia. With Native Americans scattered and the fleur-de-lis banished, lands along the Maine coast opened for English settlement. Governor Francis Bernard of Massachusetts obtained a royal land grant on Mount Desert Island. In 1760, Bernard attempted to secure his claim by offering free land to settlers. Abraham Somes and James Richardson accepted the offer and settled their families at what is now Somesville.

The onset of the Revolutionary War ended Bernard’s plans for Mount Desert Island. In the aftermath of the war, Bernard lost his claim, and the newly created United States of America granted the western half of Mount Desert Island to John Bernard, son of the governor, and the eastern half of the island to Marie Therese de Gregoire, granddaughter of Cadillac. Bernard and de Gregoire soon sold their landholdings to nonresident landlords.

Their real estate transactions probably made very little difference to the increasing number of settlers homesteading on Mount Desert Island. By 1820, farming and lumbering vied with fishing and shipbuilding as the major occupations. Settlers converted hundreds of acres of trees into wood products ranging from schooners and barns to baby cribs and hand tools. Farmers harvested wheat, rye, corn, and potatoes. By 1850, the familiar sights of fishermen and sailors, fish racks and ship yards, revealed a way of life linked to the sea.

Rusticators and Cottagers

It was the outsiders—artists and journalists—who revealed and popularized this island to the world in the mid-1800s. Painters of the Hudson River School, including Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, glorified Mount Desert Island with their brushstrokes, inspiring patrons and friends to flock here. These were the “rusticators.” Undaunted by crude accommodations and simple food, they sought out local fishermen and farmers to put them up for a modest fee. Summer after summer, the rusticators returned to renew friendships with local islanders and, most of all, to savor the fresh salt air, beautiful scenery, and relaxed pace. Soon the villagers’ cottages and fishermen’s huts filled to overflowing, and by 1880, 30 hotels competed for vacationers’ dollars. Tourism was becoming the major industry.

For a select handful of Americans, the 1880s and the “Gay Nineties” meant affluence on a scale without precedent. Mount Desert, still remote from the cities of the east, became a retreat for prominent people of the times. The Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Astors chose to spend their summers here. Not content with the simple lodgings then available, these families transformed the landscape of Mount Desert Island with elegant estates, euphemistically called “cottages.” Luxury, refinement, and large gatherings replaced the buck board rides, picnics, and day-long hikes of an earlier era. For more than 40 years, the wealthy held sway on Mount Desert, but the Great Depression and World War II marked the end of such extravagance. The final blow came in1947 when a fire of monumental proportions consumed many of the great estates.

Preserving Acadia National Park

Though they came to the island in search of social and recreational activities, the affluent of the turn of the century had much to do with preserving the landscape we know today. George B. Dorr, a tireless spokesman for conservation, came from this social strata. He devoted 43 years of his life, energy, and family fortune to preserving the Acadian landscape.

In 1901, disturbed by the growing development of the Bar Harbor area and the dangers he foresaw in the newly invented gasoline-powered portable sawmill, Dorr and others established the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations. The corporation, whose sole purpose was to preserve land for the perpetual use of the public, acquired 6,000 acres by 1913. Dorr offered the land to the federal government, and in 1916 President Wilson announced the creation of Sieur de Monts National Monument. Dorr continued to acquire property and renewed his efforts to obtain full national park status for his beloved preserve. In 1919, President Wilson signed the act establishing Lafayette National Park. Dorr, whose labors constituted “the greatest of one-man shows in the history of land conservation,” became the first park superintendent. In 1929, the name changed to Acadia National Park.

Today the park protects more than 47,000 acres, and the simple pleasures of “ocean, forests, lakes, and mountains” that have been sought and found by millions for over a century and a quarter are yours to enjoy.

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The best things to do in Acadia National Park

#1. Cadillac Mountain. free. #1 in Acadia National Park. …
#2. Park Loop Road. #2 in Acadia National Park. Hiking, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing. …
#3. Jordan Pond. free. #3 in Acadia National Park. …
#4. Schoodic Point. free. #4 in Acadia National Park. …
#5. Sand Beach. free. …
#6. Carriage Roads. free. …
#7. Precipice Trail. free. …
#8. Thunder Hole. free.


Acadia has a dense plant life


Ferns thrive in cool, moist, shaded areas, which are quite common on the coast of Maine. Some of the easier-to-recognize ferns are species of rock polypody, which appear almost identical and are often found growing in leaf litter duff on top of large rocks. The fronds are singular and look like they are growing in a small colony or mat. Another pair of related common ferns are cinnamon fern and interrupted fern. These two also look very much alike. Both are large ferns with vegetative fronds arranged in whorls around the center. Cinnamon fern has separate, fertile, spore-producing fronds which sprout from the center of the plant in spring. These fronds are a cinnamon-like golden brown in color, which accounts for the plant’s common name. Interrupted fern produces fertile leaflets in the upper third of the vegetative fronds, hence the frond is “interrupted” by the smaller fertile leaflets “within” the frond.

Freshwater Plants

Freshwater (also referred to as “aquatic”) plants are probably one of the most conspicuous features of the lakes, ponds, and streams of Acadia National Park. Approximately 80 species of freshwater plants can be found in the park, with an additional dozen species that are considered semi-aquatic shoreline species. Seven of these aquatic or semi-aquatic species are either currently listed or proposed for listing on Maine’s Official List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, while about 30 others are considered “locally rare.”


About a quarter of the plants that one encounters at Acadia National Park appear “grass-like.” The amateur would probably call all of these grasses, but in fact some are sedges and some are rushes. Here is a little rhyme to help tell the three apart: “sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have joints.” Sedges usually have a triangular stem, rushes have round stems, and grasses have a jointed stem. Sedges, grasses, and rushes often inhabit wet areas. All of them have flowers;they just aren’t showy. Take a closer look and you will be amazed at the diversity of these wind-pollinated wildflowers!

Marine Plants/Algae

As you explore the shoreline in the park, you will often see algae in the shallow waters near the shore or washed up on the rocks. A field guide-developed by Sarah Hall and Joseph Stachelek for their senior capstone project at the University of Maine, under the guidance of Professor Susan Brawley-includes some of the common species you might see.

Mosses and Liverworts

If you find a bog in Acadia National Park, you are sure to see sphagnum (pronounced “sfagnum”) moss. Mosses, like ferns, reproduce by spores. Mosses by necessity always grow in low mats in wet areas close to their nutrient source. Sphagnum species are common and come in shades of green, red and brown. Bog hummocks, which are small mounds of sphagnum, often form to create an undulating bog surface. Each species of sphagnum finds its own niche based on levels of soil moisture. Therefore, the species of sphagnum growing on the top of the hummocks are usually different from the ones growing between the hummocks!


If you are in a wooded area of Acadia National Park, you are likely to find common, native woodland flowers, such as wild lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum canadense), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), goldthread (Coptis trifoliaformerlyC. groenlandica), bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis), and starflower (Trientalis borealis). In August and September Acadia’s native wildflowers, the asters and goldenrods, are in full bloom.

Almost one quarter of Acadia’s flora is non-native, and about 25 species are state-listed rare plants. It is evident that 300 years of human settlement and land use have changed the composition of plant communities throughout Acadia National Park.

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Animal Life

Acadia is a playground for different bird, reptile, and mammal species

Acadia may be famous for its sunrises, sweeping coastal vistas, pink granite mountains, and diverse forests, it’s also home to a plethora of wildlife species. Ranging from the smallest microorganisms living in tide pools to the occasional moose and even to humpback whales, there’s plenty to see for everybody.

What kinds of wildlife can I see?
Use the pages in the grid below to learn more about the different types of animals present in the park. We have around 40 species of mammals, all the way from bats to black bears, more than 330 species of birds, around 30 species of fish, 7 reptiles, and 11 amphibians. Invertebrates live in the air, on and under the ground, and in the intertidal zone, and aren’t as well documented, so we’re not sure just how many species live here. Check out our species list to see detailed information from NPSpecies about each taxa of wildlife.

Where can I see wildlife?
Animals of all kinds can be seen throughout the park, but different habitats support different species. To see songbirds, try diverse forested areas like Sieur de Monts Spring or the Wonderland Trail. See shorebirds along Ocean Drive, at Seawall, or at Schoodic Point. Check the skies along the shores of Acadia’s ponds or ocean to look for bald eagles, and look up from The Precipice parking lot to spot peregrine falcons defending the cliff. Look for otters and mink at the Tarn, or check out Great Meadow in the morning or evening to see white-tailed deer. Moose and bear are present on the Schoodic Peninsula, but are only infrequent visitors to Mount Desert Island. Other, more elusive species like bobcats and fishers live in the park, but are rarely seen. In general, learn the habitats and habits of the critters you’re looking for before you try to find them.
For a more hands-on experience, try heading over to College of the Atlantic’s Dorr Museum of Natural History, named after Acadia’s founder, George B. Dorr, and containing exhibits of Acadia’s fauna. Ranger-led touch tank programs introduce kids and adults alike to the wonders of the intertidal zone. Other ranger-led programs include Acadia’s Birds or In Search of Beavers, where you’ll get a chance to see and learn about some of the wildlife present in the park.

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Hiking Trails

The best trails in Acadia National Park
  • Champlain Mountain & Beehive Loop Trail. 546 reviews. …
  • Gorham Mountain Trail. 299 reviews. …
  • Precipice Trail. …
  • Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail Bar Harbor 3.6 mi away. …
  • Great Head Trail. …
  • Ocean Trail Bar Harbor 5.0 mi away. …
  • Bubble Rock. …
  • Flying Mountain Hiking Trail Southwest Harbor 2.9 mi away.

What are you waiting for?