Acadia National parkAcadia 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.
Things To Do
Acadia National Park has beautiful scenery, diverse wildlife, and numerous outdoor activities that you can take part in in order to enjoy the natural splendor.
No matter how you want to spend your trip to Acadia, there is something for everyone. Here are just a few of the activities you can take part in.
Biking is an easy and fun way to see the beautiful views of the park, and to get in some exercise on those steeper trails. There are many different options for biking in Acadia National Park. The Park Loop road is a great choice for those who like to bike earlier or later in the day. During the busy time, 10 am to 4 pm, the narrow winding road can get congested. However, the views offered by this road are absolutely spectacular.
The second choice for bikers is the carriage roads. These roads, spanning 45 miles throughout the park, were built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family. The roads were built with the intent to travel by horseback or carriage on moto-free highways. They were built over a number of years, from 1913 to 1940, and were well worth the effort. The roads traverse the beautiful landscape of the park, offering up close experiences of nature and beautiful scenic views. They were built to interfere with the natural splendor of the park as little as possible, to preserve the hillsides and the trees. They span 16 feet in width, and are made of broken stone, offering a trip into the past of the early 20th century.
Today, the carriage roads are used by pedestrians, bicyclists, and carriages. They are highly popular due to the lack of cars, and offer a safe experience for vulnerable bikers.
Acadia National Park has been referred to as the “warbler capital of the world”, so as you can imagine, this national park is a great spot for avid bird watchers. There are over 20 species of warbler that breed in the park bounds, and 308 species of bird encounter in the park or in the close surrounding areas. Birdwatching played a crucial role in the history of Acadia, being one of the key components in the natural exploration of Mount Desert Island. James Bond, who was an ornithologist in the early 20th century, credited the island as the place that inspired him to pursue a career in ornithology as a child. Robert MacArthur, who was a prominent ecologist, conducted ornithological research on the island. He is well known for his research into the environmental niche theory.
If you are interested in ornithology, or just like seeing and hearing different species of birds, Acadia offers amazing bird watching opportunities. This experience is a great way to spend some time in the outdoors, stretch your legs, and connect with the history of the park.
Ever spend a night staring up at the sky, wondering about human existence? Well, you aren’t alone! The night sky has been an object of fascination throughout our history. People connect it to the spiritual, use it as a mode of navigation, and paint stories in the patterns we spot among the stars. Acadia has incredibly clear night skies, making it the perfect location for stargazing enthusiasts. There are a few different places that we recommend stargazing within the park. Seawall has a beautiful ocean view, so you can hear the sound of the waves while you stargaze. Cadillac Mountain is another favorite. It is the highest viewpoint in the park, so it’s as close to the stars as you can get!
Acadia National Park is one of the few located along a coastal area. This means that at Acadia, you have a unique opportunity to interact with marine life! Tidepools are a great, family friendly way to get a glimpse at some of the different species in the area. The tidepools become exposed at low tide, and the best time to view them is 1.5 hours before to 1.5 hours after low tide. There are many species of marine animals and algae that live in the tidepools- see how many you can spot! The tidepools of Acadia are protected resources, and allow a unique glimpse into the sea.
Boating is another largely popular activity in Acadia National Park. You can boat in a number of lakes and ponds on Mount Desert Island, so long as you have a permit. There are different watercraft restrictions for each lake or pond, so be sure you look up your destination before you go. All towns on the island have launching areas for saltwater craft. There are different boats available for rent in the surrounding communities, including canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and motorboats. If you don’t want to operate your own boat, there are many commercial vessels in the area, so you can take a ferry ride, go fishing, or go on a whale watching expedition.
Out of all of the types of boating you can do in the park, ocean kayaking is one of the most popular- and most highly recommended! Ocean kayaking is an incredible experience, allowing you to get up close and personal with the marine environment. If you are a beginner, we recommend that you go with a more experienced kayaker, or join a guided tour in Frenchman Bay.
If you come to Acadia National Park in the summertime, you may want to take a dip in one of the bodies of water in the park. Luckily, you can do just that! There are three areas where you can swim in the park’s bounds. Echo Lake Beach is one of the two staffed by lifeguards during the summer. It is a freshwater swimming area on the southern end of the lake, and is very popular during the warmer months.
Sand Beach is, as the name suggests, the only sandy ocean beach in the park. It is located at the beginning of Park Loop Road’s coastal section. Be warned, it is one of the most heavily visited areas in the park, so you may want to plan for crowds during your visit. This beach is also staffed by lifeguards during the summer. Lake Wood is the last swimming spot in the park. It is a secluded pond with a small beach, so it is ideal for those who want a less crowded swimming experience.
Acadia’s diverse landscape and biome allows it to house a wide variety of animal species.
The park is home to 40 species of mammal, over 330 species of birds, 30 species of fish, 7 species of reptile, and 11 species of amphibians. There are new species being discovered constantly, with an unknown number of invertebrate species found in the park. Here are just a few of the different animals you might spot in Acadia.
Peregrine falcons are one of the most notable of the many bird species Acadia. They are prey birds, feeding mainly on smaller birds. Their hunting hours are at dawn and dusk, and they tend to prefer open areas like shores, marshes, or valleys for their hunting grounds. If you hear a sharp, aggressive bird call around those hours, chances are it could be a peregrine falcon going after its prey. They strike in midair, knocking their prey to the ground before diving after it. They typically nest on cliffs, but have been known to nest under suspension bridges and on top of tall city buildings. They do not build nests, but scrapes, which are depressions scratched into sand or gravel where they lay their eggs.
In the mid 1960s, peregrine falcons were no longer a breeding species in the eastern United States. A variety of factors contributed to this, including nest robbing, trapping, and shooting of these birds. Ingestion of chemical pesticides were also a contributor, either direct injection or ingestion of prey that had been exposed to the chemicals. Acadia National Park began a cooperative management plan to restore the peregrine falcon population in the eastern United States in 1973. This program was known as the Eastern Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction Program, and its goal was to restore the population to half of the population in the 1940s, which was estimated at 350 pairs. The program reached high success, and aided in removing the peregrine falcons from the endangered species list in 1999.
Peregrine Falcons have been present on Mount Desert Island since 1936, and the last nesting pair was recorded in 1956. 22 falcon chicks hatched successfully from 1984-1986 on a high cliff face near Jordan Pond. This was discontinued when adult falcons began returning to Acadia in 1987. The first successful nesting pair in 35 years nested in 1991, marking a historic moment for the species. Since then, over 160 chicks have hatched successfully in the park!
The peregrine population is still monitored closely, especially in the early spring when they nest. If mating or nesting behavior is observed, some trails in the park may be closed to prevent disturbance to the species.
The lakes and ponds in Acadia are home to loons, one of the most common water birds that you can spot in the area. Loons are such a part of the landscape that they represent it. Despite being common, they are still a lovely sight to see. They have a very striking appearance and expressive calls. Loons are primarily water birds, and prefer lakes and large ponds for their habitat. They need clean water in order to see and hunt their prey. They do so by diving entirely underwater, causing them to vanish from the surface. They prefer coves and secluded areas to hide from predators, and choose large bodies of water so they can take flight in case of a threat. They are heavier than most water birds, so it takes them some time to take off! When they do get going, they can reach speeds of 70 mph. During the winter, they move to coasts, but stay close to the shores.
Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they also eat snails, insects, and crustaceans, especially if the water is murky and it is difficult to catch fish. They have sharp bills that help them catch fish, and they usually consume them while still underwater. They are very agile divers and swimmers, due to their more solid bones. While that may make it more difficult for them to fly, it makes them perfect divers. Before they dive, they compress their feathers and exhale, which increases their blood oxygen. They also have powerful, long necks that help them maneuver in the water.
There are two species of turtle in the park that you might spot, the common snapping turtle and the eastern painted turtle. The common snapping turtle, while it might sound scary, is actually quite docile! They may be more aggressive on land, since they are more vulnerable, but when they are in the water they are at home and calm. Keep your fingers to yourself and treat them with respect, and you will be just fine. The eastern painted turtle is known for their red undersides. They can often be spotted sunning themselves, usually on rocks or logs near lakes. Be careful of them when crossing the road, especially in the warmer months- they are slow and in danger during this time.
Frogs are another animal that you will likely come across in the park, particularly in the wetlands and the ponds. There are six species of frog within the park. The most common are the American bullfrog and the green frog. You can often spot their tadpoles in the lakes and ponds. A notable species is the Gray tree frog. They are arboreal frogs, which means that the adults live in trees. They are able to change their skin color to match the tree trunk where they live! The other species in the park are pickerel frogs, spring peepers, and wood frogs, and you can find all of these species in the wetlands.
Walking along the coast, you may spot some bobbing heads in the water. These often belong to seals! They are common along the shores of main. The most likely species that you will spot are the gray and harbor seals. Harbor seals can be identified by their dog shaped head and v-shaped nostrils. Gray seals, on the other hand, have horse-like heads with parallel nostrils. They are very curious creatures. You can find them out of the water, observing the going-ons around them. Seal pups are often seen after the breeding season. Females will leave them on shore alone to feed. If you see one, do not be alarmed! This is a normal occurrence, and the mother will be back soon to care for the pup.
There are a lot of insects in the park, so many that we don’t have an exact number of species. One of the more spectacular ones are dragonflies. They are easily recognizable, with large wings and bodies, and a hovering flight pattern. They start their lives as aquatic insects, crawling out of the water when it is time for them to exit the larval stage. They fly up and down in a helicopter like pattern, and play a unique role in the ecosystem They control the mosquito population, which is their main food source.
North American Beaver
Beavers, rather than simply settling in a habitat, will alter their surroundings to meet their own needs. They will dam rivers and streams with incredible feats of constructions in order to create ponds to raise their young, and build their lodges. These lodges are made of sticks and mud, and have one underwater entrance to deter predators.
Beavers have a number of identifying characteristics, including large, orange teeth which allow them to cut down trees, and scaly paddle shaped tails. These tails act as a rudder while swimming, a warning to intruders when slapped, fat storage, sweat glands, and a kick stand to prop themselves up. Adult beavers weigh on average between 35 and 55 pounds.
Bats have a bit of a spooky reputation, due to the mythology surrounding them and the fact that they are most active at night. However, bats are essential to the ecosystem, and are fascinating to observe! During the night, the bats in Acadia are busy feeding on insects, helping to control the insect population in the park. There are eight bat species within the park, including little brown bats and eastern small footed bats, which are two of the more common.
Like the wildlife in the park, Acadia is home to a diverse plant community.
There are over 1,100 plant species within the park. There are multiple fascinating and unique plant communities in the park, ranging from wetlands to hardwood forests to coastline communities. Here are a few of the communities and species that you may come across.
There are both freshwater and saltwater plant communities within the park. Freshwater plants are found within the lakes, ponds, and streams of the park. Aquatic vegetation is essential to life within the waters. There are floating plants, rooted plants, and many others. They primarily grow in an area called the littoral zone, which is a shallow area near the shore, due to the sunlight that is able to make its way through the water.
The lakes and ponds have areas known as open-water marshes. In these areas, pondweeds and water lilies are some of the most common plants in these areas, and you can spot them in nearly any freshwater plant community. Rushes and sedges line the shores of the water bodies. Even carnivorous plants can be found in these communities- mainly bladderworts. Acadia is home to several endangered, threatened or rare aquatic plant species. One of these is prototype quillwort, which is endemic to the northwest, and can only be found in the lakes of Maine.
Aquatic plants are highly sensitive to changes in water quality and invasive species. The National Park Service works hard to record and control water quality, to make sure these plants have the best environment possible.
Carnivorous plants are a source of fascination in the plant community. There are a few different species of carnivorous plants in the park. One of these is the sundew. This plant is covered in short hairs that it coats in a sticky substance, which attracts and traps its insect prey. They get caught in the hairs, and from there are consumed by the plant. Carnivorous plants often have digestive enzymes, allowing them to break down their prey.
A second carnivorous species in the park is the pitcher plant. Pitcher plants are known for their tall, red-purple blossoms. They are found in boggy areas during the spring. The pitcher shape of the plant collects rain, which attracts insects. When they get into the water, the pitcher plant has downward pointing, stiff hairs which effectively trap the insects. When they fall to the base, digestive enzymes break them down. You can mainly spot these in the wetlands, so keep your eyes peeled for these plants!
The wetlands are one of the most significant plant communities found in Acadia, with over 20% of the park classified as wetlands. Wetlands is a blanket term, which encompasses swamps, marshes, and bogs, all of which are found in Acadia. They are so common due to the coastal location and the many ponds and lakes in the park, as they transition between aquatic and terrestrial environments. The wetlands of the park help maintain biodiversity in the area. They provide a habitat for a wide range of species. Wildlife use wetlands for nesting, wintering, and migration purposes. Over half of Maine’s rare plants are found in the wetlands.
Mountain summits and rocky outcrops in the park house fragile plant communities. In these areas, spruce-fir forests are often stunted, and shrubs are more common. Some of these shrubs are mountain cranberries, blueberries, mountain holly, and rhodora. Herbs are also common, like three toothed cinquefoil, as well as lichen and mosses. Protection of these species within the park is challenging. Cadillac Mountain is a particular challenge due to its popularity in the summer months. The visitation can cause loss of soil and vegetation.
Wildflowers are a common, but beautiful, sight in Acadia. You can mainly spot them in wooded areas. There are many species of native woodland flowers, including the wild lily of the valley, bunchberry, goldthread, blue bead lily, and starflower, and asters. August and September have beautiful blooms of these flowers, so you are in for a treat if you stop by during these months.
From the first inhabitants, to the first explorer, to the establishment of Acadia National Park, the history of Mount Desert Island and the surrounding area is rich and fascinating.
Here is a brief overview of the history of the park, and some of the most influential people and moments in its establishment.
Mount Desert Island and the surrounding areas have been inhabited for at least 12,000 years. The first inhabitants, as far as historians can tell, were the people of the Wabanaki Confederacy, also called the People of the Dawnland. This confederacy was made up of five Algonquian Nations- the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot people. Mount Desert Island was called “Pemetic” by some of the nations, which means “range of mountains”. The island itself is the center of the Wabanaki traditional ancestral homeland. Acadia National Park gets its name from the Mi’kmaq name “akadie”, translated into English as Acadia.
The Wabanaki people used the island for hunting, fishing, gathering, and clam harvesting, as well as basket making. It was also a trade post with the other Wabanaki nations. They often camped near places like Somes Sound, and traveled to the island in birch bark canoes.
The Wabanaki homelands were split by the border between the United States and Canada after the American revolution, and the confederacy dissolved around 1870 after pressure from both the American and Canadian governments. During the 19th century, the Wabanaki people sold ash and birch bark baskets to travelers, and performed traditional dances for summer tourists. Some Wabanaki also offered guided canoe trips around Frenchman Bay and the Cranberry Islands.
From 1970 to 1971, the Wabanaki nations operated an educational center called T.R.I.B.E., or Teaching and Research in Bicultural Education, on the west side of Eagle Lake. The annual Bar Harbor Native American Festival began in 1989, which was sponsored by the tribes and the Abbe Museum. In 1993, the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance was formed, which assisted in the coordination of the festival.
Today, there is a reservation and government headquarters for each tribe located in their territories. There are some Wabanaki living on Mount Desert Island, and others travel to visit for board meetings held at the Abbe museum. The annual festival is ongoing.
The first recorded exploration of Mount Desert Island comes from Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524. He sailed along the coast on an expedition for the French Crown. The next comes from Estevao Gomes, who was a Portuguese explorer for the Spanish crown, who arrived in 1525. After this, there was a break in exploration until 1542, when French explorer Jean Alfonse. He explored Penobscot Bay to examine the fur trade.
In 1604, Samuel de Champlain arrived on Mount Desert Island. He was led by two Wabanakis to the island, which he named Isle des Monts Deserts.
The first settlement of Mount Desert Island was a French missionary colony in 1613. The existence of this colony was short, destroyed by an armed vessel from the Colony of Virginia. England gained control of the island in 1713. The island became a tourist destination for summer visitors in 1855, with a steamboat service being established in 1868. In 1888, the Green Mountain Cog Railway was built, going from Eagle Lake to the Summit of Mount Cadillac.
Acadia National Park owes its origins to Charles Eliot, a landscape architect who came up with the idea for the park. George B. Dorr and his father supported the idea, donating land and participating in advocacy for the idea. George B. Dorr is known as the “Father of Acadia National Park”. Dorr would go on to become the park’s first superintendent. On July 8, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established the area as a national monument. Acadia holds a special place in national parks history, as the first national park to be created from private lands gifted to the public.
The national monument was redesignated by Congress as Lafayette national Park on February 26, 1919. This marked the first national park east of the Mississippi River. The name came from Marquis de Lafayette, an influential French participant in the American Revolution. The name of the park was changed to Acadia National park on January 19, 1929.
The Jordan Pond Road construction began in 1922, and was completed as a scenic highway in 1927. One of the most influential projects in the park was the carriage roads. The roads were constructed from 1915 to 1940 by John D. Rockefeller, who financed and directed the entire project. After their construction, there were 57 miles of carriage roads, with 17 bridges. Today, there are 45 miles of road maintained for public use. The roads are open to the public from the end of spring (late April) until the following spring thaw.
Arthur Stupka, Acadia National Park’s first naturalist, was the first NPS naturalist to serve in any of the eastern United States districts. He joined the staff in 1932, and is well known for writing a four volume series, Nature Notes from Acadia.
How Acadia National Park Was Formed
Acadia National Park has a unique geological history, spanning millions of years.
From the oldest rocks on Mount Desert Island to the continuing erosion occurring within the park today, the formation of Acadia and the surrounding areas tells a long story. The geological features of the park, including the island itself, the shoreline, and the mountains that give the park its name, are all developed by the geological formation of the park. Here is a brief overview of the processes that formed the beautiful area known as Acadia National Park.
The story of Acadia begins over 500 million years ago. Mud, sand, and volcanic ash were deposited into an early ocean, buried, and eventually turned into rock. This rock would eventually become the Ellsworth Schist, which is a metamorphic rock that can be recognized by thin, contorted bands of white and grey quartz and green chlorite. This is the oldest rock in the Mount Desert Island area.
Erosion and tectonic shifting brought the Ellsworth Schist to the surface. 450 million years ago, a mini continent, Avalonia, collided with North America, which caused sand and silt to accumulate on the schist. This collection became the Bar Harbor formation, a layered sequence of sandstone and siltstone.
One of the most informative features on Mount Desert Island is the granite. The granites of this area are about 420 million years old, and can be identified by the size of individual mineral grains. The Cadillac Mountain Granite is the largest granite body on the island, and is one of the oldest formations in the area. The granite came up through existing rocks, melting some of the bedrock by causing chunks to fall into the magma body below it. Some of the bedrock remained crystallized in the magma. This region can be seen today, and is known as the shatter zone. It is visible on the eastern side of the Cadillac Mountain Granite.
Volcanic activity also played a large role in the formation of the area. Volcanic activities injected a diabase, which is a black igneous rock, into the granite. These are called dikes, and are visible along the road to Cadillac Mountain or on the Schoodic Peninsula.
A gap in the story
The next several hundred million years are essentially unaccounted for in the visible history of the geological features in the area. Geologists do know that erosion was involved, wearing away the rocks that covered the granite bodies and bringing them to the surface. Eventually, the island became inhabitable for plant and animal life.
The evidence suggests that glaciers flowed across North America during the last two to three million years. Glaciers are unique in that they wipe away evidence of previous glaciers if they cross the same area, so scientists only have the records of the most recent glacier to cross. The glaciers were involved in the erosion of the mountains and in the formation of the u-shaped valleys. This event was known as the Wisconsin Glaciation, and is thought to have occurred around 18,000 years ago.
The climate warmed, causing ice to melt and the southern edge of the glacier to recede. This caused deposits of material carried by the glacier to find their way to Mount Desert Island, accumulating rock, gravel, and sand. The ice even carried boulders up to 20 miles.
The weight of the glaciers caused the land to sink. The melting of the ice was therefore accompanied by the sea taking its place. Ocean waters covered the lowlands and created the islands that we see in the area today. As the ice continued to melt, the land rose up again, creating lakes in the valleys dammed by the glacial debris. 9,000 years ago, the area was inhabitable by humans.
Geological change and formation is an ongoing process. One example of this is the weathering of the granite ridges in the park. There are large joints, seen as fractures, in the rock, which expand when filled with water. The rock eventually breaks away from the cliff, and leaves behind bright pink scars.
The coast is constantly experiencing changes as well. The tides and waves shape the shoreline .
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.
See original article here: https://www.nps.gov/acad/learn/nature/animals.htm
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