Acadia National Park & Bar Harbor

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is the largest island off the coast of Maine and widely known as the home of Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor. If we viewed the island from the air (a look at the Acadia map will do), we would notice north and south aligned gouges scooped out of the land as if by a very large hand. Indeed! In this case, the hand was that of a huge, slow moving, continental glacier over a mile high,... almost 2 miles thick in some places. When this giant glacier finally melted and retreated, it left rounded and bare mountain tops, elongated ponds and lakes, many boulders, and the seven mile long Somes Sound. (Once designated as a fjord, it is now, more accurately, called a fjard.)

A view from Cadillac MountainA good place to see the impact that these enormous glaciers had on the land is with the distinctive shape of Sheep Porcupine Island, located offshore to the northeast. Elsewhere on Mount Desert Island is the massive Cadillac Mountain. Even after being sheared off by the glaciers, it remains the highest point along the North Atlantic Seaboard at 1,530 feet (466.34m) above sea level and provides spectacular panoramic views of the land, ocean, and communities far below.

Southwest Harbor and MansetTo the original coastal Abnaki Indians, Mount Desert Island was known as “Pemetic” (the sloping land). Historical accounts said that the Abnaki's permanent villages were located on the mainland and that they regularly fished and gathered shellfish from MDI in the warmer months. However, recent Archeological evidence supports just the opposite scenario. The more temperate coastal weather kept them in places like Mount Desert Island during winter months. In the spring, they ventured further inland to hunt and fish for the salmon in the rivers that were returning to spawn. (See Abbe Museum for this history.) The island got its current name from the French explorer Champlain who's ship ran aground here in 1604 AD. (Refer to the story about the “Spindle” on the Otter Cliff page.) Champlain was so struck by the appearance of the mountains on the island that he named it "Isle des Monts Desert," or "Island of barren Mountains." Today, MDI is best known as the home of Acadia National Park, where land and sea, mountains and shore, meet in a natural and spectacular setting.

Towns & Villages on Mount Desert Island

This shows some of the mountains on MDI as seen from the mainland in Sullivan.There are many people who are surprised to hear that there are actually only four official townships on the island. They are Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont. Bar Harbor encompasses the sections of Eden (once the original name for Bar Harbor), Hulls Cove, Salisbury Cove and Town Hill. Mount Desert, although having no official town “center,” consists of Hall Quarry, Northeast Harbor, Otter Creek, Seal Harbor and Somesville. With Southwest Harbor comes Manset and Seawall. Bass Harbor, Bernard, Seal Cove, and West Tremont are part of the town of Tremont. To view a list of the various towns and villages, including those near Schoodic Peninsula, click on Towns & Villages of Acadia.

Some Famous Residents - Past & Present

  • David Rockefeller, Ford Family
  • Cap Weinberger
  • Martha Stewart
  • Actors Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, John Travolta, etc

Some Interesting Stats & Facts

  • At 108 square miles (280 km2), it is Maine's largest island, and 2nd largest on US Eastern Seaboard.
  • As mentioned above in detail, MDI has 4 municipalities and multiple villages.
  • Although, the island's year-round population is about 10,000, 2-2.5 million tourists visit each year.
  • The last glacial period impacting this area ended about 18,000 years ago.
  • Large glaciers moved across the land at a snails pace of only a few yards per year.
  • Metamorphic, sedimentary, and igneous rocks can all be found on MDI.
  • Local mountains had an east-west orientation prior to the last glacial period. It changed to north-south.
  • Pronounce “Desert” like “Dessert” since it is of French origin.
  • There is only one road on and off the island and it crosses over the much smaller Thompson Island.
  • Native Americans lived, fished and camped here beginning over 5,000 years ago.

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© 2001 - 2014 Greg A. Hartford,
Photography of Maine & Acadia National Park
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