Nature Unvarnished on Mound Desert Island
Mount Desert Island (from the French word meaning “bare,” and pronounced like the English word dessert) is Maine’s national treasure, a 12-by-14-mile domain of walks, sights, inns, and eating places that are as captivating today as when the Rockefellers, Astors, Fords, Vanderbilts, and their fellow “rusticators” founded a summer colony here in the early 20th century.
The families later bequeathed much of the island to the government, which in 1929 set aside 60 percent of it as Acadia National Park, throwing a few neighboring islands in for good measure to create a park that’s 35,000 total acres of craggy grandeur. It’s got extraordinary oceanside drives along surf-battered bluffs, off-island whale-watching, and lobster shacks that promise ambrosial sustenance-with-a-view.
The timeless serenity of the island is tested by the ever increasing number of visitors – its centerpiece draw, for instance, the swooping 20-mile Park Loop Road, attracts big crowds (and for good reason) – but motorized tourism is nothing new. In 1917, when John D. Rockefeller Jr. became unhappy with the arrival of the noisy automobile on the island, he began work on the 57-mile network of graceful, bridge-linked carriage roads that are today some of the nation’s loveliest car-free walking and bicyling roads.
They become a splendid network of cross-country ski trails off-season. All across the island, about 120 total miles of hiking trails offer great views and high drama, at the expense of only moderate effort. Most people, however, will need a car to observe the park tradition of watching sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet the highest peak on the U.S. Atlantic coast, the spot where America catches its first rays of the morning sun.
Plan to arrive at Jordan Pond House on the Park Loop Road in time for late afternoon tea and popovers on the restaurant’s front lawn, another island tradition dating back more than 100 years. Rusticate overnight at the island’s Claremont Hotel and Cottages, sitting grandly on 6 shorefront acres since 1869.
Rock away on the hotel porch with poetry-inspiring views of the Somes Sound, guarded on both sides by Acadia’s mountains. The same idyllic view is enjoyed by window-front tables in the dining room, where a hearty breakfast stokes early risers for that trip up Cadillac Mountain.