Viewed from a distance, Acadia National Park is a cluster of rounded, granite mountains rising up from the ocean. It looks as if it’s another world entirely – like Atlantis or Neverland. Yet, I assure you, it’s real.
For the past decade or so, I’ve been exploring the forests, mountains, lakes and beaches of Acadia National Park. With 150 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of historic carriage roads, it’s a big place to play. I discover something new every time I visit.
With so much to see and do in the park, it can be overwhelming for visitors. So, I thought I’d put together a list of five interesting things that you can see on most Acadia trails. Here goes!
The largest part of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, which is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. Other parts of Acadia can be found on smaller surrounding islands and one mainland portion on Schoodic Peninsula.
Let’s focus on the MDI part of the park. Much of it sits on pink granite bedrock called Cadillac Mountain Granite. Formed about 420 million years ago, the rock’s rosy hue is caused by high amounts of potassium feldspar, a mineral that’s commonly found in granite.
Cadillac Mountain Granite covers most of the eastern half of MDI, while Somesville Granite, which also has a pink tint to it, covers much of the northwestern side of the island.
Pink granite is so representative of Acadia that, on the park’s 100th anniversary in 2016, Willis’ Rock Shop in Bar Harbor crafted special pink granite jewelry to mark the milestone.
Pitch pines are spiky, squiggly evergreen trees that only grow in certain areas of Maine. Acadia is one of those places. In fact, you can find large stands of these trees throughout the park, especially on the mountains.
With the ability to grow in thin, poor soil, the pitch pine is a medium-sized tree, rarely growing above 80 feet tall. Its branches are often twisted or gnarled. Its bark is thick with big, irregular plates. Its cones are large and spiky. And its needles are long and stiff.
Pitch pine wood is coarse-grained and resinous. In fact, it’s a good source of turpentine, which explains its other common names: candlewood pine and torch pine.
In Maine, pitch pine woodlands have the state rating “S3,” which means they’re “at risk of extinction or elimination” due to a variety of factors. And according to the Maine Natural Areas Program, a number of rare moths lay their eggs on pitch pines. These moths include the oblique zale, southern pine sphinx and pine-devil moth.
Trails in Acadia are marked with three things: wooden signs; blue blazes, which are painted on trees and rocks; and rock piles, which are called cairns.
The cairns in Acadia are called “Bates cairns” because they have a specific design that was created by Waldron Bates, one of the park’s early trailbuilders. Bates, a lawyer and Harvard graduate from Boston, began exploring MDI in the 1880s and served as chairman of the Path Committee of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association from 1900 to 1909. Under his leadership, about 25 miles of trails were added to what is now Acadia.
Each Bates cairn features two rocks that serve as feet to a larger table-top rock; and on top of that is a small rock that points in the direction of the trail. These cairns are strategically placed to keep hikers on trail, so it’s important not to tamper with them.
When people think of Maine, they might also think of lobster, or moose, or blueberries. That’s because Maine is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world, according to an online fact sheet published by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
In Acadia, wild blueberries can be found along many trails. Just keep an eye out for dense bushes growing low to the ground. Wild low-bush blueberry plants have small, long, pointed leaves that can turn bright red in the fall. The berries, which are small and blue, ripen in July and August.
Acadia visitors are allowed to pick blueberries by hand, but are limited to half a dry gallon per day. If you do pick berries in the park, be sure to stay on trail and avoid trampling any plants, delicate mosses or lichens. Also, it’s important to properly identify any berry before picking and eating it.
Puffy masses of reindeer lichens grow along the trails of Acadia, covering the ground and adding pops of pale green to the landscape. Its name is a nod to the reindeer or caribou that like to eat it.
Sadly, caribou were hunted out of Maine by the early 1900s, and attempts to re-establish herds here have failed.
Several species of lichen fall under the category of reindeer lichen. One you’ll find in Acadia is called star-tipped reindeer lichen. It’s gray to pale green in color, and it grows in round masses. Despite its fluffy appearance, it’s actually quite rough and crunchy to the touch.
So there you are — five fascinating things you can find on most Acadia trails.
For those of you who love the park, I’m curious, what are some of your favorite natural and manmade features in Acadia? Is there a bird you always look out for, or a mushroom you always seek? What’s a staple of your Acadia experience?