Rusticators. Summer people. These old-fashioned names for visitors to Maine's rugged Mount Desert Island date back to the 1850s when city folk first began their seasonal flight from places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia to enjoy the unspoiled setting that eventually would be called Acadia National Park.
It's no mystery why tourism got an early start here. Maine's rocky, sea-swept shoreline doesn't get any more picturesque, and the vistas from atop Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil, are unmatched. The island's granite peaks lift their barren, rounded summits above a canopy of fir trees, and tucked away within the forest are clear, shimmering lakes and ponds nestled like jewels in an emerald blanket.
Drawn to this landscape so rich in natural beauty, some of America's wealthiest families—Astor, Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt—built extravagant summer “cottages” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They explored the idyllic surroundings on horseback, in carriages or on foot, and when rampant development endangered their island refuge, they spearheaded efforts to preserve it for everyone.
Today, you don't have to be a Rockefeller to hike along the park's extensive network of trails or bike on its historic carriage roads or cruise among the scattering of wooded islands offshore. Many of the grand cottages, once the private domain of the super rich, still stand and welcome travelers as bed and breakfasts. Catering to visitors outside park boundaries are the charming seaside villages of Bass Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and the largest, Bar Harbor, with its tour boats, gift shops and restaurants serving a spectrum of cuisine, including the state's signature seafood: lobster.
Maine's early rusticators knew how to live simply; its visiting summer cottagers knew how to live well. Both groups chose Acadia for its beautiful scenery, relaxed atmosphere and broad array of outdoor activities, and thanks to previous generations of conservation-minded summer people, so can you.
Acadia National Park, ME
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