Starting in 1913, the Rockefeller family began building a network of “carriage roads” on Mount Desert to provide automobile-free pathways for horses and carriages. Ah, such foresight… Now, nearly a half-century later, those 45 miles of broken stone byways are treasured not only by horseback riders but by hikers and bicyclists seeking the simple pleasures of a summer day in Maine.
Those carriage paths really set the mood for Mount Desert and Acadia National Park, a small jewel in the national park system that encompasses much of the island. Along with another 100 or so miles of hiking trails that open to spectacular views of sea, outer islands, and woodlands, more ponds and lakes than beaches, and a shoreline best explored by kayak (Frenchman Bay is a favorite), this is an island where nature, Downeast-style, is the main summer attraction. (In winter, snowshoes and cross-country skis are the favored means of transportation on those carriage paths.)
Granted, Mount Desert can be crowded in peak season, but you can always find a quiet corner away from the throngs – and the island is also a gateway to a charm bracelet of smaller, less accessible Maine isles. And always remember that the tourist shops, restaurants, and galleries (along with museums and concerts) in the island’s main town, Bar Harbor, can always ease the transition back to the real world.