This page contains a description of Mount Desert Island, the home of Acadia National Park and important scientific research institutions. The photograph below shows a relief map of Mount Desert Island that is on display in the Hulls Cove Visitor Center in Acadia National Park. First-time visitors to Mount Desert Island should visit this visitor center to obtain maps of Mount Desert Island, a pass to the park and familiarize themselves with the general layout of the island. Study the relief map. It will help with identifying the attractions on Mount Desert Island of greatest interest and help establish a sense of the relative locations of major landmarks.

Relief Map of Mount Desert Island

The area of Mount Desert Island, including other nearby islands, is essentially cut in half from east to west by a range of mountains called the Mount Desert Range. The higher mountains are in the east. Mount Desert Island and other islands in the vicinity were created by the formation of schist (deposits of volcanic mud called Ellsworth Schist) that was overlaid by ash and magma from volcanic activity starting about 500 million years ago. The volcanic activity and tectonic activity that folded and raised the area of the Mount Desert Range created a granite ridge and a land area that covered most of the current area including current bodies of water. The ice age produced glacial activity that ground down the ridge, often down to the Ellsworth Schist, and created most of the bodies of water that exist today. Some bodies of water, like beaver ponds and French Hill Pond, are the results of human or animal intervention.

The granite in this area is old. The Mount Desert Range is older than the Rocky Mountains in the western part of North America. As a result, the granite is fragile. Rocks regularly come loose and fall down mountains and hillsides onto roads. Parts of State Route 3 in Bar Harbor (Eden Street) are frequently strewn with rocks. Drivers need to be aware of this problem. Climbers in Acadia National Park need to be wary of loose rocks. However, the granite on Mount Desert Island is prized for its color and beauty. For many years, Mount Desert Island was the home to many quarries.1

Maine is one of the wettest states in the union and there is a great deal of water on Mount Desert Island. However, water is a resource easily spoiled. One of the objectives of this website is to make people aware of the need to protect this vital resource and how to do so. The combination of the mountains and bodies of water create an area of unique beauty. Some people consider Mount Desert Island to be the most beautiful island in the world.

Mount Desert Island has an area of 108 square miles (280 square kilometers). It is the sixth largest island in the United States and the second largest island on the east coast of the United States after Long Island, New York. There is some disagreement as to whether Martha's Vineyard Island in Massachusetts is actually bigger than Mount Desert Island making Mount Desert Island rank third but most authorities rank Mount Desert Island second. The highest point on the island is the summit of Cadillac Mountain at 1,530 feet (466 meters). The lowest point is at sea level.2

The first European to make a definitive record of Mount Desert Island was the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain. He noted in a journal, "This island is very high and cleft into seven or eight mountains. The summits of most of them are bare of trees, nothing but rock. I named it l'Isles des Monts Desert" (the Island of the Bare Mountains). Champlain discovered Mount Desert Island in 1604. By 1613, French Jesuit missionaries established a presence at what is now Fernald Point in the Town of Southwest Harbor. They were welcomed by Chief Asticou of the Abnaki tribe. However, the British spotted the new colony within a month of its establishment and ended the French settlement of Mount Desert Island. Massachusetts took control of what is now the State of Maine until the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that created the State of Maine. The economy of Mount Desert Island was based upon lumber, granite quarries and the sea. In the 1840s, the Hudson River School of painters discovered Mount Desert Island. Their work attracted the interest of wealthy patrons that soon flocked to Mount Desert Island in the summers. These "rusticators" built regal homes they called "cottages," beginning the golden age of the island. Acadia National Park was established by some of these wealthy summer residents like John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and George B. Dorr. The great forest fire of 1947 on Mount Desert Island destroyed many of these estates, part of Acadia National Park and ended the golden age. In the aftermath of the fire, a tourist industry was established that is currently the mainstay of the economy .3

The largest, single, year-round business on Mount Desert Island is the Jackson Laboratory, an important biological research facility employing over 1,200 people. The following photograph shows the Jackson Laboratory campus from Cadillac Mountain. Fishing, especially for lobsters, and boat building are other important enterprises. Mount Desert Island also hosts the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and the College of the Atlantic.

Jackson Laboratory from Cadillac Mountain

There are four towns on Mount Desert Island: Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont. A small parcel, part of Acadia National Park, on the northern extreme of Mount Desert Island just south of Thompson Island is actually a part of the Town of Trenton. Thompson Island, to the north of Mount Desert Island, is also in the Town of Trenton. Each town is divided into villages. The names of these villages, rather than the town names, are often used on signage. Bar Harbor has the villages of Eden (administrative center), Hulls Cove, Salisbury Cove and Town Hill. The villages of Mount Desert are Hall Quarry, Northeast Harbor (administrative center), Otter Creek, Pretty Marsh, Seal Harbor and Somesville. Southwest Harbor has only two villages in addition to the town administrative center: Manset and Seawall. The Town of Tremont has the villages of Bass Harbor, Bernard (administrative center), Gotts Island, Seal Cove and West Tremont.

Acadia National Park consists of over 47,000 acres (190 square kilometers) of which 30,300 acres (123 square kilometers) are on Mount Desert Island. The park occupies almost half of Mount Desert Island. Acadia National Park headquarters is on State Route 233 (Eagle Lake Road) in Bar Harbor.

The following photograph shows part of the the southern coast of Mount Desert Island from a boat in  Eastern Way. The Village of Seal Harbor is in the center. The mountains from left to right are: Norumbega, Sargent, The Bubbles, Pemetic and Cadillac.

Mount Desert Island at Sunset




     Chapman, Carleton A., The Geology of Acadia National Park, The Chatham Press, Inc., 1962.


    Various sources put Martha's Vineyard at from 90 to 100 square miles. Mount Desert Island is usually listed as more than 100 square miles.

3. Morrison, Samuel Eliot, The Story of Mount Desert Island, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1960.

    Collier, Sargent F., Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park - An Informal History, Downeast Books, Camden, Maine, 1978.



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