Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, at 1,530 feet (466 meters), is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. It is one of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island (MDI), Maine that were pushed up by earth's tectonic and volcanic forces millions of years ago. Were it not for the once enormous glaciers that sheared off their tops, they would be even higher than what we see today. You can easily see the results of this on a smaller scale by viewing the slopes on the Porcupine Islands in the distance. The North side is on the left and the steeper slope, or the down side, is on the right east side. The glaciers crept across the land here from the left to the right (in a southerly direction) and stretched out to sea as far as 400 miles (644 kilometers)!
Summit Road Entrance GPS: Latitude 44.368891; Longitude -68.238506
Cadillac Mountain is within the municipality of Bar Harbor, Maine, a popular coastal resort known for its unique blend of a Down East Maine fishing village combined with quiet community charm. The town's shopping district can easily be seen from the eastern side of the mountain and is particularly striking to view when there is a large cruise ship in the harbor. Cadillac Mountain is by far the most dominant land feature on MDI and for many miles along the Maine coast. As one would expect, most activities and businesses revolve around the ocean and the park itself. During normal season, there is a free shuttle bus service available that connects most important points on Mount Desert Island as well as to a few on the mainland. (View Cadillac Mountain from Lamoine State Park Beach on the mainland.)
The Summit Road
The scenic Summit Road officially opened in 1931. It meanders along the North and eastern side of the mountain for approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) until reaching the top. There are several small observation points along the roadway that offer prime viewing opportunities. Take advantage of them on the way up as well as on the way back down. It is easy to get caught up in the views while driving but be sure to remain attentive as much of the road is right beside steep cliff like areas. Exercise caution when getting in and out of your vehicle as this can be a well traveled road during the summer and autumn months.
To the East, one greets the sunrise over Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland. There are several islands in between and immediately off the coast from Mount Desert Island such as Sheep Porcupine and Bald Porcupine. To the Northeast is the business district of Bar Harbor. To the North is Trenton. To the South is Islesford. To the Southwest is Southwest Harbor which is particularly beautiful in the late evening as the lights come on. To the West is Eagle Lake, Blue Hill Mountain and, of course, the setting sun. And, all around you is pink granite with forests of spruce and pitch pine combined with tiny subalpine plants (such as cinquefoil), squat, gnarled trees, wild blueberries, and various sized boulders. What is there not to love here?
Shaped by Geological Forces
One of the most striking surface features you notice on Cadillac Mountain are the deep scratches or gouges in the bare granite that seem to follow north south directions. The reason is quite simple. This area has undergone millions of years of climate changes during which there were several enormous continental glaciers that squashed the land and sheered off mountaintops. The last glacier retreated about 18,000 years ago, was over 1 mile high, and reached as far as 400 miles out to sea. It was so powerful that it actually shifted the orientation of the mountains from east-west to north-south. Well before these events, 360 - 380 million years ago during a time referred to as the Devonian Period, volcanic forces were at play. The magma chamber of a volcano collapsed. What is now seen as the summit of Cadillac Mountain is actually one edge of the collapsed volcano.
The Evidence Remains
As difficult as it may be for some to imagine, the geological evidence is all around us. Simply take a long look at the map of Mount Desert Island. Note the elongated lakes and ponds, even the shape of Somes Sound. Look further at the shape of the out islands such as Sheep Porcupine to the left. One side has a gentle slope. The other has a steep slope with many deposits (referred to as a “Drumlin”). The land is like a book. One just has to learn the language in order to read it. Talk with some Park Rangers about the local geographical forces that shaped Cadillac Mountain and the rest of Mount Desert Island. The Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park is especially interesting for viewing the volcanic intrusions or magma flows along the coast.
General History - Name
Cadillac Mountain was named after the French explorer and adventurer, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac in 1918. Prior to this, it was known as Green Mountain. From about 1534 through 1763, a substantial part of the North American continent was colonized and under the control of France. During this time, it was known as “New France” and at its peak in 1712, extended all the way from Newfoundland to the Rocky Mountains to the West and the Gulf of Mexico to the South. In 1688, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Sieur de Cadillac was given ownership of over 100,000 acres of land along the present day Maine coast which included Mount Desert Island and areas next to present day Union River.
Green Mountain Cog Railway
People are usually surprised to learn that, starting in 1883, there was a slow cog railway excursion to the summit called the Green Mountain Cog Railway. This started at Eagle Lake on the western side of the mountain and made the 1.1 mile (1.77 km) climb all the way to the summit where the Green Mountain House Hotel was awaiting the arrival of visitors and overnight guests. It had two steam locomotives. The primary one was called “Mount Desert.” The second had no special name other than simply being referred to as locomotive “number 2.” Unfortunately, the seasonal railway had a relatively short run and operations were terminated in 1890. The equipment was then sold and shipped to Mount Washington Cog Railway of New Hampshire.
Gift Shop, Facilities & Parking
There is a small gift, snack, and information center with bathroom facilities at the top next to the eastern observation area called the Cadillac Summit Center. You will find it on the right just as you reach the summit. A large parking area with at least three entry points is to the left. Even so, there are some sunrises during peak season when this parking area is completely full so vehicles are parked for some distance on the sides of the summit roadway. Before arriving at the summit, there is also a western observation area with its own parking. During sunsets, this parking area can quickly get filled. In either parking areas, it is best to try and arrive early to be sure to get a parking spot. There are a variety of walking paths close by.
Some Interesting Stats & Facts
- Accessibility: A short trail is wheelchair accessible for views of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands. The seasonal Summit Center has a wheelchair accessible entrance, parking, and restrooms.
- The elevation is 1,530 feet (466.34m)
- Summit Road Entrance GPS: Latitude 44.368891; Longitude -68.238506
- Cadillac Mountain used to be called Green Mountain.
- In the late 1800's there was a hotel on the summit called Green Mountain House Hotel.
- Cadillac Mountain was named after the Frenchman, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac.
- Huge continental glaciers sheered off the tops of the mountains.
- The last glacial period impacting this area ended about 18,000 years ago.
- The published coordinates for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey benchmark are as follows:
- 44 degrees 21 minutes 04.53 seconds North (44 21 04.53 N)
- 68 degrees 13 minutes 37.542 seconds West (68 13 37.542 W)
- North American Datum of 1927 (NAD-27)
- 460 meters above sea level
Two Special Places
There are two special places that seem to feed our souls like nothing else can. One is the open sea. This has a unique calling that may span millions, or perhaps billions of years, and is something that is etched into the memory of our collective DNA, calling us as if to return home. It draws us towards it at every sound and motion of an incoming wave. The other is the view we experience from high on top of a mountain. It is as if we were lifted up to where we are able to see much further than ever before. The experience must be similar to the first time when our fathers or mothers lifted us up and placed us on their shoulders. It was thrilling, perhaps a bit terrifying at the same time. Will we fall? What can we see and learn from this new found height that we had not learned before from whence we came? On Cadillac Mountain, on the amazing coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island, we get to experience both amazing experiences in one place, at one time, in one unique and exceptional moment. We are both drawn closer, and lifted higher to a place where our minds and hearts join with each drawn breath, and each pause of silence. We must be still and empty ourselves of all but this.