How appropriate that Mount Desert Island, one of Maine’s most popular vacation destinations, has a passing resemblance to a lobster claw. For when you cross the bridge from Trenton on the mainland to tour the island you’ll be greeted by countless hard to resist invitations to a lobster feast, a perennial Maine favorite.
Encompassing 108 square miles the island is the third largest island in the continental U.S. Its dramatic beauty comes in large part from the seventeen mountains that rise from the sea and the shores of four lakes. There are countless smaller ponds and scenic spots and more than 120 miles of hiking trails and roads that meander throughout the island for touring by car, biking, hiking and skiing.
Somes Sound, the only natural fjord in the East, divides the island. By coincidence this division identifies both the geography and attitude of the island. The area west of Somes Sound, including Southwest Harbor and Tremont offers you a more sedate and secluded atmosphere. In contrast, the eastern side around Bar Harbor has more active tourist attractions.
You get a hint of the grandeur of the island’s imposing geography from the picture depicted by early inhabitants, the Abenaki Native Americans. They named the island Pemetic, which means “sloping land” and describes how the majestic mountains descend into the sea.
Early on, not everyone was impressed by the island. In 1604 French explorer Samuel de Champlain ran aground at Otter Point, near the tip of the “snapping” part of the lobster claw. He surveyed the bleakness where he landed and named the island “Isles des Monts Deserts.” This translates as “island of barren mountains.” While the name he chose lives on as Mount Desert Island, it falls far short of the picturesque vistas and splendor the island offers. Despite Champlain’s description millions of visitors each year have adopted the island as a vacation paradise.
The first European settlers found the island a rich source for fish, timber and agriculture. The island became a vital resource and the French and British battled to control the island for a century and a half. With the French defeat in Quebec in 1759 the Maine coast opened for the British to settle.
Mount Desert Island’s scenic reputation blossomed in the 1840s when artists from the Hudson River School popularized the area. Their idyllic depictions of the ocean, landscapes and mountain views in their paintings inspired journalists, sports figures and “rusticatiors” to adopt the island for their holiday get-away.