An amazing system of 45 miles of scenic carriage roads – closed to vehicular traffic, but wide open to walkers, bicyclists, and equestrians – winds through the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park. An additional 12 miles of private carriage roads outside of the park boundary in the Seal Harbor area are also accessible to the public for hiking and horseback riding, but are closed to bicycles. In winter, the carriages roads are popular with cross-country skiers.
The construction of this elaborate system of carriage roads on Mount Desert Island was financed and closely supervised by John D. Rockefeller and his family from 1913 until their completion 27 years later in 1940. These 16-foot wide, fine gravel-surfaced roads are an excellent example of the broken-stone roads commonly used in the United States around the turn of the 20th century.
The carriage roads are somewhat of an engineering marvel that required an enormous amount of hand labor to build. Large blocks of local granite, known as coping stones, line the roads and serve as guardrails. Elaborate cedar signposts at intersections direct carriage road users. Impressive gate lodges near Jordan Pond and Northeast Harbor welcome visitors in grand style.
Seventeen stone bridges, each unique in style and design, are constructed of native granite facing over steel-reinforced concrete. These lovely bridges span the many streams, waterfalls, roads, and cliffsides along the route of the carriage roads.
Visitors can access the carriage road system at many points within Acadia National Park. The park brochure entitled Carriage Road User’s Map, available at many park facilities, is particularly helpful in planning your outing, whether on foot or by bicycle. Bicycles can be rented in Bar Harbor, and bicyclists can use the Bicycle Express, a service of the Island Explorer shuttle bus, to easily access the carriage roads at Eagle Lake.
Tour the carriage road system by private horse-drawn carriage for a unique experience set to the sound of clapping hooves. A number of tours, some narrated, are possible, including a circuit around Day Mountain or climb over its summit, a visit to many of the Rockefeller Bridges, and ride to the Jordan Pond House for tea and popovers.
A variety of carriage road loop trips are popular with hikers and bicyclists, allowing for leisurely strolls and rides of a few hours to a full day. The six-mile loop around spectacular Eagle Lake is one of the most popular carriage road treks in the park. The nearby Aunt Betty Loop crosses the bubbling streams of the Seven Bridges area before swinging by quiet Aunt Betty Pond. The Day Mountain Loop circles the mountain before heading to its top and great views of the Cranberry Isles and Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor. The Amphitheatre Loop ventures into the heart of the park between the slopes Cedar Swamp and Penobscot mountains, crossing the Little Harbor Brook Bridge and Amphitheatre Bridge along the way. Numerous other carriage road walks and rides are possible. Hikers can combine a walk on the carriage roads with intersecting hiking trails for longer treks.