The five-mile-long body of water that divides the eastern and western halves of Mount Desert Island, like the town of Somesville at its northern end, is named for Abraham Somes, one of the first settlers on the island. Somes Sound drops to about 150 feet at its deepest point. The shallow entrance to the Sound, called ‘The Narrows,’ is only 30 feet deep; about 14,000 years ago, the southern edge of the glaciers that covered the land temporarily stalled across here, building up a large mound of gravel, sand, and mud called a moraine.
Tour guides and local chambers of commerce are fond of saying that Somes Sound is the only fjord in the eastern United States, which is (almost) true. For one thing, a section of the Hudson River in New York between Peekskill and Newburgh technically is also a fjord — that is, a long, narrow river valley carved by glaciers, which has been drowned by the sea. For another, geologists today feel that Somes Sound is not deep enough to exhibit the true attributes of a fjord (for example, it lacks anoxic sediments), and they consider it to be ‘fjord-like.’
The Maine Geological Survey webpage goes so far as to say that Somes Sound more resembles a fjard, “simply a glacially carved embayment that is drowned by the sea.”
To best see the sound by car, take Sargent Drive, a narrow winding road that heads north out of Northeast Harbor. From it, you look west across the water to the small community of Hall Quarry. To hike to Somes Sound, use the fire road that connects with Route 102 at the base of Acadia Mountain; it’s about a mile to where Man O’War Brook flows into the sound. The brook got its name in the 1700s when English and French warships would anchor there to take on fresh water.
FUN FACT: This area is considered a long shot for being the Vinland mentioned in Viking accounts from around 1000 A.D., vin possibly referring to ‘meadows,’ not grapes and wine. People have thought that Valley Cove, at the base of St. Sauveur Mountain, might be where Leif Ericsson’s brother Thorvald was taken by surprise and shot in the stomach with an arrow, fatally, by one of the natives that the Vikings called skraelings.