Regardless of the time of year, a Cadillac Mountain sunrise in Acadia National Park can be an amazing experience. It’s no wonder why it’s one of the most popular activities in Acadia National Park.
At 1,530 feet, the peak of Cadillac Mountain rises above all other mountains on Mount Desert Island. Although Cadillac Mountain’s elevation is hardly notable when compared to other peaks in New England, the summit is the highest point along the Eastern Seaboard; and, between October and early March, the earliest sunrise in the continental United States can be seen from Cadillac Mountain’s summit.
There’s nothing like watching the sky and clouds turn amazing colors at first light. If watching a sunrise is on your vacation bucket list, consider these Cadillac Mountain sunrise tips when planning your early morning adventure.
CADILLAC MOUNTAIN SUNRISE TIME AND WEATHER
Check the Cadillac Mountain sunrise time before planning your trip to the summit. Sunrise occurs anytime between 4:48 AM and 7:08 AM. Sunrise is at its earliest during the months of June and July when visits to the summit are especially popular. Be prepared to wake up early! (Sunrise during our October visit was at 6:30 AM.)
Check the Cadillac Mountain weather forecast. Ideally, you want a clear or partly cloudy day. It is hard to predict what the weather will be like at the summit; but, if the weather forecast is for rain or overcast skies, there won’t be much to see. If there is fog on the mountain, your best bet is to head to a lower elevation to try to catch a sunrise in Acadia National Park below the clouds.
PLANNING FOR DEPARTURE TIME
Depending on where you are staying, make sure to allow plenty of time for travel, parking and getting settled at the summit. If you stay in Bar Harbor, plan to leave at least an hour before sunrise. Sunrise time charts give the time that the sun will crest the horizon. You will want to be settled 20-30 minutes before official sunrise. We found the sky to be the most dramatic 5-10 minutes before the sun even appeared.
If you are visiting during peak season, check at the Visitor Center the day before to see if they will be limiting the number of cars able to drive to the summit. If so, you’ll need to leave earlier. Due to illegal parking along the side of the road and traffic congestion, the Park Service has started closing the road when parking is full. Visitors may soon need to make reservations to drive up Cadillac Mountain under a plan to reduce traffic congestion during peak tourism season (possibly by the summer of 2020). It’s best to check on the current situation before any visit.
Make sure to set at least a couple alarms. You don’t want to miss it because you accidentally set your iPhone alarm for 4 PM instead of 4 AM!
WHAT TO PACK FOR A CADILLAC MOUNTAIN SUNRISE
- Vehicle Pass or America the Beautiful Pass. The entrance stations aren’t staffed until later in the morning, so be sure to purchase one ahead of time.
Breakfast snack and a thermos of coffee or tea.
- Warm clothes. It’s typically cold and sometimes windy on the top of a mountain in the early morning hours, even in the summer. Dress warm and bring extra layers. Hat and gloves may come in handy on a chilly day!
- Blanket or something to sit on while you wait. Summit rock is cold!
- Camera. Make sure to bring a camera with a fully charged battery. Batteries tend to drain faster in the cold.
Pack what you can the night before, so you just need to get dressed, make coffee and grab your camera in the morning.
CADILLAC MOUNTAIN SUNRISE DRIVE AND PARKING
Cadillac Mountain Parking Area map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Although there are other ways to reach the summit, most visitors use the easiest route and drive up Cadillac Summit Road, a winding, narrow 3.5-mile road. Gates to the park are open 24 hours a day, but Cadillac Summit Road is closed from December 1 through April 14, and whenever weather conditions require closure.
There is limited parking at the summit and parking spaces fill quickly, especially during summer and peak foliage (early to mid-October). There are two parking lots: the main lot and a lower lot for overflow parking. Even though we arrived over a half hour before sunrise, the main lot was already full. Although many others were already illegally parked along the side of the road, we parked in the overflow lot, just a short uphill walk to the summit.
***We were glad to have parked down the road in the lower lot. Cars were illegally parked all over the place and blocking traffic from the summit. We were able to escape the summit congestion while others were forced to sit and wait for the late arrivals to move their vehicles. Hopefully, plans to relieve congestion eliminate this chaos.
FINDING YOUR SUNRISE SPOT
Crowds of people tend to congregate around the summit marker to wait for the sun to rise. However, if you prefer a bit more space, like we do, hike around the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail or a short way down the Gorge Path until you find a quieter spot facing east.
We chose a spot with a nice view of Bar Harbor and pointed east towards Schoodic Peninsula to await the rising sun. It was a cold wait, but we got lucky and the sunrise was magnificent!
Not long after the sun appears, the crowds depart the summit and the mass exodus of cars begins. Instead of making a quick exit, try walking the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail until the crowds clear.
CADILLAC MOUNTAIN SUNRISE HIKE
If you prefer a sunrise hike up Cadillac Mountain, there are a few hiking trails that lead to the summit. The two most popular sunrise routes are the Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail and the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail.
The Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail is the shorter of the two and is one of the most popular hikes in Acadia National Park. This 4.4-mile with 1,118-foot elevation gain is fairly easy to follow with proper lighting (a good headlamp is a must for any sunrise hike!) and makes a steady ascent to the summit. Park at the North Ridge Cadillac Mountain parking area on Park Loop Road (.2 miles past the start of the one-way section). Hiking time will vary but allow 1-2 hours to reach the summit.
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail is considered the more interesting route to the summit, but the longer trail requires endurance and an earlier rise (7.1-mile strenuous hike with 1,350-feet elevation gain). The trail starts 100 feet south of the Blackwoods Campground entrance on Route 3. Hiking time will vary but allow 2+ hours to reach the summit.
Regardless of which route you choose, be prepared to start your hike when it is pitch black. A headlamp with extra batteries is the best choice to keep your hands free. Wear warm layers and carry extra insulation and a windbreak layer for the summit, plus snacks and water.
OTHER PLACES TO WATCH SUNRISE IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
If you would rather watch a beautiful sunrise from somewhere a little less busy, anywhere with clear southeastern exposure is likely to be good. Try experiencing a sunrise from along the Ocean Drive section of Park Loop Road. There are numerous places to park and it’s easy to get to first thing in the morning. Venture onto the rocks for an amazing view! Schooner Head Overlook is another great option for those preferring to watch sunrise from the warmth of their car. Shore Path in Bar Harbor provides easy access to sunrise for those staying in town. If you prefer to hike to a summit sunrise without all the crowds, Gorham Mountain is a great choice.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- We have quite a bit of information on Acadia, and one item that we highly recommend you download is our itinerary for Acadia National Park. Since there is not a good cell signal in the park, having a copy of this guide can help with your planning greatly. Be sure to also read our companion blog, What to See and Do in Acadia National Park.
- For our selection of a few of the best hikes in Acadia, our blog The Best Hikes in Acadia National Park is a great resource. We’ve created other blogs on our favorite hikes, including Hiking the Beehive Trail, Hiking the Bubbles Trail and the not-for-afraid-of-heights hike on the Precipice Trail.
- When you get back from your trip, shoot us a note and we’ll work with you to create a custom, vintage-style travel posters for you.