Acadia National Park - What to See and Do

Acadia National Park - What to See and Do

Located near Bar Harbor, Maine, Acadia National Park concentrates so much of what is good about the Maine coast in a small space.  This rugged coastal landscape is the only National Park in New England, making it a popular place for visitors up and down the eastern seaboard.  Though this park is remote-over 4.5 hours from Boston-its breathtaking scenery, diverse landscape, great hiking, biking and sightseeing pulls in over 3 million visitors annually.  If you are considering whether or not the trek to this amazing park is worth it, stop now, book a trip and be prepared to be amazed!

Here are some tips, which we hope will be useful if you are planning a trip to Acadia National Park.


Mount Desert Island is where the majority of Acadia National Park is contained.  The island is huge, covering over 108 square miles.  Most visitors to Acadia spend their time exploring the island, either visiting the town of Bar Harbor (located just north of the main entrance to the park), driving the scenic park loop road, cycling on the miles of carriage roads or visiting the quiet Southwest Harbor area.  Plan on spending at least a half day exploring this part of the park, or up to 3 days if you hike or bike extensively.

While visiting Mount Desert Island and Southwest Harbor, our favorite activities include:

  • Biking the carriage roads. Approximately 45 miles of carriage roads still exist, even though they were built between 1913 and 1940.  These crushed-stone roads are closed to cars and great for walking and biking.  As they are gravel, we recommend a hybrid or mountain bike to keep from getting flat tires, though this shouldn’t scare you away and make you think the roads are challenging.  There are hills, but for the most part they are gradual and very doable for families.  You can rent bikes in Bar Harbor from Acadia Bike and Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, both of which provide transportation from Bar Harbor to and from the Carriage Roads to help you get started.
Biking the Carriage Roads in Acadia National Park
Biking the Carriage Roads is a wonderful way to see the interior of the park, unreachable by car.
  • Driving the Park Loop Road. This is a must-do while at Acadia.  It will take you about 1 hour to make it through the road if you don’t stop, but it would be a shame not to stop for some of the viewpoints and hikes if you have the time.  You can find information on the road here.
Views from the park loop road
  • Cadillac Mountain. This site is known for being the first location in the United States to see the sunrise.  For those of you who want to get up early, you’re in for a treat (as long as the weather is clear).  For those of you who are late risers, you’ll love the views from the top of the mountain even after the sunrise, which you can see just by getting out of your car at the viewpoint.  If you do want to see the sunrise, we recommend arriving at the mountain at least one-hour ahead of sunrise for the full effect.  Also, be advised that just because it is early in the morning doesn’t mean you won’t have to navigate crowds.  Many people have seeing the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain on their bucket list!    To learn how to navigate the crowds for sunrise, check out our blog, a Guide to Cadillac Mountain Sunrises.
Views from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park
Cadillac Mountain is the first place to be able to see the sunrise in the United States.
  • Thunder Hole. The tide in this part of Maine is incredible, varying in depth by over 10 feet each day.  A great place to see this first hand is Thunder Hole.  Located on the Park Loop Road, Thunder Hole is an inlet where the rocky ledges amplify the crashing of the waves.  This is especially impressive as the tide comes in.  You may get wet when visiting, as water routinely crashes well over 20 feet into the sky.  To plan your timing, see the tidal charts here.
Spectators viewing Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park
Spectators looking down Thunder Hole (during slack tide)
  • Sand Beach. This popular beach spot can get crowded during the day (usually by 9:00 am in the summer), but it is a good place to stop and explore with the kids.  Don’t expect the water to be warm, though-the waters in this part of Maine are absolutely frigid most of the year.  If you’re brave, you’ll be able to enjoy a swim, but only briefly!
Sand Beach in Acadia National Park
Sand Beach can get busy, so go before 9:00 am to get a spot, or before 8:00 am to get shots like this!
  • Southwest and Bass Harbors. Southwest of the main part of Mount Desert Island are Bass Harbor and Southwest Harbor. This beautiful part of the island is a mix of National Park land and private land.  You’ll want to allow about 4 hours to explore this part of the park (including driving), but if you have kids and want to play in the tidepools, this could easily be extended to a full day.  The Bass Harbor Lighthouse is a great place to walk around and explore.  This part of the park is less crowded than the areas closer to Bar Harbor.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Bass Harbor Lighthouse
Exploring the tidepools in Southwest Harbor
The tidepools in Southwest Harbor provide a great place for exploring for kids (and adults!)
    • Jordan Pond House. The Jordan Pond House was built in the 1890’s (and rebuilt in 1982 after a fire a few years earlier).  Located near Jordan Pond, this place is known for its amazing popovers and tables on the lawn.  Stop in before 11:30 am for the shortest wait time or make a reservation by calling 207-276-3316.  Lunch and dinner are also served.
The Jordan Pond House lawn seating in Acadia National Park
Stop in at the Jordan Pond House for lunch or dinner, or especially their popovers.
  • Acadia is full of great hiking opportunities and Mount Desert Island is home to what most people consider to be the best hikes in the park.  We recommend the following (many more are covered in our Acadia National Park itinerary):
    • The Beehive Loop Trail is a moderately hard 1.3-mile hike that starts near Sand Beach. What makes this trail fun is the rock and ladder climbing as you head up to a phenomenal view of Frenchman Bay.  We covered the hike in detail in our blog on Hiking the Beehive Trail.
Hiking the Beehive Loop in Acadia National Park
A view of Sand Beach and the Atlantic as you hike up ladders and platforms on the Beehive Loop Trail
    • The Precipice Trail is a 2.5-mile challenging hike that also includes ladders during its steep climb. The trailhead is located near Sand Beach and has great views from the top.  To tell you how great a place it is, Peregrine Falcons nest here, which causes the trail to be closed from March 15 to August 15 most years.  This amazing hike is covered in our blog, Hiking the Precipice Trail.
Precipice Trail Hike
Hike where Peregrine Falcons nest on the Precipice Trail
    • The Wonderland Trail is located in Southwest Harbor on Seawall Road. This easy 1.4-mile hike starts off in the forest before opening up to the water.  During low tide, there are a ton of tidepools for the kids to explore.
    • The Schooner Head Trail follows the coastline along the Park Loop Road. This flat trail is 5.4-miles long, but you should feel free to walk even just part of it.




    While only five miles from Bar Harbor, the Schoodic Peninsula is about an hour away by car.  It can also be reached by a seasonal ferry from Bar Harbor.  Because of its secluded location, few visitors to Acadia ever decide to head over here, making it a quiet spot to just relax and enjoy the coastline.  Winter Harbor, a small town of only 515 people, is located just northwest of the park. 

    While you will not be overwhelmed with activities on the Schoodic Peninsula, there are a few things to do worth highlighting:

    • Bike rentals. Bike rentals are available in Winter Harbor, and the Loop Road provides a nice six-mile ride around the peninsula.
    • Driving the Loop Road. The Schoodic Loop Road is a one-way road that heads counter-clockwise around the peninsula.  This is a great way to see the islands at nice leisurely pace.  Take some time and get out at Schoodic Point or Blueberry Hill, both of which have great views of the ocean and coastline.
    Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park
    The rugged ocean landscape in Schoodic Peninsula
    • There are a couple of hikes on the peninsula:
      • The Anvil Trail is a moderately challenging 2.5-mile loop when combined with the Alder Trail and Schoodic Head trails. This trail includes great views of Schoodic Harbor and Mount Desert Island.
      • The East Trail is a short, 1-mile hike that heads down the east side of Schoodic Head. While the East Trail is good for families, the Anvil Trail provides more impressive views.


    Isle Au Haut is a 45-minute ferry ride from Stonington, Maine.  This place is remote.  The island is split between the National Park and a small fishing village, which is home to less than a hundred hearty inhabitants.  Around the island, there are plenty of hiking trails.  Mountain biking is also popular.

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    • By far, the most popular place to stay when visiting Acadia is in Bar Harbor, Maine. Plenty of hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts line the streets of this popular tourist town.  Bar Harbor is only about 5 minutes from the main entrance to the park.  Funny enough, many people spend the bulk of their time visiting the town and local eateries rather than exploring the park.  Traffic can be a challenge, so again, just be prepared.

    We stayed in the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel and loved it.  The rooms were great, the breakfasts were fantastic and the staff was extremely helpful.  However, what made this place especially outstanding was the location.  Taking a quick right out of the hotel leads to a back way into Acadia.  This allowed us to avoid the traffic in Bar Harbor both in the morning when we left and on the way home in the evening.  Highly recommended!

    • There are four campgrounds in Acadia National Park. One is in Duck Harbor (on Isle Au Haut), another is on the Schoodic Peninsula, on near Southwest Harbor and another near Little Hunters Beach.  Make sure you book reservations in advance!  There are many privately run campgrounds located within one-hour of the park as well.
    • For more details on car camping in Acadia and the surrounding area (and many other areas in the county), you can learn about it in the article the Best Car Camping Sites in the United States.

    Make sure you get reservations as far in advance as possible, as this area swells with visitors in the summer and lodging can be hard to come by if you wait until the last minute.  If you can’t find lodging, be persistent, as there are plenty of small, coastal towns in Maine that are within an hour from the park.  Rockland, Stonington and Camden are three of our favorites, though we aren’t alone in that assessment, as they can be crowded too!

    While you are in Bar Harbor, you’ll have to check out the local food.  Of course, lobster is a great choice!  Our favorite are lobster rolls-they are easier to eat than full lobsters and absolutely excellent!





    The closest airport to fly into for Acadia is Bar Harbor, Maine.  Cape Air, which codeshares with JetBlue, flies into the airport from Boston.  The airport is small and most airplanes flying into the town are small, so flying into Portland, Maine or Boston, Massachusetts are also good options.  The drive from Portland to Bar Harbor is wonderful, particularly if you drive along the coastal (but crowded) Route 1.  Make sure to stop off in Freeport along the way, which is home to L.L. Beans flagship store.  

    If you are coming up here from the south (which you likely are!), consider spending some time in Portland, ME.  For some ideas, see this article on How to Spend the Perfect Weekend in Portland, ME.

    To see how we recommend navigating from Boston to Acadia National Park, click here.  This includes driving along Route 1 in Maine, and one of our favorite towns, Camden, ME.

    Acadia is open year-round, with most of the visitors coming between June and October.  Fall comes early to Acadia and the colors are amazingly beautiful.  Many people consider fall to be the best time to visit Acadia National Park.

    Summertime temperatures creep up to 80 in the summer, but nights are comfortable, hovering around 60.  Fog is a regular visitor to Acadia, so be prepared to have a mix of amazing views mixed with clouds.  If you see a good photo, take it!  The weather changes quickly up here and you’ll have to enjoy it when you can.

    When in Acadia National Park, it can get crowded.  The Island Explorer is a great option for transportation around Mount Desert Island.  This includes both inside the park (such as trailheads) but also around the island (including campgrounds and the town of Bar Harbor).  The Island Explorer is available from late June to early October.

    If you are planning on enjoying the water or boating, be sure to check out the tidal charts and weather information on Bar Harbor from US Harbors.

    A typical view in the fog in Acadia National Park

    A typical foggy view in Acadia National Park



    Crowded parking in Acadia National park
    Crowded lots in Acadia National Park require some planning ahead
    custom national park poster
    We create custom, vintage-style travel posters with personalized wording, from your photo!


        • You may be interested in knowing what type of wildlife you’ll see in the park-if so, check out this great blog on Acadia National Park Wildlife from Bonnie Clark (from the “National Park Photographer”).
        • Acadia is one of many great places to visit in Maine, but the east coast has so much more to offer. Katherine (from “Bright Lights of America”) wrote up a great blog on 14 Fantastic East Coast Vacation Spots.
        • The Switchback Kids have a nice posting on their favorite parts of Acadia National Park. We highly recommend checking them out and following their blogs as well.
        • Margaret Feinberg provides some good information on what to do before you travel to Acadia National Park.
        • The Maine Coast is an amazing place to visit. Once you get past Portland, Maine, fishing villages line the coast the entire way up to Canada.  Our favorite towns include Freeport (home of L.L. Bean), Rockland, Camden, Lincoln, Stonington and Port Clyde.  Acadia is also a great stop on the way up to Nova Scotia, Canada.
        • Pets are allowed in many parts of the park, but not on many of the trails or in the water. To see details, view the Acadia National Park pet guidelines.

        Dogs in Acadia National Park

        You'll want to make sure you can bring your dog to the places you plan on visiting before you come to the park

              FINAL THOUGHTS

              As you can tell, we love Acadia National Park and think you will too. 

              Have you been to Acadia National Park and have favorite information not covered in our post?  Let us know!  We’d love to hear from you in our comments section.  We’re also standing by ready to answer any questions that you may have on this park-we’ve been four times and are going back soon for a fifth trip, so don’t be afraid to ask!

              Amy and Pete from Just Go Travel Studios in Acadia National Park



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                About Just Go Travel Studios

                We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

                As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

                10% of all after-tax profits are donated to the National Park Foundation.

                Veteran owned.