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 on how to plan a trip to Acadia National Park.
Acadia National Park, including what to do, what to pack and useful links are covered in our 15+ page itinerary for 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. You can download a map from the NPS site here.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
WHERE TO STAY IN AND AROUND ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
- 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.
- There is one campground in Acadia, the Duck Harbor Campground. It is located on Isle Au Haut, and reservations are required (and tough to come by) as there are only 5 sites. There are many privately run campgrounds located within one-hour of the park.
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!
HOW TO GET TO ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, WHEN TO GO AND WHAT TO EXPECT
The best airport to fly into when visiting the area 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 tow 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.
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. 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.
A typical foggy view in Acadia National Park
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Acadia National Park, including what to do, what to pack, details on the information included in this blog and much more are covered in our 15+ page itinerary for Acadia National Park.
- One of our favorite hikes in this park is covered in detail in our blog on Hiking the Beehive Trail.
- Acadia National Park can be crowded and navigating those crowds can be challenging at times. For tips on how best to do this, see our blog on Five tips to avoid crowds when visiting National Parks.
- When you get back from your trip, send us one or more of your photos and we’ll make up one of our unique, custom, vintage-style travel posters. We’ve served up thousands of these to customers and would love to work with you!
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
- 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.
You'll want to make sure you can bring your dog to the places you plan on visiting before you come to the park
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!