Last Updated on October 4, 2022 by admin
Acadia National Park is one of the best national parks in the United States. With sweeping coastal views, thrilling hikes, and waves constantly crashing across the rocks, the park packs a lot of New England charm. The park saw over 4 million visitors in 2021. Our visit to Acadia National Park was one of our highlights of living in New England. In this post, we’ll share 23 things to do at Acadian National Park to help you plan your next trip!
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Why You Should Plan a Trip to Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park was one of the Top 3 most-visited national parks in 2021. The only two national parks that saw more visitors were Grand Canyon National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Acadia National Park is known as the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast. If you want to see New England’s rugged coast, Acadia National Park is the place to go. The park has a lighthouse, tons of trails, and various types of beaches. If you’re planning a trip to New England, you have to add Acadia to your itinerary.
About Arcadia National Park
Acadia National Park is comprised of 3 primary regions:
- Mount Desert Island (MDI): This is the main area of Acadia National Park. Although it is an island, you can drive directly into the park. Most of the park’s most popular attractions are on Mount Desert Island.
- Schoodic Peninsula: This is the only portion of Acadia National Park that is on the mainland. It’s typically less busy than Mount Desert Island, as it’s across the water from the main portion of the park. (That means you need to take a longer drive to reach it.)
- Isle au Haut: This island is accessed only by a year-round passenger ferry. You can catch the ferry at Stonington, which will then take you to Isle au Haut. The ferry ride is approximately 45 minutes long.
In addition to the 3 regions listed above, the town of Bar Harbor is located adjacent to Acadia National Park. Most visitors seek lodging or dining options in Bar Harbor after a busy day at Acadia.
Acadia National Park is over 47,000 acres. The park contains 158 miles of hiking trails, 27 miles of vehicle roads, and 45 miles of carriage roads. The carriage roads were a gift to the park made by the wealthy Rockefeller family. These narrow, cobbled roads are open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and horse-drawn carriages.
How to Get to Acadia National Park
Traveling to Acadia National Park By Car
If you’re traveling to Acadia National Park by car, I-95 is the closet major interstate. You’ll then take US-1A and follow the signs to the park. When we visited Acadia National Park, we took our car and found the park very easy to navigate. You’ll need to purchase an entrance pass. As of this writing, the entrance fee for a private vehicle is $30.
Importantly, if you’re planning to drive up Cadillac Mountain, you’ll need to have a separate vehicle registration that is required May 25, 2022, through October 22, 2022. You can read more information about it here. If you weren’t able to secure a vehicle registration, but you still want to go to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, you can also see if you can book a tour to take you to the top. The tour operator will let you know what’s currently available.
Traveling to Acadia National Park by Plane
The nearest major airport to Acadia National Park is Portland International Jetport (PWM). There’s also a smaller regional airport near Acadia called Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, but it doesn’t service many flights. Acadia National Park is about a 3-hour drive from Portland, Maine.
Acadia National Park Without a Car
During peak season, the park offers the fare-free Island Explorer shuttle. The shuttle connects many of the park’s top destinations. It also provides free transportation from Bar Harbor-Hancock Regional Airport. You can access a map of the shuttle routes here. This is an excellent way to see Acadia National Park without having to worry about parking. It also helps to reduce air pollution.
Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park (Best Hotels!)
We recommend that you stay at least one night near Acadia National Park, so that you can make the most of your trip. The closest town to Acadia is Bar Harbor, and there’s a lot of really charming hotel properties in the town. Here’s a few hotels to consider:
- Saltair Inn: This waterfront bed and breakfast is one of the most picturesque inns I have seen. The home was first built in 1887 and has beautiful views of Frenchman Bay.
- Bar Harbor Grand Hotel: This hotel is a replica of the historic Rodick House, which was one of the early grand hotels in the area.
- Bar Harbor Inn & Spa: Portions of this hotel date back to the 1800s. This historic hotel is right on the coast.
- The Inn on Mountain Desert: This is one of the newer hotels in Bar Harbor (built in 2018). The inn is located in downtown and is in a very walkable area.
For a full list of lodging options near Acadia National Park, click here.
Tips for Visiting Acadia National Park
- First and foremost, follow Leave No Trace principles when you visit Acadia National Park. It’s important to leave the park as you found it. Don’t litter, be sure to stay on marked trails only, and don’t feed the wildlife. You can read more about Leave No Trace here.
- Be sure to check out the Acadia National Park website for important updates, alerts, and trail conditions.
- The park is well-visited. To avoid crowds, try to plan your trip for mid-week or off-peak season.
- As mentioned above, you may need to make a vehicle reservation to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain.
- Visit the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. You can speak with a ranger and ask any questions you might have as you plan your trip into the park. (The visitor’s center is temporarily closed at the time of this writing. Check their website to confirm before your trip.)
- Break in your hiking boots. If you have a new pair of hiking boots, be sure to wear them a bit before you head to the park. New boots can give you blisters, so you’ll want to make sure you have a comfortable pair.
- Pack a first aid kit. If you do get a blister, you’ll want to make sure you have a bandage. You can purchase a first aid kit here.
- Pack the 10 Essentials when you’re out hiking. (You can find a full list of what those 10 essential items are here.)
- Be sure to pack adequate hydration, food, and sun protection. Many of the hikes on the rock face are not well-shaded, so there is direct sun exposure.
- If you have a fear of heights, plan your hikes carefully. Several of the hikes in the park have steep drop-offs and iron rungs drilled into the rock face.
- Pack a power bank so you can re-charge your phone on the go. That way, you’ll be able to take plenty of pictures without having to worry. I’ve linked one here.
- Download maps in advance on your phone so you can access them without cell service.
- Be flexible. Many of the parking lots fill up quickly on a busy day. Have a Plan B ready-to-go. There’s plenty to see in the park, so give yourself lots of options!
- Purchase and download the Acadia National Park Self-Guided Audio Tour. You’ll get to learn all about the park as you drive around at your own pace.
Things to See at Acadia National Park
The first hike we completed at Acadia National Park was the Beehive Trail. We love to go hiking (you can see some of our posts here and here about our hiking adventures), and this was one of my favorite hikes. What I liked about it was the experience of using the iron rungs, ladders, and hand bars to scale up the rocks. The view from the top was absolutely incredible. We saw Sand Beach below us, as well as the coast and Frenchman Bay.
The trail is 1.4 miles roundtrip and will take you up a 450 foot cliff trail. It took us about 2 hours to complete the hike. We stopped frequently for photos and had a mini-lunch at the top. I wouldn’t recommend this trail for children. The granite is extra-slippery when it’s wet, so it might not be advisable to hike it on a rainy day. It’s a good idea to always check out current advisories on the park’s website, as well as speak to a local park ranger.
You can read our full review of the Beehive Trail, complete with pictures, here!
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
“Bass Head Harbor Light House #2” by jeff.thompson7 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
If you’re looking for a picture-perfect spot of coastal Maine, head to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is located on the southern portion of Mount Desert Island, and it marks the entrance to Bass Harbor. The lighthouse was built in 1858 and stands 56 feet tall.
“Acadia National Park” by Jay Woodworth is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Precipice Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s most intense hikes. As the name suggests, there are many precipices and steep drop-offs. This hike is not for someone with a fear of heights! The hike is 3.2 miles round trip. There’s some intense vertical gain on this hike, with many portions requiring non-technical climbing. (There are iron rungs to help assist.) One portion of the hike gains 1,000 feet in about a mile! We wouldn’t recommend this hike for children.
Hulls Cove Visitor Center
*Temporarily closed at the time of this writing – Check website for updates*
The Hulls Cove Visitor Center is the primary visitor center for Acadia National Park. Located on the northern end of the island, it’s near the town of Bar Harbor. The visitor center is one of the Island Explorer shuttle stops. If you haven’t already purchased an entrance pass, this is also where you can buy tickets to Acadia National Park.
“Granite beach outcrops near Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff” by roy.luck is licensed under CC BY 2.0
If you’d like a nice coastal walk, you should check out the Ocean Path. The Ocean Path is a trail that connects Sand Beach to Otter Point. This is also more of a family-friendly walk. You’ll be able to see Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Monument Cove, and Otter Cliff. The trail is about 2 miles one-way.
Jordan Cliffs Trail
If you’re up for a challenging hike, the 5-mile Jordan Cliffs Loop will take you up to the top of Sargent Mountain. The hike is not recommended for children, people with a fear of heights, or during rainy weather. This hike also utilizes iron rungs.
Summit of Cadillac Mountain
“bar harbor, sunrise” by Christian Collins is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
The summit of Cadillac Mountain is 1,528 feet above sea level. It’s the highest mountain in Acadia, and it’s also the highest point along the East Coast of the United States! It’s an extremely popular spot to view both the sunrise and the sunset. For that reason, vehicle reservations are required during peak season. The loop trail has interpretive view points, restrooms, and a gift shop. The Cadillac Mountain Summit Loop Trail at the top is a short .5 mile loop that is fairly flat.
Blue Hill Overlook
An alternative to viewing the sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain is to drive a little ways down to the Blue Hill Overlook. I’ve read that it can be less crowded than the summit, but we personally did not have the time to do this when we visited Acadia.
Echo Lake Beach
Echo Lake is a lake located within Mount Desert Island. If you want to go swimming at Acadia National Park, this is the place to go. Thee freshwater lake has a fairly sandy beach and a large shallow area for kids to play.
Book a Guided Tour
This half-day guided minivan tour will let you see the park’s main attractions without having to worry about driving and parking. Your guide will know the best places to visit, and because it’s a private tour, you have more freedom with the timeline. With this tour, you’ll drive the Park Loop Road, see the summit of Cadillac Mountain, visit Sand Beach, and visit Thunder Hole.
Jordan Pond Loop Trail
The Jordan Pond Loop is a fairly easy trail around Jordan Pond. The trail is about 3.5 miles long. The Jordan Pond House is a restaurant located nearby, so you can have a nice meal after your hike.
Acadia National Park contains 45 miles of carriage roads. The carriage roads were a gift to the park from the Rockefeller family. Today, they’re open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and horse riders. Exploring the carriage roads is a great way to find scenic view points and escape of the crowds.
Beech Cliff Ladder Trail
Another popular hike in Acadia National Park with iron rungs is the Beech Cliff Ladder Trail. This trail tends to be a little less crowded in comparison to the Beehive and Precipice trails. The trail is a little less than 2 miles.
Baker Island Cruise with a Ranger
With this tour, you can join a park ranger on a 5-hour exploration of Baker Island. You’ll get to visit the historic cemetery and homestead on this remote island. The tour is not recommended for small children because there is a lot of walking on even ground. The island is 130 acres and contains the Baker Island Lighthouse.
After we completed the Beehive Hike, we went to Sand Beach. (You can view the beach from the top of the Beehive Trail, and we wanted to check it out!) Sandy Beach is Acadia’s only coastal sandy beach. The beach is about 290 yards long. We thought the water was much too cold for swimming, but we did enjoy watching the waves! The beach is conveniently located next to the Beehive Trail and Ocean Path.
“Tourists at Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park” by WorldIslandInfo.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Thunder Hole is an inlet along the coast. At the end of the inlet is a small cavern. When large waves crash into the inlet, water can spout high into the sky as it makes a lot of noise like thunder.
Great Head Trail
The Great Head Trail at Acadia is accessed from the Sand Beach parking lot. The trail is about a 2 mile loop, and it will take you along the headland of the peninsula. There are steep cliffs along this trail, so exercise caution and be mindful if you have children accompanying you. You can read a full trail description here.
“Morning at Otter Cliffs” by DJM Photos is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Otter Cliff is a headland that is 110 feet high and juts against the sea. It’s located less than a mile from Thunder Hole, so it’s convenient to see both attractions in the same visit.
View Acadia from a Sailboat
One of the best ways to see Acadia is from the water! You’ll have a completely different perspective of the coastline. This 2-hour sailboat ride will give you great views of Acadia National Park and Frenchman Bay.
The Schoodic Peninsula is just across the water from Mount Desert Island. During peak season, there’s a ferry that can take passengers across the water. (This is much more convenient than driving off Mount Desert Island, up the mainland, and then to the peninsula.) While you’re on the peninsula, check out Schoodic Point.
Isle Au Haut
Visitors can reach Isle Au Haut also by a year-round passenger ferry. You can board the ferry from Stonington and it will take you to Isla au Haut Town Landing. The island is over 8,000 acres, and about half of it belongs to Acadia National Park. The town is very remote, and it contains a church, school, general store, and town hall. When you visit, check out the Western Head Trail.
Asticou Azalea Garden
“Beautiful Colors at the Asticou Azalea Garden, Maine” by Lee Edwin Coursey is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Asticou Azalea Garden is a beautiful garden maintained by the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve. The garden was inspired by traditional Japanese gardens, and each element was intentionally considered. Admission is free and donations are appreciated.
Explore Bar Harbor
There’s lots to do in the town of Bar Harbor, which is the closest town to Acadia National Park. You can take a lobster boat 2-hour tour and learn all about Maine lobsters. Afterwards, head to Rose Eden Lobster and eat some lobster! While in Bar Harbor, you can even take a culinary walking tour! (Reservation information linked here.) You can also take a historical walking tour through Bar Harbor. (Reservation information linked here.)
What to Bring to Acadia National Park
Here are a few things that we recommend that you pack with you for your trip:
- Selfie stick and tripod: You’ll be able to take photos of yourself and/or your whole family with the most stunning backdrops.
- Power bank: While you’re out on the trails, make sure that your phone doesn’t run out of battery. We always travel with one or even two power banks fully-charged just-in-case!
- New England guide book: New England is a stunning place to visit, and this guide book gives you an overview of the entire region.
- Camera: If you don’t have one already, pack a nice camera to really take advantage of the spectacular scenery.
- Waterproof hiking boots: You’ll want to explore the forest trails, and with a pair of waterproof hiking boots you won’t have to worry about mud. I’ve been using the Columbia brand for years and have loved my pair. My boots have taken me all over the USA, and I even hiked the Inca Trail with them in Peru! I’ve linked a pair for women here, and a pair for men here.
- Guide Book: Lonely Planet has an excellent guide book that covers Maine and Acadia National Park. It’s a great resource as you prepare for your trip!
(Click on the above images for current pricing and shipping information.)
Our Adventure at Acadia National Park
We stopped by Acadia National Park on our way to Quebec, Canada. In just a few months, I would be moving from New Haven, Connecticut, back to Seattle, so I wanted to take advantage and explore as much of New England while I still could.
Just prior to visiting Acadia, we were in Portland, Maine. It was only a 3-hour drive to make it to Acadia National Park, so we definitely wanted to fit it into our itinerary. We only had one day at Acadia, and we were completely blown away. We absolutely loved the Beehive Trail and Sand Beach. The coastal views were absolutely incredible. We would definitely return to Acadia in a heartbeat to explore even more of the park!
Camping at Acadia National Park
There are four campgrounds in Acadia National Park:
- Seawall Campground (Mount Desert Island)
- Blackwoods Campground (Mount Desert Island)
- Schoodic Woods Campground (Schoodic Peninsula)
- Duck Harbor Campground (Isle au Haut)
Many of them are only open seasonally. See each of the websites linked above for the number of tent campsites and RV sites.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Acadia National Park?
Acadia National Park is located in Maine. Most of the park is on Mount Desert Island, but portions of the park also stretch to the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. The park is located about 3 hours north of Portland, Maine.
When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the warmer months. If you’re able to visit in late September though, there will be less crowds and you’ll also get to see some of Maine’s famous fall foliage. Acadia is one of the most popular national parks in the country, so it can be busy during the summer. We recommend visiting during a weekday if possible.
Is Acadia National Park worth visiting?
Acadia National Park is absolutely worth visiting. The park protects some of Maine’s most spectacular coastline. There are plenty of hikes with iron rungs, expansive views of the coast, and view points where you can watch the waves crash against the rocks. With lighthouses, lobster shacks, and quaint inns nearby, it’s the perfect place to visit.
Summary: Things to Do at Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is the perfect place to embrace Maine’s rugged coast. The park has everything: mountains, islands, beaches, and lots of trails. We would definitely return to Acadia in a heartbeat!
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Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please see individual websites embedded in this post for the most current trip-planning information.
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