Acadia National Park is a fascinating national treasure on the coast of Maine. Famous for its dramatic beauty and outstanding recreational opportunities, it ranks among the ten top US national parks. The area encompasses about half of Mount Desert Island, many adjacent smaller islands, and part of the Schoodic Peninsula. Visitors come to enjoy not only the park’s rugged nature but also to taste the famous Maine lobster at the charming town of Bar Harbor right next door. If you never visited, it is time to make a plan. In this post, you will learn about how to get ready for your visit and what to do and see in Acadia National Park.
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Since my first visit over thirty years ago, a lot has changed in Acadia National Park, and even since my second visit 7 years ago. The beauty is still there and as striking as before, but the number of visitors significantly grew – to 3.5 million a year! The park is taking steps to make the crowds manageable. When planning a trip to Acadia, make sure to check the newest regulations – they change frequently.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Before you arrive
How to Get to Acadia National Park
- Mount Desert Island: From Boston, take I-95 north to Augusta, Maine, then Route 3 east to Ellsworth, and on to Mount Desert Island. For an alternate route, continue on I-95 north to Bangor, Maine, then take Route 1A east to Ellsworth. In Ellsworth, take Route 3 to Mount Desert Island.
- Schoodic Peninsula: Take I-95 north to Bangor, Maine, then take Route 1A east to Ellsworth. In Ellsworth, head north on U.S. Route 1 for approximately 17.3 miles to Hwy 186. Turn right on Hwy 186 and drive 6.5 miles. Turn left at the yield sign, continue .5 miles, and turn right on Schoodic Loop Road.
By Plane – Closest Airports to Acadia National Park
- Direct flights from Boston’s Logan Airport land at the Hancock County Airport, 10 miles from Acadia National Park. National airlines serve the Bangor International Airport, about one hour from the park. Car rentals are available at both airports.
What Is the Best Time to Visit – Weather in Acadia National Park by Season
Summer in Acadia National Park
Summer is not the perfect time to visit the park even though the temperatures are pleasant – in the high 70s. But summer often brings thick fog that covers the island for hours, or sometimes days. Additionally, at that time of the year, the park gets overflown with visitors.
Fall in Acadia National Park
In my opinion, late September, early October is the best time to visit Acadia. The summer crowds are already gone, the weather is still pleasant, and the fall foliage traffic has not arrived yet.
Since large areas of the park lie at high elevation, you will get to experience early leaves changing. Fog can still be an issue, but not frequently.
Fall foliage generally peaks between October 15–22, but the dates vary from year to year. By late October, temperatures start dropping, and tourists start departing.
Winter in Acadia National Park
Most hotels, restaurants, museums, and other attractions close for the winter. And no wonder, since the average snowfall reaches 61 inches and temperatures are below freezing. On the good side, the snow falls tend to melt quickly.
When the snow sticks, Acadia National Park’s carriage roads are fabulous for cross country skiing. The Park Loop Road is also open for snowmobiling.
Spring in Acadia National Park
Spring in Acadia tends to be rainy. It is also an insect season, in particular in May and June. But that means no crowds yet.
Visit Acadia’s Website for the Latest Alerts
These days, more than ever, make sure to check Acadia’s website for the latest alerts. The parks implemented not only health regulations but also strict traffic restrictions. You do not want to arrive just to learn that the major attractions you wanted to visit are beyond your reach.
Buy and Print Your Pass Online
To enter Acadia National Park, you must purchase and display a weekly, annual, or lifetime pass. Buying online allows you to head directly to a trailhead or parking lot and just leave the printed pass on your dashboard.
Buy your pass here.
Important! Make Your Car Reservation to Enter the Most Popular Sections of the Park
The car reservation pass is not the same as the park pass!
Acadia is among the top ten most popular national parks in the United States, with more than 3.5 million visits a year. Visitation has surged almost 60 percent in a decade, leading to severe crowding at most park destinations. In response to these numbers, the park took action to manage the crowds.
Where and when the vehicle reservations are required?
- Reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road (4:30 am to 6:30 pm) and Sand Beach Entrance (7 am to 5 pm) sections of the Park Loop Road, providing access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Ocean Path, the Beehive, Great Head, and Gorham Mountain.
- Vehicle reservations are not required for other areas of the park.
- Vehicle reservations are not required to enter by foot or bike.
Reservations can be made in advance online at Recreation.gov for $2.00 each.
How Much Time Do You Need to See Acadia National Park
You can see the major attractions in one day just by driving Cadillac Summit Road and the Park Loop Road, but you need to come prepared! Make sure to have your car reservation secured before you arrive. Also, remember, if you come on a foggy day, you may not see much. Just one day is risky.
Three days is the minimum I recommend. You can visit all must-sees and some of the lesser but still stunning sections of the park. Schoodic Peninsula should be on your radar if you desire social distancing.
Ideally, you should devote a week to visit the park. That will allow you to cover the obvious, take a few hikes, and enjoy the vibrant town of Bar Harbor famous for lobster.
Acadia National Park on the Map
Where is Acadia National Park? The park is located mostly on Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine. It stretches across about half of the island, roughly divided by Somes Sound to create east and west sides.
It can be reached in about 5 hours from Boston and about 8 hours from New York City.
Acadia National Park Visitor Center
Hulls Cove Visitor Center is the perfect place to start your visit. Here you can find park passes and park rangers to answer your questions. Large, self-service maps and digital information screens help you plan your visit. You can also visit a gift shop there.
P.O. Box 177
Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Hotels Near Acadia National Park
Lodging for Acadia National Park can be found in the charming town of Bar Harbor, just outside of the park.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor is known for its stunning coastal beauty, its many yachts and lobster boats, and islands and ocean views. You will be in heaven there if you are a lobster lover!
Holiday Inn Bar Harbor
Holiday Inn Bar Harbor is my favorite hotel in the area for the views and inviting outside areas. Overlooking Frenchman Bay, it features an on-site marina and oceanfront lounge, a seasonal outdoor pool, and a hot tub. La Bella Vita restaurant at the Bar Harbor Holiday Inn offers Frenchman Bay’s views and is open for breakfast and dinner. Guests can also enjoy dinner at the seasonal oceanfront Stewman’s Lobster Pound.
Atlantic Oceanside Hotel & Conference Center
Atlantic Oceanside Hotel offers rooms with an ocean view. This waterfront property features daily nature cruises from its private dock and has indoor and outdoor pools and a hot tub. Acadia National Park is 0.6 mi from the hotel.
Bar Harbor Inn and Spa
Located on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor Inn and Spa is an oceanfront hotel near Acadia National Park. It offers an on-site restaurant with views of the ocean. It also has an on-site spa facility. Guests can enjoy swimming in the outdoor pool or relaxing in the hot tub.
What To See in Acadia National Park
Park Loop Road
To enjoy this loop in season, start very early to avoid crowds and catch the sunrise.
Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
About 30 minutes before the sunrise, drive to Cadillac Mountain. From the parking lot, walk to the Summit Trail. Find a cozy spot and wait. Here is one of the first places in the USA where you can see the sun getting up.
On the way down from Cadillac Mountain, look for the small lookout areas and stop there to take in stunning views of Frenchman Bay dotted with islands.
The beach is a lovely to relax, but swimming is another story! The summer water temperature is between 50 and 55F!
Thunder Hole is a crack in a small cave on the coastline where waves surge into the hole. The water explodes out of the cave with a roar…… if it feels like it! I was lucky to see it in action twice out of three visits, but this attraction underperforms most of the time.
Otter Cliff is a popular stop along the Ocean Path trail in Acadia. This 110-foot cliff is one of North America’s highest coastal headlands and is a prime spot for rock climbing.
Jordan Pond may look like an alpine lake; however, its water drains into the ocean. You can kayak, canoe, and fish in the pond, but swimming is not allowed. You can take an easy hike along the shore of the pond.
The crowds here are mostly concentrated around Jordan Pond House. Visitors come to taste the famous popover – a pastry made of eggs, milk, and flour, and baked in a kind of muffin tin.
Bass Harbor Head
The cliffside Bass Harbor Head marks the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. The lighthouse was built of brick in 1858 on a stone foundation. The rocks are fantastic there if you feel like climbing them.
Schoodic Scenic Byway
To skip the crowds, drive the 29-mile Schoodic Scenic Byway on the park’s Schoodic Peninsula. Located on the mainland east of Mt. Desert Island, the drive provides excellent coastal views, small towns, and plenty of quiet. The 29-mile starts near the town of Hancock.
The 6-mile one-way loop road around the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula offers views of lighthouses, seabirds, and forested islands. Use vehicle turnouts to stop and enjoy the scenery.
Arey Cove Road leads to Schoodic Point, a windswept, rocky point providing spectacular views of Mount Desert Island. That is if, for some reason, it is not foggy there when you visit. Be careful – the waves there can be dangerous.
Schoodic Point is not obvious to find. Here are the coordinates.
What To Do in Acadia National Park
Hiking in Acadia National Park
Hiking is a primary activity in Acadia National Park. With more than 150 miles of trails, opportunities are endless. You can immerse yourself in forests, walk along rocky coastlines, or stand on exposed mountain tops — sometimes all in one hike.
Mount Desert’s Best Hikes
Mount Desert Island is a very popular place for hikers, particularly on the island’s east side. To beat the crowds, plan to arrive early; otherwise, you will not find a parking spot. Hiking opportunities are endless. Here is a list of hiking trails in Acadia National Park.
Rising over 1,000 feet in 0.9 miles, the Precipice Trail requires physical and mental strength. It is a rugged climb with open cliff faces and iron rungs. Upon reaching the summit of Champlain Mountain, climbers are rewarded with impressive views. Learn more about Precipe Loop.
Reservation Required: Starting in 2021, if you’re accessing this trail from Sand Beach, you will need a reservation to use a private vehicle to enter the Sand Beach Entrance Station from mid-June to mid-October.
If you search for an adventurous hike with a spectacular view, look no further than the Beehive loop. One of Acadia’s famous rung and ladder trails, Beehive Loop, is a great way to get acquainted with these difficult trails.
The trail is rocky and uneven. The first part of this trail ascends a 450-ft cliff with exposed edges. Steep drop-offs with no railings require secure footings. Learn more about Beehive Loop.
Jordan Cliff Trail
The Jordan Cliffs Loop offers a challenging hike across the steep slope, iron rungs included, and a strenuous climb up Sargent Mountain. Hikers are rewarded with panoramic views from two mountain summits and a picturesque pond nestled between the mountains. Learn more about Jordan Cliff Trail.
Beach Cliff to Canada Cliff
The Beech Cliff Trail is a spectacular getaway for the adventurous on the relatively quiet west side of Mount Desert Island. Several ladders and the winding cliffside trail lead to excellent overlooks of Echo Lake as well as the bays and open ocean to the south of the island. Learn more about Beach Cliff Trail.
Easy Hiking Trails in Acadia National Park
Acadia’s extensive trail system has something for everyone. Because there are so many interconnecting trails and carriage roads, numerous exciting options exist for loop hikes. Check out these easy hikes suitable for families.
Other options for hiking are Acadia carriage roads. Forty-five miles of rustic roads, the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, weave around the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park. Today, these roads serve pedestrians, bicyclists, and horse-drawn carriages.
Camping in Acadia National Park
The park has two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, one campground on the Schoodic Peninsula, and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut. See the map here. Camping is very popular in the park. Make your reservation well in advance here.
The majority of Blackwoods’ sites are for small and large tents. Some sites can accommodate travelers with RVs. Flush toilets, running water, a dump station, picnic tables, and fire rings are provided.
The campground is approximately 18 miles from Bar Harbor and the park loop road. The majority of this family-oriented campground’s sites are for tents. Some sites can accommodate RVs up to 35 ft. in length.
Flush toilets, running water, a dump station, picnic tables, and fire rings are provided. Roads are paved. A picnic area is located on the shore across from the campground entrance.
Schoodic Woods Campground
Located on the Schoodic Peninsula, this campground is 1.5 miles (2.5 km) southeast of Winter Harbor. It is approximately 60-70 minutes from Bar Harbor and the main section of the park.
Duck Harbor Campground is located on Isle au Haut, a rugged island off the coast of Stonington, Maine. Remote and inaccessible to automobiles, Isle au Haut is linked to the mainland by mailboat.
Swimming in Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park has two beaches staffed with lifeguards during the summer – Sand Beach and Echo Lake Beach. There is also swimming at a small beach on Lake Wood. Many other lakes and ponds are public water supplies, so swimming, wading, and pets are prohibited.
Bicycling in Acadia National Park
Acadia offers excellent bicycling opportunities on carriage roads, bike paths, gravel roads, and paved roads. There are various options based on experience, elevation change, type of bicycle, and destination. Learn more here.
Boating in Acadia National Park
Several lakes and ponds on Mount Desert Island permit boating. Each body of water has specific watercraft restrictions. All towns have launching areas for saltwater near town docks and municipal piers. Canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and motorboats can be rented in surrounding communities. Learn more here.
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