Discover Acadia National Park: What to See and Do

Make the most of your trip to Acadia with a practical guide for activities, places to stay, best time to visit, and nearest airports to the park.

Acadia National Park in Maine may be one of the smaller U.S. national narks, but don’t underestimate it. Spread across Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut and the Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia’s 47,000 acres capture Maine’s treasured natural features — rocky coastline, sculpted mountains, sheltered coves, sandy beaches, pine forests and marshy meadows. As the easternmost national park, Acadia is one of the first places in the United States to see the sunrise.

Travelers will discover Acadia is intimate and accessible, and its historic carriage paths provide visitors nearly endless ways to explore. Make the most of your national park vacation with this practical guide.

Sunrise coastline Soak in the sun rising over Otter Cliff and the rocky beach at Acadia National Park.


Getting to Acadia National Park

  • Drive 1 hour southeast from Bangor International Airport.
  • Drive 3 hours northeast from Portland International Jetport.

Flying into Bangor will get travelers to Acadia the fastest, but if you’ve got extra time, look at flying into Portland and taking the scenic route. Drive along Route 1, where you’ll see Maine’s jagged, rocky coastline and lighthouses. If you’re driving north from Portland, stop at Camden, where you’ll see mountains meet the sea in this beautiful harbor town.

Best Times to Visit

Acadia is open year-round and is one of America’s most visited national parks. The main visitor center operates mid-April through October. The park’s busiest months are July and August, when the weather is warmer and more dependable, and the water temperatures are more enjoyable.

During the park’s peak months, travelers will find bigger crowds — and more of the Maine fog that brings a mysterious beauty to this area.

In fall, Acadia is less crowded, but thousands still flock to see the park burst into bright autumnal colors, especially during the first half of October. From December through April, snow and ice close most of the park, but parts stay open for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, winter hiking, ice fishing and more. Before planning winter travel, visitors should check the National Park Service’s Acadia webpage to determine which parts of the park will be open.

Foggy Autumn From the top of Cadillac Mountain, view the mystical Maine fog over the Atlantic Ocean.


What to See and Do


quoteCycle Through the Park

Rent a bike from Acadia Bike in nearby Bar Harbor, and hop on the free Bicycle Express shuttle to the park’s historic carriage path system. You can pedal along 45 miles of crushed-rock roads that wind through the heart of Acadia and showcase the best park vistas of the Atlantic Coast and Jordan Pond, as well as the path’s 17 broken-stone bridges.

Take a Hike

More than 120 miles of hiking trails traverse forests, summits and shorelines and range from easy to strenuous. Try Ocean Path or Great Head trails, which both meander along the scenic eastern shore of Mount Desert Island. On the 4.2-mile, moderate Ocean Path hike, you’ll see scenic views of the rocky coastline at Otter Cliff and waves crashing against the natural rock inlet of Thunder Hole. The shorter, 1.7-mile Great Head hike also features incredible views of Otter Cliff as well as the Beehive, a 520-foot summit.

Ocean Path Hike the Ocean Path Trail and enjoy the coastal breeze and Acadia’s seasonal colors.

Alternatively, consider the short but challenging 1.3-mile Beehive Loop Trail up to the summit, which offers hikers spectacular views of Sand Beach, a small inlet nestled between a granite shoreline.

Go Swimming, Kayaking or Boating

Take to the water to explore the lakes and coast. During the summer, lifeguards patrol Sand Beach and Echo Lake Beach at the freshwater Echo Lake on the west side of Mount Desert Island. Boat trips will take travelers to watch seals, dolphins and — if you’re lucky — whales, or to Isle au Haut, where along the way you can stop to swim in a freshwater granite quarry on Crotch Island. Visitors can also kayak or canoe on the glacier-formed Jordan Pond, followed by lunch or tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House restaurant.

Jordan Pond Sit on the rocks beneath a shady tree at Jordan Pond and watch the size of surrounding mountains’ reflections in the pond change as the evening sun moves west.


Go for a Drive

The 27-mile-long Park Loop Road goes around the east coast of the park and takes motorists past Sand Beach, the Precipice, Otter Cliff and Thunder Hole, where crashing waves emit a mighty boom. Turn off Park Loop Road onto Cadillac Summit Road to reach Cadillac Mountain. The 1,530-foot-high peak offers panoramic views and the chance to see the sunrise over the coast.  

Park Loop Road In autumn, take in the scenic view as you drive past the ocean and the bright red, orange and yellow foliage on Park Loop Road.


Learn: Discover More About the Park

Discover more about Acadia National Park’s upkeep and wildlife through informative displays at the Nature Center on Sieur de Monts Road/Sweet Water Circle, which can be accessed off either Park Loop Road or Otter Creek Road. Then visit Sieur de Monts Spring, a historic structure that symbolizes the birth of the park and is easily accessible, just behind and to the left of the Nature Center. Continue along the path past the spring to reach the Abbe Museum where you can learn about the culture and history of Native Americans in Maine. Alternatively, to the right of the Nature Center, reflect on the natural habitats found on Mount Desert Island while visiting Wild Gardens of Acadia.

Where to Sleep and Eat

Drive 2 miles north on Route 3 from the Nature Center to Bar Harbor, a seaside town that offers a variety of lodgings. Stay at the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa, a waterfront inn established in the late 19th century. Many rooms have waterfront views and gas fireplaces.

Downtown Bar Harbor Travelers can stay, shop and eat near Acadia National Park in the charming, nearby town of Bar Harbor.

If your family prefers to camp, try any of Acadia’s four campsites: Blackwoods, Seawall and Schoodic Woods, which are accessible by car, and Duck Harbor on Isle au Haut, accessible by mail boat. Options outside the park include the family-friendly Bar Harbor Campground and waterfront Mount Desert Campground.

Maine is famous for lobsters, and diners can enjoy this regional treat fresh off the boat or keep it tidy by digging into a delicious lobster roll. Try Rose Eden Lobster or Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor, and don’t forget to leave room for blueberry pie — another Maine favorite — from Morning Glory Bakery.

 

Take advantage of these rental car deals for your Acadia National Park vacation.

Basket of Maine Lobsters Travelers won’t struggle finding a Maine lobster, or lobster dish, in Bar Harbor.

Visiting Acadia National Park?

Rent a car at Bangor International Airport

About the Author

Rebecca Gross is a writer and researcher who loves adventure and travel. She has a master’s in the history of design and specialized in the visual culture of postwar American travel, writing her thesis on the visual experience of America’s national parks. Rebecca hails from New Zealand, lives in Australia and regularly visits the States.