Once an exclusive vacation playground of America's elite families, Maine's Acadia National Park is now among the most beloved and most visited of the United States National Parks.
Each year, roughly 3.3 million annual visitors place Acadia among the top 10 most-visited U.S. national parks. Summer is the most popular season, but spring and fall can be enjoyable too.
Whether you prefer to hike, enjoy coastal panoramas, or just relish the pristine beauty of the North Atlantic, you should make time to visit Acadia.
About Acadia National Park
Most of the must-visit places to see in Acadia are on Mt. Desert Island. Many visitors stay in the town of Bar Harbor, which is near most of the park's main attractions. The park is easily accessible by car on the main road called Park Loop Road. You will need to drive a few miles to see the best landmarks, so make sure you get a park map at one of the six visitor centers when you arrive.
Acadia is spread across Mt. Desert Island and the remote Schoodic Peninsula. Most visitors spend their entire visit on Mt. Desert Island because it’s the most accessible and has the most landmarks. But if you’re willing to drive an hour, assuming you stay near Bar Harbor, you can avoid the summer crowds that can overwhelm the main park.
If vehicle traffic is heavy, you may struggle to find a parking spot at the various landmarks. You might want to consider a free Island Explorer shuttle operated by the Park Service that will take you to the various portions of the park.
Where to Go in Acadia
Acadia National Park has a rich history and infinite natural beauty you will struggle to find elsewhere when traveling in the United States. It is for these reasons that John D. Rockefeller helped build 45 miles of carriage roads and 16 stone bridges in the early 1900s that are still usable today. There are plenty of activities for anybody to enjoy while here.
As its name implies, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in the North Atlantic. Cadillac Mountain also holds the distinction of being the first place in the United States to see the sunrise from October 7 until March 7. From the mountain, you will get a 360-degree view of the park. The mountain also overlooks the town of Bar Harbor.
If you prefer something closer to the water, the Ocean Trail is a gentle two-mile walking trail (four miles roundtrip) that parallels the rugged coastline. For many visitors, the Ocean Trail is their favorite walking trail in the entire park. This path parallels the Park Loop Road in this section with parking areas at various points which makes it easily accessible if you don’t want to walk the entire length.
You can start at either Sand Beach or Otter Point. At various points, you can walk on the large granite boulders that shape the Atlantic coastline. There is a variety of scenery changes along the trail. One notable landmark is Thunder Hole. If you time it right, you can see and hear the waves' thunder-like crash against the rocks.
Jordan Pond House
For a relaxing meal, enjoy the Jordan Pond House. This historic restaurant has been a summer tradition since the 1890s. They are best known for their popovers and tea. You can also order other local favorites including lobster stew and house-made ice cream.
Beside the restaurant is Jordan Pond. It’s worth walking to the pond as you can enjoy a view of the pristine waters with the Bubbles mountains in the background.
Another notable hiking trail is the Beehive Trail. Climbing to the top of the beehive-shaped hill provides some of the best views in the park. The only catch is that this is one of the most strenuous hikes in the park. If you have bad knees or can’t climb ladders, you will want to avoid this stop. But if you can climb to the top, the view is worth the effort.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is on the southwest tip of Mt. Desert Island. It is a popular spot for photographers at sunset. Even if you’re not a photographer, sunset can be the best time to visit this landmark. Visiting during the daytime is great as well.
The lighthouse is a 30-minute drive from Bar Harbor. Besides seeing the lighthouse, you may explore nearby Bass Harbor. This is an active fishing village where you can see the boats come and go each day stacking their lobster pots on the dock each evening.
A cruise from Mt. Desert Island is your best chance for whale watching. Peak season is from mid-June to mid-August. Other than whale watching cruises, you can also take boat tours of the adjacent waterways.
If you’re not visiting during peak whale season, the National Park Service offers guided tours of Frenchman Bay and the surrounding islands on a seasonal basis.
At some point, you will likely find yourself in the town of Bar Harbor to sleep, eat, or shop. If you have a few hours to explore, walk to Bar Island. During low tide, you can walk over natural sand bridge from Bar Harbor to Bar Island. The is a small walking trail on the island that lets you enjoy the woods, pasture, and wildlife. It’s possible to see the lupine bloom from May until early July.
Because the bridge disappears when the tide rolls back in, you will need to time your visit to avoid getting stuck on the island.
Acadia National Park is a fun visit for either a weekend or an entire week. Some travel might be involved to see the outlying areas of the park. But anything you see inside the park is worth the visit as you can enjoy the ocean and mountains in a single trip.
Josh Patoka has been to six different countries and most of the United States. These days, he enjoys traveling with his growing family. You can find Josh writing about travel hacking on Johnny Jet.
You can see a list of all the United States National Parks here. There are links in that post to all our stories about the National Parks we have visited.
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