The Ultimate Guide to Acadia National Park
When you think of National Parks, you usually think of untamed wilderness as far as the eye can see… but that’s not exactly the case with Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Since it was originally a popular vacation destination for the super wealthy back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s got more of a historical, old-school rich tinge to it. From the carriage paths and the picturesque lighthouses to the rocky coastline and the sandy beaches, it’s not hard to see why people wanted to spend time there. But just because it’s got a historical side doesn’t mean it’s all boring: it’s got some pretty epic hikes and outdoor fun, too. Here’s a little taste of all that Acadia has to offer.
Acadia National Park
Some tips for visiting Acadia National Park
Park Loop Road is the park’s scenic drive, and since it’s only 27 miles long, there’s no reason not to at least check it out. If you want to really get deep into Acadia, check out some of the park’s Carriage Roads, built by John Rockefeller and other wealthy industrialists who vacationed here. The Carriage Roads aren’t open for cars, so bring a bike or stroll along them.
The Island Explorer bus is a free shuttle around Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park that operates during peak season. Parking and navigating the narrow, winding one-way roads in Acadia can be a hassle, especially if you’re staying in Bar Harbor, so absolutely take advantage of this service. There’s even a special bus that can accommodate bikes!
Blueberries grow wild in the park, and you can pick them for yourself. Visitors can carry out two quarts of handpicked wild berries for themselves! They’re usually ripe around July.
Bar Harbor is by far the busiest town near Acadia, but it’s not the only quaint seaside town to explore. Check out villages like Somesville, Southwest Harbor, Tremont, Seal Harbor, Otter Creek, and Northeast Harbor. If you’re looking for a quieter getaway, look for places near Mount Desert Island instead of Bar Harbor.
Bar Harbor Grand Hotel
One of the great things about Acadia (thanks to its history) is that there are endless hotel options, including scores of bed and breakfasts and spots with vintage charm. Bar Harbor Grand Hotel is an excellent option. The Victorian architecture (it’s a replica of the Rodick House) will have you feeling like a Rockefeller, and the super short walk to the shore means natural beauty is literally a few steps away. Add in a complimentary breakfast, parking, Wi-Fi, a pool and hot tub, and you’ve got a perfectly relaxing hotel.
Schooner Head Overlook/Anemone Cave
Being on the coast means there’s tons of little coves and nooks to explore in Acadia. Check out Schooner Head Overlook to get some amazing views of the Atlantic, and wait until low tide so you can visit Anemone Cave, located right below the overlook. The cave was once one of the park’s most popular attractions, but recently it’s been removed from park maps. It’s a pretty slippery hike down, so wear good shoes and take extra care, but it’s definitely worth the trouble.
One of the more intense (and more fun) hikes is Precipice Trail. It’s got some narrow ledges and switchbacks and culminates with a 1,000 foot vertical climb to the top. It’s incredibly exhilarating, just don’t get too distracted by the stunning views along the way. While it’s certainly not for the faint of heart (or those with vertigo), it’s definitely manageable, as long as you take your time.
If you’re starting to think that Acadia is all rocky coastline, think again. Sand Beach is one of the prettiest beaches on the entire East Coast, and its tucked away amongst the forests and mountains of the park, so it’ll feel like you’re at your own secret swim spot!
Another feature of the park, one better visited at high tide, is Thunder Hole. As big waves rush into the little coastal cave, it makes an incredible roaring sound and splashes water 40 feet into the air. Bring towels: you’ll probably get pretty wet.
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing than hidden caves and crashing waves, then Jordan Pond is right up your alley. The pond itself is crystal clear and calm, and the Pond House is famous for its afternoon tea and popovers. Whether you’re just taking a leisurely stroll around the pond, or you want to kayak on it, it’s definitely one of the most serene places in all of Acadia.
Be the very first person in the country to watch the sun come up. Because Acadia is located at the easternmost edge of the country, it’s lucky enough to be the first spot sunlight touches each morning… and since it’s located on a stunningly rugged coast, it’s always a breathtaking sight. If you want to be a stickler, you’ll have to leave your cozy campsite pretty early for a hike up the park’s famed Cadillac Mountain to get the very, very first glimpse of the sun.
Technically, it’s the ‘very first’ to see the sunrise in the fall and winter months, and spending New Year’s Eve on the mountain to see the first sunrise of the new year is a popular tradition among some. But even if you visit during the summer and find yourself the second or third person to watch the sun rise in the morning, you’ll at least get a mesmerizing panoramic view of the park from the peak.
Bar Harbor Motel
If you’re traveling with kids, they might not appreciate a historic B&B as much as you. They will, however, probably appreciate a pool. Luckily, there’s the Bar Harbor Motel. The property is huge, with buildings scattered across, and the grounds are lovely. The staff is loaded with helpful suggestions, and the free shuttle to the park stops right outside.
Acadia Inn is the spot to stay if you want to be super close to the park– it actually offers direct trail access into Acadia. It’s less than 2 miles from Bar Harbor as well. Add in summertime marshmallow roasts, movies on the lawn, popcorn bars in the fall, a heated pool, and complimentary breakfasts, and you’ve got a perfect spot to stay while exploring the park.
If you want to try wild Maine blueberries, then Jordan’s is your spot. Blueberry-studded pancakes drenched in blueberry syrup make for a hearty breakfast, or if you’re on the go, grab a warm blueberry muffin to take with you. The rest of their menu features solid breakfast staples: coffee, quiche, omelets, home fries, and the like. Plus, they open at 5am, so you can come here as a treat after your sunrise hike up Cadillac.
Stewman’s Lobster Pound
The authentic atmosphere of Stewman’s Lobster Pound can’t be beat. Right on the water, this seafood shack is a great spot for some Maine lobster (or shrimp, or clams, or oysters). Go for the lobster bisque or the lobster stew, or a lobster roll. Oh, and if you’re all blueberry-ed out come dessert time, try another Maine’s favorite: Whoopie pie.
Side Street Cafe
If you’re looking for a cozier place to try lobster, or want more menu options, Side Street Cafe serves up lobster so many different ways your head will spin. Plus, they have a huge selection of burgers, mac and cheeses, sandwiches, and loads more. Everyone will find something to love here, guaranteed.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
And, of course, you can’t visit Maine’s coast without snapping a shot of a lighthouse. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is iconic, and it’s seriously photogenic. Even if you’re just looking for a scenic stroll down the beach, check this spot out. It’s a truly unforgettable view.
June, July, and August are the busy seasons in Acadia, which isn’t a surprise, as summer break and great weather make for perfect travel conditions. Rates will be higher then, and the park is prone to getting quite crowded at that time. September and October bring chilly nights, but still offer nice hiking weather and some truly incredible foliage. May and early June might still be a bit breezy and cool, but are also less crowded as well. Keep in mind that as it gets cooler, many restaurants, hotels, and other businesses close for the season. Also, it’s super popular to watch the first sunrise of each New Year on top of Cadillac Mountain. It’s fun, but can get crowded as well.
Have you experienced the beauty of Acadia National Park first-hand, or is it still on your bucket-list? Share your favorite dreamy photos of this natural gem by tagging us on Instagram.
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