Spoiler alert: the best things to do in Acadia National Park are predominately in the great outdoors!
Acadia National Park has some of the best landscapes the North East has to offer. Rocky coast? Check. Woodlands? Check. Mountains? Check. Lakes and streams? Check.
It’s got a little bit of everything, and it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise, no matter what time of year. Located on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park consists of more than 47,000 acres to explore.
The land has been inhabited by the Wabanki people for thousands of years, and was fought over by the English and the French. By the 19th century, it became a popular vacation spot for wealthy American families.
Acadia was named a National Park in 1916 (although its original name was Lafayette National Park). In the following years, the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. designed (and paid for) a system of carriage roads throughout the park. It’s now one of the most visited national parks in the US.
Most people recommend spending about three days to get the most out of Acadia. We spent two days there and were able to hit the highlights, but I would have liked one more day!
Note: Acadia National Park requires an entrance fee from May-October. A private vehicle pass is $30, and is good for seven days. Be sure to display it on your dashboard! This can be purchased here and printed in advance.
Also note: Depending on your provider, cell service is sometimes limited! Most campgrounds will have some wifi access, but if you are looking to really escape, Acadia is an excellent place to be off the grid for a few days.
- From Portland, ME it’s about a 2.75-3 hour drive, via I-295N
- From Boston, MA it’s about a 4.5-hour drive, via I-95N
- From NYC, it’s about an 8-hour drive, via I-95N (We made a road trip out of it and stayed overnight in New Hampshire!)
- The closest bigger airport is Bangor International Airport, and from there it is an hour’s drive to Acadia National Park.
Having a car is really the best way to see Acadia, as it allows you flexibility in your itinerary.
However, there is also a bus service, Island Explorer, which connects hotels and campgrounds to areas within the park.
Where to Stay
- If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, Bar Harbor is the main commercial hub on Mount Desert Island. In addition to hotels, you can find quaint restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s about a 5-minute drive from town into the park.
- If you’d prefer to camp, Blackwoods Campground is close to popular things to do in Acadia, and Seawall Campground is located near the coast.
- We stayed at Mount Desert Campground, which was lovely and just a little cheaper because it’s technically not located within the park.
Things to Do in Acadia National Park
Take a (Chilly) Dip at Sand Beach
The aptly-named Sand Beach is a popular spot for picnicking and relaxing, though only the bravest will take a dip in the waves. The water usually doesn’t get above 55 degrees Fahrenheit!
If the cold doesn’t bother you anyway though, dipping your toes into the Atlantic Ocean at Sand Beach is one of the best things to do in Acadia.
Hike the Ocean Path to Otter Point
If you’ve come to Acadia National Park, you’ve probably come prepared to hike. No matter what your skill level, hiking is one of the best things to do in Acadia.
The Ocean Path along the coast packs a lot of scenery for how easy of a trail it is. It’s 2.2 miles one-way, starting at the Sand Beach parking lot and running parallel to the Loop Road.
You’ll pass by the Thunder Hole where, if conditions are right, the waves will sound like thunder crashing. There are plenty of spots along the path to pull off and play among the rocks.
Once you reach Otter Point, you can climb atop the 110-foot granite precipice of Otter Cliff!
On a sunny day, the water really is as deep blue as it looks in photos!
Sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Nothing says “New England” like a lighthouse on a rocky coast. The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1858 and is the only lighthouse on Mount Desert Island!
A clear path leads down to the rocks from the parking lot. (Parking is free!) There you’ll have a panoramic view of Bass Harbor. Watching the sunset across the water of the harbor is one of the best things to do in Acadia.
Pro tip: Get there before sunset, as the place is a popular photography spot and can get a bit crowded with people and tripods.
Walk around Jordan Pond
Visiting Jordan Pond is probably one of the most popular things to do in Acadia.
The 3.4-mile loop trail circles around the beautiful Jordan Pond. The trail is rated as moderate, as the terrain switches between groomed path, rocky terrain, and wooden plank boardwalks, but it is a relatively flat hike.
The mountains called the North and South Bubbles make for a beautiful backdrop, especially when reflected in the water!
Eat Popovers at Jordan Pond House
After you’ve walked around Jordan Pond, reward yourself with popovers at Jordan Pond House!
“What is a popover?” you may ask. A popover is a roll made of egg batter, usually baked in a muffin tin, and the batter “pops” over the edge of the tin. They’re delicious, especially when served with butter, jam, or clotted cream.
Jordan Pond House is famous for its popovers, and it’s technically the only restaurant within Acadia National Park. The view from the restaurant overlooks the Jordan Pond, with indoor or outdoor seating.
Explore the Carriage Roads
Exploring the Carriage Roads is another of the best things to do in Acadia. They harken to bygone times, when wealthy American tourists could take in the scenery from their horse-drawn carriages.
When Acadia was named a national park, John D. Rockefeller was wary of the idea of automobiles ruining the tranquility of the park. To combat this, he had carriage roads built between 1913 and 1940.
The system consists of 45 miles of roads, built of granite. They were designed to incline gradually throughout the trees so that horses could easily pull carriages along.
There are 17 unique bridges and two “gate lodges” that serve as impressive entrance gates. The roads are still off-limits to cars, and instead are used for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. In the winter the roads are used for cross country skiing.
I recommend hiking the Jordan Stream Path, which takes you on and under the carriage roads. You can park at Jordan Pond House and grab a map of the nearby trails and carriage roads.
Drive Up Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the east coast. You can hike to the summit, or you can drive up! Either way, reaching the top is one of the best things to do in Acadia.
The top of the mountain can be crowded at sunrise, but it’s also lovely at sunset. During the winter months, Cadillac Mountain is the first place the morning sun hits in the United States!
There is a 0.4-mile paved loop trail around the summit where you can wander and admire the view from all angles. You’ll be able to see the town of Bar Harbor below, with other islands and the mainland in the distance.
Note: The National Park Service requires a vehicle reservation for the summit of Cadillac Mountain from May 26-October 19th.
Visit Bar Harbor
While not technically within the park, visiting the town of Bar Harbor is still worth doing when visiting Acadia. Known as the “gateway” to Acadia, this quaint seaside town is full of shops, bars, restaurants, and accommodations.
For a peaceful stroll, wander along the Shore Path, which starts near Agamont Park and winds about a half-mile along the shore.
Bar Harbor also makes a great base from which to set out on the water, whether on a stand-up paddleboard, a kayak, or a whale-watching tour.
There were, of course, things to do in Acadia that we weren’t able to fit in that I wish we had!
- The Beehive Trail: This 1.5-mile hike is rated as difficult, but has some gorgeous views
- Beech Mountain Trail: Located on the quieter side of Mount Desert Island, Beech Mountain has a moderate 1.2-mile trail with a fire tower lookout.
Acadia National Park is one of those places that I’d be happy to visit again and again. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it! If you have been, what were some of your favorite things to do in Acadia?
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