USA Travel

Visitor Guide to Acadia National Park

By
Tim Gillespie
on
July 20, 2021

In this guide you will find the following:

  • Why visit Acadia National Park?
  • When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?
  • Best cities to access Acadia National Park
  • Popular things to do in Acadia National Park
  • Frequently asked questions about Acadia National Park

Why visit Acadia National Park?

Often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast”, Acadia National Park provides stunning landscapes around every corner, spectacular views, and rich cultural history. Visitors have plenty of options to explore rocky coastlines, granite mountains, lakes, ponds, and picturesque harbor villages on the 120 miles (193 kilometers) of hiking trails, plus an additional 45 miles (72 kilometers) of carriage roads.  Hikes in Acadia range from casual strolls along the seaside to strenuous scrambles up summits. There are 4 designated campgrounds inside the park to pitch your tent and reservations are highly recommended.

Hiking, boating, biking, birdwatching, and visiting historic sites are all activities that can be enjoyed in one of America’s finest national parks, which receives roughly 3.5 million visitors per year.

Interested in visiting national parks? Read our visitor guides for Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?

September through early October is perhaps the best time to visit Acadia National Park. The summer crowds have mostly dispersed and the temperatures are still moderate. This is also the time of year when fall foliage begins to change the scenery of the park.

Visiting in Winter

Visitor numbers drop drastically as the freezing temperatures move into Acadia National Park. During the winter months, many of the hiking trails are closed as well as sections of the Park Loop Road. Snowfall varies each year though coastal storms producing cold rain and sleet are common. However, for those winter enthusiasts, a good snow season does create an amazing environment for cross-country skiing. Carriage roads that intersect the park remain open for cross-country skiing and several trails can be accessed for snowshoeing as well.

Additional reading: 9 Hiking Tips for Your Next Cold Weather Adventure

Visiting in Spring

Early season snowmelt leads to muddy conditions on the road and hiking trails which helps keep a majority of visitors at bay, making springtime a nice time to visit to enjoy the park with fewer crowds. By mid-April, most park facilities will begin to operate on limited hours and by Memorial Day everything will be in full operation. Daytime temperatures average in the 50s to low 60s Fahrenheit (10 to 18 Celsius). Mornings are cooler and tend to be foggy, giving the park a surreal appearance, especially along the shoreline. One major downside to the spring season is the hordes of black flies, so make sure you prepare accordingly.

Visiting in Summer

Crowds begin to return to the park after Memorial Day, especially on the weekends, with peak season hitting in mid-July to early August. Most of the crowds converge around the main attractions located along Park Loop Road and up to Cadillac Mountain. However, once you get into the backcountry on a hike you’ll inevitably find some peace in nature. The Canadian Arctic winds keep temperatures at the moderate 70s Fahrenheit (20-25 Celsius), with overnight temperatures bringing a chill. Be sure to bring a sweater along if you are camping. If you plan to visit during the summer months it is highly recommended you reserve your lodging months in advance.

Visiting in Fall

Primetime begins around mid-October when the leaves begin to change color. Weekends will bring more crowds so if you can schedule a trip during the week, you may have better options for accommodation. Early in September, you can still experience weather similar to the summer but without the crowds, making it an ideal time to visit. Eventually, fall temperatures will average in the upper 40s and 50s Fahrenheit (7 to 15 Celsius). Some of the best spots to view the fall foliage are paddling a kayak or canoe on Eagle Lake, Jordan Pond, or Long Pond.

Additional Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Maine

Best Cities to Access Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park can conveniently be accessed through a handful of gateway cities and towns. The proximity of these cities and towns to the park makes it easy to plan last-minute trips with reasonable lodging prices. If you plan to stay in one of the numerous campgrounds in the park you will want to book well in advance.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Known for its stunning coastal beauty, Bar Harbor serves as a gateway to the mountains and cliffs of Acadia National Park. Located on Mount Desert Island, it is the center of activity for visitors seeking a variety of shops, restaurants, taverns, hotels, and bed & breakfasts. Outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, biking, or kayaking are popular among locals and visitors. Though you can easily spend your day at leisure by window shopping, strolling through picturesque gardens, and taking in the local culture.

Check out the Abbe Museum to learn about Maine’s Native American heritage or go on a whale watching tour in Frenchman’s Bay.

Southwest Harbor, Maine

Located on the West side of Mount Desert Island, Southwest Harbor is home to sea captains and seafarers. The town ranks as one of the top commercial harbors in Maine, and the area is known for its fine boatbuilding and design. The community today boasts a laid-back easy-going atmosphere that still conjures visions of children playing and old-time mariners ambling up the street to and fro their home. 

Southwest Harbor has several lodging facilities and a variety of dining options ranging from relaxed to semi-formal, as well as museums and multiple art galleries. The Wendell Gilley Museum celebrates the life and work of Wendell Gilley, a pioneer in the field of decorative bird carving.

Ellsworth, Maine

Located just 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Acadia National Park, Ellsworth is a great option for visitors who prefer to stay off Mount Desert Island. The town, named after United States Founding Father Oliver Ellsworth, contains historic buildings, theatres, and museums. The Ellsworth Harbor Park offers waterfront concerts along the Union River, which runs through the downtown district.  

Birdsacre (The Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary) is a unique “natural” museum featuring a nature walk through a picturesque sanctuary filled with a variety of Maine wildflowers, wooded glens, small ponds full of aquatic life, and a bird nesting area. It includes 200 acres of protected wilderness filled with interconnecting nature trails for the whole family to enjoy. 

Trenton, Maine

Located on the mainland, and just a mere 7 miles (11 kilometers) to Acadia National Park, Trenton offers a relaxing and affordable place to rest while maintaining access to the park. Accommodations range from simple motels to bed & breakfasts, and a campground. There are several locations at which you can taste Maine Lobster and steamer clams, a must when visiting Maine.  

In Trenton, you can visit the Kisma Preserve and interact with wolves, take a scenic flight tour, or visit Wild Acadia Fun Park. Perhaps best of all, the free seasonal Island Explorer Bus Service provides access to everything on Mount Desert Island beginning at Trenton.

Additional Reading:  22 Must-see Parks in the Northeastern United States

Popular things to do in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is packed with highlights and attractions. Visitors can drive along scenic roads, discover nature on thrilling hikes, observe the dramatic landscape from breathtaking views, and discover the marine world on interesting boat cruises.

Drive the Park Loop Road - This 27-mile (43 kilometers) road loops around the eastern part of Mount Desert Island connecting travelers to the major sites: Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain. It’s best to break up the drive over multiple days allowing time to appreciate each of the iconic sites. You’ll especially want to spend some time taking in the views of the Atlantic Ocean at Otter Cliffs.

Hiking - with over 120 miles (193 kilometers) of hiking trails you will find endless options to enjoy the park on foot. Some popular hikes include the Ship Harbor Nature Trail, Cadillac Mountain Loop, and the Beehive Loop Trail.

One of the things that makes Acadia so unique, and so exciting, is a large number of trails with ladders and metal rungs. Similar to a via ferrata, you can hike along narrow ledges and climb up sheer rock faces with the aid of these metal rungs. Some trails with these features are the Beech Cliff Ladder Trail and the Precipice Trail.

The Ocean Path and the loop around Jordan Pond are great short hikes for beginner hikers or families with young children.

Additional reading:  Top 4 Hikes in Acadia National Park

Water Activities - Not only can you hike along the waterfront, but you can also enjoy some amazing water activities like boating, swimming (temperatures permitting), stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, and wildlife boat tours. Two lifeguard-staffed beaches permit swimming in the summer months.

The small coves, harbors, and beaches that makeup Mount Desert Island offer incredible excursions for those who like to paddle. Somes Sounds is a 5-mile-long (8 kilometers) glacial embayment that nearly divides Mount Desert Island in two. Here visitors can enjoy the ocean environment in a fairly sheltered location. Bordered by Norumbega Mountain to the east and Acadia and St. Sauveur mountains to the west, the impressive bay boasts great scenery.

Numerous companies offer tours of the islands and the coastline of Acadia National Park. Tour options include general sightseeing, fishing, puffin cruises, and sunset cruises.  

Biking - The 45 miles (72 kilometers) of carriage roads inside Acadia National Park are ideal for biking. These roads are wide, graveled, and car-free. Multiple routes criss-cross the park, though the two most popular are Eagle Lake Loop and Witch Hole Pond Loop.  

Advanced riders can test themselves on the 11-mile (18 kilometers) Around the Mountain carriage road. Along the ride, you will cross 17 carriage-road bridges and gain over 700 feet (213 meters) of elevation.  

Birdwatching - Birdwatching is rooted inside the history of Acadia National Park and has played a crucial role in the history of natural exploration on Mount Desert Island. Over 300 species of birds call Acadia home for at least part of the year, serving as an important migratory bird stopover and nesting site.

Some popular birding spots include Otter Point, Thompson Island, the Schoodic Peninsula, and the Isle au Haut.

Stargazing - With the largest expanse of naturally dark sky east of the Mississippi, Acadia National Park is a great place to experience nature, explore science, and ponder history.  Stars Over Sand Beach is a recurring event administered by park rangers where they interpret the stories behind the constellation’s names.

Common stargazing locations are the Seawall picnic area, Sand Beach, and Cadillac Mountain.

Additional reading: Top 5 Reasons to Visit Acadia National Park

Frequently asked questions about Acadia National Park

How many days do I need in the park?

We recommend spending 2 full days in Acadia National Park. This will allow enough time to drive Park Loop Road, hike a few trails, and watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. Your itinerary could be broken down as the following:

Day 1 - Drive along the Park Loop Road and visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia near Bar Harbor. Then head to Sand Beach to dip your toes in the sea. Hike the Ocean Path past Thunder Hole to Otter Cliff. Finish your day with the sunset at Cadillac Mountain.

Day 2 - If you didn’t watch the sunset the night before, rise early to see it from atop Cadillac Mountain. Then opt for either a paddling trip or a bicycle ride along the carriage roads. Be sure to view the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and then feast on Maine lobster before calling it a day.

What are the park entrance fees?

Weekly passes are $30 USD per vehicle. Passes can be purchased at information centers throughout the park.

Are pets allowed in Acadia National Park?

Pets must be leashed and attended to or otherwise physically restrained at all times. Pets are allowed in all park locations except Sand Beach, Echo Lake Beach, Isle au Haut campground, ladder trails, public buildings, and lakes that are public drinking water supplies.  

Learn more about the park’s pet policies here.

Is the Park Loop Road open all year?

No. The Park Loop Road closes on December 1, unless significant snowfall causes it to close earlier. The Park Loop Road typically opens on April 15 if weather permits. However, there is a 2-mile section of the road that remains open all year.

How many campgrounds are there in Acadia National Park?

There are 4 main campgrounds inside the park. More information can be found here.

What wildlife can I expect to see?

Birdwatching is the best opportunity to observe wildlife. A variety of species are found in the park including warblers, sea ducks, hawks, and peregrine falcons.  

Puffins, a species of seabird, are seen off the coast of Maine. Boat companies lead tours to visit the islands where puffins can be observed.

Seals are best seen from boat cruises that leave from town harbors, including the park's four ranger-narrated boat cruises. Whale-watching trips are offered out of Bar Harbor.

Where can I eat lobster and other fresh seafood near Acadia National Park?

Numerous restaurants and eateries serve Maine lobster and fresh seafood on Mount Desert Island. Thurston’s Lobster Pound has a screened-in porch stretching out over Bass Harbor, Beal’s Lobster Pier serves some of the best lobster rolls, and the Wharf Gallery and Grill is set in the tiny fishing village of Corea on the Schoodic Peninsula.

What are some nearby attractions?

Maine is full of amazing places and tiny towns to explore. Most of these areas are within a short drive from Acadia National Park and can easily be added to your travel itinerary.

Giant’s Stairs in Harpswell, north of Portland, Maine, is home to a nice nature trail along the rocky coastline of Casco Bay. Explore the tidepools and two lighthouses at Popham Beach State Park. If you are looking for a paddling adventure, then consider exploring the Maine Island Trail in Muscongus Bay. Rockland and Boothbay Harbor are two unique coastal towns worth visiting if you have the additional time.

Do you offer guided trips to Acadia National Park?

Yes! You can find out about all of our USA hiking and camping trips on our website.

Other articles relating to national parks:

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Tim Gillespie
Tim is U30X's Thailand Manager & Community Builder, and has been living, traveling and accumulating experiences in SE Asia since 2009. He loves being in the outdoors, immersing himself in local cultures, and tasting exotic foods.

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