Acadia National Park is the only national park in New England. One of the top ten most popular national parks in the USA, Acadia National Park receives millions of visitors annually.
Located on the rugged cost of northern Maine, Acadia National Park boasts a variety of landscapes, from mountains to coast and forests to freshwater lakes. The park also features a variety of flora and fauna.
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While it’s beautiful year round, Acadia National Park takes on an added dimension of beauty when leaves change color in the fall each year.
Considering a visit to this beautiful part of New England? Read on to discover the best things to do in Acadia National Park!
The Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park
Hiking the many trails, biking the historic carriage roads, doing the scenic drive through the park, and enjoying water activities are some of the most popular things to do in Acadia National Park.
You can also visit Acadia National Park in the winter, to enjoy the snowy landscapes and to explore the park on skiing or snowshoeing adventures.
While much of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, you can also visit the Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland, and the island of Isle of Haut, both of which also fall under the management of the park.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started discovering the many exciting things to do in Acadia National Park!
1. Summit Cadillac Mountain
One of the most popular things to do in Acadia National Park is to take in the views from the top of Cadillac Mountain.
The highest point in the park, the summit of Cadillac Mountain is 1,530 feet above sea level.
From the top, you’ll have panoramic views of Bar Harbor, surrounding lesser mountains, and the picturesque Gulf of Maine, strewn with islands.
The 360-degree views are spectacular on a clear day and will leave you awe-struck.
You can drive to the top, but you can also hike up a trail to the top in good weather, if you are up for the challenge.
The drive up is along a narrow winding road, so go slow and safe, and be sure to stop off at the lookout points en route for photos!
At the top, walk the short Cadillac Summit Loop Trail, one of the easiest and best hikes in Acadia National Park.
Sunrise views at Cadillac Mountain are definitely worth the early wake-up call, especially if you are planning to visit between early October and the first part of March.
During this period, Cadillac Mountain is the first spot in the USA to catch the rays of the rising sun.
Good to know: From the last part of May until about the third week in October, vehicle reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road. Exact dates for each year are published on the park website. The road is closed in the winter.
2. Drive Park Loop Road
Park Loop Road is not just the best way to navigate through the park, it’s also a very scenic drive. Start at Hulls Cove Visitor Center and follow Paradise Hill Road to the start of the loop.
The 27-mile Park Loop Road takes you along the east side of Mount Desert Island, and provides access to many major sights at Acadia National Park, including Thunder Hole and Sand Beach.
Along the route, you’ll pass through forests, and past beautiful lakes and mountains. The drive is scenic in every season, but especially so in the fall, when leaves change color.
This self-guided driving audio tour is a great companion if it’s your first time touring the park.
If you’d rather just enjoy the scenery, check out this bus tour of Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor for a great overview.
Park Loop Road can be extremely congested in the summer, and during peak fall foliage time, so if you are visiting then, start early, and allow lots of time. The road is mainly one way.
There are parking lots along the way, as well as restrooms. Bring a picnic meal to enjoy!
Looking for a great place to stay near Acadia National Park? We loved our stay at The Inn on Mount Desert in Bar Harbor! Rooms are charming and the hotel is walking distance to the waterfront, shopping, and dining.
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3. Discover Sand Beach
Sand Beach is the most popular beach in Acadia National Park. It’s a swimming beach, even though the water doesn’t often warm up above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the summer!
Sunbathing, sand play, and tidepooling are other popular activities.
Although the beach is classed as a sandy beach, you’ll find lots of sharp shell fragments: much of the sand is made up of shells that have been crushed by the surf over time. Water shoes are highly recommended!
The main reason to visit Sand Beach is to savor the outstanding views.
The beach is nestled between towering walls of pink granite and evergreen forests, making for the perfect picture postcard on a nice weather day.
Three hiking trails start by the beach. Walk up the granite steps of the Great Head Trail to the ledge at the top for beautiful views of the beach from above!
Sand Beach is located off Park Loop Road. There are restrooms and changing rooms at the beach.
4. Marvel at Thunder Hole!
A natural chasm created by geological forces over time, Thunder Hole is so named because at the turning of the tides, waves filling the chasm create a sound that’s as loud as thunder. The spray can go as high up as 40 feet!
It’s an awesome spectacle, if you are lucky enough to catch it as it’s happening.
There’s a viewing platform, and at low tide you can walk down to get views of the cliffs created by the surf. It’s a beautiful landscape, even if you do not see and hear the thunder phenomenon.
The views from the platform include Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, and Schoodic Peninsula, photo-worthy even if you visit outside of the time you are likely to hear the thunderous boom of Thunder Hole.
Access to Thunder Hole is off Park Loop Road. The best time to visit for the thunder phenomenon, according to the park website, is one to two hours before high tide.
5. Enjoy Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond is a very popular destination within Acadia National Park. You can get to the pond via the easy Jordan Pond Nature Trail, a walk through serene spruce and balsam trees, with views of the Bubbles and the length of the lake.
Or you can walk the Jordan Pond Path, a more robust trek that follows the shore of the lake, with some rocky sections.
One of the park’s most beautiful lakes, Jordan Pond was carved by glaciers. It is surrounded by mountains, for a picture postcard scene.
The second largest lake in Acadia National Park, Jordan Pond is also the deepest. If you bring a boat, you can go canoeing or kayaking on the lake.
There are several other trails that start at Jordan Pond, plus it’s a start point to walking some of the historic carriage roads in the park (more on this later in the article!).
Jordan Pond is located off the two-way part of park Loop Road, about 30 minutes from Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
6. Eat at Jordan Pond House
Jordan Pond House is an iconic Acadia restaurant, located at the south end of Jordan Pond. The photo-worthy building is from 1982. The original farmhouse at the site, built in 1847, burned down in a fire in 1979.
Tea and popovers are the main draw at Jordan Pond House. The restaurant has been serving them for more than 100 years! Tea on the lawn is a tradition here since 1982.
Popovers are rolls that are baked in muffin tins in a super hot oven. Crisp on the outside, and custardy and moist on the inside, popovers are typically served with butter on top. They taste divine with tea.
Jordan Pond House has a regular dining menu as well, with stews, chowders, sandwiches, and more. Both their afternoon tea and their regular dining options are very well reviewed.
The restaurant does get very crowded at lunch and at teatime. For shorter wait times, plan on enjoying their offerings at a non-traditional time.
7. Snap Photos of Bass Harbor Head Light
One of the most photographed lighthouses in New England, Bass Harbor Head Light is located at the southern tip of Mount Desert Island.
It is picturesque any time of the day, but an especially fabulous spot for sunrise or sunset photos.
Built in the 19th century, Bass Harbor Head Light is the only lighthouse on Mount Desert Island. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is no access to the interior, but most people visit to gape at the stunning setting. If you walk the path to the right, you not only get a great up-close view of the light station, but also the harbor and the islands in the water.
Walk down the boardwalk trail and steps on the left to the viewing area, to photograph the lighthouse from sea level. The descent is short but steep. Be aware that venturing out onto the rocks may be unsafe.
Park in the parking lot off Lighthouse Road at Bass Harbor. The lighthouse is extremely popular so expect crowds during the day in season.
8. Visit Schoodic Point
Schoodic Point is part of Acadia National Park, but it is located on the mainland rather than part of Mount Desert Island. Since it’s not as easy to access, you will find Schoodic Point less crowded than some of the popular spots in the park.
If you do decide to make the one-hour drive to Winter Harbor from Hulls Cove Visitor Center on Mount Desert Island, you will be rewarded with spectacular views. The rocky coastline is fringed with evergreen forests and the crashing surf is a spectacle to behold!
There are several pullouts along the Schoodic Loop drive, so allow for time to stop and admire the views. Schoodic Point, with its gorgeous rock formations and crashing waves, is, of course, the highlight of the drive.
Drive, or walk, the dirt road up to Schoodic Head for views of the water and the surrounding mountains and forests. The Anvil Trail leads to the top, and, in combination with the Schoodic Head Trail and the Alder Trail, makes for a great 2.6-mile loop around the area.
The Frazer Point Picnic Area has picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms, and potable water. It’s a great place to stop and take in the views as you eat.
The parking area at Blueberry Hill offers views of Schoodic Island and Little Mouse Island.
The Schoodic Loop around the peninsula is about six miles long. During the summer, you can also arrive at Schoodic via ferry from Bar Harbor.
9. Walk or Bike the Carriage Roads
The Carriage Roads are a wonderful way to get off the main road and explore the park in greater depth. A 57-mile network of paved paths created by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the Carriage Roads are not open to motorized traffic. 45 miles of the network are within Acadia.
Located around the Jordan Pond area, Eagle Lake, and Mount Desert Island, the Carriage Roads are fine example of the broken-stone roads that were common around the turn of the 20th century.
The beautiful stone bridges that go across motorized roads, streams, waterfalls, and cliffs, are particularly picturesque. Photo-worthy Jordan Pond Gatehouse and Brown Mountain Gatehouse guard the entrances to the Carriage Roads.
Fall is an especially scenic time to explore the Carriage Roads, when you can get up close to some of the spectacular fall foliage along the trails.
You can go hiking, biking, or horseback riding along the Carriage Roads. For a special experience, book a horse carriage ride! And in the winter, you can go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing along the paths.
10. Discover Otter Cliff
One of the most scenic spots in Acadia National Park, Otter Cliff is a massive granite ledge high above the ocean: it is 110 feet tall! The overlook offers exceptional views of the coast, plus the opportunity to see whales in the summer and migrating ducks in the fall.
Look for the thousands of rounded boulders below, polished by the waves over years and years. In the summer and fall, you may see rock climbers making their way up or down the many climbing routes along the precipice wall.
Otter Cliff is accessed via Park Loop Road, or you can walk Ocean Path from Sand Beach and back, passing by Thunder Hole along the way. Ocean Path offers spectacular views and is a great sunrise walk.
You may find Otter Cliff less crowded than some of the other popular Acadia spots. It’s a wonderful place to relax for a bit, enjoying the beautiful views and listening to the waves crashing below.
11. Try the Precipice Hiking Trail
For experienced hikers and climbers, the Precipice Trail is one of the most thrilling hikes in Acadia National Park. The strenuous trail features exposed ladders and rungs as it takes you to the peak of Champlain Mountain.
It’s possible to descend via the Precipice Trail, but it’s advisable to treat the hike as a loop by returning via Champlain North Ridge Trail and the Orange and Black Path, for a total length of 2.6 miles.
From the summit of Champlain Mountain, you’ll get exceptional views to the ocean and to Dorr Mountain. The views as you go up and walk down are also stunning.
The best time to tackle this trail is on a bright and dry day between late summer and early fall. In the spring and early summer, the trail is closed due to peregrine falcon nesting.
12. Hike the Beehive Trail
The Beehive Trail is a challenging rung and ladder trail in Acadia National Park, with several rock scrambling parts. It takes you up the face of the Beehive, a peak that looks out over Sand Beach.
This hike offers incredible views of Sand Beach and Great Head, and the surrounding region. Bring lunch to enjoy at the summit as you soak in the views!
You hike up via the Beehive Trail and return via the Bowl Trail towards beautiful Bowl Lake, for a total length of 2 miles. Pick a bright dry day between spring and fall for this epic Acadia hike.
13. Tackle Other Acadia Hikes!
We’ve already described some of Acadia National Park’s best hikes: Cadillac Summit, Ocean Path, and the Jordan Pond Path, plus the Precipice Trail and the Beehive Trail.
But there are many other hikes worth doing in Acadia National Park!
South Bubble Mountain and Bubble Rock is a relatively easy hike. It offers nice views and you get to see Bubble Rock, a boulder that looks precariously balanced at the edge of a cliff. If you continue on with the descent to Jordan Pond, the hike gets more strenuous.
North Bubble is a moderate hike, but your reward is fabulous views of Jordan Pond. You can make it a loop hike by continuing to Conners Nubble and returning via the Eagle Lake Trail.
Jordan Cliffs Trail is strenuous, and is an exposed hike with iron rungs. The trail takes you up some of the steepest cliffs in the park, with fantastic views along the route, including views of Jordan Pond.
14. Stroll the Wild Gardens of Acadia
Garden lovers will definitely want to tour the Wild Gardens of Acadia, which showcase more than 400 plant species found within Acadia National Park. The brookside gardens make for an enjoyable stroll.
Established in 1961, the gardens are mainly maintained by volunteers. Among the multiple habitats represented in the gardens, you will find coniferous forest, mountain, heath, and seaside.
Plants are labeled for easy identification, and there are benches if you wish and sit and take in the beauty of your surroundings for a bit. During the summer and fall, docents are available to offer information and answer questions.
The Wild Gardens of Acadia are located at the Sieur de Monts Spring and Nature Center, 2 miles south of Bar Harbor near the intersection of Park Loop Road and Route 3. The park entrance pass is required for admission.
15. Visit the Abbe Museum at Sieur de Monts
Maine was the home of the Wabanaki, the People of the Dawn, for thousands of years. The Abbe Museum seeks to document their history, culture, and art.
The museum has two locations, one at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park, and the other in downtown Bar Harbor. Both locations are worth visiting!
The historic trailside museum location in the park is open spring through fall, and here visitors can view early 20th century exhibits of Native American archaeology. The museum at this site first opened in 1928.
You’ll see pottery, stone artifacts, and things made of bone. Four dioramas show life as it existed on Mount Desert Island before it was settled by Europeans. There is also a large map of Mount Desert Island, made by museum founder Robert Abbe.
The Abbe Museum at Sieur de Monts Spring is located at 49 Sweetwater Circle.
16. Enjoy Echo Lake Beach
Echo Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake in a stunning setting. The waters are crystal clear! Echo Lake Beach is located on its south shore, and it is a very popular swimming spot, both for locals and for visitors.
The lake is quite shallow for a ways, and therefore great for kids. There is a lifeguard on duty in season. The water temperature here in the summer is higher than the ocean temperature at Sand Beach!
From the parking area. a hiking trail leads up into the cliffs and offers spectacular views of the lake from above. You can also access the top of Beech Mountain via a less strenuous trail that starts from Beech Hill Road.
Echo Lake is located on the west side of Route 102, south of Somesville and just north of Southwest Harbor. There are restrooms and changing rooms.
17. Enjoy the Town of Bar Harbor
The lovely town of Bar Harbor is a destination in itself, although it also makes a convenient gateway to Acadia National Park, with lots of accommodation and dining options, plus entertainment in the evenings.
If you want to enjoy water activities during your visit, there are lots of options in Bar Harbor, from windjammer cruises to kayak tours.
Take a guided kayak tour to the remote western side of Acadia National Park, or go on an island cruise or a whale-watching cruise! You can also take scenic flights over Acadia National Park.
You’ll also find the Abbe Museum and the Natural History Center in town, or you can learn more about the town’s history at La Rochelle Mansion and Museum, a 1902 mansion in the historic West Street District.
18. Visit Isle au Haut
Isle au Haut, High Island, makes a great addition to your itinerary for Acadia National Park if you have a day to spare. The island is located off the coast of Stonington, from where you can take a ferry year round to the island.
About one half of the island is managed by the national park. A network of hiking trails allows you to explore the coastline, woods, marshes and bogs, and a freshwater lake. Mountain biking is also popular on the island.
If you enjoy birdwatching, bring your binoculars or zoom lens! Isle au Haut is home to a variety of shorebirds and land birds, as well as terns. Long Pond, the freshwater lake on the island, is great for taking a swim.
19. Snap a Photo of the Somesville Bridge
Just outside the park in Somesville is one of the most photographed bridge in Maine: the Somesville Bridge. It’s worth stopping here to snap some photos!
Painted pristine white, the footbridge was originally built in the 1980s, and replaced in the mid 1990s. It spans Somes Creek.
Surrounded by serene nature and dressed with flower boxes, the bridge looks lovely in every season but especially when the flowers are in bloom or the leaves change color.
Next to the bridge you’ll find the Somesville Museum & Gardens, well worth visiting when it’s open for the season.
On the other side is the historic Selectman’s Building, from the late 18th century. You can step inside to watch a video presentation.
Somesville is the oldest community on Mount Desert Island, and the village is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Where to Stay: Hotels near Acadia National Park
While there isn’t any lodging inside Acadia National Park, the charming little town of Bar Harbor makes an excellent place to base yourself while you explore the park.
Accommodation does fill up quickly in season, so if you plan to visit in summer and fall, book early!
The Inn on Mount Desert is located one mile from the park. Rooms feature charming decor, and the beds are rated very comfy. Enjoy freshly made breakfast with choices, and walk to shopping and restaurants in town. It’s also a short walk to the park shuttle.
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Bar Harbor Grand Hotel is just 1.4 miles from Acadia National Park, and located in the heart of the town, close to shopping and dining. There’s a heated indoor pool and hot tub, and rooms are furnished elegantly.
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Bar Harbor Villager Motel Downtown is located along Main Street in town, just 2 miles from Acadia National Park. Walk to shopping and dining, and enjoy a seasonal heated outdoor swimming pool and a complimentary grab-and-go breakfast. Rooms are modern and comfortable.
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The Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park
Fall is a spectacular time to visit the park. Fall colors in Acadia peak typically peak in late September or early October, although of course the timing varies a bit by year.
In the fall, hiking trails with panoramic views offers one kind of experience, but hiking some of the interior trails or even walking some of the carriage roads can get you up close to beautiful leaf color.
If you do choose fall foliage time, expect crowds and reserve accommodations well ahead of your visit!
Summer is another very popular time to visit, when the weather is good and the days are long. Summer is also crowded at Acadia National Park, so plan your trip well in advance.
Late spring and fall outside of peak foliage season are quieter in the park and you may still have good weather.
Winter is off-season, but if you visit then, you can enjoy the beauty of Acadia National Park in relative solitude. Pick a dry weather weekend, pack smart, and enjoy the serenity!
More New England Travel Inspiration
Looking for more travel inspiration for the US East Coast? Check out our article on the best East Coast weekend getaways, from big cities like Miami to smaller charmers like Savannah and Charleston!
And if you are looking to do a road trip, we have an article on the best East Coast road trips you can take, from the Blue Ridge Parkway to New England in the fall.
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