Explore Maine’s Glory in Acadia National Park

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An expansive view from the summit of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Few places enchant like the New England state of Maine. So it should be no surprise that Maine’s crown jewel, Acadia National Park, elevates that enchantment. With 47,000 acres comprised of coastal vistas, rocky shorelines, woodlands and a glacial mountain peak that sees the first sunrise over the United States, Acadia National Park is magical.

Maine’s Place to Play

Maine conjures up all types of idyllic images. From Bar Harbor’s side street cafes serving fresh-from-the-sea lobster rolls to nature-provided attractions like Thunder Hole, you’ll find plenty to keep everyone entertained and delighted as you explore Acadia National Park’s many treasures. I recommend a minimum 3-day itinerary, but if you have time, you could stretch your visit to Acadia National Park visit to more than a week and still find plenty to do. Let’s look at some highlights to help you plan your multi-day itinerary.

acadia national park entrance sign
The park is well-kept and welcoming to all. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Get Acquainted with Acadia National Park

Located at the edge of New England roughly 170 miles northeast of Portland, Acadia National Park provides a great add-on to a road trip. If you plan to start your New England trip in Boston, you’ll have a scenic 4 hours and 30-minute drive. If you’d rather fly in, the closest international airport is just 45 minutes outside the park in Bangor, Maine.

Whatever you decide, the ideal place to pick up travel guides to plan your Acadia National Park itinerary is at one of the nine visitor centers. Located off Route 3 in Bar Harbor, Hulls Cove Visitor Center is the park’s main visitor center. Here you can pick up an NPS park map, talk to a ranger and get a head start on planning your Acadia National Park itinerary. A self-guided Acadia driving tour is also recommended.

The park skirts 60 miles of Maine’s Atlantic coastline. It includes Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, and additional outer islands including the park’s most remote, Isle au Haut, accessible only by ferry. Within Acadia National Park you’ll find 33 miles of scenic motor roads, 45 miles of carriage roads and more than 150 miles of hiking trails. Favorite park pastimes include biking, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and whale watching from the shoreline. Here are a few not to be missed experiences.

oceanside view with trees
Beautiful ocean vistas greet you along the Path Loop Road. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Drive the Park Loop Road

We started our 3-day itinerary with a drive along the 27-mile Park Loop Road. This scenic loop reveals stunning coastal views while providing access to some of the park’s most popular places. From the Park Loop Road, you can reach access points to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Otter Point, Sieur de Monts, Jordan Pond Loop and the summit road to Cadillac Mountain.

Catch a Sunrise or Sunset on Cadillac Mountain

If you only have a one-day Acadia National Park itinerary, be sure to include a drive or hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. You’ll need to make vehicle reservations in advance for timed entry. Early risers arrive before sunrise to catch the earliest sunrise in the country. We chose to have a more leisurely start to our day and end with a sunset from the Cadillac Mountain summit. The amazing views from the top of Cadillac Mountain provided a 360-degree panoramic snapshot of the park. It’s a not to be missed experience in Acadia National Park.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Schedule your vehicle reservation for a few hours ahead of sunset to get a parking spot. While you wait, venture onto a short loop trail to explore before the sun goes down.

sunset from cadillac mountain
Sunsets are epic from atop Cadillac Mountain. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

A Hiker’s Paradise

With more than 150 miles of hiking trails to choose from, you’ll find everything from challenging hikes to easy walks. There are coastline hikes, forest and lake hikes, summit hikes and hikes that deliver a wide variety of experiences.

One of the most scenic, the Ocean Path spans 2.2 miles along the coastline. The shore path starts at Sand Beach nestled between mountains and rocky shores on the east side of Mount Desert Island. Here you’ll find unique sand comprised of shell fragments created by the pounding surf. Continuing on Ocean Path you’ll reach Thunder Hole. A popular year-round destination, Thunder Hole is a carved-out inlet along the rocky shoreline of Mount Desert Island. Storms and tides force waves into this narrow channel causing the air to escape with a deafening thunderous explosion. The Ocean Path hiking trail ultimately reaches the stunning Otter Cliff — one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands north of Rio de Janeiro. If you prefer not to hike the entire path, there’s a small parking lot across the street from a path that leads to the cliff.

Like any good island explorer, we escaped to the quieter side of the island to hike the Wonderland Trail. An easy out-and-back 1.4-mile hike, the hiking trail begins in the forest and leads to a boulder-strewn coastline teeming with sea creatures. Be sure to time your hike for low tide for the opportunity to explore the tidal pools. And be sure to get off the boulders before high tide.

For those seeking a challenging hiking trail, the Precipice Trail delivers. Open in the spring and fall, the rocky trail rises over 1,000 feet in 0.9 miles. You’ll also find iron rungs strategically placed to help you scale open cliff faces. Completion takes an estimated 2 to 3 hours. The national park service requires hikers to be 12 and older to tackle the Precipice Trail.

Another moderate to challenging hiking trail that can be completed in 1 to 3 hours, the 1.4-mile Beehive Trail is open in all seasons except winter and includes a 450 ft. cliff face.

stone stairs in forest
The stone steps of the trail make it a safer hike without disturbing the wilderness. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Popovers at Jordan Pond House

When you visit Acadia National Park, you simply must have popovers at Jordan Pond House! In 1893, the first proprietor, Nellie McIntire, started serving afternoon tea with popovers at the Jordan Pond House. The tradition remains today drawing thousands of visitors each year. Be sure to call for priority seating or reservations as hours change seasonally. The menu also includes lobster stew, locally sourced ice cream and freshly squeezed lemonade. In addition to these tasty treats, diners are treated to amazing views overlooking the manicured lawn.

Nearby, Wildwood Stables encourages the longtime tradition of exploring Acadia on horseback. The stables provide easy access to over 40 miles of the historic carriage roads envisioned by John D. Rockefeller, one of the park’s founders. In the summer months, carriage ride tours of the park depart from Wildwood Stables.

boulder atop bubble mountain with hiker nearby
The giant boulder atop South Bubble Mountain is a must-see and a perfect photo op. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Don’t Miss the Bubble

One of the most visited places in Acadia National Park, Bubble Rock sits precariously perched on the eastern edge of the summit of South Bubble. Known as a glacial erratic, it moved to its location millions of years ago by the powerful ancient glaciers. The 768-foot peak of South Bubble and the famous Bubble Rock are reachable from the Bubbles Divide Trail and Bubbles Trail. From the top of South Bubble expansive views of Jordan Pond, Pemetic Mountain, Penobscot Mountain and the ocean off Seal Harbor are visible.

Explore the Schoodic Peninsula

As the only portion of Acadia National Park on the mainland, the Schoodic Peninsula contains about 5% of the park. Intentionally a quieter, less visited section of the park, the 6-mile one-way loop road around Schoodic Peninsula reveals amazing views of lighthouses, seabirds and forested islands. Venture onto Arey Cove Road to the windswept rocky Schoodic Point for an incredible view of Mount Desert Island.

Linger under the starry skies with a stay at Schoodic Woods Campground — the newest campground in the park. Located 1.5 miles southeast of Winter Harbor on Schoodic Peninsula, the campground is approximately a 60 to 70-minute drive from Bar Harbor. Tent and RV sites are available. The park is open from the Wednesday before Memorial Day until October 9. Reservations are accepted two months in advance.

lighthouse on cliffside
The picturesque Bass Harbor Head lighthouse. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Over 180,000 visitors flock to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse each year making it the fifth busiest destination in the park. Located in Tremont, Maine, the light station marks the entrance to Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay in the southwest harbor of Mount Desert Island. The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse’s claim to fame includes an appearance on the NPS centennial postage stamp in 2016. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fun Wildlife Facts

Acadia National Park is home to bats, beavers, bobcats, chipmunks, coyotes, fishers, fox, porcupines, white-tailed deer and woodchucks. There are also porpoises, seals and whales in the park’s surrounding waters. And in the tidal pools, sea stars and sea anemones are plentiful. In the skies, keep a watch out for peregrines, snowy owls, bald eagles, cormorants and more.

Bears and moose are extremely rare within the park boundaries.

shuttle bus at park
The shuttle can help streamline your Acadia National Park explorations. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

What You Need to Know

A seasonal Island Explorer bus links hotels, inns and campgrounds with destinations in Acadia National Park and nearby village centers. Mount Desert Island residents and visitors benefit from this free transportation to hiking trails, carriage roads, beaches and local shops and restaurants.

There are 45 miles of carriage roads available for bicycling within the park. The National Park Service allows class 1 e-bikes along with traditional bikes.

A valid Maine fishing license is required to fish in the park for anyone 16 years of age or older.

Acadia has three campgrounds and five lean-to shelters. Backcountry camping and overnight parking are not permitted.

Portions of the park may be closed in winter and for wildlife nesting seasons. Always check the National Park Service website for up-to-date information.

acadia hotel exterior
The Acadia Hotel is a fantastic place to spend your nights. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Where to Stay

Downtown Bar Harbor is filled to the brim with restaurants and quaint side street cafes, ice cream parlors, souvenir shops and art galleries to explore just outside the park entrance. A seasonal shuttle provides transportation from Bar Harbor to many of the must-see attractions inside Acadia NP. After a full day of fun in the park, we chose The Acadia Hotel for our stay in downtown Bar Harbor. Built as a ship captain’s house in 1880, the Main House and attached Boat House offer a wide variety of room styles. Hotel amenities included complimentary bikes, a hot tub, free WiFi, off-street parking and a complimentary continental breakfast.

Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids. Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.
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