Acadia National Park Things To Do
Famed for its rugged and spectacular beauty, Acadia National Park encompasses sections of Maine’s Mt. Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, and Isle Au Haut. Within its boundaries there are miles of carriage roads, hiking trails, and scenic highways. Our article on things to do in Acadia National Park will highlight the park’s most treasured natural attractions and activities.
Most people visit Acadia National Park in the summer. They do not realize that the park is a four-season destination. Many travelers like to visit the Acadia in spring and fall when Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and the Beehive Trail are less crowded than in July and August. And, when the snow flies, the park is full of cross-country skiers and winter hikers.
In any season, discovering Acadia’s mountains, forests, and rocky shores is one of the best things to do in Maine. For information on area hotels and restaurants read our Bar Harbor Guide. Refer to our Acadia: 7 Night Itinerary & Guide for suggestions on how to plan a week-long trip.
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GRAB A MAP AT THE HULL'S COVE VISITOR'S CENTER
Located off Route 3 in Bar Harbor, the Hull's Cove Visitor's Center is a great first stop for any trip to Acadia. At this location visitors can pick up an Acadia National Park map and learn about any park closures, alerts, and weather advisories. There are 52 stone steps that lead guests from the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center. Onsite, you can purchase an entrance pass, peruse the gift shop, and speak with a park ranger about any special programs or hikes being offered during your visit.
DRIVE THE ACADIA PARK LOOP ROAD
The Acadia Park Loop Road is a 27-mile road that winds past some of the prettiest portions of the Mt. Desert Island’s coastline. Beginning at the Hull’s Cove Visitor’s Center, the road snakes around the island with parking lots placed by natural attractions. Most of the road is one-way. Highlights of the ride include:
Sand Beach – Acadia: The only sandy beach in the park is surrounded by granite cliffs and long grasses. The beach is the starting point of many popular hikes including the Acadia Ocean Path.
Thunder Hole – Acadia: Churning water has carved a cave-like inlet in the rocky shore. When the incoming tide hits the narrow opening there is a thunderous clap and tremendous spray. At the attraction, a staircase leads to a viewing platform above the action. The best ‘claps’ are heard 1-2 hours before hightide. There is a parking area, bathrooms, and a seasonal concession stand at the site.
Otter Cliffs – Acadia: The view from the top of the 110-foot Otter Cliffs is one of the best in the park. In addition to providing spectacular coastal views, Otter Cliffs are a great place to rock climb (and watch the rock-climbers).
Jordan Pond House: The Jordan Pond House is a popular hub for exploring the park’s carriage roads and hiking trails. At the site a restaurant and gift shop overlook a pond surrounded by mountains. There is a large parking lot and restrooms onsite. Many trails intersect the location which stays busy hosting hikers, bikers, and motorists.
Cadillac Mountain: The highest summit on the US eastern seaboard, Cadillac Mountain has stunning views of Frenchman Bay (or none if it is foggy). Reached via a 3.5-mile road off Park Loop Road (or hiking trail), the summit has a gift shop and restrooms. Be aware there is limited parking. Between May and October reservations are required to access the road.
In addition to the spectacular Maine coast, visitors will see old timber forests, glacial lakes, and lush bogs along the Acadia Park Loop Road. Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours driving the loop. When driving the road, bring drinks and snacks (the only restaurant is at Jordan Pond House). Also, be aware cell service is poor and parking can be a challenge in the busy summer months.
WALK THE ACADIA OCEAN PATH
Why spend your day searching for parking along the Acadia Park Loop Road, when you can walk one of the most beautiful portions of the route? The Acadia Ocean Path is a gravel trail that parallels the Acadia Park Loop Road for 5 miles (round trip). The hike begins at Sand Beach (park here), and ends at Otter Point. Along the route, walkers will pass Thunder Hole (.7 miles), Monument Cove (.9 miles), and Otter Cliffs (1.5 miles). Finally, the trail ends at Otter Point (2.6 miles). Here, the trail meets back up with the Acadia Park Loop Road.
Many visitors abandon the gravel trail to walk along the granite shoreline. The trail offers some of the most picturesque portions of the Maine coast. The trail can get very crowded between Sand Beach and Thunder Hole in the summer. After Thunder Hole, the crowd tends to thin.
HIKE THE BEEHIVE TRAIL OR GREAT HEAD TRAIL
Acadia is well-known for its challenging rung and ladder trails. The Beehive Trail is a short, but difficult trail that ascends a 450-foot cliff trail to spectacular views of Sand Beach and Frenchman Bay. To reach the top, hikers must traverse sheer granite stairs, iron rungs, and steep cliff faces. Good footwear is recommended, and the hike should not be attempted in inclement weather. Adrenalin-junkies love this trail.
For those who enjoy a less technical and difficult hike, try the Great Head Trail. This 1.7-mile round trip leaves from the same area as the Beehive Trail (Sand Beach). The hike offers wooded sections and gorgeous ocean views with some sheer drops (watch children carefully).
SPEND AN AFTERNOON AT JORDAN POND
To slow your pace and soak up a relaxing-vibe, head over to Jordan Pond. Jordan Pond is a pristine glacial lake surrounding by stunning forest landscapes. Overlooking the pond is the Jordan Pond House with a restaurant and giftshop.
Take a stroll to stretch your legs around the Jordan Pond Nature Trail (1-mile loop) or Jordan Pond Shore Trail (3.3-mile loop). Next, rent a canoe and paddle around the pond.
Later in the day, shop for gifts in the store. Then, have lunch or afternoon tea at the Jordan Pond Restaurant where hot soups, lobster rolls, and popovers are often featured on the menu. This is a popular venue so make reservations, if you able. There is a parking lot onsite.
TAKE A HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGE RIDE
In the early 1900s, park benefactor John D. Rockefeller oversaw the construction of a series of carriage roads. These gently sloping lanes were designed to showcase the park’s amazing natural environments by horse drawn carriage. In total, Acadia National Park has 45-miles of carriage roads. These roads meander past lakes, ponds, boreal forests, and exquisite mountain landscapes; all connected by 16 unique stone bridges. Visit Wildwood Stables – Carriages of Acadia (acadiahorses.com) to reserve a 1- or 2-hour carriage ride.
BIKE OR E-BIKE THE ACADA CARRIAGE ROAD
The 45-miles of Rockefeller carriage roads that run through the interior of Acadia National Park are closed to motor vehicle travel. Only horses, walkers, and bikes (pedal and Class 1 e-bikes) are allowed on the crushed stone roads. The grades of the trails slope up and down. Some slopes are quite long, making e-bikes a popular choice for many visitors who choose to bike.
Bike rentals are available in Bar Harbor. The trails can be accessed from the downtown Bar Harbor or at one of the park’s many carriage road access points. Bike tours are also available. Read our Acadia Bike and Hike 7 Day Itinerary and Guide for more information on biking in Acadia. A few of our favorite carriage road bike loops include:
Eagle Lake Carriage Road Loop (6.24 miles)
Bubble Pond Carriage Road Loop (8 miles)
Extended 3-Lake Loop (12 miles)
WATCH A SUNRISE AT THE CADIALLAC MOUNTAIN SUMMIT
Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak in Acadia National Park, and the first place in the US to see the sun rise during the fall and winter months. That distinction, along with the summit’s outstanding views of Frenchman Bay, make Cadillac Mountain a sought-after location to watch the sunrise. The summit of Cadillac Mountain is also a much-loved location to watch the sun set. Between May and October visitors must reserve tickets to drive the 3.5 mile road either at sunrise or during the day. Arrive early to secure a parking spot.
SEE ACADIA'S COASTLINE FROM THE SEA
Don’t miss a chance to see the Acadia National Park coastline from the sea. A boat cruise around the island will likely take in Frenchman Bay, Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and countless islands and coves. Visitors can combine a cruise with fishing, lobstering, and swimming excursions. Sunrise and sunset sails are also popular. All of these suggestions can be booked by the waterfront in downtown Bar Harbor.
TAKE A ROADTRIP TO THE SCHOODIC PENINSULA
The Schoodic Peninsula is only about an hour away from Mt. Desert Island, but the lack of tourists in this area of the park makes it feel far away in the best possible sense. Take a road trip to the Schoodic region for uncrowded landscapes and great views of Cadillac Mountain. Before returning to Mt. Desert, pause in the village of Winter Harbor for some down east cooking. In Winter Harbor, visit the Town Wharf for more views of Mt. Desert Island.
BE A BEACH BUM ON SAND BEACH
In the dead of summer Sand Beach is often windy and shrouded in fog. The water is too cold to comfortably swim and the white sand is sprinkled with pointy shells. Despite all this, the beach is brilliant. Bordered by seas grasses, walls of pink granite, and the wide-open Atlantic Ocean the cove is one of the prettiest you will find. Skip lunch (and avoid the crowds). Instead, plan a picnic dinner. When you tire of beachcombing, walk to Thunder Hole and watch the surf spray the rocks.
HIKE TO BAR ISLAND AT LOW TIDE
Bar Island is a small circle of land in Frenchman Bay that is part of the National Park system. For approximately 1.5 hours on either side of low tide the island is accessible from the town of Bar Harbor by a sandbar land-bridge. It is fun to tread across the expanse and climb to the top of Bar Island for views of Bar Harbor. There are no public facilities on the island. Be aware of the time. It is quite a swim across Frenchman Bay!
GO BIRDING OR DEEP-SEA FISHING
If you are a birder or deep-sea fisherman, Acadia has much to offer. The park is home to over 300 species of birds including eagles, osprey, owls, woodpeckers, and meteoric peregrine falcons. It is also a popular cold and warm water fishing destination. Anglers often pull in salmon, trout, and smallmouth bass from the surrounding waters. Commercial tours are available to pursue each of these pursuits.
ENJOY AN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK CAMPING TRIP
Camping in Acadia National Park is a hugely popular way to experience the park. During the season (roughly May to October) there are two Acadia National Park campgrounds to choose from on Mt. Desert Island. The Blackwoods and Seawall campgrounds offer tent sites and RV hookups (no electricity). Reservations must be made in advance, but the sites are only available to book two months in advance. Note that there is no backwoods camping or winter camping allowed within the park.
TAKE A NARRATED TOUR OF ACADIA
When time is tight and/or transportation is limited, a narrated bus tour of the Acadia Park Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain can give visitors a good overview of the park’s major attractions. Several company’s offer bus, trolley, walking, biking, and private vehicle tours for day trippers. Most will include stops along the Acadia Park Loop Road at Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, and the Cadillac Mountain summit.
See you on the Carriage Roads, Randy and Laura
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