Acadia National Park in Maine is my favorite national park in the US.
It’s the first place I traveled to, when I was just a few months old. My summer and school vacations were often spent on Mount Desert Island, visiting family in nearby Bar Harbor and enjoying Acadia National Park.
That’s nearly 40 years of visiting this beautiful US National Park!
After spending so much time over the years at Acadia, I knew I had to put together a guide for my readers on all the best things to do in Acadia National Park.
Let’s jump in, shall we?
Be sure to check local travel regulations before you book a trip. Some destinations are blocked from visitors or have drastically altered schedules or availability due to COVID-19. Always wear a mask and wash your hands frequently.
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Table of contents
- Planning a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine
- The Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park
- Take one of the best scenic drives in Maine
- Have tea time at Jordan Pond House
- Go wildlife spotting
- Take a horse-drawn carriage ride
- Hit the road on a bicycle
- Go stargazing in the park
- Visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia
- Do yoga in the park
- Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain
- Visit Bar Island, Maine at low tide
- Visit Thunder Hole in Acadia at high tide
- Go camping
- Go for a hike or nature walk
- Experience rock climbing
- Get out on the water
- Hang out at my favorite Acadia National Park beaches
- Take a day trip to Isle au Haut
- What are your favorite things to do in Acadia National Park?
Planning a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine
Before we get to all of the amazing things there are to do in Acadia National Park, let’s go over the basics to help you with planning your trip.
Where is Acadia National Park?
Acadia National Park is located along the northern end of Maine’s coastal region. The majority of the park is on Mount Desert Island. The closest town to the main entrance of the largest section of Acadia is Bar Harbor.
There are other areas off of Mount Desert Island that are part of Acadia, such as the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut, as well.
For the Schoodic Peninsula, the closest town is Winter Harbor and for the Isle au Haut, the closest town is Stonington.
The closest airport to Acadia National Park is Bangor International Airport, which is about 1 hour from Bar Harbor.
When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?
Knowing the best time to visit is key to one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park: leaf peeping.
While peak tourist season is June through August, the best to visit Acadia National Park is in the Fall.
In September and October, crowds and hotels near Acadia will be less than during the Summer.
The weather in the Fall is great, as well. While you might still have hot spells, the deeper you get into Fall, the milder the days will be.
Last, but not least, one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park is leaf peeping during the Fall foliage change. The range of colors in the trees is just stunning!
There really isn’t anything formal to leaf peeping. You could go for a hike through a wooded area to check out the magnificent colors, schedule a shoreline boat tour, or even just appreciate the leaves while driving around or riding the park’s bus.
If visiting during the Fall season is not possible, consider visiting the Schoodic Peninsula part of the park, if your vacation will take place during peak tourist season.
Given that the Schoodic Peninsula is on the mainland, it tends to be less crowded, even during the peak season.
How much does it cost to enter Acadia National Park?
A park pass is only available as weekly or annual. There are no day passes available.
One non-commercial vehicle with up to 15 seats costs $30 per week. Motorcycles are $25.
If you are on foot or bike, the weekly pass is $15. An annual pass for Acadia National Park is $55 and valid for 1 year from the purchase date. An annual pass for all US national parks and recreation areas is $80.
TIP: Don’t forget, there are a few ways you can get a FREE America the Beautiful pass for entry into all US National Parks.
What’s the best way to get around the park?
Acadia National Park has a FREE bus with several routes. The bus system was created in the late ‘90s in an effort to reduce traffic, parking congestion, and pollution at Acadia.
You can learn more about the Island Explorer shuttle, including maps and timetables at the Explore Acadia website.
The Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park
Now that we have the basic trip planning information out of the way, here are all of the fun activities and places to see in Acadia National Park.
Take one of the best scenic drives in Maine
Take a leisurely drive through Acadia National Park via Park Loop Road.
The road starts at Hulls Cove Visitor Center in Bar Harbor and loops around the park for 27 miles.
If you’re only in Bar Harbor for a short time, you can see the best of Acadia National Park via Park Loop Road. You can also make stops when you want, rather than being stuck to what is on a tour.
Have tea time at Jordan Pond House
Yes, tea time sounds a bit frou-frou, but with beautiful views of Jordan Pond, you can’t go wrong!
The most popular time to visit Jordan Pond House is for afternoon tea (3-5 pm).
No matter what time you visit Jordan Pond House, ask for a table on the lawn. And before you even ask – yes, tables on the lawn are worth the wait!
There’s a gift shop next door, so while you wait, browse for souvenirs, such as a bag of Jordan Pond popover mix and berry jam.
Popovers are the signature item to get at Jordan Pond House, along with a tall glass of lemonade or a tea-based cocktail to cool down.
Go wildlife spotting
Acadia National Park is a great place for wildlife spotting.
It’s important to keep in mind that you should always keep a respectful distance from any wildlife you might come across.
Watch and take photos from afar, but don’t approach or feed the wildlife!
There are many areas in Acadia National Park that are excellent for birdwatching.
Precipice Trail is great for watching falcons and Cadillac Mountain is known for spotting hawks.
Atlantic Puffins are my favorite species of bird in the area. Your best chance of spotting these cuties is via a boat tour.
Speaking of boat tours, if want to see whales and other marine animals, a boat tour is the way to do it.
Humpback whales, minke whales, finback whales, harbor seals, grey seals, and walruses are many of the marine animals that you might spot on a boat tour within Acadia’s borders.
Aside from birds and marine animals, a few other animals you might spot while touring Acadia are moose, black bears, foxes, wolves, and deer.
Spotting these animals is not common (except for maybe deer), but don’t be surprised if you see one or find tracks while out on a hike!
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride
Acadia National Park includes 45 miles of carriage roads that are free from cars.
The carriage roads were originally built for horse-and-carriage transportation, but these days it is used for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing.
Carriages of Acadia runs horse-drawn carriage rides that last 1-2 hours, with private tours available.
In 2019, tours run from $9-40, depending on age and the tour chosen. The tours fill up super quick, so if you’re dead set on doing one, reserve it well in advance.
Hit the road on a bicycle
The carriage roads in Acadia are car-free, so they are great for bike rides. Just be aware that they are the same roads that Wildwood Stables uses for their horse-drawn carriage rides.
Park Loop Road is another popular spot for bicyclists in Acadia National Park.
Go stargazing in the park
Acadia National Park is open 24 hours. After dark it is less crowded, making the park a great spot for stargazing.
I recommend Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach, or Little Hunters Beach for prime stargazing spots in the park.
To make your stargazing adventure even better, I recommend using the SkyView app. The SkyView app will help you identify major stars, constellations, and planets.
Visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia
If flowers, plants, and trees are more your thing, head to the Wild Gardens of Acadia nearby the Sieur de Monts Nature Center.
The gardens are open year round and do not require an entrance fee.
In addition to the gardens, you can take a walk through nature on the Jesup Path or Emery Path, both of which can be accessed from this area.
Do yoga in the park
Relax with a yoga session at Sand Beach or Cadillac Mountain by Yoga in Your Park.
Check out the Yoga in Your Park website for times and locations for classes held inside Acadia National Park.
Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain
The sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain is gorgeous any time of the year.
But, in the Fall and Winter seasons, Cadillac Mountain is the very first place to see the sunrise in the United States.
How’s that for a bucket list item?
Watching the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain is a super popular activity with visitors, which means it gets quite crowded.
Get there early to secure your preferred viewing spot.
Visit Bar Island, Maine at low tide
Hop from Mount Desert Island to Bar Island from downtown Bar Harbor, near Bridge Street.
During low tide, Bar Island is accessible by foot or vehicle due to a sand path that appears when the tide recedes.
Bar Island has a few short hiking paths that would make for a fun afternoon of exploring a different part of Acadia National Park.
Make sure you know the timing of the tides so that you don’t get stranded on the island.
It is uninhabited, so you won’t be able to pop over to someone’s house for shelter!
Lastly, I recommend walking across, not driving, to avoid any chance of damaging your car.
When is high or low tide in Bar Harbor?
To make sure you have the most accurate information about high and low tide times near Bar Island, check out the Tide Alert app from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Tide Alert (NOAA) is available on the iOS App Store and includes an integration with the Apple Watch and iMessage app.
Visit Thunder Hole in Acadia at high tide
Thunder Hole is a natural rock inlet that makes a loud thunder-like sound when the waves crash in. It is definitely a must-do and won’t take too much time.
The key is to visit during high tide, as you won’t get much of a “show” during low tide.
You can use the Tide Alert (NOAA) app linked above to figure out the best time to visit Thunder Hole.
Camping is a great way to add to your experience exploring the great outdoors. If you’re more into glamping, consider choosing a campground outside the park that has cabins.
There are 4 campgrounds within Acadia National Park, as well as many throughout Mount Desert Island.
Blackwoods Campground is located in the Bar Harbor area of the park. The sites here are only available for tents. Shower facilities are located off-site, about a half mile away, but there are working toilets on site.
For more information about this campground, check out the Blackwoods Campground reservation page.
Seawall Campground is located on the “quiet side” of the island, nearby Southwest Harbor. This campground is mainly for tent camping, though there are a few spots that can accommodate smaller RVs.
There are no shower facilities on site, so you have to drive or walk 1 mile to reach a facility where you can pay to use the showers. Thankfully there are flushing toilets on site!
For more information on this campground, check out the Seawall Campground reservation page.
Schoodic Woods Campground is located in the Schoodic Peninsula area of Acadia. Both tent and RV camping is available here, with some sites featuring electric and/or water hookups.
For more information about this campground, check out the Schoodic Woods Campground reservation page.
Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut is quite small with only 5 sites available from late Spring through mid-Fall. It is not accessible to cars, so you’ll need to access by foot.
For more information, check out the Duck Harbor Campground reservation page.
TIP: Book your site as far ahead as possible. Campsites in the Mount Desert Island area book up quickly, especially the cabins. Some campgrounds fill up for the summer before they even open for the season!
Go for a hike or nature walk
There are just under 2 dozen hiking trails and nature paths to explore in Acadia National Park.
The trails range from 1 to 5 miles, with difficulty ranging from easy to super hard (ex: scaling rungs on a rock).
Here are 3 of my favorite hiking trails in Acadia National Park, all of which are family-friendly.
The Gorham Mountain Trail is roughly 2 miles round trip. It includes options to continue on to other trails from the summit, instead of heading back down the way you came up.
The Jordan Pond Loop Trail is 3.3 miles round trip. There are plenty of places to stop off along the trail to take a rest (without disturbing nature), so don’t be intimidated by the length if you are not a regular hiker. This one’s more of a nature walk due to its level elevation.
The Wonderland Trail is about 1.5 miles out and back. The mid-point opens up to a beautiful rocky shoreline begging for exploration. Wonderland is a fairly easy trail without elevation changes, though it can be rocky in some spots.
For more trails, especially more challenging trails for experienced hikers, check out the AllTrails app.
The AllTrails app will help you find hiking trails nearby your location, including tips to help you determine if it’s a good trail for your interests and skill level.
The AllTrails app is available at the iOS App store. Access is free, but you can unlock extra features with a $14.99 annual subscription.
Experience rock climbing
There are several areas in the park that are great for rock climbing, such as Otter Cliff.
I recommend going with a guided group, such as the one through Atlantic Climbing School, for safety reasons.
The Atlantic Climbing School can also provide rock climbing lessons, if you are not an experienced climber.
Get out on the water
National Park Canoe & Kayak Rentals rents out canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards (SUP) at 3 hour, 6 hour, daily, and weekly increments.
While they will provide instruction on using their equipment, I only recommend going the rental route if you have at least a little experience using the equipment you’re renting.
Otherwise, you can also join ocean kayaking tours through National Park Sea Kayak Tours.
Tours with this company will take you through waters that are considered part of Acadia National Park, such as Somes Sound, Blue Hill Bay, or Western Bay.
National Park Sea Kayak Tours has been in business for just under 30 years and is owned by a Mount Desert Island native.
Hang out at my favorite Acadia National Park beaches
Little Hunters Beach is one of my favorite spots in Acadia National Park, mainly because it is secluded and hard to find.
Whenever I’ve visited, it’s been empty or only had a few visitors.
Aside from its secluded location, I also love that it is made up of smoothed over rocks, rather than sand. It’s a wonderful place to get away from the crowds.
If you’re looking for a more traditional beach, check out Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.
Sand Beach is one of 2 beaches at Acadia National Park that has a lifeguard during the summer months.
During the summer, the water is still too cold for most people, but if you’re looking for a typical beach day, this is as close as you’ll get in these parts of Maine.
Sand Beach also includes changing stalls and restrooms.
Take a day trip to Isle au Haut
Roughly half of Isle au Haut is part of Acadia National Park, while the other half is private property.
Isle au Haut is reachable via ferry from Stonington, Maine. You can find more information about the ferry on the Isle au Haut Boat Services website.
On Isle au Haut, you can find the usual outdoor activities available elsewhere in Acadia, such as bicycling, camping, fishing, and hiking.
What are your favorite things to do in Acadia National Park?
I hope you enjoyed my guide to Acadia National Park. Be sure to jump over to my posts on more information on the surrounding Bar Harbor area for more tips on planning a vacation to my favorite vacation spot in the US!
This post was originally published on September 4, 2016. It was most recently updated on October 19, 2019.