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The Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Maine is my favorite national park in the US and arguably the best one on the entire East Coast. 

It’s also 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 Bar Harbor.

After spending so much time over the years in the area, I knew I had to put together a guide about all the best things to do in Acadia National Park.

Let’s jump in, shall we?

Planning a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine

Aerial view of Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.
Photo by Victoria Stauffenberg, courtesy of NPS.

Before we get to all of the amazing things to do in Acadia National Park, let’s go over the basics for planning a trip here.

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 is in Bar Harbor, Maine.

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, Maine and for the Isle au Haut, the closest town is Stonington, Maine.

When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?

While peak tourist season is June through August, the best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the Fall.

Tree with bright orange leaves next to a calm lake with mountains in the background at Acadia National Park.
Photo courtesy of NPS.

In September and October, crowds and hotels near Acadia are less than during the Summer. 

The weather in the Fall is great, as well. While you might still have the occasional Summer-like temps, 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 can 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.

You might like: The Ultimate Guide to Maine in the Fall

How much does Acadia National Park cost?

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.

Single day passes are not available, only weekly or annual passes.

TIP: Don’t forget, there are a few ways you can get a FREE annual national park pass for entry into all US National Parks.

What’s the best way to get around the park?

Photo of a bus pulled over on the side of a road. Writing on the bus reads "Island Explorer."
Photo courtesy of NPS.

Acadia National Park has a free passenger bus with several routes called the Island Explorer shuttle. 

The bus system was created in the late ‘90s in an effort to reduce traffic, parking congestion, and pollution in the area. 

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, let’s dig into all of the amazing activities and sightseeing at Acadia National Park.

Take a drive around Park Loop Road

Take a leisurely scenic drive through Acadia National Park via Park Loop Road. 

View from Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park looking onto evergreen trees, rocky shoreline, and crashing waves.
Photo by Kristi Rugg, courtesy of NPS.

This scenic drive 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 only seeing what is on an organized 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!

Flat lay photograph of blueberry lemonade and a popover against a wooden table at Jordan Pond House.
Photo by Meg Frost.

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 blueberry 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 always keep a respectful distance from any wildlife you might come across.

You can watch and take photos from afar, but please don’t approach or feed the wildlife.

Closeup photograph of an Atlantic Puffin.

For bird watching, 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 adorable sea birds is on a boat tour.

Boat tours are also great for spotting whales, seals, and other sea life.

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 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 day trip to Isle au Haut

A small cottage-like building with a sign that says "Acadia National Park Ranger Station" at Isle Au Haut in Maine.
Photo courtesy of NPS.

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 the park, such as bicycling, camping, fishing, and hiking.

Go on a horse-drawn carriage ride

Acadia National Park includes 45 miles of carriage roads that do not allow cars or other vehicles.

The carriage roads were originally built for horse-and-carriage transportation, but these days they are used for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing.

A group of 3 chestnut colored horses behind a wooden fence.
Photo courtesy of NPS.

Carriages of Acadia runs horse-drawn carriage rides that last 1-2 hours, with private tours available.

The tours fill up super quick, so if you’re dead set on doing one, be sure to reserve your preferred tour date in advance.

Hit the road on a bicycle

Person wearing a helmet, riding by on a mountain bike
Photo courtesy of NPS.

Biking is a popular activity in the area.

The carriage roads are the perfect spot for biking as they are car-free.

Park Loop Road is another popular spot for bicyclists, as is the road up Cadillac Mountain.

Visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia

Photo of Jesup Path showing a wooden boardwalk-style path in a forest, covered in fallen leaves.

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.

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?

View of the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.
Photo by Meg Frost.

Watching the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain is a super popular activity with visitors, which means it gets quite crowded.

From May 26 to October 29, visiting Cadillac Mountain requires an extra pass in addition to park admission. There are 2 passes available, 1 pass for sunrise and 1 pass for daytime.

Visitors can reserve 1 of each pass type within a 7 day span. The pass costs $6 and can only be reserved online. Approximately 30% of passes are made available to reserve 90 days ahead while the remaining are made available 2 days ahead.

Go stargazing

Thousands of stars against a dark purplish-blue sky with evergreen trees in the foreground.

Acadia National Park is open 24 hours. After dark it is less crowded, plus there is no light pollution, making it the perfect 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 Bar Island 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 and 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 for iOS or Tides Near Me app for Android.

Visit Thunder Hole in Acadia at high tide

Close up photo of Thunder Hole inlet at Acadia National Park.
Photo by Meg Frost.

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 to experience. 

The key is to visit during high tide, as you won’t get much of a show during low tide.

Use the tide apps linked in the above section to figure out the best time to visit Thunder Hole.

Go camping

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 the park itself, as well as many throughout Mount Desert Island. 

  1. Blackwoods Campground
  2. Duck Harbor Campground
  3. Schoodic Woods Campground
  4. Seawall Campground

You can learn more about camping and other lodging options for Acadia National Park in my post about where to stay in Bar Harbor, Maine.

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).

Photo of a woman sitting amongst rocks along the shoreline of Jordan Pond Loop Trail in Acadia National Park.
Photo by Meg Frost.

Here are 3 of my favorite hiking trails at Acadia, 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.

How to find more trails at Acadia National Park

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 app is free, but you can unlock extra features with an annual subscription for $29.99.

You might also like: The Best Short Hiking Trails in the USA

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

A group of people in life jackets with tadem kayaks sitting on a shoreline.
Try your hand at kayaking or other water sports in Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism.

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

Woman walking along Little Hunters Beach in Acadia National Park, a beach filled with smooth rocks instead of sand.
Photo by Meg Frost.

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.

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.

What are your favorite things to do in Acadia National Park?

I hope you enjoyed my guide to Acadia National Park. Be sure to check out my post on the best things to do in Bar Harbor for more trip planning tips.

This post was originally published on September 4, 2016. It was last updated on July 25, 2021.

New England in the Fall: A Complete Guide - Frost + Sun

Wednesday 8th of September 2021

[…] For tips on planning a trip to this beautiful New England park, check out my post on the best things to do in Acadia National Park. […]

thomastash

Wednesday 11th of April 2018

Beautiful shots! Acadia is my favorite place in the world! Have you been able to check out the Schoodic section of the park? It’s a bit quieter but the views are amazing. If you do, you should check out the new Acadia East Campground https://www.acadiaeastcampground.com/ and picnic at Schoodic Point

Meg Frost

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

Hi Thomas -

Yes, I have been to the Schoodic section, but it has been many years since! Acadia is one of my favorite places, as well. I will have to check out the new campground in Schoodic next time I visit. Thanks for stopping by!

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