The ULTIMATE Guide to Exploring Acadia National Park in Maine
The secret is out about Acadia National Park Maine, with 2021 and 2022 smashing visitor records since the park opened more than 100 years ago.
It’s hard to stand out among the more than 4,600 islands that dangle from the Maine coastline, but you’ll see why Acadia National Park is known as the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast. You don’t have to pick between a mountain, forest, or shoreline here — you get them all in 47,000 acres.
About Acadia National Park Maine
The history of Acadia National Park is man’s love story with nature. It was first the Native Americans, then the French, who fell in love with this land. While historical marks seal those influences, it was the footprint of one man, George B. Dorr, who serenaded Acadia into our hearts forever.
“Few forests in the world, indeed, outside the rainy tropics, clothe themselves with such abundant life, and there are none that bring one more directly into touch with nature, its wildness and its charm.”George B. Dorr, “Father of Acadia”
Dorr’s friend, Charles Eliot, had the idea while Dorr had the finances. When Eliot died suddenly in his late 30s, Dorr was left to continue the effort. A determined Dorr pressed on with congressional testimony, more land acquisition, and the then-unheard-of proposal to donate private land for public use.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson protected the land, and through several iterations of names and titles, it became Acadia National Park as part of the National Park Service (NPS) on Jan 19, 1929. The name “Acadia” is a tribute to the French influences and translates to “Heaven on Earth.”
“There is no other place along the Atlantic coast where so wide a range of geologic facts are shown or where such valuable material is offered for research. It will give a healthy playground to multitudes of hard-working men and women.”Excerpt of writing from President Woodrow Wilson in the early 1900s
Dorr then teamed up with John D. Rockefeller, another wealthy conservationist who foresaw the erosion of nature from automobiles and orchestrated the very carriage roads that remain today where motor vehicles are banned.
The land became a playground for the affluent, with extravagant cottages and hotels dotting the rocky landscape. What luxuries the World Wars and the Great Depression didn’t destroy, a massive fire in 1947 did.
Land lovers Dorr and Rockefeller were the only wealthy to remain with the intent to build a legacy. In fact, Dorr exhausted his fortune preserving the trails. Acadia was his only true love because he never married to focus on this exquisite piece of land, and his love lives on today.
Acadia National Park Map: The Lay of the Land
Acadia National Park seemingly switches ecosystems as quickly as the breeze, and the Great Fire of 1947 even changed the landscape from what Dorr’s generation fell in love with.
“The fire of 1947 increased diversity in the composition and age structure of the park’s forests. It even enhanced the scenery. Today, instead of one uniform evergreen forest, we are treated to a brilliant mix of red, yellow, and orange supplied by the new diverse deciduous forests.”Fire of 1947, NPS
Acadia National Park is primarily located on Mount Desert Island, which you can only access by driving through Trenton Maine. The city of Bar Harbor is outside the park limits but is a welcoming neighbor. On the larger island, there are several points of entry and interest:
- Southwest Harbor
- Bass Harbor
- Northeast Harbor
Other islands included in Acadia National Park’s footprint include Isle au Haut, the Schoodic Peninsula, and the elusive Baker Island, which is accessible only via NPS tours.
Getting Around Acadia National Park Maine
For those wondering if you need a car to get to Acadia National Park, you’ll be happy to know that you can drive, but plenty of car-free options are available now, with more planned in the future:
- Fly into Trenton or Bangor airports, and use the Downeast buses to get to Bar Harbor.
- Hop on the Island Explorer bus system to stop throughout the park and nearby towns.
- Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines offers ferry trips from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor and back, with another route from Southwest Harbor to Cranberry Isles.
- Rent a bicycle in Bar Harbor, and use the carriage roads around Acadia.
- Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through different tour routes.
To keep up with the growing crowds, Acadia Gateway Center is bringing a 20-year plan to life with a projected opening date in 2025. Guests will be able to park and ride in Trenton, then take the free Island Explorer to get on the island.
Things to Know Now Before Your Acadia Visit
Exploring Acadia National Park comes with some nuances that every traveler needs to know to make the most of their time. Check these out before your visit.
Whether you’re in a car, on a bike, or walking, you’ll need a printed park pass. Buy and print your pass before you get to the park for immediate trail access. Park passes can also be purchased at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center or Schoodic Institute on the peninsula during seasonal hours.
NOTE: You can’t use a mobile device to show a code.
Cadillac Summit Road Reservations
Reservations are now required to drive Cadillac Summit Road, which spans 3 miles to the top of the park’s highest peak. With a newly repaved road open in spring 2023, it will offer a smoother ride for those who have a summit pass. The Island Explorer does NOT go on Cadillac Summit Road.
Acadia National Park campers also need to make camping reservations. Each campground has a different timeline for when bookings open, so set an alert to get your spot.
NOTE: You can download the Recreation.gov app to get your park pass, camping pass, summit drive pass, and climbing permit.
Use the park’s website or mobile app to check alerts throughout the year, which could include weather warnings, road closures, wildlife protection, or restoration activity. You can check the Storm Safety section before you head to the park each day you’re here.
Get Familiar With GPS
Spotty mobile service and the natural landscape make using a common mapping system obsolete. We recommend getting familiar with GPS coordinates to reach the right locations for different trails, lakes, and shorelines.
Things to Do at Acadia National Park
You’ve made it to Hulls Cove Visitor Center. Now what? You have a whole landscape of dynamic options ahead of you.
The general layout of the park is split between the east side — which is closer to Bar Harbor — and the west side — which is more remote and less crowded. If you’re taking the Island Explorer, check the routes to plan your path.
Acadia National Park Scenic Drives
Park Loop Road is the main scenic route through the park, making the most of your time by crossing paths with the main attractions. The 27-mile loop will take you to by Sieur de Monts, Sand Beach, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain.
From Park Loop Road, you’ll intersect with the 3-mile drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, which you’ll remember requires reservations from late May through late October. Summit reservations are only available at Recreation.gov, not at the park.
You will need to choose between a summit sunrise trip or a daytime trip because those reservations are sold separately. Cadillac Mountain gets the first glow of the sun in the continental United States from early fall through early spring, making the sunrise trip very popular.
The Schoodic Loop goes 6 miles on a one-way road around the Schoodic Peninsula. Several picnic areas, rest stops, and scenic vistas are along the road.
Acadia National Park Hiking
Acadia National Park Maine hiking options cover the forests, lakes, coastlines, and summits. Also, you can choose trails that go out and back or loop around, with historic hiking options available.
The summit hikes offer incredible views and challenging pathways, but scrambling, climbing, and cliff walking are included in some of the more popular paths. If you are bringing your dog, please note that some of the more treacherous trails are off-limits to four-legged friends.
Coastal hikes include places on Mount Desert Island and the nearby Schoodic Peninsula. You can parlay a coastal hike into tide-pooling, which is best experienced 90 minutes before and after low tide. With any coastal walk, watch out for slippery rocks and never turn your back on the sea.
Hiking Ocean Path will take you to Thunder Hole, where the rumbling sound of waves crashing at high tide reverberates through your whole body. A stairwell or switchback trail offers access close to the water, and you should arrive up to two hours before hide tide for the best chance of hearing the thunder roar.
Sensory Alert: Visitors with sensory issues might find this experience overwhelming. If that’s the case for you, we recommend that you bring earplugs.
Lakes of Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park Maine has nine “great ponds,” while five more are just outside the park. Here’s a list of the great ponds inside Acadia:
- Aunt Betty Pond
- Bubble Pond
- Eagle Lake
- Jordan Pond
- Lower Hadlock Pond
- Upper Hadlock Pond
- Witch Hole Pond
- Round Pond
- Lake Wood
Here are the great ponds that border Acadia:
- Echo Lake
- Hodgdon Pond
- Seal Cove Pond
- Long Pond on Mount Desert Island
- Long Pond on Isle au Haut
NOTE: Since most pond and lake water is used for drinking water for residents, boating and swimming rules are different for each lake. Dogs are not allowed in any lake or pond water.
Camping in Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park camping is growing in popularity, and you’ll need reservations for any campsite. Backcountry camping is not allowed, and the campgrounds close in the winter.
There are two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island — Blackwoods Campground and Seawall Campground — and one on the Schoodic Peninsula — Schoodic Woods Campground.
Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut is only accessible by boat and is off-limits to dogs. Plus, lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut.
TIP: If you’re staying at Blackwoods Campground, book a horse carriage ride with Carriages of Acadia.
Lighthouses of Acadia National Park
Now that you’ve checked the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain off your bucket list, plan for a sunset view at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse with its signature red light. The lighthouse is on the opposite end of the park from the main entrance near Bar Harbor.
NOTE: Parking is very limited, and the Island Explorer doesn’t stop here.
Two more lighthouses are overseen by Acadia National Park Maine. Baker Island has a lighthouse, but you can only get there with seasonal tours led by park rangers. The Bear Island Lighthouse can be viewed from tour boats on the water.
Islands of Acadia National Park
Many more options dot the landscape or bring people indoors in and around Acadia National Park. For example, Cranberry Isles is a town made up of five islands and is an extension of the park’s pristine nature while still being its own municipality.
Islesford is on Little Cranberry Island and has a seasonal historical museum with rotating exhibits. Isle au Haut is 26 miles southeast of Mount Desert Island and is open year-round through mailboats that provide passenger ferry service. You’ll find another lighthouse here, which is open for tours.
Stargazing & the Northern Lights at Acadia National Park
When darkness cloaks Acadia National Park Maine, all eyes go to the sky for some of the best celestial views that you can find in North America. There are several ideal spots for stargazing at Acadia National Park:
- Cadillac Mountain: Check with the park ranger’s office for limited vehicle access to the summit at night.
- Seawall Picnic Area: This is a great spot to see sweeping sky views close to Southwest Harbor or Bass Harbor.
- Jordan Pond: The pond’s east side has the best viewpoints, but the path is a little bumpy and rocky, so watch your step.
- Sand Beach: Sand Beach becomes Sky Beach at night, with plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the show.
- Ocean Path: Park at Sand Beach near Thunder Hole to see great views to the north, south, and east. Bring a comfy chair for the rocky ground.
Bring a flashlight with a red filter or bulb so that you can still see where you’re walking but won’t create light pollution for others. For those hoping to see the northern lights (aurora borealis), plan your trip between December and March for the best chances.
NOTE: The Space Weather Prediction Center updates potential sightings around the clock.
Wild Gardens of Acadia National Park
Even 80 years after his death, nature lover George Dorr is still giving you flowers. The Wild Gardens of Acadia are on Mount Desert Island in the Sieur de Monts Spring region. More than 400 species of plants can be found on winding and whimsical paths.
The Sieur de Monts Nature Center is also nearby, which is as much a tourist attraction as a research facility for the ongoing studies being done on land, sea, and underwater.
Near Southwest Harbor, guests can go back in time at the Carroll Homestead, where three generations of the family settled, worked, and lived on the land. The home is seasonally open for tours as a rare piece of living space that hasn’t been gobbled up by the wear and tear of weather and time.
On the mainland and across the narrows from Bar Harbor is where birders should go because the Schoodic Institute awaits inside a former U.S. Navy base in Winter Harbor.
An Acadia National Park Welcome Center is inside stately Rockefeller Hall. Check the schedule for events, including walking tours and puffin excursions by boat.
Winter in Acadia National Park
Crisp air and blankets of snow create a kaleidoscope of new experiences in Acadia. While there are some accessibility limits, new portals open in winter that summer lovers don’t get to experience.
NOTE: The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce is the winter location for the visitor center. Visitor centers have scattered opening and closing dates before and after winter.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
The 45 miles of carriage roads in Acadia National Park Maine were specifically designed for winter activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Volunteers groom the trails for guests, with access points available at the Brown Mountain Gatehouse and Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
Park Loop Road is partially closed off in the winter, leaving lanes of hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing trails for adventurers. A 1.4-mile route on Otter Point curves along the coastline with cliff views, with the path starting and ending at the Fabbri Picnic Area.
NOTE: Check with the Friends of Acadia Facebook or Twitter pages to see daily ski and trail conditions. You can use #SkiAcadia to get updates too.
Winter at Sand Beach
The winter storms of New England reshape the coastline in an endless seasonal cycle. The Sand Beach tide markings become an elegant dance of water, snow, and sand.
Be sure to weave the sand through your gloves to see small pieces of shell forming the brown brightness in a sea of blue and a landscape of white.
Ice fishing season runs from January through March at Acadia National Park. You’ll need a fishing license from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Park Loop Road is also open to snowmobiles in the winter, but you should know the rules, regulations, and laws before setting your mind to this winter activity. Snowmobile rentals are not offered on Mount Desert Island, but you can rent snowmobiles in Bar Harbor Maine.
More Things to Do Near Acadia National Park
Do you want to explore Downeast Maine beyond Acadia National Park? There are plenty of nearby towns, attractions, and experiences to add to your itinerary.
Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show
You’ll roll with laughter as the logs roll during this lumberjack throwback attraction.
Whether you want to watch the show with ax-throwing, log-rolling, and wood-cutting or take your chance at any of those, Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show is the place to step back in time into a lumberjack camp of a bygone era.
Lamoine State Park
There might be times when Acadia National Park Maine is packed and you want some breathing room. Lamoine State Park is just 10 miles from Trenton, offering beautiful water views, campgrounds, and trails. The park is open year-round and has a beach.
L.L. Bean Ellsworth Outlet Store
Perhaps no other outdoor brand is more synonymous with Maine than L.L. Bean, and there’s an outlet store on the way to Acadia National Park in Ellsworth. Pick up supplies while getting great outlet prices, durable and trusted outdoor clothing, and sporting goods.
Go to Nova Scotia
The CAT Ferry between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia offers 3.5-hour trips to Yarmouth Nova Scotia (not to be confused with Yarmouth Maine). Take note of the passport and entry requirements, as well as the prohibited items at each port.
Dining Near Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor Maine will be the home base for many hungry Acadia National Park visitors. Fortunately, there are many Bar Harbor restaurants to dine at.
All Acadia National Park Trails Lead to Food
Situated next to Jordan Pond, Jordan Pond House offers sit-down seating and a to-go window for those using the carriage roads. Offering popovers, chowders, sandwiches, and a kid’s menu, this is a great way to refuel your sense of adventure.
Pack on the lobster pounds at the Nor’Easter Pound & Market with a signature lobster roll or raw bar in Northeast Harbor. Or, look for Rodick’s Food Trucks with grab-and-go lobster rolls ready near Echo Lake.
On the Schoodic Peninsula, grab a pickled wrinkle (pickled sea snails) at The Pickled Wrinkle. You can order everything from soft pretzels to big burgers if you aren’t ready to try this Downeast delicacy.
Grocery Stores & Supplies Throughout Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park has six picnic areas, along with the campgrounds, where you can enjoy a packed meal instead of dining at a restaurant.
On the way into the park, just before Hulls Coves Visitor Center, stop at Hulls Cove General Store. The Otter Creek Inn and Market is the closest stop to Sand Beach and Blackwoods Campground.
Plus, Gott’s Store serves the Bass Harbor region, and you can stop at the Pine Tree Market on the way to or from Cranberry Isles.
Lodging Near Acadia National Park
If your version of being outdoorsy stops when the sun goes down and includes climate control and indoor plumbing, you have plenty of options nearby. Here are a few favorites to consider.
Step back to the days when the rich played on the Bar Harbor shores in this 1906 Victorian home and carriage house. Chiltern Inn is about as close as you can stay to Acadia National Park Maine. A pool, spa, and library are on the grounds.
Open Hearth Inn
Stay in Trenton Maine by an Island Explorer stop and skip having to drive in and out of the park. The Open Hearth Inn is open throughout the year, making it ideal for Acadia National Park winter visitors. Self-check-in with the family of owners on-site makes you feel like you’re staying with a beloved relative.
Southwest Harbor shines with views from each room at The Claremont Hotel. Guest rooms, cottages, and cabins await with a heated pool, three restaurants, and one bakery at this hotel. You might want to stay here all day until the view of Cadillac Mountain beckons.
Mainstay Cottages & RV Park
On the water along the Schoodic Peninsula, MainStay Cottages & RV Park offers a spot away from the Bar Harbor crowd. At the same time, it is close enough to all the amenities of Winter Harbor.
FAQs About Acadia National Park Maine
Is Acadia National Park Maine dog-friendly?
Acadia National Park Maine is known as one of the few national parks that welcome dogs with few restrictions.
Dogs can work toward earning a BARK Ranger title by setting an example and finishing tasks on an activity sheet during the visit.
The only places dogs aren’t allowed would pose a threat to them, their owners, or others, like steep cliff drops.
Is mobile phone service available in Acadia National Park?
You should not rely on mobile phone service while you’re in Acadia National Park, but your provider should offer a detailed coverage map.
If you download the NPS app while you have service, you’ll be able to “Save for Offline Use” and still get maps and information.
Is it better to visit Acadia National Park during shoulder seasons?
It used to be better to go to Acadia National Park during late spring and early fall, but these periods have turned into extensions of the high season.
For instance, 45% of visitors visit during shoulder seasons, while 25% more people visit during the off-season.
Do Earthquakes Happen at Acadia National Park?
An October 2006 earthquake of 4.2 magnitude made headlines at Acadia National park. The earthquake made headlines because it was rare, not because of its intensity.
Damage was limited to falling rocks that damaged railways and trails.
Acadia National Park Maine Offers Something for Everyone
Acadia National Park is George B. Dorr’s love letter to America, and you can visit his memorial at the Sieur de Monts Nature Center. You might even feel his spirit in the trees or on the trails because he vowed to make visiting the park as special for you as it once was for him.
“Saved to future generations as it has been to us, in the wild primeval beauty of the nature it exhibits, of ancient rocks and still more ancient sea, with infinite detail of life and landscape interest between, the spirit and mind of man will surely find in it in the years and centuries to come an inspiration and a means of growth as essential to them ever and anon as are fresh air and sunshine to the body.”George B. Dorr, 1853-1944