Insider's Guide to Acadia National Park

Views from Mount Gorham, Acadia National Park.
Views from Mount Gorham, Acadia National Park. Liza Daly
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Maine’s rocky coastline, rolling mountains and dense wilderness all converge in the northeast corner of the state to create the serene yet vibrant area of Acadia National Park. It is composed of 47,000 acres, and is home to the highest coastal peak on the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. The park’s rugged beauty and accessible scenic areas attract more than two million visitors per year.

Acadia came to be in three stages, first established as Sieur de Monts National Monument in July of 1916, then Lafayette National Park in 1919, and finally Acadia National Park in 1929 with the addition of the Schoodic Peninsula. With the official “birthday” in 1916, 2016 marks the park’s centennial anniversary.

Classic Adventures

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain.
Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. Laura Stockman

With more than 127 miles of hiking trails , there is plenty of terrain to tread in Acadia National Park. Challenge yourself with the 2.4-mile round-trip Cadillac Mountain trail, or for a shorter adventure, take the Beehive Loop — a steep hike, 1.6-mile round-trip hike featuring iron rungs and expansive views of Sand Beach and the surrounding islands.

Ocean Path is a moderate, 4.4-mile hike with many scenic stopping points that primarily follows along Park Loop Road. Start near the Sand Beach parking lot and the path with bring you to Thunder Hole, by Monument Cove, through the forest to a bell buoy, and by the Otter Cliffs. Hikers can follow the trail back, or catch the Island Explorer for a ride to the next location. For an easier hike, follow Jordan Pond Path along the shores of Jordan Pond.

The carriage roads are prime biking spots in Acadia. Forty-five miles of rustic roads weave around the mountains and valley of the park, providing bikers of all skill levels with scenic views. The carriage roads can also be enjoyed by walkers and horseback riders. Bring your own horse, or ride a horse from Wildwood Stables.

Take out your own sea kayak or canoe through the Porcupine Islands to explore the coastline, or join a guided trip. The area is also full of saltwater and freshwater fishing opportunities for a variety of species such as brook trout, lake trout, landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass. A fishing license are required, and can be purchased at many area retailers, and online.

For experienced rock climbers, areas like Otter Cliff and Great Head offer sea cliff-climbing. At Otter Cliffs, the park maintains fixed anchors on top that must be used instead of trees to belay several climbs. Climbers going to these areas should know tide and weather forecasts. Central Slabs is another climbing area in the park, offering more beginner routes.

Secrets of the Park

Beachside parking at Acadia.
Beachside parking at Acadia. James M. Brabson

While many guests believe Sand Beach is the only beach at Acadia, Echo Lake Beach is another beach for sunning and swimming , and has somewhat warmer waters. Both Sand and Echo Lake beaches are staffed with lifeguards during the summer season. Little Hunters Beach is another favorite, just off of Park Loop Road with less people and no lifeguard.

The park may be busiest during the summer months and into fall, but it is open year-round. During the winter, parks of the Carriage Roads are groomed and available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Drive your snowmobile on the Park Loop Road or up Cadillac Mountain, ice fish, winter camp, or go for a snowy hike.

Less frequented hiking trails can be found on the quiet side of Mount Desert Island, west of Somes Sound. Try out St. Sauveur Mountain, Beech Cliff Loop or Bernard Mountain Loop.

Some people stay on Mount Desert Island without venturing to the less congested Schoodic Peninsula when visiting the park. Schoodic has a new trail system, and is a one-hour drive from Bar Harbor, or a one hour ferry and Island Explorer ride from Bar Harbor during peak season.

Fall colors are generally best mid-October, so it’s a nice time to visit because crowds are lighter with kids back in school. Acadia also has hundreds of species of birds (the record for species of birds encountered is 338) and is considered to be a premier bird-watching area.

Immerse Yourself

Acadia coast.
Acadia coast. Peter Rintels

The Park Loop Road is a scenic drive that meanders along the coastline, featuring 27 miles of viewpoints. The road begins at Hulls Cove Visitor Center, and grants access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain. To avoid crowds, drive to the top of Cadillac either before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Make reservations for a two-and-a-half hour narrated bus tour. It includes three 15-minute stops, including one on Cadillac Mountain, from May through October.

Small sea creatures make for fun discoveries while tidepooling. At low tide, visit the kid-friendly Bar Island Sand Bar to look into the pools for treasures, or Ship Harbor and Wonderland on the west side of Mount Desert Island.

Enjoy lunch picnic-style on a mountain summit or on the ocean’s shore, or head to one of the park’s many picnic area’s, complete with picnic tables and fireplaces. To experience the park at night, head to Sand Beach for a moonlit walk, or find a special spot for stargazing.

Popovers and tea have been served at the Jordan Pond House since the 1890s. Afternoon tea continues to be a tradition today. Mid-day wait times can be long, so visit for tea in the late-morning or early evening.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit

Autumn colors.
Autumn colors. James M. Brabson

  • Acadia’s busy season is from Memorial Day Weekend through the fall, or “leaf peeping” season. To enjoy the park with less people, visit early morning or late afternoon.

  • Park Loop Road is closed annually December 1 through April 15. Two short sections of the road remain open year-round.

  • Buy your Acadia National Park pass online, at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, or at a handful of local sites listed on the park’s website. This the first year that visitors can buy the 7-day pass and the annual pass online.

  • The park is very dog friendly, featuring 100 miles of hiking trails and and 45 miles of carriage roads where pets are permitted.

  • Acadia’s free shuttle system, the Island Explorer, operates from June 23 through Columbus Day. It brings visitors to spots in the park including hotels, inns and campgrounds, with stops that include Acadia Mountain, Bubble Rock, Parkman Mountain and the Cadillac North Ridge Trail.

  • With 127 miles of hiking trails, it is important to buy a trail map at a local outfitter or the visitor’s center and to closely plan out routes with it.

  • Blackwoods, Seawall and Schoodic Woods campgrounds are all located on Mount Desert Island. Duck Harbor Campground is located on Isle au Haut and is inaccessible to automobiles. Wildwood Stables Campground is on Mount Desert Island and is open only to visitors with stock animals. Reservations are recommended May through October. National Recreation Reservation Service handles reservations, not the park, by phone at 877-444-6777 or at

  • Special use permits for events, commercial photography, weddings and more are to be applied for through a form on the park’s website.

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