Visiting Acadia: One of the Maine Attractions
The Atlantic Ocean’s salty air, breathtaking sunrises, and dramatically craggy coastlines come together in eastern Maine for an unforgettable experience. With so much to offer, it’s no surprise that Acadia National Park ranks high on must-visit parks. This iconic place has witnessed the movements of different groups through thousands of years, from Native Americans to European settlers to today’s visitors.
Acadia National Park receives over 3 million visitors each year, so knowing what to do, when to go, and how to get there will be key. If it’s an option, taking a long weekend in this Maine gem will give you enough time to enjoy different aspects of the park. Whether you’re able to explore for three days or more, take a look at some of the activities detailed here to help inspire your trip to Acadia!
First timers will want to stop in a visitor center before leaping into activities in the park. The Hulls Cove Visitor Center is open from mid-April through mid-October and hours vary by season. From here, you’ll be able to easily hop on the Park Loop Road for a scenic drive in your car, or park and start exploring.
Begin your explorations of the park by following the historic carriage roads. Between 1913 and 1940, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family helped construct 45 miles of rustic carriage roads. These broken-stone roads are 16-feet wide and carefully crafted to outlast Maine’s frequent precipitations. Sixteen stone bridges dot the forests with picturesque arches over streams, waterfalls, and roads. Hike, bike, or even horseback ride along these paths to experience Acadia just as Rockefeller envisioned.
In the winter, visitors can opt to explore many of the carriage trails by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Though not all areas are groomed for visiting once the snow falls, it’s easy to check online in advance. Visitors also delight in ice fishing, snowmobiling, and many other activities only enjoyed once the snow has fallen.
By mid-afternoon, you’ll have worked up an appetite for high tea at Jordan Pond House Restaurant. Nothing will taste better than fresh popovers with local jam and butter! The restaurant is a favorite with park visitors who come for great seafood and stay for the excellent views of the pond.
Depending on the season and programming schedule, enjoy an evening ranger program. Programs like “Stars Over Sand Beach” and “Knowing the Night” invite you to learn about a whole new world in the park once the sun has set. Just be sure to check in advance to see if an RSVP is recommended — spots fill up quickly!
With so many unique areas of the park, you’ll want to rise early and get moving! Spend the morning kayaking or canoeing at Seal Cove Pond, located on the western side of the park. If you’re visiting between April and September, consider bringing your fishing gear and license and casting a line for perch or brown trout. And don’t forget to keep your eyes out for birds! Acadia has an excellent array of birds, including American bald eagles, ospreys, and songbirds.
While you’re at the pond, be sure to explore Sawyers Point, a 62-acre piece of land that, until 2016, was the largest unprotected tract of land within the park’s boundaries. Thanks to support from the National Park Foundation and the Friends of Acadia, the land, which is an important piece of wildlife habitat, is now protected.
Once the day and your energy start to wane, enjoy a sunset near Bass Harbor Head Light, a historic lighthouse on the southwestern-most tip of Mount Desert Island. As the United State Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, it can only be viewed from the outside. Nevertheless, it creates the perfect setting for the sunset. Visitors are also welcome to enjoy it up close via a paved path or a trail and stairway.
Set your alarm early so that you don’t miss one of Acadia’s most talked about views: sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the U.S.’s east coast. Every sunrise is unique and yet each is beautiful, a mix of colors and clouds surrounding the sun as it seems to gently rise from the ocean. Just remember: the time of the sunrise depends on the season, so be sure you’re aware of how early you’ll need to wake up in order to get to the top of the mountain before the sun starts its show!
Once the sun is up and your coffee has hit, take a leisurely morning walk at Bar Harbor during low tide. Only during low tide will you be able to walk along the sandbar to Bar Island. Here you’ll find shells, seaweed, and whatever else the ocean has left behind during its most recent recession. Be sure to time your tidepooling correctly by checking out a tide chart in advance.
If you have time, finish the morning with a walk along Sand Beach. It’s one of the only sandy beaches on Mount Desert Island, making it a favorite among visitors. A morning jaunt on the beach will help avoid the bustling afternoon crowds. In the summer, Sand Beach is also one of two beaches in the park that are staffed with lifeguards, so be sure to bring your bathing suit and towel.
Once you’ve toweled off, prepare your sea legs for a ranger-led boat tour! The Frenchman Bay Cruise runs July through October and invites visitors to sail on a 151-foot schooner for 2 hours of learning. Interested in a longer escapade? Consider one of the other available cruises, but be aware that the cruise schedule varies based on season and there are fees. No matter which one you choose, the cruises are a memorable way to tour various parts of the park with an expert on hand to tell you about the area’s history and wildlife.
How to Get There
Given the popularity of the park and its limited parking, visitors are encouraged to take the park’s Island Explorer bus, which runs from late June through early October and drives between the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport, local communities, and several park destinations.
When to Go
Though the park is open year-round, the Rockefeller Welcome Center is the only visitor center open during the winter months and many of the campgrounds are only open between late May and early fall. Be sure to check with the park before planning a trip during the winter months to be aware of road closures and changes in winter operations.
Where to Stay
When visiting a popular national park like Acadia, campgrounds are a hot commodity! Be sure to make a campsite reservation in advance. For even more options, visitors may consider any of the private campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, and Isle au Haut.
More than 15,000 years ago, bedrock, sea, and retreating glaciers began to transform Maine’s coast into the wondrous, craggy landscape seen at Acadia National Park today. Thanks to philanthropic support through the years, from Rockefeller’s carriage roads to the National Park Foundation’s role in preserving Sawyers Point, the National Park Service continues to protect this incredible place.
Under stone bridges, through spruce-fir forests, atop Cadillac Mountain, or along the rocky beaches, #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque at this historic national park to forget your daily concerns in one of New England’s most natural places.