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Acadia National Park is one of the top 10 most visited National Parks in the US – and for good reason. Located on Mount Desert Island on the central coast of Maine, Acadia offers beautiful ocean views, over 45 miles of bike paths on old carriage roads, and numerous jaw dropping hikes along the rocky coastline. The park’s close proximity to the cute, coastal town of Bar Harbor makes this National Park the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.
In this blog post, our friend Kim shares the best things to do in Acadia National Park and the surrounding area. Whether you are looking to cruise the coast, find the best hikes in Acadia National Park, or quench your thirst with some local brew, this guide will help you plan your epic East Coast National Park adventure!
Looking for the best things to do in Acadia National Park so you can plan an epic trip? You’ll find all that and more in this guide.
Where Is Acadia National Park?
Acadia National Park is located on the coast of Maine, nearly 3 hours north of Portland, ME. I actually flew in and out of Boston and it was a 4.5 hour drive from Boston Logan Airport to Acadia. Along the drive, you’ll travel through the small towns of Portland, Augusta & Bangor. We were so excited to get to Acadia so we only stopped in Portland, a great midpoint to stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat. Portland, ME also has a sizable airport, and flying there vs Boston would cut your drive in half.
You’ll find a map of Acadia National Park below that you can click on for a larger view.
Acadia National Park Activities
Here are our favorite things to do in Acadia National Park and the highlights from our trip there.
Baker Island Cruise
The Baker Island Cruise is a unique thing to do in Acadia National Park, where you travel 9 miles out to Baker Island in a small boat. Our cruise was led by an Acadia National Park naturalist/ranger who was very knowledgeable and we really enjoyed learning about the history of the Gilley family who used to live on the island. It was also a really great way to see the cliffs of Acadia National Park from a different perspective.
27 Mile Loop Road
Drive the 27-Mile Loop Road to see the carriage routes, carriage houses, stone bridges and other incredible sights in Acadia National Park. We ended up driving the entire road twice because we missed a few things the first time through and for certain sections, the road is only one-way. Don’t miss Thunder Hole, even if you aren’t there when it is going crazy. Just north is Sand Beach, a great place for a picnic lunch, and south you’ll find Otter Cliff.
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the Eastern seaboard in the US. You can climb Cadillac Mountain by foot if you want, but we recommend driving to the top and saving your legs for other Acadia National Park trails. Cadillac Mountain is famous for catching sunrise because it is one the first places to see the sun come up in the US each day. Permits are required seasonally to drive up to Cadillac Mountain (typically mid-May through mid-October).
Bass Harbor Head Light
Head over to check out the Bass Harbor Head Light on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. The lighthouse was built of brick in 1858 and is open every day from 9 am to sunset. Sunset is a super popular time to visit the lighthouse and parking is very limited, so I recommend getting there early if you plan to visit then.
Jordan Pond House
Don’t miss going to the Jordan Pond House, a local spot that has been serving tasty popovers and tea for over 100 years. These sweet creations of eggs, flour, and milk have a hollow, doughy inside and crispy flaky crust. You can get them with strawberry jam and butter, or for the sweet-tooths out there, try the pop-over sundae. Parking is limited at Jordan Pond House, so get there early or be prepared to circle around the lot to find to a spot.
Looking for a thrill? Go sea cliff climbing! There are climbing opportunities at Otter Cliff as well as numerous other areas in the park. If you are an experienced climber, you can apply for climbing permits here. Acadia Mountain Guides is a local company that offers climbing instruction and guiding in Acadia if you do not have climbing experience and/or gear.
Acadia National Park Hiking
Acadia has over 150 miles of trails, good for all skill levels. Below are some of the best hikes in Acadia National Park:
This 1.6 mile trail on Gorman Mountain features a short half-mile climb that rewards one with unsurpassed views of the Atlantic Ocean and Acadia’s beaches and cliffs. While the climb is short, it is intense. You’ll encounter steep switchbacks, steep drops, and portions where the National Park Service has provided hand and footholds for near-vertical climbs. If you are afraid of heights or not comfortable with exposure, you might sit this one out….or use it to tackle those fears 🙂 The Beehive Trail starts 100 feet north of the Sand Beach parking area.
Ocean Path Trail
This is a gorgeous, flat trail that is a section of the 27 Mile Loop Road. From the Otter Point parking area, you’ll find the 5.8 mile Ocean Path Trail that passes spots such as Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, the Beehive Trail, and summits 520 foot Gorham Peak.
Sargent Mountain/Penobscot Mountain
My dad and I were looking for a challenge, so we decided to climb the 2nd highest peak in Acadia, Sargent Mountain (elevation 1,373 feet) and Acadia’s 5th highest peak, Penobscot Mountain (elevation 1,194), in an awesome loop. We took the Spring Trail from the Jordan House Pond to Penobscot Mountain first and then continued hiking north to Sargent. It was only a 5 mile trip with 1,300 feet of elevation gain. This trail meanders through an evergreen forest and also has numerous steep sections with open ledges. The hike begins in a beautiful thick forest and you’ll cross numerous carriage roads. The path down from Sargent Peak back to the parking lot travels along the Jordan Pond and you’ll arrive back to the Jordan Pond House hopefully with enough time to grab a popover!
Similar to the Beehive Trail, this trail is not for those with a fear of heights. I personally loved this trail and all the sections of ladders you must climb to reach the top – it was also less crowded than the Beehive Trail. This 1.3-mile one-way trail also offers great views of Frenchman Bay. You can find access on the Park Loop Road, 2 miles past the Sieur de Monts Spring entrance. The National Park Service advises guests not to descend on Precipice Trail, but make it a loop and hike back the Orange & Black Path for a 2.8-mile hike. Be aware that this route closes often due to Peregrine Falcon nesting.
Things to Do in Maine Outside Acadia National Park
Mount Desert Oceanarium
Located in Bar Harbor, the small Mount Desert Oceanarium takes 3 hours for the three-part experience. We really enjoyed learning about the local marine life and touring the lobster hatchery.
This area is technically part of Acadia National Park, but it’s located about an hour north, and the only section of the park that is on the mainland. There is a one-way road that loops around the peninsula, and you can stop at various lookout points or tackle a few hikes. We enjoyed the 1.8 mile Sundew Trail, which takes you through the forest and to two beach lookouts, and had the trail to ourselves. I also recommend checking out Schoodic Point, where you can see Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor from afar.
The Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor, ME are open from May to October and are two of the best free gardens I have ever visited. It’s worth a quick visit to check both of them out if you are into plants.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay is 2.5 hours South of Acadia along the coast and 3 hours from Boston Logan. The garden was full of surprises, including a fun reflexology labyrinth where you take off your shoes to feel the sensation of walking over smooth rocks. Don’t miss the “Fairy Village” where you can build fairy houses in the forest.
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Great Towns to Visit in Maine
Bar Harbor, ME is the best home base for exploring Acadia and finding lodging. The town thrives on tourists, and we had some incredible lobster rolls in town. I really enjoyed walking the streets and exploring all this little town has to offer. Don’t miss grabbing some Mount Desert Island Ice Cream.
Lubec, ME is the eastern-most tip of the US, on the border of Canada. It’s a quaint, sleepy fishing village located 2 hours north of Acadia National Park. The Quoddy Head Lighthouse is a must visit, as well as the Cutler Coast Trail, a 10 mile loop that can either be done as a long day hike or overnight backpacking trip.
Portland, ME is a fun town with lots to do. It is home to the Maine Beer Trail with big names such as Allagash & Shipyard Brewery, along with lots of small microbreweries. There are over 80 breweries on the trail, broken into 7 regions and you can pick up a map at any of the local breweries. If you’d like to check out hikes around Portland, you can read our guide here.
Freeport, ME is where LL Bean’s flagship store is located. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so no need to plan your adventure around the store’s open hours. They offer tons of clinics, courses, and classes daily–some of which are free. The Maine Beer Company is also worthy of a stop if you are exploring Freeport. They are located on U.S. Route 1 and feature some really great IPA and Pale Ales to quench your roadtrip thirst.
What to Pack for Acadia National Park
None of the trails recommended here are strenuous enough that you need heavy-duty hiking boots. If you prefer trail runners or hiking shoes you’ll be just fine – Oboz Katabatic are my choice for lightweight hiking shoes and you can find other recommendations in our round-up of the best women’s hiking boots, shoes, and trail runners.
Acadia National Park Maps & Resources
Here are a few recommended guidebooks, resources, and maps for Acadia National Park in case you’re looking for more.
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Acadia National Park Lodging & Camping
Acadia National Park has 4 main campgrounds – Blackwoods, Seawall, Duck Harbor, and Schoodic Woods. Please note that Schoodic Woods is located an hour north from the main section of the park and Duck Harbor is only accessible by boat. From May to October, reservations are recommended for all campgrounds and can be made online. There are also several private campgrounds located on Mount Desert Island.
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There are lots of great small hotels and motels as well as your big name chains for Acadia National Park lodging, but book early for summer as it can get busy on the weekends.
Another great option is Airbnb where you can find a place with a kitchen so you can cook your own meals and do your own thing.