Maine’s Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S. And with all of its natural beauty, small-town charm, and opportunities for adventure, it’s no wonder. Located on Mount Desert Island, Acadia will stir your senses, whether you take a brisk summer dip in the Atlantic or visit during the stunning fall foliage season.
Drive the Park Loop Road
Maine's Acadia National Park attracts more than 2 million annual visitors. Its perennial popularity is fueled by the wonderful accessibility of its scenic highlights. Most can be viewed without venturing far from your car when you drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road.
That may seem like a short stretch, but exploring the attractions along this winding roadway can occupy the better part of a day. Acadia National Park is a photographer's dream; pull over and shoot iconic attractions like majestic, evergreen-fringed Otter Cliffs and Thunder Hole, where water sprays 40 feet in the air when the tides are just right.
The Park Loop Road is open April 15 through December 1, weather conditions permitting. Pick up a map at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center when you enter the park, or download an Acadia map from the National Park Service Web site.
Cruise ship passengers and other car-less travelers who want to visit Acadia National Park can take advantage of the free Island Explorer shuttle bus, which departs from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center every half hour from late June through Columbus Day and stops at key attractions along the Park Loop Road.
Get Your Feet Wet at Sand Beach
Sand Beach is a mandatory detour at Acadia National Park. Aim to arrive early in the morning on summer days; otherwise, you may struggle to find a parking space. Even when temperatures climb in July and August, the Atlantic Ocean remains jarringly cold this far north. But this crushed seashell beach is one of the most stunning you may ever behold.
Bodysurfing in water that never gets much warmer than 55 degrees Fahrenheit may be out of the question, but you'll want to at least get your feet wet. The uniqueness of Acadia lies in the abrupt way land and sea collide, and you'll remember standing at the intersection and feeling your toes tingle.
Take a Horse-drawn Carriage Ride
John D. Rockefeller Jr. gave the public a tremendous gift when he donated 10,000 acres of land on Mount Desert Island—including 57 miles of carriage roads he developed and cherished—to the National Park Service. A favorite experience at Acadia National Park is embarking from Wildwood Stables on a wagon pulled by sturdy Belgian draft horses or Percherons for a tour of these broken-stone roads, which took more than 25 years to build.
Rockefeller's carriage road network is an engineering feat. You'll see stone walls and some of the 17 stone bridges his crews constructed and marvel at the views as a team of horses clip-clops along cliff-hugging curves. It's just the right speed for savoring Acadia and appreciating the foresight of those who endeavored to preserve these lands.
Carriages of Acadia operates one or two-hour narrated sightseeing outings, which take visitors into Acadia's forested interior. Private carriage charters are also available. Carriage rides are available late May through late October. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Dine at Jordan Pond House
Dining alongside Jordan Pond with a view of two gently rounded mountains known as "The Bubbles" has been a tradition for more than a century. You simply can't leave Acadia National Park without experiencing a meal in this eye-pleasing environment.
Jordan Pond House, the restaurant within the park, is operated by Ortega Family Enterprises. The company upholds cherished Jordan Pond House traditions including afternoon tea served with signature popovers with jam.
Make reservations in advance to minimize the wait time for lunch, tea, or dinner.
Chat With a Park Ranger
Throughout Acadia, park rangers are on hand to answer your questions and to point out things you might otherwise miss. If you have kids, stop into the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to learn about Acadia's free Junior Ranger Program. By completing a series of activities including interviewing a park range kids can earn an official Acadia Junior Ranger patch, the perfect keepsake.
Enjoy the View From the Top of Cadillac Mountain
The summit of Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the East Coast. If you're ambitious, you can hike the 2.2-mile North Ridge Trail to the top, about 1,530 feet above sea level. Luckily for visitors who don't have hours to spend or the stamina to climb, a 7-mile road to the summit has made the 360-degree views from this seaside peak accessible to motorists since 1931.
Devote the time you didn't spend hiking to taking in the surroundings—the pink granite slopes, soaring birds, pitch pines and rare sub-alpine vegetation. Cadillac Mountain is one of three Maine spots that are first to see dawn's light in the USA, so it is a popular place to watch the sunrise. Even if you're not a morning person, experiencing daybreak atop Cadillac Mountain should be on your bucket list.
Discover Acadia in Winter
Parts of Acadia National Park remain open in winter, even when it has snowed. Most of the Park Loop Road is closed in winter but two sections are usually open: Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road. It's a beautiful time to visit the park and get a completely different view of the park and bay.
Public roads that travel along the park boundaries that are cleared can be used to access parts of the park, too. In the park, you can hike (with winter equipment,) cross-country ski, snowmobile, ice fish and, if you have the gear, do some winter camping.
Take a Boat Tour
While at Acadia National Park, no doubt you will be viewing the islands and bays from the shore. But you can actually get to those areas via ranger-guided cruises that are offered to:
- Baker Island: This 5-hour cruise with 1.5 hours actually on the island, will allow you to visit historic homesteads and the lighthouse and learn about island geology. Cruises leave from Harbor Place in Bar Harbor.
- Frenchman Bay: You'll cruise Frenchman Bay on a four-masted schooner looking for local wildlife and learning area history. The 2-hour cruise leaves from Bar Harbor Inn Pier.
- Somes Sound: The Islesford Historic and Scenic Cruise takes you sailing in the sound and includes a visit to the Islesford Historical Museum on Little Cranberry Island. The cruise leaves from the Municipal Pier in Northeast Harbor.