The Best Things to Do at Acadia National Park in Maine

Arcadia National Park in Maine

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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 in Maine, Acadia will stir your senses, whether you take a brisk summer dip in the Atlantic or visit during the stunning fall foliage season. Park rangers are on hand throughout the national park to answer your questions and point out things you might otherwise miss. If you're traveling with kids, stop by the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to learn about Acadia's free Junior Ranger Program. By completing a series of activities, including interviewing a park ranger, kids can earn an official Acadia Junior Ranger patch, the perfect keepsake for any trip to this beautiful part of the country.

01 of 08

Visit the Bass Harbor Head Light Station

Lighthouse in Acadia National Park in Maine

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Perhaps one of the most-photographed lighthouses in Maine, if not the whole country, the Bass Harbor Head Light Station is located in the southwestern portion of the park on Mount Desert Island near Tremont. Reachable by car—the free Island Explorer shuttle doesn't reach this part of the island—the lighthouse is the fifth busiest spot in Acadia National Park, with 180,000 people visiting each year to see it. Note that parking is limited to a small lot—street parking is not allowed along 102A or near the entrance—and you'll only be able to view the outside, not tour the inside.

02 of 08

Drive the Scenic Park Loop Road

Otter Cliffs Acadia National Park

TripSavvy / Kim Knox Beckius

Park Loop Rd, Maine, USA

Maine's Acadia National Park attracts more than two million annual visitors—its perennial popularity is fueled by the wonderful accessibility of its scenic highlights, most of which can be viewed without venturing far from your car when driving along the 27-mile Park Loop Road. While that may seem like a short stretch, checking out all 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 each year, 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's website. Cruise ship passengers and other car-less travelers who want to visit can also take advantage of the free Island Explorer shuttle bus, which departs from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center every half hour from late June through mid-October and stops at key attractions along the Park Loop Road.

03 of 08

Get Your Feet Wet at Sand Beach

Sand Beach - Acadia National Park Attraction

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Sand Beach, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA

Sand Beach is a mandatory detour at Acadia National Park and this crushed seashell beach is one of the most stunning you may ever behold. 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.

While bodysurfing in water that never gets much warmer than 55 degrees Fahrenheit may be out of the question, 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.

04 of 08

Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride

Acadia National Park. Maine. USA. Horse & cart on historic carriage trail in autumn. Mt. Desert Island.

Scott Smith / Getty Images

21 Dane Farm Rd, Mt Desert, ME 04660, USA
Phone +1 207-276-5721

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave the public a tremendous gift when he donated 10,000 acres on Mount Desert Island, including 57 miles of carriage roads he developed and cherished, to the National Park Service.

A favorite Acadia National Park experience 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. The carriage road network is an engineering feat. You'll see stone walls as well as 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, as well as private carriage charters, which take visitors into Acadia's forested interior. Carriage rides are available late May through late October and reservations are strongly encouraged.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Dine at Jordan Pond House

Jordan Pond House Acadia National Park

TripSavvy / Kim Knox Beckius

2928 Park Loop Rd, Seal Harbor, ME 04675, USA
Phone +1 207-276-3781

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, upholds cherished traditions including afternoon tea served with signature popovers with jam. Make reservations in advance to minimize the wait time for lunch, tea, or dinner.

06 of 08

Enjoy the View From the Top of Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

Gail Shotlander / Getty Images

Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA

The summit of Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the East Coast, and if you're feeling 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 seven-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 travel bucket list.

07 of 08

Discover the Beauty of Acadia National Park in Winter

Acadia Park in Winter

Jake Wyman / Getty Images

Parts of Acadia National Park remain open in winter, even when it has snowed. While most of the Park Loop Road is closed during this time, two sections are usually open: Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road. It's a beautiful time to visit and get a completely different view of the park and bay. Public roads traveling along park boundaries that are cleared can be used to access sections of Acadia, while inside, you can hike (with winter equipment), cross-country ski, snowmobile, ice fish and, if you have the gear, do some winter camping.

Maine, USA
Phone +1 207-288-3338
08 of 08

See Acadia National Park by Boat

Wreckage on Baker Island Coast

joann94024 / Wikimedia Commons 

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.

A five-hour cruise to Baker Island, which actually includes 1.5 hours on the island, allows guests to visit historic homesteads and the lighthouse, all while learning about the island's geology. Cruises leave from Harbor Place in Bar Harbor. You can also cruise around Frenchman Bay on a four-masted schooner looking for local wildlife and learning area history on a two-hour cruise that leaves from the Bar Harbor Inn Pier. The Islesford Historic and Scenic Cruise takes visitors sailing on the Somes Sound and includes a visit to the Islesford Historical Museum on Little Cranberry Island. It leaves from the Municipal Pier in Northeast Harbor.

Baker Island, Cranberry Isles, ME 04646, USA
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The Best Things to Do at Acadia National Park in Maine