Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park fi

Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park

By Tom Harrison on April 22, 2024
16 min read

A trip to Maine is never complete without visiting Acadia National Park. Encompassing around 50,000 acres, Acadia may be one of the country's smallest national parks. However, it routinely makes lists of the most visited parks in the US, welcoming over 3.5 million visitors annually. 

One reason Acadia is so special is that it's mostly located on the beautiful Mount Desert Island. This is the largest of the 4000+ islands off the coast of Maine, and it's a microcosm of all that makes New England unique. Mount Desert Island has everything from jagged coastlines to pristine glacial lakes and lush forests with vibrant fall foliage. 

Because of its unique setup, Acadia National Park visitors can go from exploring epic oceanfront cliffs to swimming in a pristine lake and hiking through alpine forests all in one day. 

There are so many things to do in Acadia National Park. While this list is in no way exhaustive, it has excellent starting points to help you do it right! 

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Breathtaking hikes thru Acadia. Photo by: David Bruggink.

Key Takeaways

  • There are three airports you can fly into for Acadia National Park: Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (10 minutes), Bangor International Airport (1 hour), and Portland International Jetport (3 hours). 
  • Three to four days is enough time to explore most of the top things to do around Acadia National Park, including hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, whale watching, and rock climbing. 
  • There are no hotels or lodges inside Acadia National Park. The park's four campgrounds and cabins are the only accommodations within its borders. 
  • The village towns of Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Southwest Harbor are the best places to stay for Acadia. 

Things to Consider Before Visiting Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is in Hancock and Knox counties of Maine. It is located on Mount Desert Island in the northeastern part of the state. 

Bar Harbor, Maine, is the closest major town to Acadia National Park. This quaint coastal town acts as the entry point and the perfect base for exploring various Acadia National Park things to do, as it's right outside the park's entrance.

From Bar Harbor, some of the top places to visit in Acadia National Park, like Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Sand Beach, are barely five miles away. 

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Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. Photo by: Lukas.

How to Get to Acadia National Park

The easiest way to Acadia National Park is by flying to Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, about 10 miles from the park. This county-owned airport, between the cities of Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, receives direct flights from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).

There are car rental services within the airport. In Summer and Fall, the fare-free Island Explorer Shuttle connects the park and the airport. 

Alternatively, you can fly to Bangor International Airport, about an hour inland from Acadia National Park. From Bangor, you can rent a car, take a bus, or grab a taxi to Bar Harbor. 

Portland International Jetport (about three hours away) is another major airport you can fly into for Acadia National Park. 

How Many Days Do You Need to Spend in Acadia National Park?

There are plenty of fun things to do in Acadia National Park (hike, bike, whale watching tours, etc). Most visitors wish they had more time, no matter how long they spend in the park. That said, you should be able to tick off most of Acadia National Park attractions in 3-4 days. 

Three full days is a good amount of time to hike several trails and explore the park's three main parts: the Park Loop Road, the Schoodic Peninsula, and the Quiet Side. 

If you're an avid hiker or want to explore the lesser-visited parts of Acadia, like Isle au Haut, consider four days. 

If you don't plan to hike a lot, you can experience Acadia National Park in two days. With only two days in Acadia, you should plan to explore Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, Beehive Trail, and Thunder Hole.

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Isle au Haut. Photo by: Michael Delchamp.

Where to Stay in Acadia National Park

There are no lodges or hotels inside Acadia National Park. Campgrounds and cabins are the only options for staying in the park. 

Camping in Acadia National Park is permitted in these four campgrounds: 

  • Blackwoods and Seawall Campgrounds on Mount Desert Island
  • Schoodic Woods Campground on Schoodic Peninsula
  • Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut

All campgrounds in Acadia National Park require reservations of up to two months. Note that Blackwoods is the only campground that allows primitive winter camping, as it's open year-round. Also, only Schoodic Woods has water and electricity hookups. 

There are several cabins throughout Acadia. Check out our detailed post on Acadia National Park cabins for locations with incredible mountain and ocean views and prices as low as $100 per night. 

Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park

If you prefer staying in a room, the towns neighboring Acadia have plenty of inns, lodges, and hotels.

Bar Harbor is the best place to stay near Acadia National Park, thanks to its close proximity to the entrance. This charming coastal town offers easy access to most must-see areas of the park, including the Schoodic Peninsula. 

Of course, this also means that Bar Harbor often gets congested, and accommodation can get pretty expensive. But you don't have to stay in downtown Bar Harbor. Many accommodation options along Route 3 are slightly cheaper but not far from the entrance. 

The towns of Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor are other great places to stay near Acadia if you want to cut on accommodation costs. 

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Blackwoods Campground in Acadia National Park. Photo by: Sceninc Media.

What to Wear When Visiting Acadia National Park

Summer is the most popular time to visit Acadia National Park. While the weather is usually significantly cooler, it's often an interplay of various elements, making it extremely unpredictable. Within one day, it could be sunny, foggy, windy, and rainy. This makes layering a crucial part of your camping checklist regardless of when you visit Acadia National Park. 

The long-sleeved T-shirts/flannels in our women's hiking clothing and men's outdoor wear catalog are perfect for chillier days and early morning hikes. Remember to bring sweatpants, leggings, or any other warm athletic pants for the trails. 

Here are other must-haves for your Acadia backpacking checklist

  • Sun hat with a brim
  • Rain jacket 
  • Swimwear
  • Comfortable hiking shoes
  • Warm socks 
  • Ear muffs
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses 
  • Sunscreen
  • Daypacks for longer hikes
  • Binoculars 
  • Insect repellent 
  • A basic first aid kit (see our first aid checklist for must-have supplies)
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Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park. Photo by: Styxclick.

What to Do and See in Acadia National Park

Drive to the Top of Cadillac Mountain

If you're wondering what to see in Acadia National Park without hiking, consider summiting Cadillac Mountain. At 1530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic coastline and the first place to see the sunrise between late fall and early Spring. 

Cadillac Mountain is an Acadia National Park must-see attraction because of its panoramic coastline views. Plus, you can drive up to the top of the mountain. It's a 15-minute drive from Bar Harbor to Cadillac Mountain top. However, it may take longer if you check out the numerous viewpoints along the way (highly recommended). If you can make it there early enough (at the latest 5 AM to allow for set up), Cadillac Mountain has some of the best sunrises worldwide. 

Important: Vehicle reservations ($6) are required to drive up Cadillac Mountain between sunrise and sunset from mid-May through mid-October. 

Hike Cadillac Summit Loop Trail 

While you're at Cadillac Mountain, hike its most popular trail. Cadillac Summit Loop trail is an easy, 0.4-mile hike around the summit of Cadillac Mountain. This hike welcomes hikers of all fitness levels and those in strollers and wheelchairs. 

Cadillac Mountain Summit Loop trail is an excellent way to take in the spectacular, sweeping views awaiting you at the top of this mountain. Look out for small placards and signs along the trail that detail some cool facts about the natural formations you're looking at. 

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Sunset over Bass Head Light in Acadia National Park. Photo by: Zak Zeinert.

Enjoy Picturesque Views at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Lighthouse should be included on any list of the best things to do in Acadia National Park. This 26-foot tower is the only lighthouse on Mount Desert Island and the only lighthouse in Acadia that is reachable by vehicle. 

First built in 1858, Bass Harbor Lighthouse is a must-see Acadia National Park site thanks to its stunning landscape and photogenic sunsets. It’s roughly 40 minutes from downtown Bar Harbor and less than five minutes from Bass Harbor, Tremont. 

The best time to visit Bass Harbor Lighthouse is around sunset. To see it from another angle, hike the 0.4-mile out-and-back Bass Harbor Lighthouse Trail down the cliff. 

Unfortunately, its 26-space parking lot is no match for the number of visitors flocking to capture the sunset behind the tower. If you’re interested in the lighthouse itself, go after sunrise when the crowds have thinned out. 

Spend an Afternoon at Sand Beach

Relaxing at Sand Beach is one of the top things to do in Acadia National Park, especially during sunny summer afternoons. This beach is fairly special because it’s the only beach with actual sand in Acadia National Park. The beach is perched in a quiet cove between two rocky sides, giving it magnificent ocean views. 

Sand Beach is located about 15 minutes south of Bar Harbor via Park Loop Road. It has a large parking lot, although it often gets full, forcing visitors to park along the road. However, you can also access the beach via the Island Explorer bus. 

Note that Sand Beach waters remain incredibly cold most times of the year. However, there are still plenty of things to do with family around the beach area, including hiking and taking in scenic views. Beehive Trail, Satterlee Trail, Gotham Mountain Trail, and Great Head Trail all offer great hikes filled with dramatic ocean views. 

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Sand Beach, Acadia. Photo by: Rajesh.

Check Out Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole is another attraction to check out while you’re at Sand Beach. This natural wonder along Park Loop Road is consistently ranked as one of the unmissable Acadia things to do.

Thunder Hole is a small rock crevice where waves come crashing, causing the water to erupt with a thunderous reverberation. The best time to visit Thunder Hole in Acadia is usually about two hours before high tide. Even if you’re not lucky enough to see the wave action or hear the thunder clapping, the coastal views around this area are still worth the trip. 

Note that this is an extremely popular spot. There is a small parking lot across Park Loop Road, and visitors often park along the road. If you're parked at the Sand Beach parking lot, the best idea is to hike the Ocean Path trail near Thunder Hole. 

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Thunder Hole. Photo by: Robin.

Discover Otter Cliff, Otter Point, and Otter Cove Overlooks 

Driving past Thunder Hole via Park Loop road, you get to three other popular gems in Acadia National Park.

Otter Cliff Overlook

Otter Cliff Overlook is the first viewpoint, just 0.8 miles from Thunder Hole. This overlook provides spectacular bay views, and you can hike down to the water. Be careful, though, as the rocks are typically wet and slippery.

Otter Point Overlook 

From Otter Cliff, drive or hike 0.4 miles south to Otter Point. The parking for Otter Point is to the right of Park Loop Road. A trail sign across the road takes you to the cliff edge. This is a great place to catch the sunrise and enjoy views of the peninsula across Otter Cove. 

Otter Cove Overlook

Otter Cove Overlook is a two-minute drive from Otter Point Overlook along Park Loop Road. This is another must-do in Acadia National Park as it gives visitors majestic views both inland and out to the sea. In addition to bay views, you’ll also see Cadillac Mountain and Dorr Mountain to the north. 

The beautiful Otter Cove Bridge and Causeway are two minutes from Otter Cove. Completed in 1939, this triple-arched bridge is another photogenic spot where you can get up close to the water.

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Otter Cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean in Acadia National Park. Photo by: jonbilous.

Soak in the Iconic Beauty of Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond is not to be missed when exploring the attractions along Park Loop Road. This is one of Acadia's most pristine lakes and the park's second-largest water body. It's 5.6 miles southwest of Bar Harbor and nine minutes from Seal Harbor via Park Loop Road. 

Its surrounding mountain scenery, particularly the North and South Bubble along its northern shoreline, makes it iconic among photographers. Canoeing and kayaking on this 187-acre pond are among the best things to do in Acadia, Maine. Visitors also come to hike the numerous trails around the Jordan Pond area. 

If you want to go around the lake, hike the Jordan Pond Loop Trail. This 3.1-mile, family-friendly hike takes 1-2 hours to complete. The Bubbles Trail is another recommendable hike if you want to summit The Bubbles, although there are other ways to reach them. 

Enjoy Popovers Jordan Pond House

Jordan Pond House is one of the top places to eat in Acadia National Park. This 19th-century facility is the only full-service modern restaurant in Acadia. It's estimated that 60% of the park's visitors stop here, and you should, too. 

Savoring delicious tea and fluffy popovers while soaking in the breathtaking views of Jordan Pond is the best thing to do at this famous tea house. The menu also includes other dishes, including pork chops and lobster stew. 

There are several trails nearby that you can hike as you wait for the next available table in the restaurant. Yes, it's that popular. The location also includes a well-stocked gift shop and an observatory deck where you can unwind while taking in views of the lawn.

We must remind you that Jordan Pond House is an extremely popular stopover for hikers, bikers, and tour buses. Arrive an hour before opening time to get your name on the waiting list and relax. You won't be disappointed. Jordan Pond House in Acadia, Maine, opens between 11 AM and 5 PM. 

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Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park. Photo by: Jake.

Explore Bar Island 

Another recommendation for what to do in Acadia is to walk across a land bridge to explore Bar Island. Bar Island is a small, uninhabited island in the northern part of Bar Harbor. You can park anywhere in downtown Bar Harbor (preferably along West Street or Bridge Street) and walk to the island. 

Bar Island is worth visiting because of its "disappearing" trail. The water recedes for about 1.5 hours before and after low tide, exposing a half-mile natural land gravel bridge leading to the island. Once at Bar Island, the trail leads through the woods to a higher observation point, where you get panoramic views of Cadillac Mountain and Champlain Mountain with Bar Harbor in the foreground.

The Bar Island Trail is mostly flat and easy, allowing for a family-friendly hike. It's about 1.9 miles round-trip and only takes about an hour.

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Land Bridge. Photo by: Sean Xu.

Check Out Schoodic Point

The Schoodic Peninsula is part of Acadia National Park on mainland Maine. It's located east of Mount Desert Island in Winter Harbor, ME. 

The Schoodic Peninsula offers all that Mount Desert Island offers without the crowds. And that makes it one of the top things to see in Acadia National Park.

At high tide, it's possible to spend hours at the Schoodic Point Overlook just watching the huge waves crashing on the granite cliffs and shooting up. At low tides, it's time to explore the tide pools and discover the surprises left behind by the thundering waves. 

Hiking is another great way of reconnecting with nature at the Schoodic Peninsula. A few of the best hiking trails across the Schoodic Peninsula are:

  • Anvil Trail (1.1 miles)
  • Alder Trail (0.6 miles)
  • Schoodic Head Trail (0.6 miles)
  • East Trail (0.5 miles)
  • Lower Harbor Trail (1.5 miles)
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Kayaking at Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park. Photo by: DAVID.

How to Get to the Schoodic Peninsula from Bar Harbor

The easiest way to the Schoodic Peninsula from Bar Harbor is by ferry. The ferry ride starts at the Bar Harbor Inn Pier and ends at the Marine Center Stop in Winter Harbor. At the Marine Center Stop, take the free Island Explorer shuttle, which will take you around the peninsula and drop you anywhere along the loop. 

You can also drive from Bar Harbor to the Schoodic Peninsula. The ride takes about an hour. The advantage of driving is that it is not tied to the shuttle's routes and timeline. But remember that parking may be an issue in most attractions around the peninsula. 

Experience the Carriage Roads of Acadia 

In addition to donating 11000 acres to Acadia, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. also gifted the park with 45 miles of motor-free carriage roads. The idea behind these carriages was to allow visitors to get around and experience the beauty of this slice of heaven without being bothered by vehicles. 

An interesting fact about these carriages is that they were designed to follow the land's natural contours. As a result, Acadia has auto-free roads for hikers and bikers of all experience levels.

The National Park Service curates the pathways to give all users a remarkable experience. There are suggested bike loops of varying lengths and difficulty levels to take you to different corners of the park. One of the best is the Tri Lakes Loop (10.9 miles), which leads around Eagle Lake, Bubble Pond, and Jordan Pond. 

Besides hiking and biking, you can also experience Acadia's carriage roads by signing up for a horse-drawn carriage ride. This is precisely how John D. Rockefeller envisioned us using these paths, and it’s a great way to keep his dream alive.

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Carriage Roads. Photo by: Kenneth Keifer.

Challenge the Iron Rung Hikes in Acadia

Hiking gets our vote as one of the best Acadia National Park activities. The hikes here range from easy, coastal strolls to hair-raising (yet beautiful) trails that require scrambling over ladders and iron rungs to get to the top. 

In no particular order, these are the best iron rung hikes in Acadia National Park: 

  • Beehive Trail (length 1.4 miles, round trip; estimated time 1-3 hours)
  • Jordan Cliffs Trail (length 3.5 miles, loop; estimated time 3 hours)
  • Beech Cliffs Trail (length 2 miles, loop; estimated time 2 hours)
  • Precipice Trail (length 2 miles, loop; estimated time 3+ hours)

Visiting Acadia With Kids?

Consider these Acadia family-friendly hikes instead:

  • Jordan Pond Loop Trail (length 3.5 miles; estimated time 1-2 hours)
  • Ocean Path Trail (length 4.4 miles, round trip; estimated time 2-4 hours)
  • Lower Hadlock Pond Trail  (length 1.7 miles, loop; estimated time 36 minutes)
  • Cadillac Summit Loop Trail (length 0.5 miles; estimated time 15 minutes)
  • Ship Harbor Trail (length 1.4 miles, round trip; estimated time 1 hour)
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Hiking trails overlooking cliffs in Acadia National Park. Photo by: Atlantic_Advertising.

Final Thoughts 

The list of what to do in Acadia National Park goes on! Seriously, with over 150 miles of hiking trails and walking paths, 26 peaks, 24 lakes, and acres of pine forests, it’s hard not to know what to do at Acadia National Park. 

Set out on a scenic drive along Park Loop Road. Work up a sweat hiking Acadia’s summit trails like Cadillac North Ridge Trail and Beehive Loop. Or unplug and de-stress on the mesmerizing shores of Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and Echo Lake.

Featured image by: Jeff Dobbs.


Can you drive your car through Acadia National Park?

You can drive through Acadia National Park with an Acadian or National Parks/Federal Lands pass. You may not need your car when the wheelchair-accessible Island Explorer bus is operating. 

What is the best month to visit Acadia National Park?

Early to mid-October is the best time to visit Acadia National Park. This is the perfect time to see spectacular autumnal colors while enjoying fewer crowds and lower prices. 

Can you see the northern lights in Acadia?

Acadia National Park is among the best places to see the northern lights. In addition to its northern locale, this East Coast gem boasts open horizons and dark skies, which offer the perfect recipe for the beautiful, dancing northern lights. 

What is traditional Acadian food?

The most popular traditional Acadian dishes are:

  • Fricot - a stew consisting of onions, potatoes, and meat topped with fluffy dumplings. 
  • Beurre de homard - lobster cooked in butter. 
  • Chiard - meat, port fat, onion, salt, and pepper cooked in a casserole. 

What are the dangers of Acadia National Park?

Cliff ledges, ticks (tick-borne diseases), and poison ivy are among the things to beware of when visiting Acadia National Park. When boating, ensure you have PFDs, reflective stickers, and whistles, and always keep track of the shore. 

What makes Acadia National Park famous?

Acadia National Park is best known for its stunning Fall foliage. Its multiple locations (on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula, and Isle au Haut), the vehicle-free carriage roads, and breathtaking coastline are other special features that make it unique. 

Tom Harrison
Tom Harrison

Tom Harrison is an intrepid explorer and fervent nature lover. Through his clean writing style, he invites readers to join him on an exhilarating journey into the wilderness.


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