Planning a trip to Maine? Make sure you check out these 12 must dos for first timers at Acadia National Park. A 3 day itinerary makes it even easier to plan and it works for families, couples and friends.
On our first trip we had so many things we wanted to explore and see, There’s no way to do it all, but we narrowed down what we thought were great things to do and enjoy on a first visit to this beautiful National Park.
Where is Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is located on the eastern coast of the of Maine. Most of the park is situated on the island of Mount Desert, though portions of the park are on the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. The park is about 160 miles from Portland, Maine, and about 50 miles from Bangor, Maine. The town of Bar Harbor shares it’s borders with the park. Direct flights from Boston’s Logan Airport land at the Hancock County Airport, 10 miles from Acadia National Park. National airlines serve the Bangor International Airport, about one hour from the park.
Where to stay in Acadia National Park
There are many hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, and cottages located on Mount Desert Island. The more popular places to stay are in the town of Bar Harbor.
The park has two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island (Blackwoods & Seawall Campgrounds), one campground on the Schoodic Peninsula (Schoodic Woods Campground), and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut (Duck Harbor Campground). There are also many private campgrounds available throughout the island. We really enjoyed staying at Mount Dessert Campground but it is very popular so make sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is between late spring and fall. These times are often crowded. A less crowded time to visit with great weather is the two weeks after Labor Day in September until mid-September.
Must Dos at Acadia National Park
- Go on a Hike – This park is all about the hikes, and they really have some amazing ones. From beginner to advance and keep your eye open for some pups along the way!
- Eat a Popover at Jordan House Pond Restaurant – There’s no better reward after hiking the Jordan Pond Loop, or Bubble Trail than enjoying one of those famous Popovers from Jordan House Pond!
- Watch the Sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain – This sunrise is special because you’re the first people in the US to see the sunrise. It means getting up early, but it was totally worth it. Make sure you dress warm, and bring blankets because it’s windy and cold, but totally a bucket list item.
- Check out the Tidepools – There’s a fun little hike to the tide pools and once there getting to walk out on the rocks and look for animals and plants. Note: You do need to plan this so you’re there at low tide.
- Eat a Lobster Roll – I know this may not be everyone’s thing, but Main is known for their lobsters so grabbing at least one lobster roll is kind of a bucket list thing!
- Have Dinner in Bar Harbor – This town is so delightful. There are many local restaurants but we loved Side Street Cafe and Rosalie’s Pizza. (Tip: there’s usually a wait so make sure you call or add your name to the virtual waitlist)
- Visit a Lighthouse – This can be at Sunrise, Sunset or just in the middle of the day. It’s more crowded at sunrise and sunset, and parking is limited.
- Complete Junior or Senior Ranger Booklet – We love the Junior Ranger program, but they also have a Senior Ranger program. The Junior Ranger program is FREE, but the Senior Ranger booklet is available at the gift shop under $5
- Ranger tour of the Carriage Roads – We loved this tour, but make sure you check the park visitor center to see what time and what other tours are available. I think it’s important to learn about an area while visiting and I came away thankful we picked this one.
- Dip your toes in the water at Sand Beach – This is a fun stop and the only ocean beach on the island so it’s the best place to swing. But whether your spending the day or just stopping in it’s a great visit. There’s also a program called stars over sand beach so check that out!
- Drive the Park Loop Road – This drive is so enjoyable. We really loved looking out at the water and just taking in all the beauty of Main.
- Get Lucky and see Thunder Hole – This occurs two hours before or after high tide. This is really a hit or miss thing. If there’s a storm coming then it makes Thunder Hole at high tide exactly what you want to see, but if it’s nice weather it’s not very exciting. I don’t want to mislead so make sure you plan this based on the weather!
Best Hikes in Acadia National Park
I fell in love with hiking at Acadia. I really enjoyed the different trails, and climbing. I was also surprised by how many dogs I also saw on the trails while we were hiking. The kids loved climbing the rocks, ladders and seeing the scenery. Here’s some info on what we thought were the best hikes.
Jordan Pond Loop Trail – The trail follows the shore of Jordan Pond providing iconic views of steep, glacially sculpted mountains and the glacially carved valley that is now Jordan Pond. This is a fairly easy hike not much change of elevation. Duration: 1-3 hours, Easy
Beehive Trail – This is a 1.4 mile loop trail that ascends a 450 ft cliff face. Exposed cliffs, iron rungs, and granite staircases climb this trail revealing scenic ocean views. This is a very strenuous hike may not be suitable for kids. Duration: 1-3 hours, Strenuous
Bubble Trail – This short 1.5 mile hike offers views of Jordan Pond and the surrounding mountains from the iconic North Bubble, South Bubble, and Bubble Rock. This is an intermediate hike. The south side is very steep and uses iron rungs some Duration: 60-90 minutes , Intermediate/Moderate
Beech Cliff & Canada Cliff Trail Loop – This loop is a 2 mile heavily trafficked loop trail. It consists of steep cliffs with four iron rung ladders. Suggest starting at Echo Lake beach parking lot. This is a moderate hike. Duration: 60-90 minutes, Moderate
Carriage Roads – Many carriage roads intersect with hiking trails. They can be incorporated into a hike to create a loop, add distance, or provide opportunities for more even terrain to gain or lose elevation
Precipice Trail – Rising over 1,000 feet in 0.9 miles, the Precipice Trail requires physical and mental strength. It is a rugged, non-technical climb with open cliff faces and iron rungs, and reaches the summit of Champlain Mountain. This is a very strenuous hike. Duration: 2-3 hours, Strenuous
3 Day Itinerary at Acadia National Park
Visit Visitor Center, purchase park pass, get a map, pick up Junior Ranger or Senior Ranger booklet.
Drive Park Loop to familiarize yourself with the park.
Dip your toes in the only sand beach of the park at Sand Beach.
See if Thunder hole is blowing 2 hours before or after high tide.
Pizza dinner in Bar Harbor.
Relax on the square and watch the sunset on the harbor.
Wake up early to watch the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. (Don’t forget warm clothes and blankets)
Have breakfast in Bar Harbor
Hike the Jordan Pond loop, South Bubble trail
Have lunch and a popover at Jordan Pond House Restaurant
Complete Junior/Senior Ranger booklet and bring to Park Ranger at Visitor Center to get sworn in and receive badge.
Early dinner & ice cream in Bar Harbor
Take the Ranger tour of the Carriage Road.
Pack a lunch to enjoy out in the park.
Hike the Beech Cliff and Canada Cliff Loop Trail.
Cool off after the hike by taking a dip in Echo Lake.
Eat a Lobster Roll we loved Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse at Sunset
Acadia National Park Tips
When visiting any National Park make sure you don’t forget your National Park Stamp book to get cancellation stamps at the different visitor centers.
Acadia Entrance Fee
Private Vehicle – $30.00
Motorcycle – $25.00
Per Person – $15.00
Acadia Annual Pass – $55.00
Reminder if you have a 4th grader they can get into the parks for free and “treat” the family. You just have to sign up in advance and don’t forget to print out your confirmation.
During the summer months, the Park Loop Road and parking lots at carriage road entrances can be quite crowded. Parking is permitted only in posted areas, parking lots, and established roadside pullouts. To avoid the crowds and parking issues, it’s a good idea to ride the fare-free Island Explorer.
Hulls Cove Visitor Center
Hulls Cove Visitor Center is the best place to begin your Acadia National Park visit. You can find park passes, Junior & Senior Ranger booklets and park rangers to answer your questions. Large, self-service maps and digital information screens help you plan your visit. You can also purchase items from the Acadia National Park Store. The visitor center hours are 8am to 4pm daily.
National Park App
The National Park Service recently created an app for all their parks. You can access information about the park offline.
Cellular Service in the Park
Outside of Bar Harbor most of the park doesn’t have cell service. I strongly suggest downloading google maps to be accessed offline before traveling to the park.