With dramatic coastlines and sometimes moody, foggy weather, Acadia National Park is unlike any national park in the eastern United States. I put off going for years, opting for trips “out west” and higher mountains. While Acadia might not have the pull of the western parks, it’s definitely a park worth visiting. To see it. my daughter and I, opted for a fly and drive road trip from Boston to Bar Harbor, to spend two days in Acadia National Park. Here’s some practical suggestions and tips.
Acadia national park at a glance
NPS abbreviation is acad
LOCATED IN MAINE
established as a national mounument in 1916
named a national park in 1929
elevation 1530 ft. on cadillac MTN
visited in july
What Makes Acadia National Park Special?
- Mount Desert Island, the island where Acadia is located, has been inhabited for 12,000 years, mostly by the Wabanaki people
- Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi
- Cadillac Mountain in Acadia is the first place in the US to view the sunrise
- Much of the land that makes up Acadia was donated by private citizens
- Acadia covers almost half of Mount Desert Island, some surrounding islands + a nearby peninsula
When is the Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park?
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the late spring, summer and fall. Keep in mind though, because of its far northern and coastal location, the weather can change quickly. It can be cool when it’s not supposed to be or very hot. And if you really have your heart set on seeing the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, make sure you have a few days to wait out any rainy or foggy weather.
Summertime temps can range anywhere from 45F to 90F. When we were there in July, the weather was unusually cool for our two days in Acadia. We wore long pants and a light jacket. It was cloudy off and on so there wasn’t a chance to see sunrise or even sunset from Cadillac Mountain.
Southerner Says: we were warned about black flies that sometime appear in summer but we didn’t see even one. Apparently they are the worst in May and June after a rainy spring.
Even in July, a busy month, the park never felt crowded. Some areas like popular Thunder Hole and Jordan Pond had more people but it was still easy to get around. Bar Harbor was a little crowded and we did have a hard time finding parking there. I recommend visiting Bar Harbor when you’re in Acadia, but it’s not something you HAVE to do so if you don’t like crowds, you can always skip it.
Fall is a very popular time to visit Acadia National Park. Especially during leaf peeping season. Generally, the peak of fall foliage is mid October. So the busiest time in the park will be around the first of October through Columbus Day weekend. The average October temperatures are around 67F for the day and 45F at night. If you do decide to visit in fall, keep in mind that the park campgrounds close mid October.
Winter in Acadia is cold. Most of the park roads close. However, portions of the scenic one way loop road are open, as well as Jordan Pond road. December is definitely the mildest of the winter months, with day time highs averaging 34F. January is the coldest month. Highs average 29F, with lows in the teens. Winter activities include hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. See nps.gov for more info.
How to Get to Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island (MDI), off the east coast of Maine. The closest city, on the island to Acadia, is Bar Harbor. You definitely need a car to get out to the island but once you’re there, Bar Harbor has a shuttle to the park called the Island Hopper. It also makes stops around the island. If you stayed in Bar Harbor, you can also bike into the park.
Flying to Acadia National Park
For a fly and drive road trip, the most popular airports for flying to Acadia National Park are:
- Hancock County/Bar Harbor Airport (BHB)- 8 miles
- Bangor International Airport (BGR)- 50 miles
- Portland International Jetport (PWM)- 173 miles
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)- 274 miles
Driving to Acadia National Park
The northeastern, New England states in the US are perfect for road trips. There’s a lot of history and plenty of things to see and do in a small area as opposed road tripping out west where you are driving large distances.
A road trip in the northeastern states is great for families with kids because you can get out of the car quite often. It’s also good for someone that is wanting to do a solo road trip for the first time. I highly suggest flying into the area and renting a car so you can see more than just Acadia while you are there.
Boston isn’t the closest airport to Acadia National Park but we snagged tickets at a good price from Atlanta, We flew into Boston and rented a car. Once we left Boston, we road tripped north up the coast before spending two days in Acadia National Park. You can read more about the stops we made on our Boston to Bar Harbor road trip article.
If you fly into Boston or Portland and don’t have a lot of time, the majority of the trip can be driven on the interstate. Interstate 95 is still close to the coast and convenient enough to exit for some exploring.
Camping in Acadia National Park
The National Park Service has 3 developed campgrounds that are part of Acadia National Park. Only two are on MDI. Blackwoods Campground, is on the east side of the island and Seawall Campground, is on the west side. Both are open seasonally, May through mid October, and are reservation only. Reservations can be made via Recreation.gov.
If you’re unable to get a reservation, there are are plenty of other campgrounds on on MDI. We knew we wanted to stay in the park but I did some research on other campgrounds in case we couldn’t get a reservation. One campground that caught my eye is Mount Desert Campground. The setting and tent sites are gorgeous. According to their website, they have both wooded and waterfront sites.
We had reservations for Seawall Campground but thanks to a last minute cancellation, we were able to get a site in Blackwoods Campground for our two days in Acadia National Park. It was a good decision because the campground is one of the most peaceful and quiet campgrounds I’ve stayed in, in a national park. And it smelled like trees!
The campground is also very close to some of the more popular attractions in the park. It has 221 tent only sites and 60 RV only sites. The sites are spacious and since there are so many trees, you have a lot of privacy. The campground has flush toilets and water available but like most NPS campgrounds, no showers. However, right outside the entrance to the campground there is a place for showers and firewood.
There is a ranger station onsite and hiking trails right from the campground.
- When you get to the campground, check in with the campground host, if there is one. The host takes care of the campground and keeps it orderly. A lot of times, he or she has been in the area for awhile and can offer advice on things like the best hikes and things to see.
- Verify the campground rules when you enter. Things like generator regulations and quiet hours may differ at each campground.
- Always check if fires are allowed before you build one. If allowed, only use the fire ring or the bbq grill and don’t gather firewood.
- Don’t leave food out.
- Don’t feed any wildlife. That includes squirrels and chipmunks.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles and leave your campsite and the park, better and cleaner than when you got there.
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Lodging Near Acadia National Park
There is no park lodge in Acadia National Park but there’s plenty of lodging in Bar Harbor and other areas of Mount Desert Island. You can find cottages, inns, bed and breakfasts, and hotels on the island. Blackwoods Campground we stayed in is near Otter Creek village. There is the cutest market and inn there. Airbnb also has home stays on the island. Here’s some of my favorites that are in good locations on the island and close to the park.
What To Do in Acadia National Park
There is so much to do in Acadia National Park and on Mount Desert Island. Hiking, bicycling, horse back riding, swimming, fishing and boating are just a few of the many things to enjoy. We weren’t really there long enough to do much more than hike but next time I would like to get out on the water. There are various boat tours you can take from Bar Harbor and I think taking a tour to see the puffins would be interesting. Here’s some of our favorite things we did get to enjoy in the park.
Hull’s Cove Visitor Center
Start your two days in Acadia National Park at the park’s only visitor center. The Hull’s Cove visitor center is something you don’t want to miss. One of the first things you’ll notice are the 52 steps to reach the entrance. It’s quite the unique visitor center. However, if you aren’t able, there’s also an accessible entrance at the rear of the building and parking is available there.
Sadly, there’s the visitor center no longer shows a movie about but you can learn about it through the interpretive information and art. You can also get your passport stamped and as always talk to rangers if you have questions. The visitor center is also a stop for the Island Hopper shuttle.
Drive the Scenic Loop Road
One you leave the visitor center, head for the park’s scenic loop road. This loop is the primary way into the park. It’s 27 miles long and you can access all the popular park features from this road. There are plenty of turnouts and scenic overlooks that anyone could enjoy. Some sections of the road are one way so be cautious in stopping and pulling over. Areas like Thunder Hole and Sand Beach are very crowded. Drive slow and watch for wildlife especially early in the morning.
Southerner Says: in October 2020, to cut down on traffic, the National Park System tested a vehicle reservation pilot program for people wanting to drive the most popular section of the loop road. The NPS will look at data and decide if this reservation program will be something put in place permanently for the 2021 season.
You cannot visit Acadia National Park and not go to Cadillac Mountain. It’s the highest peak in Acadia and a beautiful place to watch the sunrise or sunset. Even if the weather is not the best, it’s worth the drive, or hike, to the top. The weather was not in our favor when we were there. Even though it wasn’t raining, it was cloudy and foggy at that elevation. We missed the sunrise but we really enjoyed walking around at the top and loved the moments when the clouds parted and you could see for miles.
The Carriage Roads of Acadia are a huge part of its history. Inspired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr, these “broken stone” roads were exclusively designed for horse and carriages. Using these roads, they could ride without encountering motorized cars.
The goal was to provide a means of transportation and compliment the beauty of Mount Desert Island at the same time. During construction of the roads, they didn’t move land or earth to build them. Instead, they built around natural features and constructed the roads in a way that maximizes the views.
All the materials are from Mount Desert Island. They built rock bridges with rock from the island over streams. Workers used large blocks of granite for guardrails, and even installed natural cedar signposts at the intersections. All the signs were stained and painted a color that compliments nature.
Today, visitors to Acadia National Park can appreciate the Carriage Roads by walking, biking and even riding horses on them.
One of our favorite things to do in national parks is hike. Acadia National Park has over 150 miles of trails that take you through forests, along the coast and to the top of mountains. We enjoyed wandering around the Otter Creek area, hiking Bubble Rock and all the scenic trails around Jordon Pond. Schooner Head overlook on the scenic drive is a fun place to picnic.
FAQ’s About Acadia National Park
- How much does Acadia National Park cost?
The entrance fee for cars is $30 for 7 days and $25 for motorcycles if you don’t have an America the Beautiful annual park pass. If you aren’t familiar with the pass, it’s $80 but it covers you, and everyone in your car, at over 2k interagency park sites for a year. It’s a real bargain, especially if you are planning on visiting several national park units.
- Is two days in Acadia National Park enough?
I think it depends. If you want to see highlights of the park, then yes you can see popular attraction in the park in two days. To really get to know the park and participate in everything if offers, then you will need more time. I think 5 days to a week would be a perfect amount of time for Acadia and Mount Desert Island.
- Will I have phone service in Acadia National Park?
In Bar Harbor, probably. But in the park and campgrounds, service is very spotty depending on your provider.
- Are dogs allowed in Acadia National Park?
Yes! Acadia National Park is one of the most dog friendly parks in the park system. There are over 100 miles of trails where pets are permitted. Of course they should be leashed and never left unattended.
Acadia National Park 2 Day Itinerary
If you only have 2 days in the park, here’s a sample itinerary and how to spend them:
- Visit the Hull’s Cove visitor center
- Morning- drive as much of the scenic loop road as you can. Must see’s should include: Sieur de Monts Spring, Schooner Head overlook. Save time to walk around on the rocks, Sand Beach if the weather is favorable and Thunder Hole. Pick an area for a picnic lunch.
- Afternoon- drive the rest of the loop road and go for a hike. Bubble Rock or the Beehive Trail are two popular hikes at Acadia. Weather permitting, visit Cadillac mountain for sunset. After sunset, go into Bar Harbor for dinner and to walk around to see the boats and sights.
- Morning- Cadillac Mountain for sunrise if you are brave enough to get up at 4 am. Finish driving the park loop road if you didn’t drive it all yesterday. Visit Jordan Pond House and walk some of the trails around the pond. You can also access the some of the Carriage Roads from this area.
- Afternoon- Drive to the southwest part of the island to see the Seawall section of Acadia NP. There is a nice picnic area at Seawall, close to the campground and some hiking trails south of there. Drive route 102A for costal views and to see Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse. Return back to Southwest Harbor for dinner at one of the marinas. I suggest The Upper Deck for the good views.
Packing List For July in Acadia National Park
Since Acadia National Park is in a populated area, you should be able to buy supplies on the island. While there aren’t If you forget something, you should be able to buy it. There are grocery stores in Bar Harbor so you could buy all your food there if you are camping there but I recommend getting them before you get there.
- short sleeved shirts
- long sleeved shirt or sweatshirt
- rain jacket
- shoes for hiking and rainy weather
- refillable water bottle
- swimsuit and towels
- hand sanitizer and soap
Other Acadia National Park Resources
- NPS Acadia National Park Map
- Acadia National Park app by Chimani
- Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island Guide by James Kaiser
- Learn Leave No Trace principles