With dramatic coastlines and sometimes moody, foggy weather, Acadia National Park is unlike any other 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 national park worth visiting. To visit, my daughter and I, opted for a flight, from Atlanta to Boston and a road trip, from Boston to Bar Harbor, to spend two days in Acadia National Park. Here’s some practical suggestions and tips to help you plan your trip.
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 worse 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 were congested but still pretty easy to get around. Bar Harbor was also crowded and we had a hard time finding parking there but in my opinion, it’s so worth it. It’s the cutest charming town.
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, to Acadia National Park, 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 are staying in Bar Harbor, then 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
We opted to camp for our two days in Acadia National Park. The National Park Service has three developed campgrounds in the park. But only two are on Mount Desert Island. Blackwoods Campground, is on the east side of the island and Seawall Campground, is on the west side. Both campgrounds are open seasonally, May through mid October, and are reservation only. You can make a reservation via Recreation.gov and reservations can be made up to six months in advance.
If you can’t get a reservation inside the park, no worries, there are are plenty of other campgrounds on on the island. I researched a few in case we couldn’t get a reservation in the park and one campground that caught my eye is Mount Desert Campground. The setting and tent sites are very scenic. 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 snag a site in Blackwoods Campground for our two days in Acadia National Park. We were very happy with this campground. It’s one of the most peaceful and quiet campgrounds I’ve stayed in, in a national park. And it smelled like trees!
Blackwoods Campground has 221 tent only sites and 60 RV sites. The sites are very spacious and since there are so many trees, has plenty 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 store where you can buy firewood and take a shower.
The campground is conveniently located near Bar Harbor and some of the more popular attractions in the park. There several hiking trails right from the campground and a ranger station onsite.
- When you arrive 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 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’s no park lodge in Acadia National Park but there’s plenty of accommodations in Bar Harbor and the 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’s the cutest market and inn there.
What To Do in Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island in general, provide plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities. 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 love to get out on the water. There are several boat tours that leave from Bar Harbor. A tour to see the puffins would be a dream of mine. Here’s a few of the other 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 a unique visitor center that you don’t want to miss. One of the first things you’ll notice are the 52 steps to reach the entrance. However, if you aren’t able, there’s also an accessible entrance at the rear of the building and parking is available there.
The visitor center no longer shows a movie about Acadia but you can still learn about the park through interpretive information and displays. Rangers are on site for questions and advice. Visitors can get their passport stamped and find out about Jr Ranger programs available. The visitor center is also a stop on the convenient Island Hopper shuttle route.
Drive the Park Loop Road
One you leave the visitor center, head to Park Loop Road. This loop road is the primary way into the park. It’s 27 miles long and you can access most of the popular park features from this road. There are turnouts and scenic overlooks and stops to enjoy. Some sections of the road are one way, so be cautious and also be careful where you stop and pull over. Some sections are very narrow. Areas like Thunder Hole and Sand Beach are usually very crowded. Drive slow and watch for wildlife especially early in the morning.
You simply can’t visit Acadia National Park and not go to Cadillac Mountain. It’s the highest peak in the park and if the weather cooperates, to best place to watch the sunrise or sunset. The weather was not in our favor when we visited. Even though it wasn’t raining, it was cloudy and foggy at that elevation. We didn’t have to chance to see the sunrise but we were able to enjoy a few moments of the clouds parting and blue skies one afternoon. The rolling hills and the surrounding ocean views are gorgeous from the top.
Some people opt to hike to the top but you can also drive it, like we did. For the 2021 season, the National Park Service is implementing a reservation system for Cadillac Summit Road during the busiest time of the year. You can find out all the details and dates here.
The Carriage Roads
The carriage roads in the park are a huge part of Acadia’s history. Inspired and created by John D. Rockefeller, Jr, these “broken stone” roads were exclusively designed for horse and carriages. Mr. Rockefeller wanted a way to travel in the park with no motorized cars so he had these roads built.
The goal was to build the roads and still compliment the beauty of Mount Desert Island. So during construction of the roads, they didn’t move trees or earth to build them. Instead, they utilized the natural features and built around them.
All of the materials for the carriage roads are from Mount Desert Island. They used rock from the island to build bridges over streams and large blocks of granite for guardrails. They even installed local cedar signposts at all the intersections. All of those 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.
Hiking in Acadia National Park
One of our favorite things to do in national parks is hiking, so some of our two days in Acadia National Park was spent on a few of the park’s 150 miles of trails. Hiking trails in Acadia take you through forests, along the gorgeous coast and to the top of mountains, like Cadillac Mountain.
We especially enjoyed wandering around the Otter Creek area near our campground. We hiked Bubble Rock in fog so thick that when we got to the top, you could barely see the rock. The scenic trails around Jordon Pond offer the chance of a peaceful stroll and are good for anyone, especially families with small children. Schooner Head overlook, with is its stunning ocean view, is the perfect place for a picnic lunch.
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 Two Day Itinerary
If you only have two days to spend in Acadia National Park, you want to maximize your time. Here’s a sample itinerary of what to do in the park:
- Visit the Hull’s Cove visitor center to start your visit.
- Morning: drive as much of the scenic loop road as you can. Must see’s should include: Sieur de Monts Spring and Schooner Head overlook. Make time to walk around on the rocks at Schooner Head or have a picnic lunch or snack there. Sand Beach is great stop for swimming if the weather is favorable. Thunder Hole is always a favorite.
- Afternoon- drive the rest of the loop road and plan on a hike to stretch your legs. Bubble Rock or the Beehive Trail are two of the most popular hikes in Acadia national Park. Weather permitting, visit Cadillac mountain for sunset. After sunset, go into Bar Harbor for dinner and to walk around to see the boats at the marina 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 area of Acadia NP. Close to the campground are some hiking trails and picnic tables. 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 can buy supplies or something you forgot on Mount Desert Island. There are grocery stores in Bar Harbor so if you are camping you could potentially get groceries there but I recommend getting them before you get there since people do live on the island and rely on those grocery stores for their own groceries. Here’s a few other things you might want to take with you.
- 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 & Mount Desert Island Guide by James Kaiser
- Learn more about Leave No Trace principles when visiting our public lands
- National Park Trust has a ParkPassport mobile app to help get the most out of park visits
- Need a park passport before you go? Purchase one here.
- To learn more about camping, read my beginner’s guide to camping in a national park