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 higher mountains and trips “out west”. While Acadia might not have the pull of the western parks, it’s definitely a national park worth visiting.
My daughter and I flew from Atlanta to Boston and then road tripped north to spend two days in Acadia National Park. Here’s everything we did and some practical tips to help you plan your trip.
Acadia national park at a glance
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
Why is 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 and 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 early fall. Keep in mind though, because of its northern, coastal location, the weather can change quickly. It can be cool – even in summer – or it can get very hot. Also, rain and foggy, misty weather is quite common.
Summer temperatures can range anywhere from 45F to 90F. When we visited in July, the weather was unusually cool for our two days in Acadia. We wore long pants and a light jacket most of the time. It was cloudy and foggy off and on so we didn’t have a chance to see sunrise or sunset from Cadillac Mountain.
Southerner Says: we were also 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.
Fall is the most popular time to visit Acadia National Park because of the autumn colors. Generally, the peak fall foliage is in mid October which means the busiest time is the first of October through the Columbus Day weekend. Average October temperatures hover around 67F for the day and 45F at night. If you do decide to visit in fall and want to camp keep in mind that most campgrounds, including park campgrounds, close in mid October.
Winter in Acadia is cold and most of the park roads close. However, portions of the scenic one way loop road are open, as well as Jordan Pond Road – weather permitting. December is the mildest of the winter months, with day time highs averaging 34F. January is the coldest month with highs averaging 29F and lows in the teens. Winter activities include hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
How to Get to Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, off the east coast of Maine in the northeastern United States. The closest city to Acadia National Park is the small town of Bar Harbor.
Driving to Acadia National Park
The northeastern area of the United States is the perfect region for road trips. Generally the roads are in good condition and there are tons of things to see and do in a relatively small area as opposed road tripping out west where you are usually driving large distances.
Depending on where you are coming from, you can road trip north up coastal Highway 1 stopping in some of the small towns or drive the Interstate 95, if you don’t have a lot of time. Read my Boston to Bar Harbor road trip article to see where we stopped before we spent two days in Acadia National Park.
Flying to Acadia National Park
For a fly and drive road trip, the closest airports 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
You could fly to one of these cities and rent a vehicle to reach Mt. Desert Island but once you’re there, Bar Harbor has the Island Explorer – a shuttle that goes into the park and makes various stops around the island. Another idea is to rent bikes and pedal into the park from Bar Harbor. Additionally, there are organized tours from Bar Harbor. If you fly into Portland, tours can also be arranged from that city. I’ve placed some helpful links below plus a self guided Acadia tour here.
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Two Days in Acadia National Park – Where to Stay
Whether you want to camp or stay in a hotel, Acadia National Park has a wide variety of choices. Here’s a few options.
Camping in Acadia National Park
Since we love to camp, we tent camped in one of the three National Park Service campgrounds in Acadia for our two days in Acadia National Park. Two of those campgrounds are on Mount Desert Island. Blackwoods Campground – on the east side, and Seawall Campground – on the less crowded west side. Both campgrounds are open seasonally, May through mid October, and are reservation only. You can make a reservation up to six months in advance on Recreation.gov.
If there aren’t campsites available inside the park, no worries, there are are plenty of private owned campgrounds on on the island. In planning, I researched a few in case we couldn’t get a site in the park and one campground that I really liked – and had good reviews – is Mount Desert Campground. The setting and all the tent sites look very scenic with both wooded and waterfront sites.
Even though our road trip was a bit last minute, we were able to snag a site in Blackwoods Campground for our two days in Acadia National Park. It was perfect and one of the most peaceful and quiet campgrounds I’ve ever stayed in. It also smelled fresh 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, it feels very private. There are flush toilets and plenty of water available but like most NPS campgrounds, no showers. However, right outside the entrance to the campground there is a small grocery store where you take a shower and buy firewood.
The campground is conveniently located just a few miles from Bar Harbor and some of the more popular attractions in the park. You can even hike some trails right from the campground.
- 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 to see if fires are allowed before you build one. If fires are allowed, only use the fire ring or the grill and don’t gather firewood
- Don’t tempt wildlife by leaving 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.
Hotels Near Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park doesn’t have a park lodge like many other national parks do. Still, there are plenty of accommodations nearby in Bar Harbor and the surrounding areas of Mount Desert Island. You can find cottages, inns, bed and breakfasts, and hotels on the island. Near Blackwoods Campground is Otter Creek village that has the cutest market and inn.
Two Days in Acadia National Park – What To Do
Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island in general, provides 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 really didn’t have time 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. Here’s a few of the 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 fifty-two steps to reach the entrance. However, if you aren’t able to climb stairs, there is an accessible entrance at the rear of the building and parking is available there.
With displays and interpretive signage, the visitor center is a good opportunity to learn a bit about the history of Mount Desert Island and Acadia. Another bonus is that Park Rangers are on site to offer advice and answer questions. Visitors can get their park passport stamped, buy souvenirs and sign up for Junior Ranger programs.
Drive the Park Loop Road
As you leave the visitor center, head over to Park Loop Road. This scenic 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 it. There are turnouts and plenty of scenic overlooks to enjoy. Some sections of the road are one way so drive with caution. Also be careful where you stop and pull over. Some sections are very narrow and areas like Thunder Hole and Sand Beach can be crowded. Drive slowly and watch out for wildlife, especially early in the morning.
A visit to Acadia National Park wouldn’t be complete without seeing Cadillac Mountain. It’s the highest peak in the park and on Mount Desert Island. If the weather cooperates, it’s the best place to watch the sunrise or sunset. Many people choose to hike but you can also drive to the top.
Since Cadillac Mountain is one of the most popular spots in the park the Park Service has implemented a reservation system to access the mountain. Tentative dates for reservations in 2023 are June 23 through October 22. Find out all the latest details and how and when to get reservations here.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t in our favor when we were there. Even though it wasn’t raining, it was cloudy and foggy at that higher elevation. We gave it a couple of tries and were finally rewarded with a little blue sky on the second afternoon. The views are very much worth the effort even if you have to try a few times.
The Carriage Roads
Acadia’s carriage roads are a huge part of the history of the island. John D. Rockefeller, Jr, envisioned a way to travel around the island with no motorized cars. So, he had broken-stone roads, commonly used at the turn of the 20th century, constructed for horse and carriages only.
In building the roads, the goal was to not disturb the beauty of the Island. During construction of the roads, no trees or earth was removed. Instead, they built the roads around all the natural features to take advantage of the views and nature.
All of the materials used for the carriage roads are from Mount Desert Island. They utilized rock from the island to build bridges over the streams and built the guardrails out of large blocks of granite. Every detail was thought out. Even the signposts at all the intersections directing the way, are made of local cedar. Those signs were then stained and painted in a color to compliment the surroundings.
Today, visitors to Acadia National Park can enjoy the carriage roads by walking, biking or 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. Other hikes included Bubble Rock in fog so thick that when we got to the top, you could barely see the rock or the edge of the mountain.
The scenic trails around Jordon Pond offer peaceful strolls ideal for anyone, even families with small children. And Schooner Head overlook, (in the cover photo) with is its stunning ocean views, is the perfect place for a picnic lunch.
Acadia National Park FAQs
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 attractions in the park in two days. To really get to know the park and enjoy everything if offers, then you’ll need more time. I think 5 days up to even a week would be a perfect amount of time for the park, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island.
Is There 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.
Two Days in Acadia National Park Itinerary
If your schedule only allows for two days in Acadia National Park, you’ll need 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 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.
- 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 the park. Near 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 and brews.
Two Days in Acadia National Park Summer Packing List
Acadia National Park is located in a populated area, so it’s easy to pick up supplies or things you might need right in Bar Harbor. There are pharmacies and grocery stores on the island.
Just remember people do live here and rely on the local grocery stores for their food supply so if you are camping, you may want to bring your groceries from home or at least a more populated area.
Here are a few other things that might come in handy:
other helpful Acadia National Park Resources
- Download a NPS Acadia National Park map and check out their mobile app.
- Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island Guide by James Kaiser.
- The National Park Trust has a ParkPassport mobile app that helps get around in Acadia.
- Need a park passport to collect stamps before you go? Purchase one here and give back to the parks.
- Learn more about Leave No Trace principles when visiting our public lands