A Quick Guide to Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a hyper-realized encapsulation of the state of Maine’s signature beauty. The park is a hybrid of wilderness and beach, and activities include swimming, birding, boating, tidepooling, fishing, camping, hiking, and cycling. Nineteenth century gentry cultivated Mount Desert Island as an expansive wilderness escape, and forty-five miles of carriage paths weave through the 47,000-acre park, for casual walkers, distance hikers, skiers, and cyclists. All 125 miles of hiking and walking trails are aptly classified, either as Very Easy, Easy, Moderate, or Strenuous.
On the eastern edge of Mount Desert Island, adjacent to Acadia, is Bar Harbor, a popular town for visitors due to its density of restaurants, shops, and harbor views. Bar Harbor overlooks Frenchman’s Bay and the Porcupine Islands, small, pine-forested rises that create a picturesque views from the harbor, as well as from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Across Frenchman’s Bay from Bar Harbor is the Schoodic Peninsula, where five percent of Acadia is located, south of the town of Winter Harbor. The Schoodic is accessible via ferry and car. Isle au Haut is the island outpost of Acadia National Park, accessible only by ferry.
American and Delta have the lion’s share of flight options if flying into Portland International Jetport (PWM). JetBlue, Southwest and United all provide service, though will likely require a connection on the east coast, and from Portland, Acadia is a three-hour one-way drive. Via Portland, consider stopping along the way to Acadia, perhaps in Bath, for small town charm, which is also circa Popham Beach State Park — a beautiful spot flanked by pines and lapis blue water. Marked surges in the tide level the sandy beach, check daily tides ahead of time. Rockland is an enclave for visual artists, and art galleries are in abundance downtown. Belfast is a charming town with local eateries, pubs, bookstores, and antiques, and Camden offers picturesque views of the Penobscot Bay.
Bangor International Airport (BGR) positions you an hour closer to the park, though it’s only served year round by American. Delta and United have seasonal service. Car rentals tend to be cheaper at Portland, though the extra driving time and gas should be accounted for. Do check both airports for flights using points.
There aren’t a lot of major chain hotels on Mount Desert Island, aside from The Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor, and the Hampton Inn, run but Hilton. The Holiday Inn has a pleasant, lively atmosphere, quality on-site restaurants, a pool deck that runs almost level with Frenchman’s Bay and offers remarkable sunset views, and many amenities. Make sure to request a room in the main building.
Many local hotels and B and B’s are lovely; plan on using a points credit card, to receive bonuses on hotel stays, or book through an online consolidator like Orbitz or Expedia — this might be a time to offset premium rates with discounts from rewards programs such as “Orbucks.” Do check reviews before booking.
In Bangor there are plenty of options, the usual smattering of mid to low range points required properties from IHG, Hilton, and Marriott. If you are taking some time to explore the city of Portland, again, there are many lots of options through the major hotel outlets, though both points redemptions and prices tend to be a at a premium.
Travel Note: You are not allowed to camp overnight in the main portion of Acadia National Park, located on Mount Desert Island. There are reasonably priced private campgrounds in the vicinity.
Key Routes and Sites
As much of Acadia can be easily explored by car, or via select hiking trails, or along the water, we have opted to not craft a sequential itinerary; the park is a relatively concentrated area, and travelers can easily curate their itineraries; we have provided the basic framework, with emphasis on some particularly notable spots.
Mount Desert Island is shaped like a very puffy letter “P,” the long edge is the western half of Acadia, and is often less congested, due to its distance from Park Loop Road and more spread out scenic destinations. The southern edge of this side of the island is a rocky seawall and tidy coastline of abundant, bone colored rocks and tiered decks of flat brown boulders with broad chasms —a beautiful place, away from the density of crowds, and ideal for tidepooling. Other sites on this half of the island are the freshwater Echo Lake and Echo Lake Beach, which has a lifeguard during the summer months, Pretty Marsh, Beech Mountain, the Carroll Homestead Interpretive Trail, Southwest Harbor, and Bass Harbor and the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, at the very south.
The curve of the “P” is the eastern corridor of Acadia. This is the home of Park Loop Road, a twenty-seven mile thoroughfare. It accesses Hull’s Cove Visitor Center at its origin, and some of the park’s most prominent and notable sites, many of which are located on the section that is one way only traffic, southbound. Note this road is often closed until mid April. There is a also a free seasonal shuttle, Island Explorer, operating from late June to mid October. There are several shuttle routes, as parking can be hard at many popular trail heads and sites, the Island Explorer is a useful way to reach parts of the Park. The Loop Road was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. of Olmsted Brothers in 1929, commissioned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Due to the ever increasing popularity of the park, consider using the free bus shuttle system, The Island Explorer, that takes you to all the main sites. The buses run with reasonable frequency and are available seasonally from late June to mid October (peak travel season.)
Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet, is the tallest promontory on the eastern seaboard, and at many times of the year, the first place to catch the sunrise. You don't have to hike the whole way, there is a spur of the main road that will take you to the summit in the comfort of your car.
Thunder Hole is just beyond Sand Beach, when traveling south on Park Loop Road. A small cavern just below the water’s surface creates a thunderous echo chamber for sizable waves, which shoot upward at an estimated 40-feet, in some instances. From here, savor scenic views of Sand Beach, the Schoodic Peninsula, Great Head, and Otter Cliffs.
Sand Beach is a 290-yard sand beach that accesses the ocean, which remains quite cool, even in the height of summer.
Otter Cliff is approximately three-quarters of a mile past Thunder Hole, and is a 110-foot high headland, ”a promontory extending into a large body of water,” and is one of the highest headlands on the Atlantic coast. A path is accessed from a parking area just beyond Monument Cove.
Jordan Pond- Like much of Acadia’s peaks, Jordan Pond was formed by the movement of glaciers during the last Ice Age. Here one also finds the Jordan Pond House, an eatery first established in the 1890’s, and later restored after a fire destroyed the original building. Enjoy homemade flaky and buttery popovers as well as signature teas and jams; we recommend the asking for a table on the lawn, which affords a view of the pond as well as the “bubbles”, two symmetrical side-by-side mountains that anchor and shade the lake. Reservations for teatime and lunch are highly recommended. Consider using the park shuttle as parking can be very tricky. A walking path around the lake is one of the gentler promenades within the park.
If you are stamp collecting, consider going to the St. Croix Island International Historic Site — it is the only extant International Historic Site, and offers the opportunity to learn about a very early 17th century French settlement—however one is not allowed on the island itself. There is an interpretative walk from the Visitor Center, as well as other activities. It’s certainly not the most interesting park, though if you are heading toward the Canadian Maritime provinces, it’s worth stopping off on the way for a stamp. Otherwise, it’s a lengthy 4.5 hour, round trip (through scenic Maine) from Acadia.