Acadia National Park is the only national park in New England, the northeastern corner of the United States. Located on a number of islands—Mount Desert Island is the main one—on the stunning coast of Maine, this is a super-popular destination in this part of the country. And there are many reasons for that.
Combining rugged coastlines and mountain ranges, and freshwater lakes and beaches, Acadia National Park offers visitors a wide variety of activities. The park is the result of the combined efforts of early-19th-century philanthropists such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Charles W. Eliot. In addition to its natural features, the park is also home to a couple of interesting man-made structures, including many miles of carriage roads and a gorgeous lighthouse.
This is a place where you can go cycling on old carriage roads in the morning, have a lobster lunch at noon, go sunbathing on a beach in the early afternoon, and finish the day by enjoying a spectacular mountain top sunset before crawling into a tent at one of the area’s many campgrounds.
Best of Acadia National Park
Top Attractions in Acadia National Park
Park Loop Road
Taking in most of the highlights in Acadia National Park, the Park Loop Road is definitely attraction number one. This fabulous loop road can be entered at various points across Acadia National Park – don’t forget to pay your entrance fee! – but the best place to start is without question the visitor’s center at Hull’s Cove in the north. From there on the road takes drivers, hikers and cyclists past all of the following attractions, with the exception of Bass Head Lighthouse. The Park Loop Road is only 27 miles long and it’s therefore possible to ‘do it’ in less than an hour. I, and many others with me, would, however, recommend allowing at least one full day to explore, but preferably more. Entrance tickets are valid for seven days.
Sand Beach is one of only two guarded beaches in Acadia National Park. It’s extremely popular in summer and it’s easy to see why. Its soft sand is ideal for sunbathing, but be aware that the water tends to be quite chilly, even in mid-summer. There’s a great short hiking trail at the end of the beach as well; see below. There are changing rooms and restrooms around the beach, but no food facilities. Sand Beach is a definite highlight in summer and a fantastic place to take a break from driving; numerous benches make it a fine picnic area.
A downright magnificent lake in the very heart of the national park, Jordan Pond is fringed with an excellent loop trail. The main highlight, however, is the Jordan Pond House. Its restaurant is arguably one of the best and definitely one of the most popular on the entire island. In addition to the loop trail around the lake, there are several shorter strolls nearby, also offering fine views of Jordan Pond and the mountains that flank it.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse marks the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southwestern tip of Mount Desert Island. Perched upon steep cliffs and confidently overlooking the ocean, this might just be the most photogenic lighthouse on the whole East Coast. A short concrete pathway leads to the lighthouse itself, but the main viewpoint is accessed along a fairly steep, but short, wooden stairway.
Recommended Hiking Trails
1. Great Head Trail
Looping around Great Head, a rock-covered peninsula to the east of beautiful Sand Beach, the Great Head Trail runs through a scented pine forest and follows a section of the rocky coastline that is so typical of Acadia National Park. This is an easy hike, suitable for children as well as adults, its location near the park’s most popular beach making it a wonderful attraction in the morning—relaxing after the hike on the sandy beach is delightful.
Distance: 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers); loop
2. Jordan Pond Trail
This easy and scenic trail loops around stunning Jordan Pond, a small lake that’s one of the main attractions in Acadia National Park. Running through woodlands and along the lake’s rocky shoreline, the trail also offers fantastic views of peculiar Bubbles, a two-summit mountain.
Distance: 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers); loop
3. Bubbles Divide Trail
If, after walking the Jordan Pond Trail and admiring Bubbles, you’re curious what the views from the summits of Bubbles look like, you can find that out by hiking the wonderful Bubbles Divide Trail, which offers access to both North Bubble and South Bubble. Near the summit of South Bubble lies Bubble Rock, arguably Acadia’s most famous rock, balancing seemingly unnaturally on the edge of a sheer rock cliff. The views from this point are spectacular, taking in Jordan Pond and the surrounding mountains.
Distance: 1.4 mile (2.3 kilometers); roundtrip
4. Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail
This is the longest of all day hikes in Acadia National Park. That said; the ascent to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the east coast of the United States, is fairly moderate. There aren’t any particularly steep sections to speak of—the whole hike runs relatively gently along the mountain’s south ridge. The ridge offers commanding views of Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor, the mountain’s summit providing the greatest panoramic view of them all, taking in essentially the entire national park. The summit of Cadillac Mountain can also be reached by car, but hiking is unquestionably the most rewarding way of getting there.
Distance: 7 miles (11.3 kilometers); roundtrip
5. Precipice Trail
The Precipice Trail is widely considered to be the most difficult hiking trail in Acadia National Park. Even despite not being longer than one mile, this hike ascends 1,000 feet (more than 300 meters) on the almost vertical eastern flank of Champlain Mountain. To cover such an elevation gain in this short a distance, hikers rely on ladders, ropes and iron rungs to climb sheer rock faces, reach ledges and maneuver through gaps between rocks. It’s a thrill-ride of a hike, not suggested to the faint-hearted, definitely recommended to anyone with an adventurous spirit.
Distance: 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers); roundtrip
Acadia National Park Map
Location: Mount Desert Island, Maine, United States
Nearest Town: Bar Harbor, Maine
Area: 74 square miles (192 square kilometers)
Features: Rocky coastline, tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, seafood, wildlife
Main Attractions: Park Loop Road, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Carriage roads
Main Activities: Hiking, cycling, camping, kayaking, canoeing, swimming
Suggested Stay: 3-4 days
Further Information: National Park Service
(Somewhat) Nearby National Parks
Unlike in the West, the national parks in the Eastern United States are pretty spread out and there often are some seriously long drives in between them. The only park in the Northeast, Acadia National Park lies far from any other national park. The following are the nearest ones.
Acadia National Park Photos
Visit my national parks photography portfolio for a bunch of awesome photos of Acadia National Park.