Acadia National Park, the oldest national park in the United States east of the Mississippi, is located on Mount Desert Island, a relatively compact island off the Atlantic Coast in Maine. Maine is an outdoor paradise and so is Acadia National Park. Sheer cliffs, huge boulders and a few sandy beaches line the coastline, while the inland areas consist of woodlands, still lakes, carriage roads and mountain ranges.
The national park comprises only a part of the island though. The rest is private land, mainly picturesque fishing villages. The island’s main commercial hub is the town of Bar Harbor, which, with its many hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, shops and wonderful coastal walk, is a great base to explore the area. Other villages of interest are Northeast Harbor, Somesville, Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor.
What to Do in Acadia National Park
1. Park Loop Road
Taking in most of the national park’s highlights, 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.
2. Sand Beach
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.
3. Jordan Pond
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.
4. 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.
Featuring the highest mountain summit on the northeast coast, Cadillac Mountain is the place to catch the first sunrise in the entire United States. Although it’s possible to drive up to the summit, it is strongly suggested to leave your lazy pants at home and strap on your hiking boots. Several trails lead up to the summit, meandering through pine forest and over granite boulders – the South Ridge Trail is the longest ascent. The panoramic views on top are truly phenomenal and absolutely worth the efforts and include the Porcupine Islands, Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay.
Champlain Mountain rises up more than 1,000 feet out of the ocean, its eastern flank almost vertically. That’s where one of the most popular and challenging hiking trails in Acadia National Park is situated: the Precipice Trail. This near vertical trail consists of steps, iron rungs and ladders; not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. Trust me! The summit can be reached on a few alternative and less steep trails too though.
The Great Head Trail loops around the coast of Great Head, a small rocky peninsula located on the eastern side of Sand Beach. The trail is fairly easy and leads past spectacular sections of coastline, offering superb views of Mount Desert Island’s east coast, including Otter Cliffs, Thunder Hole, the Beehive and Sand Beach itself. This is a short hike, ideally done in the morning or late afternoon, when the impact of low-angled sun rays is highest.
Bubble Rock may just be the most famous rock in all of Maine, a perfectly balanced boulder sitting on the edge of a steep cliff. The rock is accessed along the appropriately called Bubble Rock Trail. The summit of South Bubble is a fine vantage point and offers views of Jordan Pond below and other neighboring mountains.
Visit the official National Park Service website for more information on opening hours, entrance fees, directions and weather updates, etcetera.
Map of the Acadia National Park Highlights
Also, make sure to apply for an ESTA, if you’re traveling from abroad.
Have you been to Acadia National Park? How’d you like it?