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Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park & What to Do

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Looking for the best time to visit Acadia National Park?

Acadia is one of the most beautiful areas in the Northeast US, and perhaps the entire country. It is a gorgeous biodiverse habitat offering a stunning landscape etched by glaciers.

Here, you’ll find the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast of the US, a rugged and rocky coastline, gorgeous lakes, and a beautiful forest. Add in the history of the area, and it’s a place you don’t want to miss.

I grew up near Boston and somehow managed to miss visiting Acadia and Bar Harbor before I left for Arizona. It is a long drive from Boston, but it’s still worth making the trip up here to see this incredible place.

In this post, I’ll share the best time to visit Acadia National Park, the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” some history and information about the park, what to do when you’re here, and more!

visit acadia national park, jordan pond, trees changing color
Jordan Pond

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Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is located on the Maine coast around 3 hours north of Portland. It was originally called Sieur de Monts National Monument, named by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Later, it was renamed Lafayette National Park in 1919, and finally, Acadia National Park in 1929.

It’s a nature preserve that includes several different island areas, including nearly half of Mount Desert Island. This is the main area in the park and what it’s best known for.

Acadia also includes portions of 16 other smaller outlying islands, the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula, and part of the Isle au Haut. In total, it includes close to 50,000 acres of land.

This gorgeous park includes rocky headlands carved by glaciers and a diverse landscape with a lot of rich cultural heritage and a high level of biodiversity. It’s truly a stunning area.

One of the highlights of the park is the tallest mountain on the US Atlantic Coast, Cadillac Mountain. The park protects this beautiful area.

Over four million visitors visit Acadia National Park every year. It’s a stunning natural wonderland worth making the trip to see.

path leading to Jordan pond, best time to visit acadia national park
Jordan Pond path

Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park

The best weather in the park is in July and August, where the average highs are in the mid-70s F (23 – 24°C) and evening temperatures average in the upper 50s F (14 – 15°C). However, this is the busiest time in the park so you’ll contend with large crowds and parking challenges.

The best time to visit is right after the peak season in September and October. It’s still busy, and in October you’re also contending with the “leaf peepers” taking in the fall foliage. But, the weather is nice and the crowds are shrinking.

In the early fall, high temperatures average in the high 50s to high 60s F (14 – 20°C). In early-to-mid October, you’ll catch pops of color with the fall foliage for a special treat. This is the time of year I visited, and it’s gorgeous!

Acadia National Park is open all year-round, however, parts of the park do close in the winter. Check here for closures before you go off-season to make sure you can do what you want.

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Top Things to do in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park offers a lot of variety in the landscape and many different things to do. Some are typical national park activities, but there are some more unique to this area worth checking out.

rocky shoreline, best hikes acadia national park

1. Get Out and Enjoy the Best Hikes in Acadia National Park

If you’re going to visit Acadia, you’ll want to get off the roads and into the stunning natural areas in the park. One of the best ways to do this is by hiking.

There are a lot of different hikes in the park, ranging from easy to difficult. There are trails for any kind of hiker, and I would encourage you to try at least one or two. Here are some of the popular options:

Beehive Loop Trail

This 1.5-mile trail is one of the most popular in the park. It’s not easy, though, and the terrain is rather steep and rocky overlooking cliffs. If you’re afraid of heights, you may want to consider a different trail. Dogs are not allowed on this one.

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 508 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Type: Loop

Jordan Pond Path

This lovely trail takes you around the beautiful Jordan Pond. It’s very popular for hiking, trail running, and birding, and gets quite busy even in the off-season. You’ll enjoy the different views from around the lake. If you want to make it a bit more challenging, add onto the hike and go up Bubble Mountain.

Bubble is a bit steep and the top isn’t for the faint of heart. Dogs are allowed on this trail on leash. If you can time it right, make a reservation at the restaurant when you’re done and enjoy a popover with blueberry jam.

  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 42 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Type: Loop
path leading to jordan pond, creek, acadia national park trails
Jordan Pond trail

Gorham Mountain Loop

This hike takes you through a beautiful area of the park with lovely views. It is popular with tourists and locals and takes around an hour and a half to hike. Dogs are allowed on leash.

  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 583 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Loop

Precipice Loop

Considered one of the most challenging and dramatic hikes in the park, the Precipice Loop is a difficult though impressive hike with some incredible views. There is a lot of scrambling up boulders and some metal ladders and rungs to contend with. If you’re afraid of heights, skip this one. Dogs are not allowed.

  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,053 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Type: Loop

2. Take in Some Water Sports

Acadia National Park has a number of lakes and it’s also on the ocean. So, you can enjoy the water in either setting in this park. Some popular things to do on the water include fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. If you plan to visit the lakes, check this information.

lake in acadia national park, trees changing color, places to visit in acadia national park

3. Explore the Carriage Roads

Many of the roads within the park and the historic carriage road system were founded and financed by J.D. Rockefeller Jr. If you want to take a walk through history, check out the carriage roads.

Here is a map of the carriage roads and check for closures. Horses are allowed on many of them.

4. See Cadillac Mountain at Sunrise

One of the top attractions is to visit Cadillac Mountain at Sunrise. Driving up the mountain requires an additional reservation not covered by the Acadia Park pass, as they limit the number of vehicles at any given time.

Tickets open two days before at 10 a.m. And here’s a tip that I learned the hard way—You need to create an account and log in to purchase tickets. If you want to do this at 10 a.m. it’s likely too late. At 10:02 the tickets were already sold out!

Create an account on Recreation.gov before you plan to purchase tickets. They go on sale at 10 a.m. two days before for sunrise reservations and sell out quickly!

Go to Recreation.gov to purchase a reservation for the peak. It costs $6 per vehicle. You’ll purchase tickets separately to go for sunrise and for the rest of the day. So if you miss the sunrise tickets, you can still go up later. It’s still worth it at any time of day.

Note: public transportation does not go up Cadillac Mountain. So, if you don’t have a car, you’ll need to take a tour to visit this area. Don’t miss it!

view from cadillac mountain, places to visit near acadia national park
View from Cadillac Mountain

5. Enjoy Jordan Pond and a Popover with Blueberry Jam

Jordan Pond is one of the highlights of Acadia National Park. It’s an easy stroll around the lake with little elevation. It’s an unpaved route and takes around an hour, depending on how many times you stop to enjoy the views!

The restaurant at Jordan Pond sells its famous popovers with blueberry jam. In the warmer months, the grassy area behind the restaurant is open. The line can be quite long but it does move fairly quickly.

When the weather is cooler, as it was in October when I went, it’s only inside dining. They do accept reservations, which fill quickly. Waiting can be an hour and a half or more! So plan accordingly when you visit as the popovers are worth it!

popover with side of blueberry jam
Popover with blueberry man

6. Go Horseback Riding

Riding the carriage roads on horseback is a popular thing to do in Acadia National Park. You can bring your own horse and take him on an adventure you’ll both enjoy. Wildwood Stables offers stall rentals for visitors.

You can also take a carriage ride through Carriages of Acadia. Though I’m not a proponent of carriage rides generally (like in New York City), this family-run business seems like an ethical option.

Owned by a northern Maine native who grew up on a farm and fell in love with draft horses, he and his daughter run the business.

7. Explore a Natural Cave

Head off the beaten path in Acadia to visit a Natural Cave called the Sea Anemone Cave. It used to be a popular spot for visitors but it has become more obscure, with locals’ and insiders’ knowledge of it.

The Sea Anemone Trail, also called the Devil’s Oven, is a .4-mile out-and-back trail. You follow a path to the rocks on the water, then there’s a bit of navigating the large rocks and boulders on the coast to get to the cave.

You’ll want to go during low tide to check out this cave, and please don’t go inside so you don’t impact the cave negatively.

sea anemone cave, best time to visit acadia national park
Sea Anemone Cave

8. Take a Guided Tour or a Guided Boat Tour

Taking a guided tour is a great way to get oriented to Acadia National Park and to learn about its extensive and interesting history.

We took a tour with Oli’s Trolley and I’d recommend it! In fact, I’ll be writing up my experience with the tour shortly, so stay tuned. They offer two tours of Acadia National Park (2.5 and 4 hours) and one of Bar Harbor.

You can also take boat tours of this area. They range from boats and sunset cruises, to whale watching, kayaking, and more. Here are some top places to consider:

oli's trolley,
Oli’s Trolley

9. Walk the Ocean Path Trail & Visit Thunder Hole

The Ocean Path Trail is one of the highlights of Acadia National Park. It’s an easy walk that’s 2.2 miles from end-to-end (4.4 miles round-trip). To get between two of the popular stops, Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, it’s just under a mile.

This path is made of concrete in some areas and packed gravel in others. There are some uneven rocky areas. All along the path are small trails to the ocean, where you can take in incredible views.

Thunder Hole is an incredible spot to see. It’s an area of the rocky beach where the water flows in, crashing into a well-worn area. When the water hits, it sounds like the rumbling of thunder. It’s pretty amazing.

ocean path trail, hiking in acadia national park
Ocean Path trail

10. Hit the Beach

Acadia’s Sand Beach is the only sandy beach area on the rocky coast in Acadia National Park. It’s a popular spot to visit.

It’s less than a quarter of a mile long and much of it is made of ground shells. The water is cold all year long, so be prepared!

Two of the most popular hiking trails begin nearby including the Beehive and the Ocean Path (more of a walking trail than a hiking trail).

sand beach, beaches in acadia national park
The Sand Beach

How to Get to Acadia National Park

People visiting Bar Harbor and Acadia have a few airport options to choose from. The largest airport is Boston, which is a 5-6 hour drive from the area.

Otherwise, you can fly into Portland (PDX), which is around 3 hours away, or Bangor (BGR), which is a little over an hour away. Both Portland and Bangor are international airports but they are very small. Portland only had around 15 gates.

For the best options and prices, Boston is the best bet. However, it is pretty far away so you may want to consider the smaller airport options if you’d prefer to fly close by.

Boston does have one airline that flies to Bar Harbor’s small county airport, Bar Harbor-Hancock County Airport. Cape Air does this route, and the Island Explorer bus offers several trips daily between the airport and Bar Harbor. Rental cars and taxis are available as well.

The Amtrak Downeaster train does run from Boston to Portland, to get you closer. There is also an option with Concord Coach Lines for a bus from Boston to Bangor.

How to Get Around Acadia National Park

Acadia is unlike many of the national parks as it has an extensive bus system. You can easily get around the major areas of the park without a car on the Island Explorer bus.

And best of all, the shuttle bus doesn’t cost anything extra! This service is included in the pass you need to enter the park.

This service includes twelve different routes to and around the park from the neighboring village centers. It connects hotels, inns, and campgrounds, making it reasonably easy to go car-free.

The Island Explorer operates from late June through mid-October. There is a separate summer and fall service, so be sure to check online for the schedules and routes. This car-free travel guide is helpful for those who want to visit without a car.

If you choose to take your car, parking can be challenging and time-consuming, particularly at the main sites. This includes the Ocean Path area, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain, though may apply to other areas as well, particularly during peak season.

If you don’t want to take a guided tour, this self-guided tour option may be a good idea.

trail along the creek of acadia national park

What Does it Cost to Visit Acadia National Park?

An Acadia National Park pass will cost you $30 per car or $15 per person. This is good for one week and includes parking within any area of the park.

If you have an annual national park pass, you can visit Acadia at no extra charge. If you enjoy visiting our national parks and plan to see more than a couple in a year, it’s well worth purchasing a national park pass.

There are a number of options to purchase your Acadia pass. First, you can go online to purchase your pass in advance of your trip.

You can also purchase a pass from one of the two automated fee machines. One is located inside the gatehouse at the entrance to the Schoodic Institute on the Schoodic Peninsula. the other is at the Hulls cove Visitor Center at a pavilion in the parking lot.

Last, you can pay in person at one of the entrance gates.

Make sure once you purchase your ticket, whether online, at the machine, or in person, that you place it on your dashboard every time you enter the park.

There is also a lifetime pass available if you plan to visit frequently. You can get that in person or online.

How Much Time to Spend in Acadia National Park

Plan to spend at least three to four days visiting Acadia National Park. There’s a lot to do and it’s worth taking the time to see some of the different areas in the park.

If you only have a couple of days, you can make it worth your time still by considering a tour of the park. Though you don’t get much time at each stop, it’s a great way to get a quick view of the highlights of the park on Mount Desert Island.

At a minimum, plan to visit Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, and Thunder Hole on the Ocean Path Trail of the park. These are the highlight of Mount Desert Island and each is worth seeing.

hiking trail towards the lake in acadia national park

Where to Stay in Acadia National Park

There are quite a few options for staying in and near Acadia National Park.

Camping

There are four campgrounds within Acadia National Park. However, only one is located on Mount Desert Island, the largest and most popular area in the park.

Reservations must be made on Recreation.gov. They must be reserved in advance with a rolling 60-day window. Backcountry camping and parking overnight in Acadia National Park are not allowed.

  • Blackwoods Campground—Located in Mount Desert Island, this campground is available starting in mid-May. This campground mostly offers sites for tents. There is RV parking available. Flush toilets, running water, and a dump station are provided, along with fire rings and picnic tables.
  • Duck Harbor Campground—Reservations are available starting April 1st. It’s located on the Isle au Haut, a rugged island off the coast of Stonington, Maine. It’s not accessible by car. There are only five campsites available with three composting toilets and a hand pump for water.
  • Seawall Campground—Located near Southwest Harbor. Most of the sites are for tents, though there are RV sites up to 35′. Amenities include fire rings, picnic tables, flush toilets, running water, and a dump station for RVs. Availability from mid-to-late May.
  • Schoodic Woods Campground—Tent, RV, and trailer sites are available. Some have electricity and some have electricity and water. Flush toilets, potable running water, a dump station, picnic tables, and fire rings are available. This is on the route of the Acadia’s Island Explorer shuttle from late May to mid-October. There is a store for groceries, laundry, and supplies in Winter Harbor, 1.5 miles from the campground.

Hotels and other Accommodation

The village of Bar Harbor is close to Acadia National Park, and both are on Mount Desert Island. Many people choose to stay in Bar Harbor to visit the park given how close it is to restaurants and other amenities.

This is a heavily touristed area so there aren’t many offerings for budget hotels. However, these hotels offer a good value for the money and show some of the best of the area.

  • BudgetBar Harbor Manor: This place is on the edge of Bar Harbor within walking distance of everything in the village. It’s quite affordable in the border seasons but prices rise during the peak season in the summer. It offers spacious rooms with a food bar with fresh-baked goodies in the lobby.
  • Mid-Range: Moseley Cottage Inn: Nestled on a quiet side street in downtown Bar Harbor, this hotel/motel offers a charming option. The home is a Victorian design built in 1884, and it has maintained its history. Rooms are tastefully decorated and offer nice touches like Turkish towels, a full breakfast, and free Wi-Fi throughout.
  • LuxuryBar Harbor Inn: One of the most incredible hotels in Bar Harbor on a prime location on the village green overlooking Frenchman Bay, this is the hotel to beat. Enjoy the panoramic rooms, lounge, luxury spa, and on-site restaurants.
harbor in acadia national park

Where to Eat in Acadia National Park 

Jordan Pond House is one of the few restaurants located in the park. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it’s known for its popovers with blueberry jam. It’s very popular so make a reservation unless you want a wait of two hours or more!

Stewman’s Lobster Pound is a popular eatery with two locations overlooking the water. There is one in the Bar Harbor Regency and one right on West Street overlooking Frenchman’s Wharf. There is a wall of buoys when you walk in and be sure to sit on the deck if the weather is good. You can’t go wrong with their local favorites like the crab roll or the lobster roll.

Terrace Grill is a picture-perfect spot in the Bar Harbor Inn right on the village green overlooking the pier. They have great twists on the typical, with a lobster cobb, and you can add lobster to their other salads for a special treat. This place was amazing.

West Street Cafe is another popular spot right near the water. They offer a lot of variety of local seafood, burgers, and other options with lots of local brews.

The Stadium is the spot to go for baked goods. Holy smokes, was this good! Don’t miss the popover with maple butter and blueberry jam, especially if you don’t make it to the Jordan Pond restaurant. They also make blueberry pie, and whoopie pies, including a pumpkin one in season. It’s all made from scratch.

Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium: If you’re a sweet tooth, don’t miss this treasure trove of goodness! Their fudge is amazing, and they offer a wide array of chocolates. If you can think of it, they have it! And check out their ice cream as there are some really interesting flavors. They even have lobster ice cream if you’re so inclined! When in Maine, right?

jordan pond house, backyard, stay in acadia national park
Jordan Pond House

Top Things to do Near Acadia National Park

Though Acadia is a dominant presence in this island area, it’s not the only thing to see when you visit. Check out these other top spots in this gorgeous area.

  • Visit Bar Harbor—This quintessential New England coastal village is a gem in this area. You’ll find lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, local wares and artwork studios, and picture-perfect areas. Check out the Village Green and Frenchman Bay.
  • Head to Southwest Harbor—If you’re looking for a smaller and impossibly cute village, check this out. There are a sprinkling of great restaurants and shops worth checking out.
  • Check out Lighthouses—See Bass Light and Egg Rock Light.
  • Walk the Land Bridge to Bar Island—Head to Bar Island during the low tide to explore. Just be careful you head back before the tide comes in or you’re stuck with calling a water taxi to head back.
  • Catch a show in the Criterion Theater—This historic venue has been open since 1932.
  • Schoodic Peninsula—Though this is part of Acadia National Park, it gets a lot less attention than the area on Mount Desert Island.
  • Learn about Local Native History at the Abbe Museum—This museum opened in 1928 to highlight the Wabanaki People.
me in front of the cadillac mountain view

So, When is the Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park?

In truth, any time is the best time to visit Acadia National Park, particularly from the spring to the fall. This stunning area is a must-see whenever you can visit it!

Don’t miss the nearby areas including Bar Harbor, and be sure to carve out at least a few days for this adventure. With a mix of the top tourist attractions and a little off-the-beaten-path, you’ll fall in love with this striking area.

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