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Acadia National Park is one of the best places to visit in coastal Maine and one of the top 3 most visited national parks on the east coast. With stunning coastal views, scenic drives, historic lighthouses, and a mix of easy walking trails and difficult hiking scrambles, Acadia is a wonderful place for the whole family, almost any time of year.
In this 3-day itinerary, I’ll take you through the three areas of the park to visit the top highlights, including the summit of Cadillac Mountain, some of my favorite hiking trails, Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, Tyula Gardens, Sand Beach, and a few of the nearby harbors that offer delicious ocean front views and fresh seafood pulled right from Maine’s rocky shores.
Scroll down to the bottom for more helpful information when visiting the park, including how to get around and where to stay.
Acadia National Park’s Three Areas
- Schoodic Peninsula
- Mt. Desert Island
- Isle au Haut
Mt. Desert Island
Mt. Desert Island is by far the busiest area with the most things to do in a day. It is also where Bar Harbor, one of Maine’s best beach towns, is located. You’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, nature trails, easy walks, and scenic viewpoints in Bar Harbor. The main visitor center at Acadia National Park, the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, is also located in Bar Harbor.
Winter Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula are less crowded and perfect for hiking or a scenic drive, offering some pull-offs to view the coast and the Winter Harbor Lighthouse.
Isle au Haut
Isle au Haut is an island near Penobscot Bay. The south section of this island near Duck Harbor is a part of Acadia National Park. This is a remote hiking area with zero facilities. There is a small tent-only campground on the island. You must take a ferry from Stonington on Deer Island to access Isle au Haut and then hike to the campground. More on the Isle au Haut ferry later in the post.
There is no official park entrance on the Schoodic Peninsula or Isle au Haut. The National Park Service asks you to display your pass on your dashboard when parked on the Schoodic Peninsula and have it with you if hiking in Isle au Haut. The standard entrance fee is $35 dollars per vehicle.
How Much Time do you Need in Acadia National Park?
Acadia National Park is best explored on a multiple-day trip. I recommend at least three full days to visit all three park areas and do some hiking.
Stonington, where you have to take the ferry to Isle au Haut, is 1.5 hours away from Bar Harbor, the closest town to the entrance of Acadia National Park.
If you only have a day, I recommend basing yourself on Mount Desert Island, near Bar Harbor, and sticking to day two of this three-day Acadia itinerary.
You can easily drive the Schoodic Peninsula and Park Loop Road, stopping at some of the major highlights in a day, keep in mind parking is difficult in high season, and extra time to see the sights may be needed if you are driving yourself.
Accessing Cadillac Mountain Summit
From the end of May to the end of October, a vehicle permit is required to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Permits cost $6 per vehicle and go on sale as a lottery either 90 days in advance or two days before your desired visit. Visitors do not need a vehicle reservation if traveling by foot, bike or taxi to the summit. Vehicle reservations must be purchased on Recreation.gov before your visit to Cadillac Mountain. Visitors must also have a valid park entry pass to access the road.
If you are willing to hike, these trails lead to the parking lot at the summit: Cadillac North Ridge Trail (4.4 miles roundtrip) and Cadillac South Ridge Trail (7.1 miles roundtrip). Also, the Gorge Path (as part of the Gorge and A Murray Young Paths Route) junctions with the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail.
If biking, the road to the summit is a 3.5 mile winding road offering a few pullouts with lovely views of the town and coastline below. Many bike rental shops in Bar harbor rent e-bikes for around $100 a day. If you want to ride up for sunrise, you’ll have to rent your bike the day before as the rental shops don’t open early enough.
3 Day Acadia National Park Itinerary
This itinerary is best done with two full days and two 1/2 days (arrival and departure days). Plan to spend at least three nights or four if you want to do more hiking, especially on the remote Isle au Haut. You can combine the arrival and departure day itineraries into a 3rd full day of things to see and do in Acadia rather than breaking it up into two 1/2 days.
Since I was coming from the north and continued heading south to Boothbay Harbor after visiting Acadia, I visited the Schoodic Peninsula on my arrival day and Deer Island & Isle au haut on my departure day, but you could easily switch this itinerary up depending on what direction you are coming from.
Arrival Day (1/2 day)
I arrived in Acadia early on my 1st day to give myself plenty of time to explore the area. I was on a New England road trip, so I was able to make my own schedule. If you are flying, you’ll have to adjust your arrival and departure day itineraries accordingly.
Arrival Day Highlights:
- Schoodic Peninsula
- Downtown Bar Harbor
I first headed to Winter Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula for a scenic drive along the beautiful coast and to sneak a peak at Winter Harbor Light. This area is less crowded and best known for its scenic loop road.
The 8.3 mile Schoodic Loop Road offers stunning views of the coastline, forests, and Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain in the distance. While on the peninsula, enjoy birdwatching, 7.5 miles of hiking trails or explore the Schoodic Institute, which offers educational programs, exhibits, and guided tours on certain days of the year. Don’t be surprised if you see visitors just sitting on the rocks enjoying the views. I spent an easy few hours walking on the rocks, taking photos, and watching the boats pass in front of Winter Harbor Light.
Downtown Bar Harbor
After enjoying the beauty and solitude of Schoodic Point, head into Downtown Bar Harbor. This lively seaside town is the gateway to Acadia National Park and one of the best beach towns in Maine.
There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and scenic strolls to fill a few hours or more. I had time to walk down by the harbor, grab a snack at the Choco-Latte Cafe, and snap a few photos from Agamont Park overlooking the bay.
You’ll have more time in Bar Harbor on day 2 or 3 of this itinerary, so no need to feel rushed to see it all.
This is a good time to purchase your park pass from the Hulls Cover Visitors Center or the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce on Cottage Street if you do not have one yet.
Stroll through town, have a meal, and then head to your accommodation to check in and unwind to prepare for a full day of adventuring tomorrow.
Day 2 (1st full day)
- Park Loop Road
- Precipice Trail
- Sand Beach
- Thunder Hole
- Ocean Trail
- Northeast Harbor
- Thyla Gardens
- Bass Harbor lighthouse
Start your first full day in Acadia National Park with an energizing hike along Park Loop Road. Wake up early to beat the crowds and get a trailhead parking spot.
You can do many different hikes today, but I recommend hiking to Champlain Mountain via the short but challenging Precipice Trail (3 miles; 2-4 hours round trip) or one of the easier hikes from the same trailhead.
I started hiking at 7:30 am and was back at my car close to 11 am. Most people complete this hike in around 2-3 hours, but I always stop for breaks, take a lot of photos, and breath in the views (multiple times), so I often finish hikes in double the estimated amount of time.
Next up, head to Sand Beach, just a short drive down from the Precipice trailhead. If you went for an early hike you shouldn’t have a hard time with parking. You might have to wait a few minutes for someone to leave, but cars were coming and going quickly. There are outdoor showers and restrooms which came in very handy after the morning hike.
Sand Beach is a popular stop along Park Loop Road for hikers, nature lovers and beach goers who want to sunbath or go swimming in the refreshing (cold) ocean waters. The juxtaposition of Acadia’s only sandy beach against the surrounding cliffs and evergreen forests makes it a picturesque and memorable location. It serves as the starting point for the Ocean Path trail, which offers stunning views of the coastline, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliff. Another popular hike from Sand Beach is the short (1.4 miles 1-2 hours) but strenuous, Beehive Trail. It is similar to the Precipice Trail but not as exposed. You can access the trailhead by taking the Bowl Trail located across the road (and a little north) from Sand Beach parking lot.
Distance: 0.7 miles to Thunder Hole or 2.2 miles (one way) to Otter Point
Ocean Trail is an easy path along the rocky coast that you can take right from Sand Beach. This is a mostly paved, flat trail with scenic view points of Monument Cove and Otter Point. Only a short way into the walk (0.7 miles), you’ll reach Thunder Hole, a natural rock inlet with crashing waves that creates a mega crash during high tide. You can also drive to Thunder Hole if you do not feel like walking along the trail.
The Ocean Path intersects with the Gorham Mountain Trail, providing an opportunity for those seeking a more challenging hike to ascend Gorham Mountain for additional panoramic views.
Once you have spent enough time at Sand Beach, get into your car and head to Thunder Hole. Thunder Hole is a unique geological formation where waves and tides interact with an underwater cave, creating a thunderous sound with dramatic splashes and sea spray as water is forced into the narrow inlet and then expelled. Thunder Hole is easily accessible, with a parking area and a short walk to the viewing platform. The platform provides a safe and close vantage point for visitors to observe the natural spectacle which is even more thrilling with the perfect natural conditions. There is also a small visitor’s center and gift shop in the Thunder Hole parking lot. They have some cute souvenirs and more information about Acadia and the surrounding areas.
If you walked to Thunder Hole from Sand Beach, you can skip it now and head to Northeast Harbor, enjoying the scenery along the way.
Known for its beautiful scenery, wealthy summer residents and lavish sailing vessels that often frequent it, Northeast Harbor is a fun area to visit to get away from the crowds, have lunch and enjoy the boutiques along Main Street. Daily boat tours and scenic cruises are offered from the Harbor during high season, including Pura Vida Lobster Fishing and the Sea Princess Scenic Nature Cruises. If its not too late, you may have time for a cruise today, otherwise tomorrow is the best day for a cruise around the bay.
Asticou Azalea Garden & Thyla Gardens
This stop won’t take long and it’s free! The gardens are in two separate locations, only a few minutes from each other. They both provide a lovely, serene atmosphere that offers a nice contrast to the rugged coastal landscapes found elsewhere in Acadia National Park, perfect for anyone who appreciates a quiet and contemplative space to stroll and enjoy the outdoors.
The gardens are known for their stunning beauty, particularly in spring when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in full bloom. The Japanese influence, vibrant colors, and carefully landscaped grounds create a picturesque setting that’s a delight for nature lovers and photographers.
It has been a full day so far but there is one more activity that makes a perfect ending to the day, watching the sunset on the rocks below Bass Harbor Lighthouse.
You’ll want to get here as early as possible as parking is a challenge. If you are a seafood lover like I am, stop at Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound along the way and pick up some meals to go. Enjoying a fresh lobster roll or fried clams on the rocks overlooking the ocean is a great way to pass the time and enjoy the last light of day.
It is a little tough to see the lighthouse (you have to walk out on the rocks to get a good view), but even with the crowds, it was one of my favorite evenings during my visit to Acadia National Park.
Day 3 (2nd full day)
- Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain Summit
- Downtown Bar Harbor
- Boat Trip
- Jordan Pond
Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain Summit
If you were able to score a vehicle permit, head to Cadillac Mountain to get a front row seat of the rising sun. You can hike or bike up to the summit as well.
Make sure it is a clear weather day before summiting Cadillac Mountain. Cloudy views might not be worth the effort.
Downtown Bar Harbor
After the morning sunrise, head to Bar Harbor for breakfast. There are a lot of cafes along Cottage Street (and in downtown Bar Harbor in general). If you love a good ole American breakfast try, Cafe this way, 2 Cats Bar Harbor or Everyday Joe’s. If you want something a little more “Maine” head to The Stadium. I loved this place for their popovers, bakery and of course their lobster buns.
Scenic Boat Ride
After breakfast, head out on the water. From whale watching tours to lighthouse and island hopping excursions, there are many cruising options offered from downtown Bar Harbor. Walk along the pier or visit the Chamber of Commerce on Cottage Street to learn what is available to book (doing this on the first day you arrive is ideal for better planning). You can also spend the afternoon paddling around the bay in a kayak or stand-up paddle board.
Next to hiking Precipice Trail, Jordon Pond was one of my favorite areas to explore in Acadia. I went later in the day and loved the atmosphere with far less congestion (and easy parking), but because I went later in the day, (a few hours before sunset), I was not able to hike through any of the popular Jordan Pond Trails or try a popover at the famous Jordon Pond House, two things I have on my itinerary for next time.
Highlights of Jordon Pond include its network of trails, from easy flat hikes to challenging rock scrambles that lead to the summits of South Bubble and North Bubble, the area’s two prominent peaks. There are also miles of carriage roads; a network of historic gravel paths that wind through the park, ideal for walking, jogging, bicycling, and horseback riding.
I spent my time along the easy Jordan Pond Nature Trail stopping for tripod selfies along the way. It was relaxing and peaceful watching the sun set behind the trees.
You can easily spend hours here but either go early or late as parking is tough during the day.
Departure Day (1/2 day)
- Stonington – Deer Isle
- Isle au Haut – Duck Harbor
On your last day in Acadia, there are a few options on how to spend it, depending on your schedule and if you have to catch a flight or not.
I opted to visit Duck Harbor on Isle au Haut to see the most remote area of Acadia National Park. If you have a full day, you can opt for some hiking along the jagged shores, exploring the woodlands, marshes, forested uplands and bogs. The only way to reach the island is by boat so you’ll have to plan your day according to the ferry schedule. When I visited Maine in September, the only ferry back to the mainland of Deer Isle (to Stonington) was around 5 pm, which was too late for my schedule.
I ended up doing the morning boat ride to Duck Harbor and had about 30 minutes to walk around the small town before returning to Deer Isle. The boat ride itself was very lovely and comfortable. We passed the Isle au Haut Light, many scenic smaller islands, and spotted some sea life. It is a great way to see a different perspective of Maine’s famous coastline.
How to Get to Acadia
- Bangor International Airport (BGR), 1 hour and 15 minutes (50 miles) is the closest international airport to Acadia National Park.
- Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport (BHB) is 20 minutes away from Bar Harbor but does not serve all flights.
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is 4 hours and 28 minutes (273.7 mi) away from Acadia.
- Portland International Airport (PDX) is 2 hours and 47 minutes (169.5 mi) away from Acadia National Park.
How to Get Around Acadia National Park
I recommend having your own car while visiting Acadia National Park so you do not have to rely on public transportation, and can be on your own time, stop on a whim and not have to carry so much with you for the day.
However, the park offers a free public bus option called The Island Explorer, providing service between park destinations, local communities, and Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport.
Parking can be tough during high season (June-October), especially in the afternoon, so the Island Explorer is a great alternative and even picks up passengers outside of official stops, just as long as its safe. The bus runs from late June to early October. Head to the NPS website for route map and updated operating times.
It is important to note, the Island Explorer does not access Cadillac Summit Road. If you have a reservation to access the Cadillac summit by vehicle you’ll have to rent your own car. You are allowed to walk or bike to the top of the mountain without a reservation.
Where to Stay During Your Trip to Aacadia
During my most recent stay in Acadia National Park, I car camped at Blackwoods Campground and found it to be a great, low cost option when visiting the park.
There are two Acadia National Park campgrounds on Mount Desert Island (Blackwoods and Seawall), one campground on the Schoodic Peninsula (Schoodic Woods), and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut (Duck Harbor). These all require advanced reservations. The best way to book is to use the Recreation.gov App.
If you are not into camping, and have the budget, the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa is a luxurious waterfront hotel in downtown Bar Harbor that many people love. There are also budget friendly inns, bed and breakfasts, and vacation homes to rent in the area.
Acadia National Park truly stands as the crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast, offering a breathtaking and unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a one of a kind experience.
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