Top 10 Things to do in Acadia National Park

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top things to do in acadia national park

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Acadia is all about enjoying the outdoors, whether you’re hiking up Cadillac Mountain, lying out on Sand Beach, or driving along Park Loop Road. When the season allows, leaf-peeping and a wide range of winter sports are also popular. Nature phenomena like Otter Cliff and Thunder Hole awe tourists, while picturesque Jordan Pond provides the perfect setting for an afternoon picnic and the simple pleasures of Maine. 

Top 10 Things to do in Acadia National Park List

#1 Cadillac Mountain

Top 10 Things to do in Acadia National Park

Cadillac Mountain is about 1,530 feet high. Aside from being the tallest mountain in the park, it is also the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic coast. You should go early, whether you hike the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail or drive up the three 1/2-mile narrow access road. Cadillac tends to draw crowds since it is the only attraction in the park that can be reached by car. You should drive slowly if you arrive by car, especially since the roadside cliffs are steep. Before reaching the top, where crowds and tour buses congregate, take advantage of the small observation areas along the road.

Try to catch a sunrise here for the best views. From October to March, Cadillac Mountain is the first point in the United States to welcome the rising sun’s rays, and visitors agree it is a spectacular sight. Despite recent travelers saying a trip to Acadia wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Cadillac Mountain, they warned the area gets crowded, even in the early morning hours (some reported arriving two hours before sunrise). If you’re visiting during the winter months, you’ll have to hike the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail; the park closes down the access road for the winter season. Pack blankets and hold on to your hats, too, as it gets chillier as you ascend.

#2 Park Loop Road

Things to do in Acadia National Park List

Visitors of Acadia agree: riding along the 27-mile Park Loop Road is the best way to see the park in a short amount of time (and justifies renting a car). From here, you can access popular sights and trails like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliffs. Starting at the Hulls Cove Visitors Center, you can snake your way around Mount Desert Island’s east side.

There are also public restrooms scattered along the loop, but with the lack of concession stands and eateries, you may want to bring your own lunch. You should also keep in mind that for most of the loop’s 27 miles, traffic is one-way, with a second lane for visitors to park and enjoy the view. Travelers recommend starting your trip early in the morning, as the road tends to get congested with tourists as the day goes on, especially in the summer. Reviewers have also said that cell service was spotty, so pick up a map at the visitor center before starting your drive just in case your GPS malfunctions.

#3 Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond Nature Trail (a pleasant stroll through the evergreens) and Jordan Pond Shore Trail (a strenuous trek along the rocky coast) both lead to the picturesque and pleasant pond. Choose your poison (or trail), and you will find crystal-clear waters that mirror the surrounding mountains at the end. Jordan Pond House Restaurant serves soups, lobster rolls, and its famous popovers and tea.

Recent travelers were equally impressed with the restaurant’s menu as with the breathtaking scenery. The restaurant is also kid-friendly. The restaurant gets very crowded around lunchtime, especially in the summer, according to visitors. Try to get to the restaurant early if you don’t want to wait long for a table (reviewers raved about the afternoon tea). Reservations can also be made by calling the restaurant if you can time your hike accordingly. When you’re ready to move on, the Perpendicular Trail, as well as a few other paths, are just around the corner. Park in the restaurant’s parking lot if you prefer not to hike, but there is only a limited amount of space.

#4 Schoodic Point

Schoodic Point

Schoodic Point is the only part of Acadia National Park that’s situated on the mainland, so it’s not as accessible as some of the park’s other major attractions. That’s why recent travelers have found this area to be so special. As with Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Point has a craggy shoreline, granite headlands, and spruce-fir forests. However, its remote location lends a feeling of secluded intimacy, unlike the island.

Schoodic Point is about an hour’s drive northeast of Bar Harbor and is known for the crashing surf that erupts against its rocks. View Cadillac Mountain to the west when you’re not admiring the waves. The majority of visitors sit in beach chairs to watch the nature show, but there are plenty of other things to do here as well. The Schoodic Head Trail, Anvil Trail, and East Trail will lead hikers through spruce-fir forests and pine woodlands at Schoodic Head. The less-strengthful Alder Trail leads visitors through shrubland, while the leisurely Sundew Trail leads them to the Schoodic Education and Research Center. Take a seat at the picnic area at Frazer Point if your legs need a break, after all, that climbing. There are tables, fire rings, water fountains, restrooms, and a dock.

Schoodic Point is highly recommended as a stop on your itinerary due to the unruly waves, rock climbing, and gorgeous views. If you don’t have a car, you can get here via ferry, which runs between Bar Harbor and Winter Harbor in the summer. Island Explorer provides transportation from the ferry terminal to the Schoodic section of the park via route 8, as well as to Prospect Harbor and Winter Harbor.

#5 Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse offers a stunning sunrise without the crowds of Cadillac Mountain. It is one of the most picturesque lighthouses in all of Maine and was built in the late 1800s. The lighthouse is owned and operated by the Coast Guard and is the only one on Mount Desert Island. Visitors are not permitted inside the lighthouse, but it’s best observed from the outside.

Mount Desert Island’s southern tip is home to the landmark. To access the lighthouse viewing platform, visitors can park at the free lot off Lighthouse Road in Bass Harbor and then walk down a short, sloped trail to sea level. The steep path and slippery stones on the viewing platform should be avoided by travelers with limited accessibility. Both sunrises and sunsets are spectacular here, according to previous visitors. Also, the platform’s location makes it an excellent place to see groups of dolphins and seals up close. In the peak summer months, however, there is often traffic congestion on the drive to the lighthouse, so make sure to arrive early or take the Island Explorer, which drops passengers off a half-mile from the lighthouse. Visit the National Park Service website for more information.

#6 Sand Beach

The water at Sand Beach rarely rises above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and is covered with sharp shells. Still, this is the most popular beach in the park. Nonetheless? The views here are amazing. A 900-foot-long shoreline sandwiched between two walls of solid pink granite and surrounded by towering evergreens is not a typical beach. When you aren’t admiring the views from the shore, consider hiking up the Great Head Trail for an even better vantage point. The trail, which starts at the eastern end of the beach (opposite the parking lot), has granite steps leading up to the cliffs. When you reach the top, you’ll have spectacular views of the beach and be able to see The Beehive, a mountain that is popular with hikers.

#7 Carriage Roads

Carriage Roads

John D. Rockefeller Jr. created and funded the Carriage Roads, a 57-mile network of paved paths, from 1913 to 1940. As part of the 27-year project, Rockefeller hand-designed the paths to highlight the park’s best scenery, including Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake, and Mount Desert Island. In the 1990s, the Carriage Roads were weatherproofed and modernized. Bicyclists, horseback riders, and inline skaters are able to explore some of Acadia’s more rustic areas on the roads (which are off-limits to motor vehicles). And unlike most trails, the Carriage Roads are kept open in the winter for skiing and snowshoeing.

There is nothing like a walk or bike ride here to really appreciate Acadia, and many travelers recommend planning a trip in the fall to see the amazing foliage. A horse-drawn carriage ride along the trails is also a great option for a memorable experience; be sure to reserve your spot early, though, as they fill up quickly. The reviewers suggest driving early and visiting on a weekday if you want to avoid the crowds.

#8 Precipice Trail

If you have the guts to attempt it, the Precipice Trail is one of the most rewarding hikes in the park. Visitors scramble up Champlain Mountain by iron ladders and rungs, all for a scenic summit and unparalleled view of Sand Beach.

There is no one-size-fits-all trail. Recent visitors warn that the trail is not suitable for those who are afraid of heights. If you’re not sure if you’re up for the challenge, reviewers suggest you first tackle the Beehive Trail – a strenuous but shorter trail on the park’s east side. You should start your climb early to avoid being stuck behind other hikers.  

#9 Thunder Hole

This semi-submerged cave booms an hour or two before high tide, creating a raucous natural phenomenon. This cave is filled with waves that slap the walls like a thunderstorm – hence the name – and water can spray as far as 40 feet, so wear a poncho if you want to stay dry.

In order to catch the big boom, you need both luck and timing. Travelers said that the best time to visit is when the tides are changing. The uneven rocks can make it difficult for those with mobility issues to enjoy the park. However, those who cannot descend can still see and hear the waves. Take care if you venture beyond the viewing platform (which includes a railing and level steps). The rocks may be wet and slippery. Take a moment to admire the spectacular show while you’re watching: you’ll see the Schoodic Peninsula in the distance, Sand Beach to the left, and Otter Cliff to the east.

#10 Otter Cliff

A classic stop along the Park Loop Road, Otter Cliff is a 110-foot-high granite precipice with one of the best ocean views along the East Coast. When you burst through the spruce trees that cap the precipice, be careful not to fall off the ledge. During the summer, rock climbers will scramble up granite, and whale pods will spout off the shore. Giant flocks of ducks gather here during the fall before migrating south for the winter.

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