Rough Draft: Acadia National Park, Maine
Due to the COVID quarantine, I am creating rough draft, “off the shelf” travel itineraries for when travel resumes normal operations so we do not waste any time getting out and exploring!
One of the biggest request from you guys was itineraries for visiting the National Parks which happened to be one of my 2020 goals. This may have to be a 2021 goal as I think everyone (EVERYONE) will be flocking to National Parks as a post-COVID escape plan. Many of the photographers we traveled with on our storm chasing trip frequent the country’s National Parks capturing unbelievable pictures and they could not speak more highly about visiting these areas. I have not hit many of the iconic National Parks so I will be taking the next couple itineraries to discovery them.
COVID Note: Many National Parks are requiring reservations in order to enter. This is separate from a park entrance fee. Be sure to check the requirements at the National Park official website and if needed, free reservations are made at recreation.gov often for a $1 or $2 service fee. These reservations are limited and are often gone within minutes of release so make sure you plan around this when it is in place.
Time to give the east side of the country some love – off to Acadia National Park!
When we visited Portland, we had wanted to visit Acadia during that trip until we realized how much farther it was (another 3 hour drive) and we just did not have this time. That being said, road trips are looking more and more desirable now and a drive up the east coast sounds like a wonderful summer getaway.
When to visit
The season for visiting Acadia is late spring in May to mid September with peak travel in July and August. While the temperature starts to dip in the fall, many people visit for the change of season for the tree colors.
How to get there
If you live in the north east, driving here is a good option – its under 5 hours from Boston and 8 hours from NYC. There is a small airport, Bangor International Airport, an hour away from Bar Harbor and services flights from various parts of the country including Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta, NYC, Washington DC, and Philadelphia.
While there is a shuttle service (Island Explorer) around the park, I would still say a car is necessary for accessibility and flexibility.
Where to stay
Your trip will most likely be based out of the town of Bar Harbor. There are lots of accommodations for varying budgets, including an Airbnb market. There are also several camp sites that can be utilized – Blackwoods, Seawall, and Schoodic Woods.
How much does it cost
There is a $30 fee per vehicle or a $15 fee per person without a vehicle, both are valid for 7 days. Make sure to stop by Hulls Cove Visitor Center to get your pass on your way into the park or order it online ahead of time. If you make National Park hopping a priority, make sure to check out the American the Beautiful Pass – $80 for the year and included entrance to over 2000 sites!
There are tons of hiking trails of varying difficulty in Acadia National Park which means there is a trail for everyone.
- The “cadillac” of Acadia – everyone mentions this as a must do
- Visit either for sunrise or sunset but you have to get there at least an hour ahead of time to beat the crowds. Did you know that during certain times of the year, this is the first stop in the country to see the sunrise?
- The trail up to the mountain is 4 miles on the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. Do not want to hike up the mountain at 4AM to catch the sunrise? Luckily there is a driving route to the top of the mountain.
Park Loop Road is a 27 mile road that takes you past many of the must see stops. This is also one of the focuses of the Island Explorer if you are opting to use it. Depending on what you are looking for, driving Park Loop Road can be a bunch of stops for scenic views, relaxing on beaches, hitting all the trail heads you pass, or a combination of both.
- Precipice Trail (3.2 miles, difficult)
- The elevation climb here is intense – 1000 feet in 1 mile but this trail is more importantly challenging because portions with ladders and iron rungs over sheer cliffs. You have to be confident in your abilities, not terrified of heights, and do not go if it recently rained as it makes the rocks you need for traction slippery. That being said, it is a very popular and rewarding trail for adventurous hikers.
- You probably need somewhere between 2 to 3 hours for this trail. The trail head starts at the parking lot and will summit at Champlain Mountain and be rewarded with amazing views. Do not return the trail you came up (very dangerous) and instead take Champlain North Ridge and Orange and Black trail which returns you to the parking lot.
- Beehive Trail (3.2 miles, difficult)
- Similar to the Precipice Trail, Beehive is rated difficult due to the steep elevation gains in a short distance and also has portions with ladders and iron rungs over sheer cliffs. But despite the difficulty, it is another popular trail that is highly recommended
- This trail should take 2 to 3 hours to complete. The trail head starts at the parking lot and lead you through many photo worth views of Frenchman Bay and the coast. Again, do not take the trail you came up down (very dangerous) and instead that the Bowl Trail to return to the parking lot.
- Ocean Path – this is the portion of Park Loop Road that hugs the shore line, hence the name. You can opt to drive from point to point or walk it as it is mostly flat. The entire path officially is 5.8 miles and ends with a summit of Gorham Mountain but if you climbed enough, the route with the most popular stops are within 2 miles. There are multiple overlooks to stop off at and enjoy the view so make sure to leave time to explore.
- Sand Beach – relaxing beach with sweeping ocean views
- Thunder Hole – named for the sound of the crashing waves into a cove but in order to get the full effect, you need to time your visit properly. The thunder sound is at its peak 2 hours before high tide – check this website for the tides when you visit.
- Otter Cliff – another great place for vista views but more importantly, a less crowded place to catch sunrise
The Bubbles (3 miles for two hikes, moderate hikes)
- The Bubbles Divide Trail offers two hikes in one and both are worth it:
- South Bubble Mountain – takes hikers to Bubble Rock which is a famous rock balancing on the edge of a cliff
- North Bubble Mountain – takes hikers to Conners Nubble for an incredible vista view
On the opposite side of the Bar Harbor to the west there the opportunity to hike Acadia Mountain and surrounding trails – and often much less crowded.
- Acadia Mountain Trail (1.8 miles, moderate)
- Return via the Man O’ War trail
- Beech Cliff Trail (1.2 miles, moderate)
- Wonderland Trail (1.4 miles, easy)
- Ship Harbor Trail (1.3 miles, easy)
Read about the ones we completed here!
Other Things to Do
In addition to hiking, there are many other activities as well that allows visitor to enjoy the beauty of the park.
- Carriage Road – I still do not quite understand this but it appears there are 45 miles of carriage roads in Acadia in which cars are not permitted (here is a full map) and it recommended to explore. This seems like a great time to rent a bike to enjoy Carriage Road.
- For those that want a change of scenery or not into hiking, there are several gardens in the area
- Wild Gardens of Acadia
- Sieur de Monts Nature Center
- Thuya Garden
- Azalea Garden
- The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse – visit for sunset for a perfect photo
- Bar Island – a sand bar that appears during low tide from Bar Harbor. It is less than a mile walk that appears during low tide – very unique! But you are on a time limit since it only happens twice a day so pay attention to tide times (this website)
- Stargazing at Cadillac Mountain (speaking of, there is a Acadia National Park Night Sky Festival in September that you can plan for!)
- Activities – kayaking, whale watching, boat trip around the harbor, paddle boarding, and more
As you can see, there is no shortage to things to do in Acadia National Park. Based on the duration of the hikes and the proximity to each other, here is how I would structure a 3 day itinerary. As with most 3 day weekends, I like to travel on Thursday after work to get the most out of the three days at the destination. If you want to extend the trip, spend a few extra days in Portland!
|Day 0||Arrive in Bar Harbor|
|Day 1||Cadillac Mountain sunrise|
Ocean Path (Sand Beach, Thunder Hole)
Stargazing at Cadillac Mountain
|Day 2||Early rise for Otter Cliff sunrise |
The Carriage Road
Acadia Mountain and surrounding trails
The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse for sunset
|Day 3||Excursion of choice|
One of the gardens
I wouldn’t necessary commit to doing the trails in this order but the groupings are what is important. Weather plays a big role for scheduling here. If it raining or recently rained, the difficult trails with the ladders and iron rungs are not the best idea. If you are visiting areas for sunrise or sunset, full cloud coverage is not going to make the trip worth it. Some places are changed by the tide so this is also a factor that needs to be flexibility. And do not forget to check the National Park website frequently for check road and trail status as it can change.
The food scene in Acadia far ahead of other national parks in my opinion. There are so many amazing options for food that is reachable all the time – including a huge fresh seafood market.
|Breakfast / Coffee||Seafood||Snacks||Other|
|2 Cats Bar |
Jordan’s RestaurantCoffee Hound CoffeeCafe The Way
Galyn’s All the Lobster Pounds:
|Atlantic Brewing |
Mount Desert Island Ice CreamHouse Wine (wine and cheese – picnic!)Choco-LatteQuietside Cafe & Ice Cream Shop
|Reading Room |
Side Street CafeJordan Pound House*
*The restaurant that everyone mentions is inside Acadia National Park – Jordan Pound House. If you do not want to wait hours to get in, you need to make reservations. If you would like a parking spot, you need to get there early. What is the draw? A little something called popovers (like Yorkshire Pudding). There is a way to hike or bike here in the event you chose to or the parking lot is full. Head to Jordan Pond North parking lot and travel through Carriage Roads.
If you have been to Acadia National Park, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are!
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