Acadia National Park was easily the highlight of our 2016 New England road trip. Not only is Acadia New England’s only “National Park,” it is a gem.
The park covers most of Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine, which was preserved by donations from private citizens, like John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Here you will find gorgeous, rugged coastlines, a mesmerizing view from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the idyllic beauty of Jordan Pond and plenty of peace and quiet on the carriage roads and trails.
You will also find serious crowds because it is an extremely popular park. A visit here requires planning ahead, especially if you plan on coming during a holiday weekend.
Near Acadia NP, you will find several gorgeous small Maine towns and the bustling Bar Harbor. There’s a lot to see and do here and you can easily spend a weekend or longer relaxing and enjoying the area.
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Updated May 2019
Visiting Acadia National Park
We spent two days exploring Acadia. We certainly could have spent more. There is a ton to do here. Starting out early in the morning, we drove almost directly to Jordan Pond. I knew from a previous visit to Acadia that Jordan Pond is one of the most popular places in the park (for good reason) and the parking lot would fill up early in the day.
We quickly parked, grabbed our packs and hit the Jordan Pond Path, a 3.2-mile trail around the shoreline of the pond. The trail is nice and level, easy for anyone to do it and offers stunning views everywhere you look. We also saw a nesting loon at the north end of the pond. Very cool, indeed!
From Jordan Pon, we headed north to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the island. The 360-degree panorama at the top of the mountain is breathtaking, as were the crowds.
Like Key West, Bar Harbor is a cruise ship port and we ran into many of the passengers at Cadillac Mountain. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind cruise ships. I have done my fair share of cruises and will cruise again. That said, traveling alongside large tours gets old fast.
Pro Tip: Do your research, especially on the eastern half of the park, and get to your top sites early in the morning! Parking lots fill up fast.
We continued north on the Park Loop Road and then continued east, then south to Sieur de Monts, where the park has an interesting garden area to demonstrate the different ecosystems within the park and their flora, as well as a small nature center.
After a picnic lunch at the nearby Bear Brook Picnic Area, we continued south on the loop and were met by crowds. Lots of folks cramming into every available spot to go to Sand Beach or to see Thunder Hole.
Sand Beach is what it sounds like: a sandy beach, which is rare in this part of the world. Thunder Hole is a chute in the rocks along the coast where the water, at the right tide, comes thundering in.
Again, the crowds were overwhelming so we headed south to Otter Point, where we found some nice tidal pools and a much less crowded coast.
Pro Tip: Check the tides before you go out. Seeing Thunder Hole about two hours before high tide is supposed to be amazing and would be worth the crowds. Also, the trail to Bar Island is only available at low tide.
Sunset in Acadia National Park and Bar Island
Sunset in Acadia was something to behold. We drove up Cadillac Mountain to the Blue Hill Overlook, which has a transcendent westerly view at sunset. We shared a large open area with around 50 of our closest friends.
A friendly tip: don’t walk in front of the folks who are already set up with tripods. It is just polite.
Bar Island was our first stop the next morning. Well, our second stop. We had to run by FedEx to send off a package and the Fed Ex place on the island wasn’t open on the weekend.
Several days ago, our electricity management system (basically, a surge protector for the camper) went on the fritz. We called Progressive Industries, spoke and e-mailed with Anthony, who FedEx’ed us a new unit pretty much on the spot. Can’t beat service like that! After dropping off the return, we headed over to Bar Island, which can only be reached during low tide.
The island is small, but walking across the sand bar and checking out the tidal flats was interesting, especially for kids. There were tons of families looking for shells and the beasties caught in the pools. The island has a great view of Bar Harbor and is worth the short hike.
The Rest of Mount Desert Island
We spent the next hour or so touring the west side of the island. While there are several hiking trails and great places to go canoeing, the little communities along the way almost steal the show with their pure quaintness.
At the far end of the west end of the island is the Bass Harbor Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. The light itself is still working and is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, so no tours, but you can still clamber down to the rocks below for a picture of the light.
After a rousing lunch, it was time for a hike. Our neighbors at the campground suggested a walk along one of the carriage roads leading through the park.
We chose a route from Brown Mountain Gatehouse leading into a box canyon called the Amphitheater. It was very relaxing, even for a five-mile hike. The carriage roads are wide gravel paths that pedestrians, bikes and horses can travel on. The hike we took was peaceful with a few nice views along the way.
Pro Tip: Don’t ignore the carriage roads for planning your hikes. They may not be proper trails but they make for a peaceful place to go for a long walk. Or bring a bike!
Bar Harbor and Where to Eat
In terms of New England coastal towns, Bar Harbor is more closely related to Key West than it is some of the more quaint towns found further south along Maine’s coast. The main drag is covered in t-shirt and gift shops, as well as restaurants of every variety. But just like Key West, it has charm to spare.
The town is rife with amazing views, a fantastic walking trail along the coast and a couple of absolutely pleasant green spaces. Did I mention the views? Good. Just making sure.
Once you get past the main drag, the classic New England fishing town positively bubbles with beautiful homes and seaside cottages. In a word: pretty.
Dinner our first night was at Stewman’s Lobster Pound, located dockside right in the midst of all the action. We knew we were paying for the location, but it was pricey nonetheless.
I had a classic lobster roll (outstanding!) and Bonnie, not quite willing to take the lobster plunge, chose the haddock sandwich. We also enjoyed a cup of chowder and lobster bisque, respectively.
Eating outside, on the dock (they drug a case of freshly caught lobster right off the dock past our table) with the sun gloriously setting behind us was more than worth the price of admission… And the food was pretty darn good, too!
Because my lobster lust was not sated yet, we went to another lobster pound (the Maine equivalent of a crab shack), Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor while touring the rest of Mount Desert Island the next day. I had a Sriracha lobster roll and Bonnie enjoyed some fish tacos on the dock, seated on picnic tables. You cannot beat eating fresh seafood dockside.
Final Thoughts on Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Acadia National Park. I certainly think we under-budgeted the number of days we should spend here by at least one if not two. Mount Desert Island and its villages are seriously beautiful and offer a lot of natural beauty, friendly people and great food.