Acadia National Park is explorable by trail, road, bicycle, boat or horse. This Northeast gem in Maine is an area locals refer to as “Downeast” (due to old nautical terminology for direction). Acadia captures the essence of the state’s Vacationland motto. Rugged coastline, old worn granite mountains, diverse wildlife and sandy beaches await you in this compact island park. Explore 158 miles of trails, 45 miles of old carriage roads and 40 miles of coastline.
The park is mostly located on Mount Desert Island (MDI) but also encompasses part of Isle au Haut (southwest, accessible by ferry), Schoodic Peninsula and a half dozen smaller islands. Acadia National Park is situated in and around privately-owned land. Somes Sound divides MDI into the “quieter” western side of the lobster-clawed shaped island, and “busier” eastern side.
Atlantic coastal islands, granite mountains, rugged seashores, sandy beaches mingle harmoniously within Acadia National Park
The weather is pleasant in spring through fall, but expect coastal weather extremes (fog, heavy rain and snowy/icy winters). Summer can range from 45 to 90 F. Come in fall to enjoy leaf-peeping season. There is wildlife aplenty: red foxes, porcupine, whales, river otters, lobsters, seals, sea urchins, starfish and seabirds.
Maine is known for blueberries, and they are ripe for picking in late summer all over the island. Bear and moose, though common throughout inland and mountainous Maine, are harder to find on the island.
6 Must-Do’s in Acadia National Park
Isle Views by Bicycle: Park Loop Road and old carriage roads
Ocean Kayaking: Paddle the Atlantic coastal waters surrounding the island park
Tide-pooling: Observe nature’s microhabitats at numerous beaches in the park
Sunrises: Bathe in the glory of dawn’s first light from atop Cadillac Mountain
Fall Foliage: Birch, aspen, poplar and maple trees illuminate the island in fall
Night Skies: Some of the darkest (and best for stargazing) skies on the East Coast
Acadia National Park Campgrounds
There are four park-run campgrounds, and over a dozen privately-run campgrounds. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance and are highly recommended. All campgrounds run seasonally (spring through fall).
Additionally, Blackwoods Campground has walk-in (hike-in) sites in winter (as of 2020, offseason camping is no longer permitted; check the Acadia National Park website for updates). Some campgrounds will occasionally have first-come, first-served sites. Fees range from $15 to $30 per night.
What you need to know: Blackwoods Campground is by reservation only, and is open year-round (but campers must hike in from December through March, and fees vary based on the time of year), with over 300 sites (including RV, group and ADA-compliant/accessible sites). There are no RV hookups.
Amenities: flush toilets, potable water, fire/grill and table. Fee showers are 0.5-mile away at Otter Creek.
Why this campground? This campground has wooded campsites within a ten-minute walk to the coast. It is the busiest campground and closest to Bar Harbor. Visit the Nature Center, Abbe Museum or the Wild Gardens.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Three are two easy coastal sunrise options near Sand Beach: Great Head Trail (1.7 miles) and part of the Gorham Mountain/Ocean Path (2 miles one way, it passes Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs; tack on the mountain climb for a 3.5-mile loop).
At low tide trek out on the Bar Island sand bar (easy, 1.4 miles). Loop iconic Jordan Pond (moderate, 3.2 miles). Listen to the sounds of nature at Thunder Hole, where waves compress air within a narrow rock chamber as tides rise and fall.
Want a more soothing sound? Head to nearby beaches as waves lap and rattle shore pebbles. Less crowded than its neighbor Sand Beach, visit Seal Harbor Beach.
Hidden Treasure: Skip the crowds on Cadillac Mountain for sunrise and take in dawn’s early rays on Ocean Drive. Explore the night skies with ranger-led programs at Sand Beach, or night-time hikes. Cadillac Mountain is great for stargazing.
What you need to know: Seawall Campground is located in the southwest corner of MDI, four miles from Southwest Harbor, a quieter area with 218 campsites by reservation only (including smaller RV, group and ADA-compliant/accessible sites).
Amenities: fire rings, picnic tables, camp store (within a half mile) and potable water. There are no RV hookups. Fee showers are one mile away.
Why this campground? It is less crowded and more private with wooded campsites within a ten-minute walk to the coast.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Though you can go tide-pooling in many areas of Acadia National Park, check out these mini-ecosystems near Bass Harbor Head Light Station along Ship Harbor Trail, Wonderland Trail and Flying Mountain Trail (all easy, under 1.5 miles each). Sit among pink granite ledges and check out crabs, barnacles, mussels, fish, starfish and many other creatures. Remember: observe, do not touch. Echo Lake is a popular swimming spot.
Hidden Treasure: Sunset is a little touch of perfection at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Visit this signature light, scramble on rocks below it and just take it all in. Mansell Mountain is a moderate hike with multiple routes nearby and also a hidden gem.
The shortest trail is two to three miles, involves the Perpendicular Trail looped with the Mansell Mountain Trail, and ascends via steeply-cut in granite steps, but it grants the hiker rewarding, uncrowded views of Long Pond.
Schoodic Woods Campground
What you need to know: This campground is by reservation only, with 89 sites (RVs up to 35 feet with water and electric hookups, ADA-compliant/accessible sites) and is located a few miles from Winter Harbor on the mainland peninsula, an hour away from MDI via car (or ferry in summer).
Amenities: fire rings, picnic tables and potable water.
Why this campground? Get away from the crowds of Mount Desert Island. This campground has a roomier feel to it than Blackwoods and Seawall.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Take a scenic drive (or use the island shuttle bus) on the one-way 6-mile Schoodic Loop and be sure to head out to Schoodic Point which hosts rocky, panoramic vistas of MDI. Hike up the small peak, Schoodic Head, for views afar. Blueberry Hill and the Alder Trail (easy, 0.6 mile) meander through moor-like bird habitat. Visit Winter Harbor Lighthouse.
Hidden Treasure: The magic is in low tides…walk out to Little Moose Island via the land bridge to be alone and away from the crowds of MDI, just you, wildlife and ocean views. Observe moss, seaweed and black basalt and pink granite rocks that are a geologist’s dream. Just plan accordingly so you have enough time to walk there and back during low tide.
Isle au Haut (Duck Harbor Campground)
What you need to know: The island is only accessible by mail boat or passenger ferry (no automobiles) from Stonington. Campsites are at Duck Harbor and must be reserved.
The island is about 5,500 acres, and much of it can be explored in a day trip, however Acadia National Park visitors need to be respectful of park boundaries with private land. There are five lean-to campsites with 3-night maximum stays. Tents must be set up within the lean-to.
Amenities: fire ring, table, composting toilet and hand pump for water (0.25-mile from the campground).
Why this campground? If you want rustic and isolated, this is your campground. The camping is more like backcountry, not car or RV camping. The campground is perched on a hill overlooking the harbor.
Family-Friendly Hikes and Activities: Goat Trail is a moderate 2.1-mile (one way) trek and takes you along the rocky and rugged coastline with expansive vistas. Stroll around Isle au Haut Light.
Explore the rough and tumbled rounded rocks of Boom Beach with yet more tidal pools then head to Long Pond for a dip. With no car traffic, rent or bring your own bicycles and pedal around the non-paved roads of the island among bogs, meadows and forest.
Hidden Treasure: Trek the moderate 1.3-mile Western Head Trail with ocean vistas and at low tide, walk via a land bridge to the rocky Western Ear islet.
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than one seeks.” – John Muir
Acadia National Park Backcountry Camping
Well, not exactly. There is no backcountry camping in Acadia National Park due to the compact size and fragile environment of the island park. That does not mean you can’t find a few longer or challenging trails or quieter camp locations (via privately-run companies).
Longer summit trails include Cadillac South Ridge (7 miles), Dorr Mountain South Ridge (6 miles), Giant Slide Loop up Sargent Mountain (5.7 miles, see views of faraway Baxter Peak and dip in Sargent Pond when done) and Penobscot and Sargent Mountain loop (9.5 miles).
The Precipice Loop (strenuous, 3 miles, a vertical 1000-foot granite dome on Champlain Mountain) and Beehive (2 miles) both require scrambling, boulder hopping and iron rungs.
Rewards: wide open views of the mountains, ponds and cliffs. The Precipice is closed late spring to midsummer for nesting peregrine falcons.
Exciting Sites & Scenic Drives Near Acadia National Park
Take the 27-mile Park Loop Road (open April through November) on the eastern part of the island, to drive or ride along coastline, lakes and forests. Combine it with some of the 45 miles of old stone and gravel carriage roads (protected and created thanks to philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr.), all relatively level rides via bicycle (rent bicycles in Bar Harbor).
Spot some of the 17 scattered stone bridges along the route. Add in the ascent to Cadillac Mountain for wide ocean views. Kayak the Atlantic Ocean surrounding Acadia National Park. Some of the best spots are on the western coast of Mount Desert Island (Blue Hill and Western Bays are quieter, away from ferries or large ships).
Visit small isles, bird-watch numerous seabirds, and take in views of the isle’s mountains: Cadillac, Mansell and Bernard. Book one of many cruise and charter options, including large schooners, to explore the coastline and open sea.
Insider Tips for Visiting Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is just south of Bangor (50 miles away), and three hours from Portland and five to six hours from Boston. The park is open all year but sees peak season in July and August.
Hulls Cove Visitor Center is closed from November through April. Traffic and parking—be warned. Acadia National Park is a heavily visited park with limited parking, especially in the summer through fall and during holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day).
Think outside the box when planning your itinerary. Visit popular trailheads early or later in the day, travel via bicycle or visit less-congested trails, beaches and viewpoints. The western part of Mount Desert Island is filled with equally dazzling spots.
Utilize the Island Explorer Shuttle to get to and around the park from June through October and to avoid parking tickets (some areas have a two-hour parking limit).
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK CAMPERS BEWARE:
To avoid mosquitoes and black flies, skip a May through June visit.
Do not bring in firewood; there is plenty for purchase within the park.
When in Maine, also have an extra layer for the cooler nights, unpredictable weather and coastal breezes.