For those of you who know me, you know how much I love scenic landscapes. I guess that is what has drawn me to our national parks. They have some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer. There is nothing more serene than being in nature with nothing to occupy your mind except for Mother Nature’s beauty. That is what got me into photography in the first place. I wanted a way in which to capture those moments to share with others.
I have been to exactly half of the 46 National Parks in the continental United States, with plans to visit the remainder of the parks here and outside the 48 continental states. And I have plans to write about each and every one of those parks so that I can share with you my experiences and any tips I might have collected along the way.
The next park I am covering in my National Parks series is Acadia National Park. The oldest national park East of the Mississippi River, it is located just Southwest of Bar Harbor, Maine. If you like the ocean, beautiful lighthouses, excellent seafood, and some good hiking and rock climbing, then this park is for you.
The Park reserves much of Mount Desert Island and the surrounding islands. In the early 1900’s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. oversaw the building of many carriage roads and bridges within the park to make it more accessible to the public. The Rockefeller family loves the park so much that David Rockefeller, John’s son, donated over 1,000 acres of land on Mount Desert Island to the nonprofit Land and Garden Preserve.
How to Get There
Acadia National Park is just 5 minutes Southwest of Bar Harbor, Maine and an easy 1 hour drive East of Bangor, Maine (the closest major airport that I am aware of). If you are driving up from the South, Acadia National Park is roughly 4.5 hours from Boston, MA and 4 hours from Manchester, NH. The drive up is beautiful if you have the time.
Best Time to Visit
In my opinion, the best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the fall. You miss the summer crowds and the short, cold days of winter in Maine. Here is an idea of what you can expect at Acadia National Park throughout the year.
Spring (March thru May)
Although temperatures are starting to warm up, and the crowds are much thinner than in the summer, foggy mornings, mud, and cooler temperatures define the spring season in Acadia. Many of the park facilities also operate on off-season hours until the end of April as well. If none of these things phase you, then visiting Acadia in the spring may be worthwhile as you won’t have to deal with the crowds that arrive in early summer.
Summer (June thru August)
With moderate temperatures that see highs in the 70’s and 80’s, summertime at Acadia is beautiful. However, that means that the park can often get quite crowded. The Park Loop Road can get quite congested and it can be quite difficult to find last-minute accommodations. If you do decide to visit in the summer, make sure you plan ahead and make reservations well in advance. Also, you can beat the crowds in the summer by getting up really early to start your hikes and see the sights.
Fall (September thru November)
Autumn is my favorite time to visit Acadia National Park. The temperatures cool a bit, but the temperatures aren’t terribly cold. The crowds start to thin out as school starts for kids, making the Park Loop Road and the hiking trails much less congested. If you can plan your trip for early-to-mid October, the scenery is gorgeous as the leaves start to change color. Just be aware that some facilities start their off-season hours after Columbus Day weekend.
Winter (December thru February)
Beginning in December the park switches to winter hours, closing down parts of the Park Loop Road and some of the hiking trails. Accommodations can also be more difficult to find. But if you aren’t afraid of the cold temperatures, Acadia National Park’s carriage roads are great for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.
Top Things to See and Do
There is no shortage of things to do in Acadia National Park. Whether you are into hiking, or biking, rock-climbing, or just gazing at the amazing views, Acadia has something to offer everyone. Not to mention it is a stone’s throw from Bar Harbor, which is an absolutely wonderful town to spend a day shopping, dining, and socializing. I have outlined my favorite sights in activities in Acadia National Park below, along with some links to some useful resources you can use to plan your trip.
- Acadia National Park Map
- Acadia National Park – Plan Your Visit
- Acadia National Park – Visitor Guide
You can’t visit Maine without trying some fresh lobster. Unless of course you are allergic to shellfish, then I guess you probably have to visit Maine without trying the fresh lobster. I must have had lobster at least once a day during my visit to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Lobster rolls, lobster mac and cheese, lobster pot pie, and the wonderful goodness of a dinner pictured below. And if your accommodations have a kitchen, try picking up some fresh lobster road-side and cooking a lobster dinner on your own.
One of the most prominent features of Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain. Sitting at 1,530 feet (466 meters) high, it is the highest mountain within 25 miles of the coast of the Atlantic in North America (between the Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia and Mexican peaks).
For those up for the challenge, there are several hiking trails to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Some are more challenging than others.
The Easy Hike – Cadillac Summit Trail
A third of a mile of paved path makes this trail an easy option for anyone that wants to get out an see Cadillac Mountain without having to complete a lengthy hike. A paved road takes you to the top of the mountain where you are able to get out an walk the Summit trail and enjoy the views.
The Moderate Hike – Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail
This is the shorter alternative to hiking the South Ridge Trail. At roughly 2.2 miles, this hike will take you between 1-3 hours each way, depending on your pace. It’s a nice steady incline with a rise of about 1,150 feet. It’s a fun hike if you want to hike to the top, but might not have the time necessary to hike the South Ridge Trail.
The Difficult Hike – Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail
If you want to conquer the mountain, and you have the time, then I would recommend the South Ridge Trail. It’s a beautiful hike. It’s also the longest trail in Acadia National Park, so if you are visiting to do some hiking, then this is one of the trails I would plan on tackling. At roughly 3.5 miles, this hike will take you up 1,350 feet of elevation and will take between 2-4 hours to complete, depending on your pace.
Hot Tip: Make sure you get up early and plan on being at the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunrise. You will beat the crowds and the views from the top at sunrise are spectacular!
Carriage Roads and Bridges
Built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. between 1913 and 1940, there are over 45 miles of carriage roads and 16 beautiful stone bridges in Acadia National Park. The carriage roads make excellent biking, hiking, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing trails, and the bridges are fantastic to photograph.
The Bubble Pond is a beautiful little pond that rests between two mountains and is accessible via the park road with parking available. It is a wonderful place to stop to eat a nice, quiet lunch. And if you are into photography, the pond will often have a crystal clear reflection on calm days, making it a great spot for photography.
Bubble Mountain (North and South)
Sitting to the North and the South of Jordan Pond, the peaks of both the Bubble Mountains are accessible by hiking path. If you are looking for a hike of moderate length and difficulty, then these are the hikes for you. The views of the ocean, and across Jordan Pond, are breathtaking.
If you have to pick between either the North or the South Bubble Mountain trails, I would choose the South trail. The South Trails takes you by the famous Bubble Rock, which is a large boulder that was deposited on the mountain side by glaciers. You really can’t do wrong with either trail though as both have amazing views.
Jordan Pond House
The Jordan Pond House is an absolute must stop if you are visiting Acadia National Park. It is a historic house that is a great stop for a beverage (historically tea) and a famous popover with jam. The Jordan Pond House also serves larger meals and is a great place to stop for lunch. You have to try the popovers!
Snuggled between the Otter Cliffs and Monument Cove, Boulder Beach is an amazing beach that is littered with large boulders. It’s not the best beach to sun bath on, but if you are looking for some epic coastline photos, this should be a stop high on your list. You can get some amazing shots of the rock beach with the cliffs and forest along the waterline.
One of the star attractions of Acadia National Park, the Thunder Hole does not disappoint. The Thunder Hole is a natural rock inlet near the Otter Cliffs where waves crash and make a thunderous noise. On days where the waves are big the sound is absolutely spectacular.
The Thunder Hole viewing area lets you get up-close-and-personal with the thunderous waves, but be prepared to get wet if the Thunder Hole is especially boisterous.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse
One of the most iconic images of Acadia National Park and the Bar Harbor area is the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. Perched up on the rock cliffs in Bass Harbor, the Bass Harbor light is one of the most gorgeous lighthouses in the United States.
While there are paths that allow you to get down onto the rocks to get some great pictures, if you take the lighthouse tour boat ride you can also get some fantastic photos of the Bass Harbor light looking in at the shore as well.
If you are looking for a place to unwind after a long day of exploring Acadia National Park, then look no further than downtown Bar Harbor. With plenty of nice restaurants, shopping, and entertainment, Bar Harbor is a great place to spend a day off from the park or an evening with friends.
If you do decide to spend some time in Bar Harbor, make sure you check out the ice cream shop and try the lobster flavored ice cream.
Whale Watching or Lighthouse Sightseeing Boat Ride
A great way to further enhance your trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park is to go on a whale watching tour. There is some spectacular whale activity off the coast of Maine and the boat tours are very good. If you tend to get sea sick, then I would recommend that you bring some Dramamine or other motion sickness medication with you as the sea can be choppy at times.
If you would like to take a scenic boat ride, but prefer to stay closer to shore, then I would suggest you check out the lighthouse tour. The tour takes you near many of the beautiful lighthouses in the Bar Harbor area and is well worth the time. You will get a completely different perspective of Bass Harbor Lighthouse and you will get to see other gorgeous lighthouses, such as Egg Harbor Lighthouse.
In addition to whales, there is a lot of other beautiful wildlife that calls Maine’s coastline their home. You have a good chance of seeing whales, colorful puffin, bald eagles, and other fantastic wildlife along the coast.
Sand beach is a beautiful 290 yard long beach that is set in between the granite mountains and rocky shores on Mount Desert Island. It is one of the most popular spots in Acadia National Park, so it can get quite busy on nice summer days.
You can access the beach easily from the Park Loop Road on the northeastern side of Mount Desert Island. There is a lifeguard on duty from Memorial Day thru Labor Day and a changing room is available next to the parking area.
From the beach you will get a good vantage point of the Beehive mountain, and if you look closely you will likely see people climbing the mountain via the Beehive Trail. If that gets you in the mood for hiking, there is a nice ocean-side trail with a trail head near the beach. It follows the shore’s edge past the Thunder Hole and the Otter Cliffs. It’s a fantastic little hike.
Bee Hive Hike
The Bee Hive Hike is one of my favorite hikes in Acadia National Park. It is also one of the park’s most difficult hikes. The hike takes you thru woods and it requires traversing exposed cliff faces using steel ladders planted into the cliffs.
While the hike itself can be rather daunting for novice hikers, the views the trail offers are absolutely fantastic. So if you are feeling adventurous, I would highly recommend tackling the Bee Hive hike.
The trail head for the Bee Hive hike can be found just north of Sand Beach and parking can be found next to the beach access as well. If you aren’t interested in tackling this difficult hike, but are interested in doing some hiking in the park, check out some of Acadia’s other great hiking trails.
The Otter Cliffs are sheer rock cliffs on the shoreline of Acadia National Park. They make for some of the more picturesque photo opportunities in Acadia National Park. If you are looking for some activities to try, there is plenty to do around the Otter Cliffs.
For those of you who are more on the adventurous side, you can try your hand at rock climbing on the otter cliffs. For those of you who would like to give it a try, but don’t have any experience, you can find several companies near Acadia that offer climbing lessons.
If climbing isn’t your thing, but you would still like to explore the cliffs, there is an excellent trail that follows the shoreline along the top of the cliffs. It is a great trail that isn’t too difficult and has some great views of the cliffs. The trail head for this trail can be found by Sand Beach.