Acadia National Park Essentials

Drive, hike, paddle, camp and otherwise explore the majestic coastal environment of Maine.

Acadia National Park offers some of the Atlantic coast’s most stunning and unique scenery, from its highest rocky headlands to its diverse wildlife habitats, all layered upon a rich cultural history. Located in the eastern coastal “Downeast” region of Maine, the park is not huge (consisting of only 41,000 acres), but it does offer a huge variety of coastal geography, mixing rock-bound shoreline on Mount Desert Island, a portion of the Schoodic Peninsula and numerous offshore islands. The packed assortment of varying features explains its high visitation, landing in the top 10 most-visited national parks in the country (3.5 million visits annually) despite its size (Grand Teton, the next most-visited park, is almost eight times larger). That doesn’t mean it’s hard to find solitude here. Plan an efficient visit and enjoy 27 miles of historic motor roads, 158 miles of hiking trails, 45 miles of carriage and biking roads, and miles and miles of unspoiled coastline to explore by foot, wheel or water. 


Established in 1916 thanks to a donation of land by private citizens, Acadia National Park was the first national park to be created east of the Mississippi River. When French cartographer Samuel de Champlain first sailed by Mount Desert Island in 1604, he named it “Isles des Monts Desert” (accent on the last syllable), meaning “island of barren mountains.” While the park was first coined Sieur de Monts National Monument—and in 1919 became Lafayette National Park, after George Washington’s French military sidekick—in 1929, NPS Director Stephen Mather spearheaded the effort to rename it Acadia, a name France bestowed on its New World Atlantic settlements. It’s derived from the native Mi'kmaq word “akadie,” meaning a promising piece of land. And indeed it is, as a top national park to put on your bucket list.   

Getting There

Acadia is located on coastal Maine’s Mount Desert Island, about 265 miles from Boston and 50 miles from Bangor, Maine. Two main driving routes get you there: Take Interstate 95 north to Augusta, Maine, then state Route 3 east to Ellsworth and on to Mount Desert Island; or take I-95 north to Bangor, then Route 1A east to Ellsworth and Route 3 to Mount Desert Island. You can also fly into the Hancock County Airport, located 10 miles from the park, or Bangor, located just an hour away. The average visit is three to four days. 


Be prepared for weather. Ranked second only to the Pacific Northwest in annual precipitation, Acadia’s unpredictable coastal climate is a result of both its latitude and marine influences. Ice storms are regular in winter and early spring, plus rain is frequent in every month (come prepared with the right gear to ward off the wet).


While fog can be common from June to August, summer is still the best time to visit, especially if you can luck into a favorable weather window. Note: Bring insect repellent. Blackflies are most numerous between mid-May and mid-June, but they vary with rainfall. 


This is the time to visit if you want to see Maine’s spectacular fall foliage. The leaves start turning in September and peak in mid-October. 


Brrrr. While you can visit the park in winter, and cross-country ski and snowshoe its myriad trails (rentals available in Bar Harbor), bundle up; the average snowfall is about 60 inches. The Park Loop Road closes on Dec. 1 and reopens April 15, weather permitting. A 2-mile section of the road, one of its most scenic, remains open all year. 


While you can certainly luck out with clear days, be prepared for inclement weather if visiting in spring. In general, the later you go the better, with roads and other park amenities starting to open back up from mid-April on.  



Acadia is a birdwatcher’s paradise, thanks to an environment playing home to such species as spring warblers, sea ducks, bald eagles, osprey, seabirds and migrating birds of prey. Ranger-led birdwalks are offered from late spring to mid-fall, with peregrine falcon and hawk-watching programs also available. 


There are 45 miles of carriage roads open to bikers and walkers. While there’s no shoulder, the Park Loop Road is also open to bikers (note: stay off it from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when it can be busy), requiring biking with the traffic flow on its one-way section. Bikes of all types (road, mountain and cruiser) can be rented in nearby towns. 

Bus and Boat Tours

Ditch the car and take the free bus. The NPS-operated, propane-powered Island Explorer bus runs from late June and through Columbus Day, traveling between Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor, which links hotels, inns, campgrounds, hiking trails, carriage roads, island beaches, and in-town shops and restaurants.  

From late spring through early fall, also try the park’s four ranger-narrated boat cruises, serving up stories about legends of the sea, the Maine coast and its rugged inhabitants. The programs, which range from explorations of remote, ocean-sculpted islands to more concentrated searches for marine life or deeper dives into the area’s storied past, are offered multiple times each week with reservations recommended (More info: 


Many visitors come to hike Acadia’s granite mountains and pristine lakes via 158 miles of hiking trails (plus the aforementioned 45 miles of carriage and biking roads also great for walking). All offer pay-off vistas of everything from forested hills and glacial lakes to jagged cliffs, rocky shoreline and the Atlantic—often at the same time. Three favorites include:  

Cadillac North Ridge Trail

While it’s a steep, 1.5-hour hike to the top of 1,530-foot Cadillac Peak, the views across the Atlantic from the highest point on the East Coast are worth every step. 

 Jordan Pond Path

Flanked by the twin bluffs known as the Bubbles, this family-friendly, meandering trail leads around Jordan Pond, with a variety of alterations along the way, from a complete circumnavigation to forested forays beneath Pemetic Mountain. 

Acadia Mountain Trail

Hike to the high point of Mount Desert Island’s western half on this four-hour, round-trip path, which leads over St. Sauveur Mountain to the 681-foot-high summit of Acadia Mountain. At the top, gaze over majestic Somes Sound and look for whale flukes far below. 

Scenic Driving

The Park Loop Road leads you on a 27-mile tour around Mount Desert Island, taking in all its grandiose vistas (hint: pick up the audio tour at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to play during the drive). Plan four hours for the journey, and more if you see porpoises and whales. For the Cadillac Summit Road, vehicle reservations are required between sunrise and sunset from May 26 through Oct. 19 to reduce congestion. 

Wildlife Viewing

One if by land, two if by sea. That lantern signal from early colonial times applies to the park’s wildlife as well, where you’re apt to see far more marine wildlife than animals in the woods. On land, keep a watch out for moose, bear, deer and more. But it’s in the water where the wildlife really shines. Whether you’re out on a boat or simply gazing out to sea from atop a bluff, keep your eyes peeled for everything from whales and harbor porpoises and seals to bald eagles, osprey, seabirds and more—including, if you’re lucky, the rare puffin.  


Four park service campgrounds are available for overnight camping throughout the park (there are also 12 private campgrounds scattered around the island). Unfortunately, backcountry camping is prohibited because of the park’s small size and fragile environment. Park service sites include the following. 


This site is located on the east side of Mount Desert Island and closer to major portions of the park, carriage roads and Bar Harbor.


Often less crowded, this campground is on the west side of Mount Desert Island. 

Schoodic Woods

Located on the Schoodic Peninsula, the park’s newest campground is the only one with water and electric hookups. 

Duck Harbor

This water-accessed campground is nested on the island of Isle au Haut, which is only accessible by boat.  


Acadia is a sea kayaker’s dream, providing a water-eye’s view of all things Maine, from marine life to the island’s rocky western coast and the towering flanks of Cadillac Mountain. You’ll also see where glaciers have carved through an east-west ridge of granite, leaving massive mountains and valleys (more recent history includes such historic sites as the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse). Plenty of guide services offer paddling tours, but if you’re experienced you can tackle it on your own. Public boat ramps are available in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor, with additional access sites at Seal Cove, Bass Harbor, Seal Harbor Beach and Hadley Point. Many paddlers head straight to Frenchman Bay and Blue Hill bays for their views of the coast.  

Side note

You can also base your paddling trip out of quaint Bar Harbor, nestled on the eastern shore of Mount Desert Island, taking day-trips and then returning to town for cozy, Maine charm. Options include heading out from town at the low-tide sandbar, touring Cranberry Islands at the mouth of Somes Sound (hint: park at the public beach in Seal Harbor), and padding the northern reaches of Frenchman Bay at Hadley Point. For an overnighter, park at Seal Cove and paddle northwest toward Long Island where the park protects the island from development.  

Word of warning

Wherever you go, expect weather and varying conditions. Trouble comes easily in Maine’s waters, where tides, rough seas, fog and cold water (around 55 degrees) can test the mettle of even the most seasoned paddlers (especially in Frenchman Bay, where winds can pick up quickly). Know how to self-rescue and dress appropriately

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.