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The Northeasternmost state in the U.S., Maine brings to mind fresh Atlantic seafood, a beautiful rocky coastline dotted with historic lighthouses, and the place that was our main draw to the Pine Tree State, Acadia National Park. Known as the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast, Acadia is one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the country. After touring around Portland and getting our fill of Maine’s delicious baked goods, we spent some time exploring some of what makes Acadia National Park such a special place. In this article, we share some of our experiences and things to know before you visit.
Acadia National Park Guide
When to Visit Acadia National Park
As one of the more popular national parks, Acadia can be a crowded place during its peak season which runs from June – October. You could easily encounter heavy traffic, full campgrounds, long lines for buses, and full parking lots at trailheads. We visited just after Memorial Day and were glad we arrived after the holiday weekend. There was a ton of traffic leaving the park as we were heading in, so we had just missed heavier crowds.
If you do go during peak season, consider leaving your car wherever you’re camping or lodging and take advantage of the fare-free Island Explorer shuttle which runs from late June through early October. The shuttle connects surrounding communities with trailheads, campgrounds, carriage road entrances, and popular destinations in the park (except for the Cadillac Summit Road). One cool thing about them is that you can flag down buses to hop on at any time. As long as it’s safe to stop, drivers will pick you up anywhere along the route. It’s a great option if you want to sit back and enjoy the scenery while someone else does the driving (and not worry about fighting for those coveted parking spots).
Since the park is located on an island, Acadia sees all kinds of weather. If visiting in summer, be prepared for temperatures that can range from 45-90 °F, with the park’s mountain peaks seeing cooler weather than lower elevations. The weather can also change quickly in summer and spring, from warm and sunny to cold and rainy, so it’s best to have clothing and gear for all potential situations.
Fall can be a beautiful but crowded time to visit Acadia due to the incredible explosion of fall colors which usually peaks in mid-October and draws thousands of “leaf-peepers.” Winter is a less crowded time to visit and offers fun activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking. However, it’s good to note that most of the park’s main road is closed from December 1 until spring.
Bugs, bugs, bugs! Our biggest tip for those visiting any time from spring through fall is to be prepared for bugs. Mosquitos, ticks, and black flies will inevitably be part of your Acadia adventure so you should bring plenty of bug repellant gear with you. We took the extra step of wearing bug-protective clothing and sprayed down all of our hiking gear before heading out. A ranger we talked to also warned us to check ourselves, including our belly buttons (yes, belly buttons) for ticks at the end of each day. As long as you know what to expect and are prepared with protective clothing and spray, the bugs shouldn’t detract too much from your visit.
What to Do at Acadia National Park
Acadia may be a bit smaller than some of the other national parks, but there is plenty to do and see. With miles of scenic roads and coastline, no shortage of hiking trails, beautiful lakes and ponds, and historic sites, you’ll have no trouble filling your itinerary.
Drive Park Loop Road
A great way to kick off a visit to Acadia is by experiencing Park Loop Road, a 27-mile scenic drive with many overlooks and trails along the way. In fact, there are so many places to stop on the route that we spent an entire day doing it. Some of the areas we pulled off to explore were Sand Beach, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain. For the full experience, start your drive at Hulls Cove Visitor Center and go from there. The park’s free Island Explorer Shuttle bus is also a great way to experience the loop without having to drive it yourself.
Hike Acadia’s Trails
There are more than 150 miles of hiking trails in Acadia, passing through forests, along lakes and rocky coastline, and up mountains. While driving the Park Loop Road, we stopped to hike a couple of the park’s trails, starting with Ocean Path Trail at Sand Beach. It was a nice, easy walk with beautiful views of the coast. This trail is a great way to access Thunder Hole and Otter Point as well, and we spent some time taking in the sights at both.
Continuing on, we next stopped at Jordan Pond and did a roughly 3 mile hike around the shore with scenic views of the Bubble Mountains. Jordan Pond is one of the most popular trails and most photographed areas of Acadia, so it’s a must-do.
Other great hikes in the park include the Cadillac North Ridge Trail (a moderate out-and-back hike to the highest point both in Acadia and on the eastern seaboard), Ship Harbor Trail (a roughly one mile loop near Seawall which is great for birdwatching), and Beech Mountain Trail (a short loop with views of Long Pond and Mansell Mountain, and access to one of the few remaining fire towers in the area).
Fair warning: the bugs were out in full force during our hikes here and we were very glad to have our protective gear with us.
Explore the Park’s Historic Sites
Acadia has no shortage of historic sites within its boundaries, including its famous carriage roads, the Beech Mountain Fire Tower, and historic buildings and bridges. Of course, you can’t visit a coastal national park without seeing a lighthouse. We visited the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1858, and highly recommend checking it out during your visit.
Fun Fact: Did you know that light patterns and colors are unique to each lighthouse? This is just one of the interesting things you’ll learn when visiting Bass Harbor.
Summit Cadillac Mountain
Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, various islands, and Bar Harbor. This was the final stop on our Park Loop Road tour and while there are trails to hike to the top, we opted to drive up to the summit to save time and so we could enjoy the sunset from the comfort of our van. Once there, the epic views did not disappoint and shouldn’t be missed by anyone visiting Acadia.
It’s important to note that vehicle reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road from May 25 – October 22. You must purchase vehicle reservations on recreation.gov before your visit (reservations are not available to purchase in person). Vehicle reservations are not required for other locations in the park or for those entering Cadillac Summit Road by foot, bicycle, or taxi.
Bonus Fact: Cadillac Mountain is the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6.
Experience Bar Harbor
We spent much of our second day walking around nearby Bar Harbor which is one of the most well-known vacation spots in Maine and is known as the “Gateway to Acadia National Park.” It’s easily accessible from the park and offers picturesque views, shopping, and delicious food. For a real local meal, try the Downeast Experience which is a cornucopia of Maine’s finest seafood topped off with blueberry pie for dessert. While there, we enjoyed the complimentary tour and tasting at Atlantic Brewing where we drank some refreshing beers and played a game of cornhole. Bar Harbor is the perfect place to unwind and recharge after a day of hiking in Acadia National Park.
- Take a dip in Acadia’s refreshing lakes: You can swim at 3 of Acadia’s beaches: Sand Beach, Echo Lake Beach, and Lake Wood. Swimming at most other lakes and ponds in the park is not allowed as they provide drinking water to local communities.
- Cycle the park’s carriage roads: Carriage roads in Acadia have crushed rock surfaces that are perfect for bicycling. You can also bike on Park Loop Road but it’s not recommended during busy times (10am – 4pm) due to high traffic.
- Find your inner ornithologist: Acadia is sometimes referred to as the “warbler capital of the world” and is a great place for birdwatching. Hot spots for spotting feathered friends include Seawall, Cadillac Mountain, and Schoodic Peninsula.
- Stargaze: Like many other national parks, Acadia is a great place to admire the night sky. Top locations for stargazing inside the park include Seawall, Jordan Pond, Ocean Path, and Sand Beach.
Check out our Acadia National Park travel video to see more of what we did on our trip.
Where to Stay
Whether you stay within the park or in surrounding areas, you’ll find plenty of options for lodging depending on what you’re looking for.
Acadia National Park Camping
There are four campgrounds within Acadia National Park: two on Mount Desert Island, one on the Schoodic Peninsula, and one on Isle au Haut. Advance reservations are required for all of these campgrounds and must be made in advance. No same-day sites are available. We definitely recommend reserving as far in advance as you’re able to, especially if you’re hoping to snag a spot during the busy season.
The campgrounds are also only open from May – October, so you should visit the park website for more details about when and how to reserve a site.Unlike other national parks we’ve covered, there is no backcountry camping nor overnight parking allowed in Acadia. Here’s some more information on the park’s four campgrounds:
- Blackwoods – Located on the east side of Mount Desert Island, Blackwoods offers all wooded sites that are within a 10 minute walk of the ocean. While most sites are set up for tents, there are some RV sites as well. Flush toilets, running water, and a dump station are also available, but there are no showers.
- Seawall – We drove through Seawall (located on the west side of Mount Desert Island) during our visit and found it has several loops for both tent and RV camping. There are no hookups or showers, but each site has a picnic table and fire ring. There are also flush toilets and a dump station available. The campground is somewhere we’d like to camp in the future, but we did notice there were tons of bugs taking up residence there as well, so we were glad we had gotten a spot outside the park for this visit.
- Schoodic Woods – Schoodic Woods is the park’s newest campground and is the only one on the mainland section of the park. It has primitive, hike-in tent sites; drive-up tent and small RV sites; RV sites with electric only; and RV sites with both electric and water. Both vault and flush toilets are available, as well as a dumping station.
- Duck Harbor – Located on Isle au Haut (and inaccessible to cars), Duck Harbor offers a more remote camping experience. The campground has five lean-to shelters and any tents you bring must fit inside. You’ll need to take a ferry to Duck Harbor and must carry in and carry out everything you need and use…including trash. Composting toilets and hand-pumped water are available.
Camping Outside Acadia National Park
When there’s availability, we always prefer to camp inside the national parks we visit. However, on our visit to Acadia, we chose to camp outside of the park, in large part due to our uncertainty about the bug situation which others had warned us about. We got a spot at Narrows Too Camping Resort in nearby Trenton. Ultimately, we think we made the right choice since unlike the park’s heavily wooded campgrounds, Narrows Too was a much less hospitable place for bugs…making it more hospitable for us.
If you too are worried about bugs or find the park’s campgrounds full, there are plenty of options for lodging in the surrounding areas, including Trenton and Bar Harbor…all with easy access to Acadia National Park. Members of Harvest Hosts and/or Boondockers Welcome can also find overnight camping options near Acadia.
We feel like we barely scratched the surface with our visit to Acadia, and Maine in general. It’s such a beautiful part of our country with a rich history, spectacular nature, and great food. We can’t wait to revisit during our next Maine Road Trip. If you have any other tips or recommendations for visiting Acadia National Park, or questions about our trip, drop them in the comments below.
33 thoughts on “Guide to Exploring Acadia National Park”
Thanks so much for all these great recommendations! I’m not sure how many of the smaller businesses survived the Covid-19 downturn and lack of business… but will do my research before we head out. Thanks again, and happy trails!
Hi, I live less than a mile from Bass Harbor Head Light, and was born and raised here. I’ve lived here all my life except my time in the military, but then returned home and stayed to raise a family. I just watched your video a few minutes ago and wanted to clue you in on something. The Seawall Campground in Acadia National Park does not have showers, but the camp store less than a mile away does. Also, if you pick a campsite that is a bit open to the breeze and sunshine the bugs won’t bother you until after dark, and if you start a campfire with a little smoke, they won’t bother you much even then.
If you did want to camp down there and don’t like public showers, find me on facebook and drop me a message and I’ll give you a tour and a real lobster cookout, and you can use our shower anytime. My wife is a preschool teacher, and I used to be a Police Officer, advanced life support EMT, and Commercial Diver. These days I ride my motorcycle and play with my German Shepard and do some hiking.
My wife is Pam and I am Dan Reed, and we are on facebook if you’d like some new friends. I liked your video.
Hey Dan. Thank you for the information and the generous offer. A real lobster cookout sounds awesome! One more reason to head back to that area.
So Acadia is your favorite NP too! we spent a month just outside Acadia last summer and a month seeing the rest of the state. Can’t wait to go back!
We loved it and can’t wait to spend more time there.
I just left Moody Beach RV Resort where my two wiener dogs, Spirit and Sage, and I spent two weeks.
We are now at Barrington Shores Campground.
Come and join us!
Just started to watch your adventures,wife an I both love them.about the drone consers,unless your over a 1/2 pound there is no restrictions on them,just keep out of backyards an away from people.if your ever in Napa,ca.i have a drivway you can surf,and a drone you have.safe travels. Bill and Joan Wayne.
Hi Bill and Joan! Thanks for the generous offer. We really enjoy Napa and look forward to going back one of these days. Have you checked out our WTR Family? Its a great way for us to stay in touch, get to know each other and meet on the road http://bit.ly/WTRFamily
We are going on a cruise mid September- stopping in Bar Harbor. I am hoping you could answer some questions for me please!
1) This is the big one-I am terrified of Mountain Roads with cliffs (after an incident in the smokey mountains) Are there those kind of roads in Acadia National Park?
2) Are the bugs bad in mid September?
3) We are retired so not interested in hiking lol
Thank you so much for any answers you can give me!
The only cliff road we recall is the one up to Cadillac mountain. Otherwise you should be good. Can’t speak to the bugs in September but maybe try calling the ranger office to ask. If anyone knows, they will.
You always paint a rosey picture of van life. Have you ever had the Hymer breakdown on any of your trips?
Hey David. Have you watched the slice of van life video? I left the radio on and it drained the chassis battery https://youtu.be/LDE04C2EOqc
Did You find any free camping sites in Maine and if so how were they?
Budget is good 🙂 There are Harvest Hosts and other RV friendly businesses throughout Maine such as Cabela’s and Walmart.
With Thousand Trails membership, I was able to stay at Moody Beach RV for two weeks free.
HEY GUYS, HOW ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR BUDGETING. SEEMS LIKE YOUR EXPENSES HAVE GONE UP CONSIDERABLY.
Fairly new subscriber here who loves your videos! The question I have is how difficult is it to schedule/keep regular appointments…dentist, haircuts etc? Do you always go to a new dentist, barber etc?
Hey Jon! We find new places to take care of those things as we travel and it’s fairly easy to keep appointments when we plan in advance. Haircut appointments are the easiest for us since Joe is our barber 🙂
We met you guys at Atlantic- Midtown (downtown Bar Harbor). We left you with one of your biggest fans, and probably one of the most hilarious people I have ever met, Bob. It was lovely meeting both of you and watching your video! We loved camping in Seawall, you guys should check it out next time you guys are in that area. We hope you can make your way to Western MA sometime, we have some beautiful places worth checking out. Safe travels!
Kye and Blake
Good to hear from you both! We hope to make it to MA this summer and explore. Take more vacations this year and maybe we’ll see you both at another brewery.
You missed Shain’s Lobster Rolls in Sanford. Two years ago they were $7-8.
Would you recommend the permethrin as being effective?? Thanks and always great videos. Thank you. Carl & Sandra
Yes. So far so good and the park rangers recommended it to us.
I believe this product is made from ‘chrysanthemum ‘flowers, w hen I lived in JAMAICA BWI , dad used to buy the stronger version from England brand name ‘PYRATHEX’, in gallon cans .
Please do an episode about the bug shirt Kait wore in this episode and the bug abatement stuff you use. The chemical mentioned wasn’t familiar to me.
Been years since I was camping, but starting van life soon as I finish my van so would appreciate advice— hate bugs!
Hey Jay! All the best with your van conversion and look forward to seeing you on the road. You can find out more about the Bug Shirt on their website and the spray we used is Sawyer, which we also carry in our store.
Love your videos… As an avid coffee drinker I wonder Joe, if you purchase coffee what is your favorite brand?
Overall, this is my favorite coffee…especially the Costa Rican: https://cafedemitasse.com/
Joe I have a pkg of JAMAICAN BLUE MOUNTAIN COFFEE ( whole bean) that you can have, my machine died awhile back, so now buy Costco’s 3# can of fine ground Colombian.
Life-time Mainer here, Lubec is just about my favorite place on Earth. Not as dramatic as Acadia, but beautiful in its own way.
I’ve been following your youtube channel for over a year – and I just happen to be camping in Arcadia!! We’ll be here until the 14th of June, preparing to go into the Canadian Maritimes – any chance you would have time to share some coffee with a fan? We roast our own coffee 🙂
Richard & Lisa
Hey Lisa and Richard. With the amount of time it takes to shot and edit each week’s video we are already in a new spot by the time it goes live. Hope you have a great time in Acadia!
Thought so! Forgive me my misspelled Acadia, how embarrassing is that! I get the editing time – I’m currently attempting to set up a channel for healthy cooking, nutrition & food supply. The Russo’s channel was instrumental in encouraging us to get fulltime ourselves. A big thanx!!! We are still less than a year in and trying to pull it all together.
Your journey with Leo was particularly touching as we have an older dog who is suffering from issues that vets can’t diagnose – so I’ve also become a nutritional home-prepared pet food chef as well.
Happy travels and perhaps we will cross paths sometime!
Richard & Lisa