First Timer’s Guide to Acadia National Park in Maine

Acadia National Park lies among the coniferous north woods of Maine’s easternmost coast. This isolation often allows Acadia to escape the minds of adventure seekers and national park travel enthusiasts. However, despite being a “hidden” New England gem, Acadia National park still draws upwards of 3.5 million visitors per year. In fact, Acadia National Park draws such a visitation that it is often one of the top 10 most visited National Parks every year. If you’re a first-time traveler to Acadia National Park, this guide is for you.

There are several things to do in Acadia National Park, making this the perfect multi-day getaway. Hikers, road trippers, families, and other interested parties all flock to the park to enjoy a wide array of outdoor experiences including scenic craggy peaks, inspiring coastline views, and a seemingly endless list of hiking opportunities.

Important Things to Know

When visiting any National Park it is always pertinent to be aware of the park’s entrance fees, camping logistics, and overall operating procedures.

How many days in Acadia National Park? To get a holistic experience, visitors to Acadia National Park should allocate at least 3 to 4 days for this trip. This will allow ample time to experience all of the park’s features.

Is there public transportation to Acadia National Park? Check out the Island Explorer Program. It is a free shuttle service from various locations in Bar Harbor to Acadia National Park.

Which area of the park should I prioritize visiting? Most of the park’s premier attractions lie on the north end of Mount Desert Island. If you have more time, the park also extends to the Southwest Harbor (known as the quiet side) and Winter Harbor.

What are the costs to visiting Acadia National Park? Please see below.

Entrance fees: $30/ per vehicle; $25/ per motorcycle; $15/ per bicycle or pedestrian
Acadia Annual Pass: $55
NPS Pass Series: standard annual pass is $80; annual pass for seniors is $20
Camping fees: Tent/ RV sites $22 – $30 per night; Group sites $60 per night

Where to Stay

Whether you are looking to camp your entire time in Acadia National Park or would prefer to stay in a hotel in a nearby city, there are several options in the area to keep you happy.

Park Campgrounds: Blackwoods, Seawall, Schoodic Woods, and Duck Harbor

Nearby Cities: Bar Harbor is just 5-10 minutes with lots of things to do (check out our guide on things to do in Bar Harbor here!) and the city of Bangor is less than 30 minutes away. Check Booking.com or Airbnb.com for places to stay.

Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park

Though Acadia National park experiences its peak season from May to October, the park has plenty to offer every season except winter!

Spring: The park opens on May 1st. This is the best time to hike the popular trails such as Precipice Trail or Beehive Trail, to avoid crowds later in the season.

Summer: This is an excellent time to go. However, visitors may want to stick to the less popular (but still magnificent trails) to avoid summer crowds.

Fall: This is one of the most picturesque times to visit due to the foliage. And fall chilly weather provides for excellent camping weather. Consider driving the auto loop to see the leaves changing color throughout the park.

Winter: The park is closed from November 1st – April 30th.

The Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Acadia National Park

The park’s main highlights include several hiking trails, scenic campgrounds, and a 27-mile long auto loop. By far, the park’s premier hikes are two iron-rung hikes named the Beehive and the Precipice. The park’s top campgrounds include Blackwoods and Seawall, and the auto loop features several overlooks and historic markers along with Thunderhole; a visitor favorite tide pool.

Here is a bucket list of what to do in Acadia National Park.

1) WONDERLAND TRAIL

Located on the ‘quiet side’ of Mount Desert Island, the wonderland trail is an easy-going family-oriented stroll across several interesting locations along the coast. The entire 1.5-mile round trip hike follows a gravel road that hardly changes in elevation. This lack of elevation change makes the
Wonderland trail a premier attraction for families visiting the park. The Wonderland trail passes through a pine forest before reaching the coast. Along the coast, there are several opportunities to explore the many
tide pools that dot the area.

2) JORDAN POND PATH

The Jordan Pond path (JPP) is another leisurely, yet idyllic hike within Acadia National Park. Featuring views of Jordan Pond and a proximity to Jordan Pond House, the JPP is one of Acadia National Park’s most visited trails. The entire trail, which circles Jordan Pond, is about 3.5 miles in length. The best place to access the trial is the Jordan Pond North parking lot. From here, hikers will cross several man-made bridges before accessing the wetland portion of the hike where a constructed boardwalk takes
you along the shore of Jordan Pond.

3) THE BEEHIVE

One of Acadia National Park’s featured “iron-rung” routes, the beehive follows a series of ladders and footholds that vertically scale the beehive cliffs. This trail is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. At the peak, hikers can take in views of the coast, Sand Beach, and Great Head. The entire trail is about 2 miles in length (up beehive and back down the bowl trail).

4) SWIM AT SAND BEACH

If you love water or having a prized gem at the end of a rejuvenating hike, then definitely jot dot Sand Beach as one of the top things to do in Acadia National Park. You can also catch panoramic views of this beautiful beach from Great Head.

Other places to swim include: Echo Lake Beach and Lake Wood.

5) STAR GAZING

Bring a tripod and download a night sky/astronomy application on your phone so you can admire and photograph the untethered sight of the stars above. This is one of the best things to do at night for those who choose to camp in Acadia National Park.

6) THE PRECIPICE

True to its name, The Precipice trail is Acadia’s premier hike. It is by far the park’s most exhilarating and challenging hike. Scaling Champain Mountain via various ladders, cliff faces, and boulder crawls, hikers on the Precipice trail are awarded with 360-degree views of the entire park as well
as many memories. It is important to note the Precipice trail is often closed from March 15 to August 15 due to Peregrine Falcon nesting.

7) AUTO-LOOP DRIVE

The auto-loop of Acadia passes through the entire park and allows access to Beehive and the Precipice trail. This driving route is a great way for visitors to experience all of the park’s different environments; including the coast, the north woods, and the park’s many peaks.

8) THUNDER HOLE

A visitor favorite, thunder hole lives up to its name on stormy days where the tide crashes into Maine’s coast. On quieter days, visitors can still experience Thunder Hole’s glory though, it at first may seem underwhelming. A small inlet in the rocky shore of Acadia, Thunder Hole produces loud claps that resemble thunder when the tide pushes water and air out of the opening. The hole is said to have produced waves up to 40 feet high.

9) WATCH THE SUNRISE

Given the geographic location of Acadia National Park (facing east), watching the sunrise is one of the top things to do for the unique sights you’ll witness only here. Rise and shine just before dawn, grab a flashlight or a head lamp, and head over to one of the many beautiful spots to watch the sunrise. The main photo pictured above at the start of this article is one of our favorites: Schooner Peninsula.

10) CAMP AT BLACKWOODS & SEAWALL

Two of Acadia National Park’s most premier campgrounds, Blackwoods and Seawall are must-visits for anyone looking to spend a night inside the park. The Blackwoods campground is located near Otter Cove and accessed via the park loop. The Seawall Campground is located near Bass Harbor and the Wonderland Trail.

Prepping & Packing List for Acadia National Park

packing for acadia national park

SLEEP & EAT: Always try to get a full night’s sleep and have a full meal before embarking on a hike. This way you’re energized for your hike and don’t risk getting extremely tired halfway. Or worse, fainting.

DOWNLOAD THESE APPS: One of the best ways to plan your hikes more seamlessly is by downloading the apps below. They will provide: offline maps (which come in handy if you lose signal), interactive trail maps (that are not on conventional maps like Google’s), can record your trail (so you know how many steps you took, how long you hiked for and exactly what kind of loop you made on the map), and up-to-date trail information!

AllTrails
MAPS.ME
Avenza Maps.

And here is a basic packing list of the things to bring on your day hike:

Bear sprayWater (1+ gallon/day)
Hiking boots (make sure to go half a size up for hiking down slopes)Travel towel
Snacks (including protein)Swimsuit
ECO sun screenHiking poles
Sun umbrellaBattery pack
Day packFirst-aid kit
Extra batteriesECO bug spray
Tissues (for peeing)Tampons/pads (just in case)
Poncho (for rain)Phone cable cord
Meals (if you plan on camping)Maps
Windbreaker (something light but protective)Headlamp/Flashlight

Whether you are an experienced hiker looking to tackle the Precipice Trail or a family looking to enjoy the park’s more peaceful and relaxed side a trip to Acadia is the perfect getaway. Be sure to check the park’s website for any current restrictions or closings before heading out.

About the Author

Nicholas Sollitto is a published poet and travel/sports writer. Striving for more knowledge and adventure, Nicholas Sollitto moved to Corpus Christi, Texas where he currently attends the University of Texas. Outside of school, he continues to pursue talents in poetry and sports writing and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and athletic sports.

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