How to Spend a Day in Acadia National Park
The northernmost national park on the East Coast is Acadia National Park, which primarily sits on Mount Desert Island off Maine’s coast. The granite rocky coast and woodland interior are highlights of the park.
You can bike through the miles of carriage trails, hike any number of mountains and chill with a round of golf or a drink at one of the area establishments. You’ll also see an iconic lighthouse or two if you look for them.
Let’s explore Acadia National Park!
The Scoop on Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park, or Acadia, consists of 47,000 acres of land. However, not all of it is on Mount Desert Island. Additionally, the Schoodic Peninsula, part of Isle au Haut, and a few outlying islands are part of the park.
It’s an outdoor paradise for activities like hiking, biking, ocean kayaking, and more. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard and is the first place to see the sunrise each morning.
The history of the area goes back 10,000 years and was named Acadia in 1929. You can now tour the park by car or on a bus shuttle, where you can hop off and on at any destination and pick up another bus when you’re ready.
Although it’s not actually in the park, Bar Harbor is tied closely to the Acadia region.
It’s a bustling town full of shops, restaurants, tours, and bed and breakfasts. Take a few minutes to learn about the fire of 1947, the year Maine burned. More than 10,000 acres of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park burned, losing many historic summer homes and hotels to the fire.
The weather on the island is nice in the summer, with a 70-degree average.
On the other hand, if you’re there in the winter, expect cold temperatures with an average of 22.6 degrees. Summer is the most popular time to be at Acadia. Although, winter provides its own share of beauty with ice, frozen falls, and very few people.
In the summer, patience is important as the number of people going into the park consistently sets new records for attendance.
As a result, reservations for campgrounds and other tours should be made well in advance.
Morning in Acadia National Park
Check Out Thunder Hole
Thunder Hole is a natural inlet carved into the rocks, where the water rushes in, especially on the incoming tide, and explodes out of the cave with a thunderous boom.
The best time to hear this is on the incoming tide, right before high tide. Check out the tide charts in the area for exact times. You may hear the boom at other times.
Thunder Hole is located on Park Loop Road after the entrance station, meaning you need a pass to access it by car. In addition, the bus does stop there.
Reasons You’ll Love It – It’s very dynamic to see the water explode out of the crevasses in the rocks. Though, most people don’t get to see it because of the tides. When it’s an extreme high tide or too dangerous, the rangers will close off the observation path’s lower part.
If you’re there at lower tide, it’s interesting to see what the hole actually looks like and what makes the booming sound. It’s certainly a unique phenomenon that many don’t get to see.
Pro Tip: Check the tide chart to determine the best time to visit Thunder Hole.
Visit Historical Structures
If you’re interested in historical places in the park, there are really great spots to explore. Don’t miss the carriage roads and gatehouses.
The dirt roads cover 45 miles through the heart of the island and were gifted by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Check out fire towers on Beech and Sargent Mountains. They were only used for a short time but still stand today as a tribute. If you’re interested in lighthouses, and who isn’t?
Learn about the nautical history and history of lighthouses for navigation while on the island.
There are a few lighthouses in the area, managed by Acadia, including Baker Island Head Light Station, Bass Harbor Head Light Station, and Bear Island Head Light Station. You can drive close to Bass Harbor Light and tour the property. It’s one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine.
Several plaque memorials honoring people who donated land and had a large part in Acadia’s creation and continuation are throughout the park. There’s a map marking the locations of all the plaques.
Pro Tip: Some historical sites aren’t always open to the public and some have unique access points. Plan ahead!
Afternoon in Acadia National Park
Eat lunch at Jordan Pond House Restaurant
Jordan Pond House is iconic and is known for its hot popovers. No trip to Acadia and Mount Desert Island is complete without stopping for lunch and popovers.
Menu Options: The menu reads like a who’s who of Maine delicacies. Popovers lead the menu along with specialty beverages.
In addition, there are many lobster and crab options, including crab cakes, chowder, stews, or salads with local greens. You can also order a lobster roll or do the whole boiled lobster, though I wouldn’t recommend getting this here.
Not a seafood person?
They also have lamb shepherd’s pie, seasonal vegetable risotto, or grilled cage-free chicken breast.
If you’re still hungry after all of that, try the orange cake, Maine blueberry crisp, or our choice, popover sundae featuring Jordan Pond House ice cream and bittersweet chocolate sauce.
Reasons You’ll Love It: Jordan Pond House is an upscale experience with seating on the lawn overlooking Jordan Pond and the Bubble Mountains. It brings you back to an older time when people wore fancy clothes and had tea and popovers in the evening.
Now, shorts and t-shirts are normal wear; however, the popovers are still front and center. You can also leave with your own popover mix and popover pan. If you’re still wondering what a popover is, it’s a slightly hollow puff pastry that’s similar to a muffin but has a chewy inside and crisp outside.
They are not sweet, but you can add jam or ice cream to change the flavor.
Drive the Park Loop Road
The mostly one-way Park Loop Road meanders along the coast and through the woods of Acadia National Park. For 27 miles, you can stop to take pictures, see the sights, like Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and Otter Cliffs.
Some of the Park Loop Road is on the toll road and other parts, like the access road to Cadillac Mountain, are before the Entrance Station. In 2021, there will be a fee of $6 to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain.
You can also get to Jordan Pond House without taking the Loop Road.
Take a Hike
Acadia has over 120 miles of hiking trails and 41 moderate trails all over the island. Certain challenging hikes always come up in conversation, but if you’re afraid of heights or out of shape, take a different path.
The Precipice Trail is one such hike featuring rungs and ladders. From the trail, the view is straight down to the earth. Alternately, a tamer version of this is the Beehive Trail. Either way, the views from these vantage points are spectacular.
If you’re looking for something easy, walk the carriage trails or try the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail (0.3 miles). You can walk off your popovers on the South Bubble Trail, a strenuous hike with amazing views, or do an easy hike around Jordan Pond (3.3 miles).
These are only a few of the hikes on Mount Desert Island. You’ll have to discover your favorite.
Tidepooling is a great way to spend a few hours around low tide. You can explore some of Maine’s sea life, like starfish, barnacles, hermit crabs, and sea urchins.
One of the best places and easily accessible is Bar Island, just off the Bar Harbor coast. You can walk to it at low tide across a land bridge. However, more than one person has been caught off guard and become trapped on the island when the tide came in.
Southwest Harbor also has great tide pools to explore on the west side of the island, also called the quiet side. If you take the Wonderland Trail, you will find yourself with many tidepools to explore. This is a 1.4-mile round-trip hike.
Tidepooling has some guidelines, such as leaving living things in their homes and not walking through the tide pools.
Evening in Acadia National Park
Dinner at Abel’s Lobster
When you drive down into Abel’s Lobster, it’s like driving onto a working waterfront. The lobster doesn’t get any fresher, and the waterfront view is perfect for dining out.
Menu Options: All you really need to know is about the Wood-fired steamed lobster, cooked in seawater, or the lobster roll or lobster chowder, but in case you are creeped out by lobsters, and some people are, try the fried clams or mussels or a burger or chicken sandwich.
There’s not a huge menu, but it says Maine and has a little bit of something for everyone. The kids can even get a red hot dog.
Other Reasons You’ll Love It: If you want to eat lobster and this will be your first time, we highly recommend you do it outside where making a mess is not a problem.
Trying to eat a lobster inside on a table with a tablecloth and nice clothing is only okay if you’re a pro. Eating lobster is messy. At Abel’s, if you need help cracking into your lobster, you can ask anyone working there to help.
This goes for most restaurants on the island.
If you’re traveling in a boat, you can pull up to the dock to access the lobster pound. You’ll love the view, the amazingness of eating lobster outside in the fresh air, and the experience of doing something that is truly at the heart of Maine.
Catch the Sunset on Cadillac Mountain
If morning is not your time of day, then catch the sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Get there early to find a parking spot and a place to sit to watch the show. Starting in 2021, there will be a $6 fee to drive to the top of the mountain.
The sun sets over the land instead of over the Atlantic Ocean. There are lakes in the foreground, and it’s a stunning view as the sun slips behind the horizon in the direction of Blue Hill.
If there are a lot of clouds, you may want to postpone the viewing trip. However, sometimes the clouds will clear just enough to provide an amazing scene for your pictures.
Go Stargazing in the Park
There are quite a few great places to see stars in Acadia National Park. There is minimal light pollution on the island, so it’s easy to find stargazing locations. At the top of Cadillac Mountain, you’ll see stars closer than ever.
You can also watch the sky at Seawall in Manset, on the back side of the island, or Sand Beach on Park Loop Road. Jordan Pond would be a great location to hang out on a blanket and watch for shooting stars.
Tips for stargazing: Don’t forget a flashlight. It may be light when you arrive, but it will be dark when you leave.
Bring something to lay or sit on for comfort when stargazing. Check out the Night Sky app if you want to know what you’re looking at.
Where to Stay?
Blackwoods Campground is a relatively basic facility with primitive sites for tents and non-electric sites for RVs. It’s close to all of the wonders of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island.
Address: 155 Blackwoods Drive, Otter Creek, ME 04660
This campground is rustic. There are bathhouses and places to clean dishes, but there are no hookups.
Generators can be used during certain hours of the day. Book at least 2 months in advance to get a site. There are pull-through sites for larger RVs. The hiking and stargazing from the campground are awesome.
Why you’ll love staying here: The campground is quiet and wooded, attracting people who love nature. It’s conveniently located just off Park Loop Road.
There are many hiking trails, and it’s a short walk to the shore. Acadia’s Island Explorer shuttle bus service also stops at the campground with free transportation to almost anywhere on the island.
A Day in Acadia National Park
One day is never enough to experience all of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island. There are boat trips, whale watching cruises, tons of great restaurants, shopping galore and more mountains to hike than you can do in a day or two.
Take all of the opportunities that you can afford. Be adventurous. Take a lot of pictures and plan your next trip to Maine before you leave.
You’ll want to come back time and time again.
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