A Comprehensive Guide to Acadia National Park: All You Need to Know for Your Next Visit

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Welcome to your ultimate guide to Acadia National Park!

Every year, people from all over the world flock to New England’s only National Park to bask in its jaw-dropping beauty, hike its epic trails, soak up those postcard-worthy coastal views, and more.

If you’re that outdoor or nature enthusiast itching to explore this East Coast gem, you’ve come to the right place. 

This article has all the information you need to ensure your trip to Acadia is nothing short of spectacular. 

We’ll cover the basic facts about Acadia National Park and its stunning location, offer recommendations for activities, share the ideal time to visit, provide weather insights, and even introduce you to the eclectic local wildlife.

Wondering where to stay near Acadia National Park? Check out our recommendations for accommodations in Bar Harbor including hotels and pet-friendly options.

If you are bringing your fur-baby, check our section on animals and wildlife to learn the rules for taking your dog out on the trails in Acadia.

Acadia National Park Travel Guide

Planning a visit to a National Park is equal parts thrilling and exhausting.

Figuring out when to go, how to get there, what to do, where to stay…it’s a lot.

Unlike planning a trip to a city like Boston or Portland, National Parks tend to have fewer amenities inside the park, so you need to look nearby and plan the logistics of daily adventures.

Our aim is to make that easy for you!

If you still have any questions after reading, drop them in the comments and we’ll be happy to help.

Overview of Acadia National Park

With hiking trails, lakes, mountain peaks, and scenic drives, Acadia is what many imagine when picturing a national park.

Tourists from up and down the East Coast flock to Acadia and the nearby town of Bar Harbor because of these stunning natural features and the town’s cozy tourist atmosphere.

Acadia is one is the most visited National Parks in the country, with an average of 4 million visitors a year.

No wonder it made it to our list of the best national parks on the East Coast!

A Brief History of Acadia

Located mostly on Mount Desert Island on Maine’s southern coast, Acadia National Park is one of the most well-known outdoor destinations in the northeast.

The land that Acadia now occupies has been home to the Wabanaki People for countless generations.

The Wabanaki called this land Pemetic, which means “the sloping land.”

In 1604, Samuel Champlain led an expedition from France that landed here, and he dubbed the island Isles des Monts Déserts, or Mount Desert Island.

After European colonizers, in the mid-19th Century, wealthy summer visitors started developing the land on and around Mount Desert Island.

Families like the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Astors, and others built estates for summer getaways, and then concerns started to arise regarding infrastructure and continued development.

While the wealthy families had contributed to the development, they were also integral to conservation efforts.

In 1908, the very first land donation was made by Eliza Homans to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations (HCTPR), which started a trend of the wealthy donating part or all of their own lands.

In fact, Acadia was the first national park given to the government from previously privately owned lands by conservation-minded citizens, many of whom were women.

The park didn’t become known as Acadia National Park until 1929 when land donations on the Schoodic Peninsula added to the park’s size and scope.

Today, Acadia National Park spans an impressive 50,000 acres of preserved land.

Geography of Acadia

This national park in Maine is split into two separate areas: the eastern area is where most people spend time, as it comprises about 80 percent of the park’s area and nearly all of its mountains lie there.

Somers Sound splits the park in two, with the western area containing two lakes and lots of creeks on the south side of the island.

Rocky outcrops on the top of mountains and on the edge of shorelines give the park its iconic landscape; it is impossible to experience Acadia without seeing an abundance of them.

Those rocky outcrops offer ideal locations for taking photos of these jaw-dropping landscapes, so have your camera ready!

Perhaps the most popular destination in Acadia, Cadillac Mountain stands at over 1500 feet above sea level.

You could hike to the summit, or there is a road that leads to the top as well, showcasing the island’s unique geography from a bird’s eye view.

Amenities and Towns Near Acadia

The closest town to Acadia National Park is Bar Harbor, which is the main town on Mount Desert Island.

About 5,000 people call Bar Harbor home and the main street businesses rely on tourism every summer to stay busy.

Dozens of hotels dot Bar Harbor as well, giving visitors many lodging options for their visit to Acadia.

Moving clockwise around the island, Southwest Harbor provides another set of lodging and shopping options for visitors; about 2,000 people live there.

Bass Harbor sits at the southern end of Mount Desert Island and is a place where tourists can see the lobster fishing industry in southern Maine.

Bass Harbor also has a ferry that takes cars and people to Swan Island, five miles south of Mount Desert Island.

Entrance sign to Acadia National Park in Maine in winter

Where is Acadia National Park?

The park is close to some of Maine’s population centers.

Bangor is the closest city to Acadia National Park, at only an hour’s drive, while the capital Augusta is two hours away.

Both are cities in Maine we recommend you visit.

In terms of driving distance to Acadia, it’s about three hours from Portland, five hours from Boston, six hours from Montreal, and eight hours from New York.

If you’re driving from Boston, check this handy road trip itinerary.

To reach Acadia National Park, prospective visitors can drive along Interstate 95 and US Highway 1A, but trains and planes are also options to get to the park.

The closest airport to Acadia National Park is Hancock County–Bar Harbor Airport (BHB), while Bangor International Airport (BGR) is the largest nearby

From either, you can rent a car or take one of the many shuttle services into Bar Harbor.

Acadia lies on the islands of Hancock County, so ferry services are also common in this area. 

Mount Desert Island, where Acadia National Park is located, is the largest of the islands in the county.

The most common ferry visitors take is the ferry to Swan Island from Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island.

The island’s isolated sandy beaches are also a perfect place to get away from any tourist traffic.

Other isolated spots include Grand Cranberry and Little Cranberry Islands, which both have ferries running out of Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island.

These islands also showcase Acadia National Park’s mountains with beautiful shoreline views.

You may also check our other Maine guides, including the best places to go in Maine and our lists of lovely cities and towns to visit in the state.

Aerial view of Bar Harbor, Maine, on Mt Desert Island with Acadia National Park beyond the coastal town

Things to Do in Acadia National Park

There are tons of fun things to do in Acadia National Park, so check out our complete guide for full details!

To get started, you should start your adventure at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to ask questions and find out the rules about the activities in the area.

Note that for all visitors, entrance to Acadia National Park requires a pass that you can purchase online or in person.

Hiking is one of the biggest pastimes in Acadia National Park, with over a hundred miles of trails following ridges, creeks, lakeshores, and summiting mountains.

Bubble Rock, Penobscot Peak, and Sargent Mountain Pond are all rewarding spots to hike to, each with their own appeal.

Hikes with less terrain variation can be found around Jordan Pond and The Tarn, two bodies of water in the park.

Hikers looking for trails with less foot traffic can park on the west side of Somers Sound in the western area of the park and hike the few mountains and hills on the quieter side of the park.

If your Acadia National Park vacation leans toward hiking activities, read our guide to the best hiking trails you can find in the area.

Hiking boots in Bubble Rock, Acadia National Park, Maine.

Just as popular as the trails, the beaches are also a major draw of the park.

Sand Beach on Newport Cove is the most popular trail and is flanked on both sides by rock cliffs that extend more than 1,300 feet into the ocean.

A quieter beach on the west side of the park is on the south end of Echo Lake, and paddlers often take their watercraft to this beach to launch into the lake.

The park also has many curated gardens for those interested in the biological side of nature found there.

Two of these gardens are technically outside the park and sit just north of Northeast Harbor.

The Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden both sit in residential areas on the south side of the island and contain floral areas and ponds.

Located on the other side of the island is the Wild Gardens of Acadia, which is the park’s main garden.

This garden, complete with a natural spring, shows visitors the native plant species of southern Maine and has gravel walkways throughout.

Check out the full list of things to do in Acadia National Park and add them to your itinerary.

Sand Beach crowds Acadia National Park Maine

Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park

While many choose to visit Acadia National Park in the summer with their families, that doesn’t always mean that is always the best time to visit.

The weather is nice and most people are available to travel, but it can be crowded.

Another recommendation of the best time to go to Acadia National Park is in the fall to enjoy the colors of the park’s forested mountains, with fewer bugs to contend with.

The weather may be a little chilly during the season, but the fall colors can be eye candy to any hiker or outdoor enthusiast and the smaller crowds appeal to visitors with more vacation time flexibility than families tend to have.

To make the most out of your visit during the autumn, check our guide Acadia NP in fall.

Winter offers a peaceful, snow-filled experience and cold-weather activities, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Spring in Acadia means recent snowmelt, so hiking trails could be muddy, but streams in the park will also be flowing at their fastest and highest, and you’re almost certain to hear rushing water during a springtime visit.

Depending on how early in the spring it is, some may have the pleasure of having more frequent views of the mountains and lakes through the trees, something that the summer doesn’t allow due to the greenery.

You may also enjoy seeing the leaves bud and flowering trees blossom, which can sometimes be seen on a large scale in places like Acadia.

The start of fall colors at Jordan Pond Acadia National Park Maine

Acadia National Park Weather

Due to the maritime climate, Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park experience cold winters and mild summers, since the ocean acts like air conditioning for the island.

Average highs in the summer tend to stay around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while nights get down to about 60.

Due to its northern latitude, Acadia experiences colder springs than falls.

The park’s rainiest months are also in late fall instead of spring.

Snow is certainly a factor for winter visitors; Acadia tends to receive 15 inches of snow per month in the winter, which means by the end of February, it can stack up to some huge ground totals.

High temperatures in these winter months usually stay below freezing, preventing any early melt.

However, despite its location in the state of Maine, low temperatures on winter nights rarely get below zero due to its proximity to the ocean.

Loop Road Acadia National Park Maine view from Bubble Rock

Animals in Acadia National Park

Only a few national parks in the entire United States allow dogs, and Acadia just happens to be one of them.

Park staff ask visitors with dogs to keep them on a leash and, of course, pick up after them.

Over 100 miles of trails in the park allow dogs, but visitors are advised that some of these trails may not be safe or suitable for some dogs.

Check the set of short lists of trails that may not be right for your dog, as well as which ones don’t allow dogs at all.

Neither people nor dogs are allowed to swim in most of the park’s lakes since they are public water supplies for the area.

Boardwalk heading to Echo Lake Beach in Acadia National Park, Maine.

When it comes to wildlife, this national park is a top bird-watching destination in the United States.

You can expect to see owls, loons, eagles, sandpipers, and herons among the park’s popular birds, but over 250 more species can be found in Acadia.

Beavers, bats, and skunks are some of the small mammals found in the park, but the most popular animal to look for is the elusive fox.

You may also look for frogs, turtles, and four salamander species at the park’s lakes if you spend time there.

It’s a good idea to research when are the best times to visit Acadia National Park to see wildlife.

Different seasons or periods during the day bring better chances to spot some of these animals.

The park also advises visitors to keep their distance from any wildlife, since they are not used to human interaction.

Common Loon and chick

Final Thoughts

We hope this comprehensive Acadia National Park visitors guide has helped you learn the information you need about the park.

Feel free to share it with friends or drop a comment about your Acadia adventures or favorite activities!

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