First Time Visitor’s Guide to Acadia National Park

 

Thinking about checking off another box on your National Parks tour?  Spring is officially here, which means warmer temperatures and sunshine are finally on their way.  While there is fun to be had in all seasons, by far the best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the Summer and Fall.  So get ready to hit the road – and don’t miss these Acadia favorites along the way!

1. Drive the Park Loop Road

Get your bearings and hit some highlights of the park by taking a scenic 27 mile drive around the park loop road.  Most of this loop (as well as many other roads in the park) are closed from December 1 through mid April – so take advantage of the warmer weather and open roads!  Plan for plenty of stops to get out and take in the rugged coastline scenery.  There are  designated pull-offs and parking areas for multiple trail heads as well as opportunities  to explore sites such as Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff, and Sand Beach.  Most of the loop is one-way traffic and provides access to the carriage roads as well as the famed Jordan Pond House – a perfect stop for some tea and popovers.

2. Bike the Carriage Roads

A network of gravel roads within Acadia National Park (known as the Carriage Roads) provides 45 miles of scenic, car-free cycling.  The carriage roads, a gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., give cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians a safe and unique way to experience much of the park.  From flat family-friendly loops to challenging climbs and descents, there is something for everyone to enjoy – from novice to expert.  There are a number of stone bridges along the gravel road system, lending a beautiful and unique look to the area.

Outdoor dining area at Jordan Pond House

3. Jordan Pond House

Stop off at the Jordan Pond House (the only restaurant within the park) for some tea (or cappuccino, lemonade, or prosecco) and their famous popovers.  The Jordan Pond House is accessible both by driving (right off the park loop) or via the carriage roads.  There are both indoor and outdoor seating options but keep in mind – It can get very busy during the summer, so if you don’t want to wait reservations are recommended.  Take a stroll on the hiking trails around the pond after enjoying a tasty treat to finish off your visit.  It can be a bit of a crowded touristy spot at times, but that’s not always a bad thing!

Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park

4. Thunder Hole

Along the park road lies a small inlet carved into the rock by the incoming waves.  Not an unusual site along Maine’s rocky coast – but this one has an interesting feature that has made it a site to be seen heard when the surf comes crashing in.  A cavern in the inlet causes an impressive  thunder-like roar when the air is forced out by incoming waves.  Stop off, stretch your legs, and take a quick stroll down to the handrail-protected viewing area to hear it for yourself.  *Note – you might want to drive on by if the seas are super calm.  No waves = no thunder!

5. Ocean Path

Take a stroll along the 2 mile Ocean Path, an easy, mostly flat and level trail running adjacent to the park road from Sand Beach to Otter Cliffs.  Explore the beach, detour down to hop around the rocky water’s edge and tidal pools. Stop along the way to check out Thunder Hole (you’ll pass it as you walk) and end at Otter Cliffs, where you can watch rock climbers rappelling down to the water’s edge and climbing their way back up.

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain summit – photo property of Joe Braun, from www.citrusmilo.com

6. Cadillac Mountain

The highest point in Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain, rising 1530 feet above the coastline below.  No, it’s not a huge peak and there’s no risk of altitude sickness out (though it’s the highest along the eastern seacoast) – but it boasts bragging rights as one of the best places to catch the sunrise along the East coast.   Not a morning person?  The views are pretty great at all times of the day.  There are numerous ways to reach the summit, with trails approaching from all directions.  For those unable to hike all the way to the summit there is a road to the top which is right off the park loop road.   Not a great weather day?  Hit the trails!!  You’ll likely have them mostly to yourself, including the summit (which can get very crowded during peak times, for sunrise/sunset).

7.  Hike the Beehive Trail

Ready for something a bit more… ehm… challenging? Check out one of Acadia’s famous “iron rung” trails.  The beehive (named for it’s hive-like shape) offers stunning views – but you’ve got to earn them!  This hike is NOT for anyone who is unsteady or has a significant fear of heights.  The most challenging route starts from the bowl trailhead and takes you right up the rock face, with narrow trails teetering at the edge of cliffs and iron rungs and ladders bolted into the rock to assist with the climb.  It’s not long – less than a mile up – but what it lacks in distance it makes up for in the fear factor.   The way down is much easier – traveling “normal” trails .   Wipe that sweat off your palms and get climbing!  Once you’ve tackled the beehive, check out the precipice trail for another even longer trek with similar ledges and rungs.

Photo property of NPS, from https://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/placestogo.htm

8. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Take a ride over to the southwest Mount Desert Island, for a scenic drive through Southwest Harbor and down to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse for a short walk and some photo ops.   The lighthouse is not open to the public but it can be viewed from adjacent trails.   On your way to/from the lighthouse there are several short hikes, and you can also check out Echo Lake Beach to cool off.

 

So there you have it.  A quick-start guide to some must see destinations on your first trip out to Acadia National Park.  There are many, many more places to explore within Acadia – grab a map, get going,  and enjoy this Coastal Maine gem!

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