I have been waiting 3 years to experience Acadia National Park during peak fall foliage and oh man, it did not disappoint! The colors of the leaves were absolutely stunning!
Acadia National Park is located about 3 hours north of Portland, Maine near Bar Harbor. The park spans over a few different islands, some only accessible by ferry. The main part of Acadia National Park, where most people visit, is on Mount Desert Island. It’s filled with endless hiking trails and beautiful scenic drives.
Keep reading to learn more about our favorite hikes, restaurant’s, and the best things to do in Acadia National Park!
WHERE TO STAY IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Bar Harbor is by far the most popular area for people to stay but we stayed 20 minutes outside of Acadia in Southwest Harbor. We found lodging to be much more cost effective than Bar Harbor. Since we spend 95% of the day out exploring, we tried save money on where we sleep, even if it’s slightly further out.
GETTING IN THE PARK
Each day we arrived at the park no later than 7:30am. I HIGHLY recommend getting there early to avoid crowds and nightmare parking lines. By the time we got off the trails each day, the masses were headed out on the trails and people were literally following us to our car to take our parking spot.
Make sure to do your research about what trails you plan to do and when. Acadia has recently implemented timed vehicle reservations, in addition to the park pass, to enter specific areas of the park to help with crowd control. All reservations must be made online and in advance to your visit. Currently they are testing this process during busier times of year but rumors are that this will be implemented full time. More details about reservation requirements can be found here on the NPS website.
BEST HIKING TRAILS IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Beehive Loop Trail – 1.4 miles
We kicked off the weekend with the iconic Beehive Loop Trail. It is known for it’s exposed cliffs, granite staircase, and iron rungs. Going into the trail I was a little nervous because I am terrified of heights, but truthfully I did not think it was that bad. The views were completely worth any little butterflies I might have felt on the way up. Regardless, you definitely need to be aware and cautious while climbing due to the extremely dangerous nature of the trail.
This trail is only 1.4 miles but plan on taking double your normal pace. It took us just under an hour! Climbing rungs on dangerous cliff-sides tend to take longer than your average trail terrain. Later in the day, it’s highly likely you’ll run into a bottle neck of people waiting for your “turn”.
View from the top – I wish I could put videos in this blog so you could fully understand how stunning the 360 views were! So I guess you’ll just have to hike it yourself ;)
Sand Beach – Acadia’s only sandy ocean beach!
The Beehive Trail parking is in the same lot as Sand Beach. Before heading to our next trail for the day, we took a little break and walked down steps to the beach. While this beach is filled with people in the summer months, we had it almost all to ourselves!
From Sand Beach, you can go back up the stairs to walk Ocean Path – 2.2 mile trail one way, 4.4 miles round trip. Along the trail you follow the stunning ocean coastline. The terrain is mostly flat or small inclines with gravel or paved path. We saw lots of people of all ages, including families with small children, spending their time exploring these areas of the park. So many places to stop and capture beautiful photos!
Fun Fact: the beach can be seen in the above photos from the top of Beehive!
Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain Trail – 2.7 miles
This trail was pretty moderate but had a lot more rock scrambles than we were anticipating. At multiple points of the trail, it is intersected with a gravel carriage road. It was a little tricky to find where the trail kept going but look straight ahead [your eyes tend to play a trick on you and you don’t see the path!]. The summit of Parkman really opens up above the tree line, allowing for beautiful 360 views, but it can get very windy!
Make sure you don’t miss Bald Peak! Instead of going back down the way you came up, you veer to the left and follow signs leading to Bald Peak. The views were even better from there! We really spent our time just sitting and enjoying.
This trail combines multiple trails creating an unofficial trail so we found the trail signage to be extremely confusing. Multiple times we got off trail because we started going in the wrong direction without realizing because it was so poorly marked! We always download the trail map from AllTrails before starting so we used that to guide us instead.
Parking for the trail head is in the Jordan’s Pond parking lot, which is the same lot as the very popular Jordan’s Pond House Resturant, so be sure to get there early! The trail head is just beyond the restaurant towards the pond. You will take the path that veers left up on a gravel carriage road. Keep your eyes open so you don’t miss the “hidden” right into the woods. Immediately after begins a steep incline which eventually takes you to the ledge where the exposed cliffside and iron rungs begin.
I found this trail to be MUCH scarier and more treacherous than Beehive. The section with iron rungs and exposed cliffs is longer. It also required a lot more effort and climbing because the rungs were much further apart. Thankfully we were able to really take our time because we only passed 3 people on this portion of the trail.
Don’t forget to take a second to pause and turn around because the views are absolutely incredible!
Once you’ve completed the section of exposed cliffside and exposed rungs, you’ll see a sign that goes to Penobscot mountain – take it! The views got even better because as you get above the tree line the it opens up even more.
At that point you’ve completed your first ascent of the trail and begin the first descent. This trail is unique in that there are two full ascents and descents. Once off the mountain, you will be back at the pond and walk around it for about a quarter of a mile. On your left you will see a sign leading to Bubbles Divide, that will take you to South Bubble!
Then begins a quick, but very steep ascent up to South Bubbles. This portion of the trail was much busier than any other part because most people only hike that part.
I know I keep saying that every view is incredible [which is truly is] but the view from the top of South Bubbles may have been my favorite from the entire trip!
After descending from South Bubble, you will walk around Jordan Pond on a very flat trail back to the parking lot. We had plans to eat lunch at Jordan’s Pond House for a rewarding post hike meal but the wait was extremely long for a take out only, limited menu meal [thanks COVID…] Instead we decided to head into Bar Harbor to eat at a delicious local diner called Jordan’s Resturant – HIGHLY recommend!! It was one of our favorite meals of the trip.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
I’m about to share what might be considered an unpopular opinion…skip it!
To preface, we planned to arrive 2 hours before sunset on a Saturday. Getting to the parking was an absolute nightmare because it was so crowded. The rangers ended up closing the road shortly after we arrived because the line of cars was over a half mile long. We were very confused why we came to a complete stop on the road leading to the lighthouse so I got out of the car to figure it out. After walking down to the lighthouse, I figured out that each car was waiting for someone to get in their car to leave so that they could park. Most people of course were coming for sunset so no one was leaving…basically creating a massive gridlock of cars.
The actual lighthouse is very small so the view most people want to see is through a tree covered path in the parking lot, down stairs, and onto the rocks. Once it opens up, it’s beautiful how the waves crashes up on the rocky coast. But for me the beauty was ruined because of the crazy amount of people. It was hard to take a step with running into anyone or snap a picture without 10 people in the background. The picture below is the only one I took before running back to the car [our car still in line, hardly moved] to leave. It was so overwhelming we decided to watch the sunset in Bar Harbor over an early dinner!
BE warned it’s one of the most popular lighthouses in all of New England!
Perhaps on a different day at a different time, you may have a completely different experience! But for us, it was a skip.
Keep reading to where I share about a lighthouse that is TOTALLY worth visiting!!
Booking a Cessna flight was probably the best decision of the trip! We chose the 35 min “All Acadia” Tour. Fletcher, our pilot, was great. As we flew over different areas of Acadia/Bar Harbor area, he explained what we were looking at and any tips he had about visiting those areas!
Flight essentials during COVID? Masked up with earphone headsets on.
The views were absolutely unreal. From the plane, we were able to get a different vantage point from some of the same places we hiked earlier in the weekend. It was super cool to see Acadia National Park from the sky!
Bar Harbor is the “gateway to Acadia National Park”. A cute harbor town with lots of shops, restaurants, and places to explore down by the water. If you’re looking for some fresh seafood or touristy souvenir – this is the place!
Each night we found a new spot to eat before grabbing a coffee or ice cream to walk around. My favorite part was walking down Bar Harbor Shore Path [where the pictures below were taken]. It’s a great place to watch the sun set over the water filled with cute sailboats and beautiful yachts.
The stargazing locations in Acadia are endless. We decided to drive down Park Loop Road until we saw an opening in the tree line on Ocean Path. It was so peaceful to hear the waves crashing against the rocks as we looked up to see a sky filled with stars. We even saw a shooting star!! The only light pollution was from a lighthouse off in the distance – which was actually super cool to see. It was my first time seeing an active lighthouse at night!
Even if you’re only in the area for one night – you have to go stargazing! We took the above photo with an iPhone so it’s not the best and hardly does justice lol.
Cadillac Mountain is one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park! From October 7 to March 6, Cadillac Mountain is the first place you can see the sunrise in the U.S. You can either drive or hike to the top. We chose to drive to maximize our time on other trails since it’s one of the few places we could drive to instead of hike. Plus we didn’t have to wake up earlier than the crack of dawn to experience sunrise!
Cadillac Summit Road is located off the Park Loop Road and you need a reservation to access this part of the park [at least during its most popular season of October 1st – 18th]. Make sure to check NPS website for the most up to date information about reservations and road accessibility.
Biggest piece of advice…BRING LOTS OF BLANKETS AND JACKETS!! It was absolutely freezing. Even with our heaviest jackets and comforters from our beds, we still wished we had more layers. The windchill was insane.
Second biggest piece of advice…get to the Summit at least an hour before sunrise. Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to visit the mountain. We got there an hour before and there was already people everywhere. If you keep walking past the original crowd, you can find a spot to sit all your own.
Forever wishing I could input videos into this blog because these photos just don’t do it justice…
One of the best things to do in Acadia National Park, well actually it’s not really in the National Park but it’s near it, is Portland Head Light! After going to multiple lighthouses and being disappointed by huge crowds or finding out they were private property upon arrival, we found this gem of a lighthouse! Portland Head Light is a part of Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth just outside of Portland, Maine.
We could have spent all day there because there is so much to do – lighthouse museum and shop, trails, Battery Keyes, Goddard Mansion, picnic and beach areas, etc. Sadly, we didn’t have much time since we took a detour on the way to the airport. But I am so happy we spent our last few hours in Maine exploring Portland Head Light!
You MUST add this lighthouse to your list!!
As you walk along the coastline, you can see many different views of the lighthouse but if you’re feeling adventurous I think the best view is from the rocks below!
LOOKING TO VISIT ANOTHER NATIONAL PARK? CHECK OUT OUR BLOG ABOUT THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK!
Optional add on for something to do on your way to Acadia National Park…
L.L. Bean’s flagship store is just a quick detour on the way up, so we of course had to stop for a little shopping! There was an overwhelming amount of “all things outdoorsy” to choose from. Budget longer than you think – it took us over an hour just to walk through the store!
Craving local seafood, we stumbled upon this incredibly delicious roadside stand – Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound. Sweet, welcoming faces greeted us and a bonfire to warm us up while waiting on our food. We love New England Clam Chowder fan so we ordered that with a side of their “Ultimate Fries” [some of the best fries I’ve ever had]. Sadly, their lobster roll [Caleb’s favorite] is so popular that it was completely sold out by dinner time. We got the crab roll instead which was delicious. It was perfect start to the weekend!