The crown jewel of the Maine Coast, Acadia National Park is an east coast treasure with plenty of activities for everyone. Spend a day or a week in Acadia and soak in the coastal cliffs, rocky mountains, delicious seafood, and marine sea life. In this article, I share the top things to do in Acadia National Park. As a Mainer, I’ve loved visiting Acadia over the years and always find something new to explore.
Below you can find my absolute top things to do in Acadia National Park as well as suggestions for how to make the most of your time on your visit. Our most recent visit to the area was during the summer of 2022 and I will continue to update this post each time we check out this destination
You may find Affiliate links (from Amazon and other programs) on this page, so items I recommend may also earn me a small commission.
Looking for more information on visiting Acadia? Check out:
- The Perfect Acadia National Park Itinerary For 1-4 Amazing Days
- Complete Guide to Acadia National Park
Quick Look at the Top Things to do in Acadia National Park
Here is a snapshot of our top things to do in Acadia National Park. You can click on the image on the right for a printable list to bring with you (or you can simply save it or this post to use during your visit. Another great resource is the Moon Acadia travel book. Scroll down to see more details on each activity to help you plan your next adventure to Acadia!
- Go Hiking
- Take a Bike Ride
- Take a Wildlife Boat Ride
- Drive the Park Loop Road
- Go Paddling
- Enjoy some Popovers at Jordon House Pond
- Try Rock Climbing or other Adventure Sport
- Go Fishing
- Take a Ferry to an Island
- Watch the Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
- Eat some Seafood in Bar Harbor
- Relax on the Beach
- Visit the Schoodic Penninsula
- Check out the Lighthouse
- Find a Swimming Hole
Things to Know about Visiting Acadia National Park
You can find more details on the top things to do in Acadia National Park below, but here are a few important things to know and help you plan your visit.
An Overview of Acadia
Acadia is made up of coastal mountains and hills that spill down to a rocky shoreline. This amazing National Park has many hiking trails and scenic viewpoints and plenty of activities to keep you busy for a few days or even a week.
The park requires an entrance fee to get in. There are several different parts of the park, although the main part is just south of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. Here you will pass through a gate to enter the park. In other sections of the park, you will simply put your park pass in your window in the parking lot. A few things to know when you visit Acadia:
- The park loop road is a one-way road so plan accordingly
- The park also has many Carriage Roads to explore on foot or by bike
- Most of the hikes are short but often steep
- The park can get very crowded in the summer – get up early and try to avoid weekends.
How to Get to Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is the only National Park in New England and can be reached by driving up route 295 to route 90 north of Portland Maine to Bangor. From Bangor, take route 1A towards Acadia.
You can also reach Acadia by driving up Route 1 along the coast on Maine. This is a lovely drive, but note that is much longer than driving up the highway through Bangor. Even if your map app says it’s not that different, route 1 gets a lot of traffic and certain towns can unexpectedly get backed up. If you have time, this drive is completely worth it!
Here are some driving times from some common spots:
- Acadia from Boston: 4.5 hours
- Acadia from Portland: 3 hours
- Acadia from New York City: 8.5 hours
- Acadia from Burlington, VT: 6.5 hours
Best Time of Year to Visit Acadia NP
The best time of year to visit Acadia NP is late spring through the end of October. The park does stay open year-round, but in the winter you will experience cold temperatures and snow. The summer is also the busiest time in Acadia. If possible, plan your visit for a weekday in the fall when the leaves are changing, temperatures are still warm, and the crowds are slightly less.
Where to Stay in Acadia
You can find a variety of options for places to stay in Acadia. We’ve camped at both Blackwoods and Mount Desert Campground. Most of the campsites in Acadia book up well in advance so book early – often as soon as they release dates.
There are also plenty of options if you aren’t camping. Below are 3 options we’ve heard good things about:
Top Things to Do in Acadia National Park
In my opinion, the absolute top thing to do in Acadia National Park is to go hiking. Many of the best hikes in Acadia are short and rewarding, but you can also find longer hikes or link several smaller hikes together. In general, there are 2 types of hikes in Acadia – coastal routes that lead to stunning overlooks out across the water, and interior hikes that either go around a pond or a lake or to the top of one of the rocky hills or mountains for a view out over Acadia.
There are several challenging hikes in Acadia that involve rock scrambling, ladders, and cables. These hikes include the Beehive Trail and the Precipice Trail among others. These are fun and offer a challenge but also come with increased risk.
Take a Bike Ride
Forty-five miles of wide and flat Carriage Roads wind over Acadia National Park, making this park the perfect place to hike. Bring your own bike or rent a bike for the day and explore the trails. You can also find several other bike shops in town and some of the trails leave right from town. Most of the trails are flat and easy to navigate although they can get crowded with walkers, bikers, and carriages.
We’ve found this to be a very kid-friendly activity when our kids were young and biking was a great way to cover a lot of ground when they got older. You can get a map at the welcome center, or we found this book about the Carriage Roads useful.
Take a Wildlife Boat Ride
The Gulf of Maine is home to an array of marine wildlife, and the best way to see these animals is by boat. Spend the day on the water looking for whales, puffins, or seals, or try one of the tours for some fishing or lobstering. Many of the boats leave right from Bar Harbor and you can plan a short tour or a full-day adventure.
You can find some of the best Boat Tours here.
Drive the Park Loop Road
The Park Road in Acadia follows the rocky shoreline for miles before moving inland between hills and past lakes. Driving through Acadia and stopping at many of the scenic overlooks is a great and fast way to see a lot of the park. Some of the popular places to stop are along the Ocean Path walking Trail and include Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliffs.
In addition to driving through the more popular part of Acadia, it’s also worth driving out on Mount Desert Island to the west to Southwest Harbor and out to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. This part of the island is much quieter than the east. There are many excellent hikes on this part of the island – make sure to check out the Wonderland Trail for a short walk to the coast.
The coast of Maine is peppered with islands and the waters off Acadia National Park have some of the most beautiful rocky coastlines and islands in the state. One of the best ways to explore these islands is by renting a boat for the day or taking a tour. There are several tour companies that rent right out of Bar Harbor.
Note that the tides, currents, and weather in Acadia National Park all offer challenges to kayakers. If you aren’t an experienced kayaker, look for a tour instead of trying to kayak on your own.
Enjoy some Popovers at Jordon House Pond
One of the top things to do in Acadia National Park is to visit the beautiful Jordon Pond House. This restaurant is located right on the shore of Jordon Pond with views up the pond to the Bubbles. They specialize in tea, lemonade and their famous popovers.
Visiting the Jordon Pond House is a very popular activity and you may need to wait a while for a table. Luckily there are lots of short hikes to enjoy in the area if you need to wait a bit.
Note that there are a lot of bees that enjoy the sweet items served here, so if you don’t like bees around while you eat, you can sit inside. The bees generally don’t bother people (they just want the jelly), but one of my daughters was stung the last time we visited.
Try Rock Climbing or other Adventure Sport
If you are looking for a bit more adventurous activity, consider trying rock climbing. Otter Cliffs is a fun and unique spot where you climb right up from the water. Even if you don’t rock climb, you can stop by as you drive the Park Loop Road and watch the climbers.
If you don’t have the gear or don’t know how to rock climb, you can find several guide companies locally. Check out Acadia Mountain Guides.
Fishing has a long history on the Coast of Maine. There are many ways you can spend the day out catching fish during your visit. You can book several different offshore fishing trips, or consider bringing your own equipment to fish from shore or a bridge. Another option is to try fly fishing in some of the local freshwater lakes and rivers.
Take a Ferry to an Island
With a large number of islands in the Gulf of Maine, one of the best ways to get out and explore is to take a ferry to one of the islands. Many of these islands are more remote and you can escape the crowds of Acadia for a more peaceful day in Maine. Note that many of these islands also have limited facilities, so just be prepared.
Watch the Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
A classic Acadia experience, Cadillac Mountain is the first place where the sunrises on the mainland of the United States (most of the year). Many people gather on the mountaintop to watch the first rays of light peek over the horizon.
Even if you aren’t up for sunrise, you can also drive up Cadillac Mountain during the day for sweeping views of the surrounding area. New in 2022, there is now a reservation system to visit the mountain to help manage the massive increase in visitors in the last few years.
There is a fee of $6/car and reservations must be made online. They release 30% of the spots in advance and the remaining 70% are released 2 days in advance. You can find the links to reserve your spot below:
Eat some Seafood in Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is a fun, vibrant coastal town to explore during your visit to Acadia. Make sure you enjoy some of the famous seafood and other Maine treats during your visit. Maine is famous not just for lobsters, but clam chowder, mussels, clams, oysters, and more. You will also find many blueberry products including blueberry lemonade and ice cream.
There are many excellent spots to grab some seafood in the area. We loved sitting out on the dock at Stewman’s Lobster Pound the last time we visited Acadia.
Relax on the Beach
Visiting the beach might not be the first thing to come to mind when you start planning your trip to Acadia. While most of the coastline of Maine is full of stone beaches or more often steep rocky shorelines and cliffs.
Acadia has one of the few sandy beaches in the area (known simply at Sand Beach). The beach is inside the park with a large parking lot. There are also several excellent hikes that leave from the same parking lot, so you can enjoy a hike and some time at the beach all in one stop. From the beach, you can hike the Ocean Path, Great Head, and the Beehive Trail.
There are toilets on site, but the area does get crowded during the summer.
Visit the Schoodic Penninsula
Already mentioned above is taking the ferry out to one of the islands off the coast.
One of the best day trips is to take the ferry from Bar Harbor over to the Schoodic Peninsula. From here you can hop on the shuttle and even bring your bike and enjoy the day on a bike ride. The Schoodic Peninsula is part of Acadia but receives far fewer visitors compared to the rest of the park.
Learn more about visiting this quiet part of Acadia.
Check out the Lighthouse
The Maine coast is famous for its lighthouses. There are 65 lighthouses currently along the entire coast and Acadia is home to one of the most famous. Drive out to the western part of Acadia to visit Bass Harbor Head lighthouse. This picturesque lighthouse is perched on the cliffs of Acadia.
The trail from the parking lot takes you to the lighthouse and you continue down onto the rocks to get the view back up from at water. Use caution as this part is rocky with difficult footing.
Find a Swimming Hole
If you are visiting in the summer, one of the top things to do in Acadia National Park is to find a swimming hole. On our last visit in August, there was a heat wave and we spent time every day swimming. Even in the summer, the ocean can be shockingly cold. Swim at Sand Beach if you dare, but you can also check out some of the freshwater swimming spots.
Our favorite freshwater swimming spots are the quiet Lake Wood Pond and Echo Lake Beach.
Do you have other favorite activities in Acadia National Park? Leave a comment below!