Beaches, coasts, shorelines, woodlands, glacial erosional scars, geologic formations, intertidal and subtidal zones, lakes and ponds, mountains, wetlands, marshes and swamps – all of these environments can be found at Acadia National Park, one of the most diverse and complex nature reserves in the United States, in spite of its modest size. The marshes and swamps form the transition between terrestrial and aquatic habitats, maintaining the precious biodiversity of the area, with more than half of Maine’s rare plants found in wetlands. The 14 Great Ponds and 10 smaller ones found within or close to the park stand in shimmering contrast to the park’s spruce-fir forests and rugged mountains. Located where the mighty Atlantic meets the highest rocky headlands, Acadia National Park regales its visitors with its natural beauty, stunning diversity, clean water and air, and a rich cultural heritage.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ACADIA?
Similar to many other national parks, the best time to visit Acadia National Park is in early autumn, primarily September and the first half of October, after the summer crowds have cleared but the temperatures are still mild. The dramatic colors make October a prime time to visit in particular. Early spring is the second-best choice, although with frequent rain and fog. To endure the soggy weather, you will need to be prepared with waterproof gear.
Most of the park facilities operate limited hours during this period, at least until mid-April. The summer brings the best weather, but also carries with it the biggest concentration of tourists and “the summer people” (as the locals call them) filling the seaside villages. In winter, you will certainly find plenty of peace and quiet at the park, but only the most dedicated can endure the freezing temperatures.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT ACADIA
Originally named Lafayette National Park, the area we now know as Acadia is located southwest of Bar Harbor in the state of Maine. The largest part of Acadia National Park occupies Mount Desert Island (about half), with coastal villages, private property, and protected parkland areas existing side-by-side. The remaining sections of the park are scattered across a couple of the smaller islands and the Schoodic Peninsula. The native people who inhabited the area before the arrival of the European settlers referred to themselves as Wabanaki or “People of the Dawn”, a reference to the fact that the rising sun reaches the slopes of Cadillac Mountain before any other part of the US.
Although Acadia National Park is the 5th smallest national park in the country, it frequently ranks among the top 10 when it comes to the number of visitors. In sheer numbers, Acadia boasts 120 miles of hiking trails, with 26 different mountains within the park, the 1,530-foot-high Cadillac Mountain being its crown jewel. Acadia is well-known as a bird watcher’s paradise, especially when it comes to birds of prey like the Peregrine Falcon.
In addition to 40 species of mammals in the park such as black bears, moose, coyotes, and beaver, one can also encounter cormorants, snapping turtles, various reptiles and amphibians, and even see Humpback whales from the shore.
ONE DAY IN ACADIA ITINERARY
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Acadia.
Stop by the Hulls Cove Visitor Center First Thing in the Morning
When visiting Acadia National Park, the first place you have to see is the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, located near the Hulls Cove entrance. At the visitor center, you can get up-to-date information on things to do in Acadia National Park from the park rangers themselves. You can also get free maps and watch an informative audio-visual presentation on the park’s history, which serves as a great introduction and a preview of all the great spots you can visit. At the visitor center, you can buy the park pass for $25. The pass is valid for one week, with no limitations.
After getting all the information and resources you need, you should drive toward Bar Harbor, which is less than 10 minutes (3.5 miles) away. On your way, you will pass Witch Hole Pond (which can be reached via a trail from Hulls Cove Visitor Center in approximately 25 minutes) and Paradise Hill Overlook, the perfect spot to see Bar Island, a small uninhabited tidal island with a narrow land bridge to the coast.
Pick a Spot for a Hearty Breakfast in Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is a beautiful little town overlooking Frenchman Bay on the western shore of Mount Desert Island. The town is a popular gateway for travelers looking to explore Acadia National Park. There are several things to do in Bar Harbor Maine. The Bar Harbor Historical Society is pretty popular, with exhibits focusing on local history. There are several art galleries, for example, A Little Maid, Argosy Gallery, Island Artisans, Eclipse Gallery, and others. Due to its location, Bar Harbor is great if you want to grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat before taking on the Park Loop Road.
Jordan’s Restaurant is famous for its muffins and wild Maine blueberry pancakes. Since they open at 5 AM, you can get there even earlier and have your breakfast and coffee before stopping by the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. The staff is extremely friendly and the prices more than fair considering how delicious everything is.
If you want a bit of variety, also consider 2 Cats Bar Harbor, a nearby breakfast restaurant with short wait times, friendly service, and casual, homey atmosphere. If you get a chance to go there, ask to be seated on the second floor and enjoy the amazing view.
Visit Sieur de Monts Spring
After breakfast, drive west on Mount Desert Street, then turn south onto Main Street and keep going straight until you exit Bar Harbor. Turn right and you will get to Sieur de Monts, a small springhouse on a spring that played a pivotal role in the early history of Acadia National Park. The springhouse was built by George B. Dorr (1855 – 1944), who also carved “The Sweet Waters of Acadia” on a large nearby rock.
Today, the location symbolizes the dedication of Dorr and other private citizens in the early 20th century in their efforts to preserve the land and waters of Acadia for future generations. Many consider Sieur de Monts Spring to be the birthplace of Acadia National Park. While there, also visit the Sieur de Monts Nature Center, a great place to learn about the park and gather information on the best hikes in Acadia National Park.
Check Out the Wild Gardens of Acadia
Located right next to the Sieur de Monts Nature Center, Wild Gardens of Acadia is a gorgeous botanical garden filled with trees, wildflowers and ferns native to Acadia National Park. Like a small sample of the typical habitats that can be found on Mount Desert Island, the garden is perfect for light walks amid flowers and plants. A small creek runs through the garden, which is maintained by community volunteers. There is plenty of seating throughout the garden if you want to relax for a few moments.
Continue South to Sand Beach
After spending some time exploring the Wild Gardens of Acadia, return to Park Loop Road and enjoy a short scenic drive to Sand Beach, a popular, magical beach composed of shell fragments, known for being calm, quiet, and relaxing. The beach is located between two bodies of water; the ocean to the south (Newport Cove), and the Beehive Lagoon to the north.
The scenery around the beach is gorgeous, especially the peaks in the distance, and the whole experience is enhanced by the waves crashing hypnotically against the rocks. While driving to Sand Beach on Park Loop Road, make sure to make brief stops at the several overlooks along the way. Examples include the Sols Cliff Overlook, Egg Rock Overlook, and Schooner Head Overlook.
Visit Thunder Hole
Before returning to Park Loop Road, take a short walk to Sand Beach Overlook from Ocean Path Trailhead, which starts from the parking lot near the beach. The overlook is a nice scenic spot offering sweeping views of Sand Beach and the whole bay. You can keep walking down the same path, and after half a mile (12 minutes) you will come across Thunder Hole, a natural rock inlet that roars like thunder when waves crash into it at middling/high tide.
The acoustics are amazing, and the views also rank among the best in Acadia National Park. You can make your way down the steps and look at Thunder Hole up-close, although there’s a chance you might get wet.
Drive to Jordan Pond
Instead of continuing on Ocean Path, return to the parking lot near Sand Beach and take the car to Jordan Pond. Stay on Park Loop Road to enjoy the numerous sights along the way, including Boulder Beach, Otter Cliff, and Otter Point, all of them very close to Thunder Hole. You can stop at the Otter Cliff Overlook for some beautiful scenic views from the top of the rocks.
The nearby Otter Cliff Rock Climbing Area is a great spot for adrenaline-seekers. Some other cool landmarks along the way include Otter Cove (and Otter Cove Overlook), Hunters Head, Hunters Beach Overlook, and Jordan Pond Carriage Road Trailhead. You can pull over at any of these spots, take in the sights, snap some great photos, and drive on.
Take a Lunch Break
There is a large public parking space near Jordan Pond, in reality a small lake or a tarn (formed by glaciers). You can park there and then go to Jordan Pond House Restaurant for lunch. The place can occasionally get busy, so making prior reservations is always a good idea. Jordan Pond House is particularly famous for its popovers, a warm, puffy local bread delicacy served with butter and strawberry jam.
You can also enjoy some tasty American food in outdoor seating with breathtaking views of the mountains. Their seafood is excellent, especially the lobster bisque and the scallop dish. If you get there between 2 and 4 PM, you will likely avoid the crowds altogether.
Explore Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond is a crystal-clear lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. It is both the deepest and the clearest lake in Acadia. The water is great for kayaking, and some of the best hikes in Acadia are right there. However, swimming and wading is prohibited since the lake is a public water supply. The Jordan Pond Path is a 3.3-miles long trail looping around the lake. It is an easy hike, not much longer than an hour, so you should give it a try if you feel like you’ve got the energy.
The hike can be taken in either direction, depending on which shore you would like to see first. To the east, you can make a short detour to Bubble Rock Overlook, offering wonderful vistas in all directions. You can see the entire lake from there, as well as the ocean to the south, with Sutton Island, Baker Island, and the Cranberry Isles.
Enjoy the View from the Summit of Cadillac Mountain
As soon as you’re back at Jordan Pond Parking, return to Park Loop Road and keep driving north. You can stop at the Bubble Pond Carriage Road Trailhead to see Bubble Pond, and also pause at the Eagle Lake Overlook for sweeping views of Eagle Lake, the largest lake in Acadia National Park. A third of a mile further down the road, turn right onto Cadillac Summit Road. You can stop at the Blue Hill Overlook, but otherwise just keep driving until you reach the top. Cadillac Mountain, rising 1,530 feet (466 meters) above sea level, is the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard.
The top of the mountain was shorn off by gigantic glaciers millennia ago. When you’re standing at the top, you can basically see the entire Mount Desert Island, surrounded by the sea on all sides. The scene is beautiful and serene, although it can get somewhat chilly, even in June and July. If you want, you can stop by at the rest stop, or just take a couple of deep breaths and let the beauty of the place wash over you.
Be There Either for Sunrise or Sunset
Cadillac Mountain is famous as the first place in the United States to see the sunrise. While that is only true for a portion of the year, between October 7 and March 6, sunrise from Cadillac Mountain is a once in a lifetime experience. If you can get there early enough, you should go for it.
Keep in mind that the sun rises as early as 3:55 AM in June and around 7 AM in January and February. Also, you would have to get there an hour before to get a nice spot away from the crowds. If you choose to do it, then do Cadillac Mountain first, follow it up with a stop in Bar Harbor (Jordan’s Restaurant opens at 5), and then do the rest of the itinerary. Otherwise, time your other stops so that you can make it to Cadillac Mountain in time for sunset.
While not as famous as the sunrise, the sunset from Cadillac Mountain ranks among the most beautiful sunsets in the country, with the most beautiful shade of red painting the skies as the sun drops below the horizon.
Return to Bar Harbor for Dinner
After Cadillac Mountain, make your way back to Bar Harbor. You will need to make a left where the road forks, about half a mile after you return to Park Loop Road from Cadillac Summit Road. Bar Harbor has several great places for dinner.
Among them is Paddy’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, a pretty casual place at West Street Hotel. Depending on your preference, you can sit inside or outside, across from the water. The view is gorgeous, and the food (mostly Irish-American fare and local seafood) lives up to the high expectations you may have after seeing the setting. Highlights include the Scottish salmon dinner special and the excellent lobster bisque. The drinks are pretty good, too, with a nice variety – try their very own blueberry mojito, a truly original take on the classic cocktail.
Havana is also great, although catering to a different clientele. This place is a bit classier, with a focus on fine dining, primarily through a one-of-a-kind synthesis of contemporary American and Latin cuisine. The restaurant’s atmosphere is modern and elegant, the wine list extensive, and the menu sophisticated.
WHERE TO STAY IN ACADIA?
Bar Harbor Inn and Spa
Though faced with stiff competition, Bar Harbor Inn and Spa remains one of the top choices for travelers visiting Acadia National Park. Located in Bart Harbor on Mount Desert Island, this oceanfront hotel is less than 10 miles away from Jordan Pond and under 7 miles from Sand Beach Overlook, a distance that can be covered in 15 minutes. The on-site restaurant (Reading Room Restaurant) offers unobstructed views of the ocean, and the spa facility comes with a hot tub and a large outdoor pool.
Select rooms also come with balconies looking out on the ocean. In addition to its amazing location and great food (rich continental breakfast & seafood for lunch/dinner), Bar Harbor Inn and Spa is known for its hospitality and well-appointed, comfortable rooms.
Bar Harbor Grand Hotel
With an imposing, attractive exterior reflecting the comfort and understated elegance of the vintage interior, Bar Harbor Grand Hotel has won over the hearts of thousands of guests who have made this hotel the best-reviewed property in Bar Harbor. The hotel’s supreme location is only one of its many qualities, which include a complimentary deluxe breakfast every morning, a relaxing hot tub and a heated outdoor pool, modern and comfortable rooms, and personal service, with attentive, friendly staff. The hotel also has an elevator, which is among Bar Harbor Grand Hotel’s more unexpected, yet welcome features, especially for guests with mobility issues.
Wonder View Inn
Summed up in as few words as possible, Wonder View Inn is a great, dog-friendly property with a great location, breathtaking view, and friendly, knowledgeable staff. It is perfect for travelers looking to save a bit on accommodation, which is generally quite pricey in Bar Harbor and Acadia in general. Wonder View Inn’s location, however, is just as good – the national park is only two miles away. Several rooms at the property offer great views of the bay and the ocean, some of them from a private balcony. The on-site Looking Glass Restaurant serves breakfast and dinner, with plenty of room, including outdoor seating on a large open-air terrace.
ACADIA DAY TRIPS
There aren’t that many national parks in Maine. In fact, Acadia is the only one. Other nature reserves include Baxter State Park and The Appalachian Trail, Allagash Wilderness Waterway, and White Mountain National Forest. There are 32 state parks and numerous mountains and hills, such as Bradbury Mountain and Camden Hills, very popular for hiking. In spite of all that, there are very few day trips from Acadia to any of these places.
The smaller towns such as Bar Harbor do have several tour agencies that add a bit of variety to the typical sightseeing & hiking Acadia itineraries. For example, Carriages of Acadia is a sightseeing tour agency offering horse-drawn carriage rides in Acadia National Park.
Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co is a whale watching tour agency from Bar Harbor. If you are interested in visiting Acadia National Park, you can also do it on a 2-Day Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor Tour from Boston, which makes the whole experience a bit more convenient – with accommodation included. For more on these options and the latest offers, check out this article.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING ACADIA
–The Island Explorer is Acadia’s shuttle bus service, with free transportation between hotels, villages, beaches, hiking trails, shops, and restaurants. It operates between June 23 and early October and it is completely free.
-This itinerary was made under the assumption that you will explore the national park by car, as time-limitations make the car the batter choice – you simply have more freedom. However, Acadia is not very big and you can explore it with a bicycle. You can rent a bike if you don’t have one.
-Parking can be tricky sometimes, especially during the park’s busy season. To avoid crowds, consider exploring Acadia early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
-Pets are allowed but need to be restrained on a leash. Due to the park’s regulations aimed at reducing conflicts, limiting exposure and spread of disease, and protecting wildlife, the leash can not be longer than six feet (2 m). If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Acadia Itinerary, feel free to share them in the comments below!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).