The Best Things To Do In Acadia National Park For Nature Lovers

Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park illuminated in the orange glow of a sunrise

About Acadia National Park

Deep blue waves erupt into white foamy spray as they crash into Maine’s jagged coastline. Forest green trees sway in the salty breeze. The sky has an orange-pink glow that stretches as far as the eye can see. This is the magic of Acadia National Park. Whether you are looking for scenic drives and overlooks, the charm of a historic New England coastal town, or hikes with breathtaking views, Acadia has it all. This guide holds 15 of Acadia National Park’s best things to do that will leave you feeling fulfilled.

Want to visit, but unsure when is the best time to visit Acadia National Park? You can truly have a great experience in Acadia any time of year. We loved exploring in fall as the leaves were turned and our hikes pelted us with that crisp cold New England air. We will also be visiting the park again in late spring/early summer to experience the area as it blooms after winter.

With most National Parks, we enjoy visiting during shoulder season to avoid large crowds and Acadia National Park is busiest during the summer. You will find the lowest number of visitors in winter and although cold, will find unique opportunities for frozen landscapes, snow-capped mountains, and activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing! Or even ice climbing for the extra adventurous!

Things to do in Acadia National Park

Hike over to Bar Island across a disappearing path

Exposed path to Bar Island during low tide in Bar Harbor Maine

Have you ever wondered what walking along the ocean floor would be like? For 1.5 hours before and after low tide you can do just that right from downtown Bar Harbor. During this timeframe around low tide, a sand bar is exposed connecting the town of Bar Harbor to Bar Island. Explore what is uncovered by what the water leaves behind, explore the wooded island, and soak in spectacular views of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay. During our trip out to Bar Island, we also enjoyed a deer sighting and exploring the remnants of an old home sight that once inhabited the island.

*Head down Bridge Street (you will see the Bar Harbor Club on the corner) and follow the path over the Bar Island!

What you need to know before hiking to Bar Island:

Parking

Park in downtown Bar Harbor. Parking can be very limited, so be prepared to walk a bit. The closest parking to this area will be near Bridge Street.

From mid-May through late October Bar Harbor has paid parking which is enforced Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Parking rates range from $1.50 /hour to $2.00/hr with some spots having a 4-hour limit. You could also leave your car behind and travel into town using the Island Explorer Bus.

Hike Details

This will be about a 1-2 hour, 2-mile roundtrip hike from downtown Bar Harbor and is dog friendly. This hike has limited elevation gain. You can expect some rocky sections, small uphill climbs, and uneven terrain once you reach the island. Once on the island, you can hike to the high point, enjoy panoramic views, and spot wildlife.

Don’t Get Caught Off Shore!

If you miss the window of time when the gravel bar is exposed you will have to wait another 9 hours until you can walk back over to Bar Harbor. Keep track of the time and don’t get stuck out on Bar Island! If you do get stranded you can hire a water taxi to bring you back, but these can be costly ($150) and take time to arrive. Be sure to check the Bar Harbor Tide Chart for the latest details on the timing of low tide during your visit.

View of Bar Harbor from Bar Island in Maine

Take a Day Trip to Schoodic Peninsula on the Mainland

Green rocky coast of Acadia National Park's Schoodic Peninsula looking out at Winter Harbor Light

Schoodic Peninsula is home to the only part of Acadia National Park that exists on the mainland and is one of the best things you can do during your visit to Acadia National Park.

 Visited by only about 10% of those exploring Acadia National Park, this area is less traveled and minimally developed. Exploring here can feel like you have stumbled upon a true hidden gem. It is the perfect place for a quiet retreat from larger crowds you might encounter in other areas of the park. 

Get uninhibited views off the coastline, view Winter Harbor Lighthouse and soak in the sights and sounds of nature. Schoodic Peninsula is also a great place for a scenic drive and offers great overlooks on the 6-mile Schoodic Loop Road. Hike, bike, and enjoy this quiet getaway.

Take a Hike on one of Acadia National Park’s Amazing Trails

With over 150 miles of trails, Acadia National Park offers plenty of opportunities to escape into nature and enjoy the unique landscape. Hiking is a great thing to do in Acadia National Park and the great news is that you can choose the adventure that would be most fulfilling for you! Here are some of the best trails we discovered (all of which can be found on AllTrails):

Sieur de Monts Spring in Acadia National Park

Easy Trails

Jordan Pond Path: 3.1 miles with beautiful reflective views of Jordan Pond

View of Jordan Pond from Carriage Roads in Acadia National Park

Ocean Path Trail: 4.5 miles out and back, passes major Acadia attractions including Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliff. This is a spectacular trail to hike for sunrise.

Ocean Path Trail that parallels scenic Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park

Ship Harbor Trail: 1.4 miles (located near Bass Harbor lighthouse)

View from Ship Harbor Trail in Acadia National Park

Jesup Path: 2.2 miles. Features a beautiful boardwalk nestled in nature and the opportunity to view nearby Sieur de Monts Spring.

Male hiker and his dog walking on a boardwalk under vibrant fall foliage on Jesup Path in Acadia National Park

Moderate Trails

Gorham Mountain Loop: 3.0 miles roundtrip, beautiful ocean views, and views of Sand Beach from above

Bubbles Trail: 1.5 miles roundtrip, view iconic Bubble Rock while overlooking Jordan Pond and nearby mountains

Iconic Bubble Rock in Acadia National Park

Beech Mountain Trail: 1.2 miles roundtrip, features one of the area’s last remaining fire towers

View out to the ocean from the fire tower on Beech Mountain Trail in Acadia National Park

Difficult Trails

Cadillac North Ridge Trail and Gorge Path Loop: 4.8 miles roundtrip. Hike up the summit of Cadillac Mountain and down through large boulder fields and running streams (or vice versa).

Female hiker and dog enjoying expansive panoramic views from Cadillac Mountain's summit in Acadia National Park in Maine
After completing the Cadillac North Ridge Trail you are rewarded with amazing views from Cadillac Mountain’s summit

We didn’t get to complete these next two trails because we focused on dog-friendly trails during our time in Acadia, but have heard amazing things about them and definitely have them on the bucket list:

Precipice Trail: 2.1 miles, 1,053 feet of elevation gain, exposed ladder sections

Beehive Loop Trail: 1.5 miles, 508 feet of elevation gain, challenging ladder sections

Check out Acadia’s Sand Beach

Waves crashing to shore at Sand Beach at Acadia National Park in Maine

Unlike the cobblestone beaches and seawalls that make up most of Acadia National Park’s coastline, Sand Beach offers a more typical coastline experience. Dogs are allowed on the beach outside the window from June 15-September 8. During those summer months, only service animals are allowed and the beach is a designated swimming beach. 

Here you can walk along the beach, or take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. Just a note, in August you can expect water temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees…brrr! At 290 yards long, this is a very popular attraction in the park and can be crowded. It also marks the beginning of the Ocean Path trail that runs parallel to the scenic Park Loop Road.

Sand Dunes in this area are closed to the public; please be respectful! This is a protected and sensitive part of the park’s ecosystem.

Hear the Roar of the Ocean at Thunder Hole

Hiker and dog on walkway next to Thunder Hole

Whether arriving on foot along Ocean Path Trail or by vehicle along Park Loop Road, Thunder Hole is a unique treasure of Acadia National Park. 

A narrowly carved chasm below an overhanging rock ledge, when the tides and wind align causes something magnificent. This combination can lead to spray up to 40 feet high and a loud sound and vibration akin to a thunderous boom.

When the tide is low you can use the walkway and steps down to take a close-up look at this inlet. It is a great place to marvel at the swirling sea and the power of the ocean’s waters. We were completely enthralled by the thunderous claps we heard coming from this attraction while approaching along the Ocean Path. Nature is powerful and endlessly surprising. 

Best Time to Hear the Roar:

Arriving a few hours before high tide will give you the best opportunity to hear the mighty roar of Thunder Hole!

Water swirling in Thunder hole in Acadia National Park

Marvel at the impressive Otter Cliff

Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park illuminated in the orange glow of a sunrise

Further past Thunder Hole you will run into the impressive grandeur of Otter Cliff. You can reach this landmark along Park Loop Road or on foot via Ocean Path. 

Jutting out into the ocean and towering 110 feet above the dramatic waves of the Atlantic, this is a great place to soak in the glow of sunrise and watch as the waves crash into this land-based fortress on the coastline. Otter Cliff is a great place to photograph, soak in beautiful views, and even rock climb high above where the land ends and the sea begins.

Catch the First of the Sun on Acadia’s Famous Cadillac Mountain

Glowing red sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean as seen from Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in Acadia National Park in Maine

At 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest point in Acadia National Park and on the eastern seaboard of the US. 

Hike up or secure a permit to drive up to enjoy panoramic views of Bar Harbor, the Gulf of Maine, the Porcupine Islands, Schoodic Peninsula, and Frenchman Bay, and an astounding sunrise or sunset.

From October to March, this is also the first place in the U.S. to receive those first rays of light in the morning. Sitting in the darkness among the stars and moon with hundreds of others, waiting for the fireball to break over the horizon is truly a magical experience. And yes, even this is a dog-friendly experience as well!

Securing a Permit to Drive to Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain Summit:

For 2023 a permit is required to drive your vehicle up to Cadillac Mountain. 30% of vehicle reservations are released 90 days in advance, with the remaining 70% being released at 10am ET two days in advance.

Unfortunately, the Cadillac Mountain Summit is not served by the Island Explorer Bus so if you plan to visit by a vehicle you will need to reserve a permit. There are two options, sunrise and daytime (which also includes the sunset time frame). Reservations can be made on recreation.gov and are blocked in 30-minute windows for daytime and a 90-minute window for sunrise.

Vehicles over 21 feet long are prohibited on Cadillac Summit Road. Want to go more than once? For sunrise reservations, you are capped to one vehicle reservation every 7 days, and for daytime, one per day.

Check out our complete guide to securing a Cadillac Mountain reservation for helpful tips!

If you don’t have a reservation, check out one of the hiking trails to Cadillac Mountain Summit:

Cadillac South Ridge Trail: 7.1 miles out and back

Cadillac North Ridge Trail: 4.4 miles out and back

If you want to hike up for sunrise, be careful and be sure to have adequate lighting such as a headlamp.

Enjoy a Scenic Drive on Acadia’s Park Loop Road

This 27-mile Park Loop Road is a scenic drive in Acadia National Park that covers the east side of Mount Desert Island. Drive through green pines, along the winding curves of the carved coastline, catch epic coastline views and check out major points of interest including:

  • Hulls Cove Visitor Center
  • Sand Beach
  • Thunder Hole
  • Otter Cliff
  • Jordan Pond
  • Sieur de Monts Spring
  • Cadillac Mountain (permit required)

This a very popular road and can be very congested. Keep an eye out for cyclists, parked cars, pedestrians, hikers, and wildlife. Expect it to be hard to find parking in the lots along the route, especially during peak hours of the day. Venturing out for sunrise or later in the evening will give you the best opportunity to run into smaller crowds and have more parking options.

Tree lined Park Loop Road scenic drive in Acadia National Park in Maine

Stroll Through Charming Downtown Bar Harbor Maine

View of boats and downtown Bar Harbor Maine from Bar Island

Bar Harbor is New England charm at its finest. A classic coastal Maine town, Bar Harbor has so much to offer. Locally owned restaurants, charming shops, brightly colored clapboard buildings, and more! 

Hit up a lobster pound for fresh lobster or a lobster roll, relax in a picturesque park, do some window shopping or indulge your sweet tooth. Even if you are just looking for an evening stroll in the crisp sea air, Bar Harbor is the perfect spot for a bit of romance or a laid-back walk mere minutes from the heart of Acadia National Park.

Feast on a Classic Maine lobster or Lobster Roll

Colorful buoys adorning the Happy Clam Shack in Bar Harbor Maine

Some of the most highly rated lobster pounds in downtown Bar Harbor include Galyn’s and Stewman’s.

We found great local spots outside of downtown Bar Harbor as well at Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor and The Happy Clam Shack (pictured above).

Have a Picnic on a Unique Seawall

Unlike the cobblestone beaches you find throughout much of Acadia National Park, a trip to the Seawall feels is a unique experience. Rather than just smooth stones scattered along the beach, here, a loose wall that you can walk along has also been formed. Near Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor, this seawall crafted by the sea is a wonderful place to have a bite to eat while enjoying this unique feature. We enjoyed fresh lobster rolls and delicious desserts from Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound just down the road.

Let your Dog Roam Free at Little Long Pond

If you are looking for an idyllic place for your adventure pup to roam off-leash, look no further than Little Long Pong. A tranquil place on a beautiful piece of land that includes 17 acres of luscious meadows, 12 acres of wetland marsh, sparkling streams, and 1,000 acres of forest. Escape into nature in this little slice of heaven just south of the boundaries of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.

In the bounds of this plentiful natural playground, there are 4 areas where swimming is permitted for both dogs and humans (the main entrance, the sitting area, the boathouse, and West Meadow). We met nothing but friendly dogs and nice owners and there is plenty of room to roam if you are looking for a more private experience.

Explore Acadia’s Historic Carriage Roads

Historic stone bridge along the Carriage Roads in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park’s Carriage Roads are a winding network of 45 miles of broken stone roads. Developed as a motor-free way to move through Mount Desert Island, these were gifted to Acadia National Park by John D. Rockefeller. Here, hikers, bikers, and riders on horseback converge among beautiful views of the park and amidst waterfalls, crystal clear streams, and historic stone-faced bridges.

Set up in connecting loops with an easy-to-follow numbered system, there is plenty to explore and many paths that take you along some of Acadia’s best attractions. View the entire map of the Carriage Roads here. We loved biking in the shade of the tree-lined carriage roads. It felt like moving alongside history in a way that truly compliments the natural beauty of the landscape that exists on Mount Desert Island.

View the Iconic Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Bass Harbor lighthouse sitting along the rocky coast of Maine

Built in 1858, Bass Harbor light is an iconic lighthouse and a classic staple of Maine’s coastal landscape. Located on the southwest corner of Mount Desert Island in Tremont, this historic light is one of three under the management of Acadia National Park. 

With beautiful postcard-worthy views comes high traffic. As one of the most visited places on the western side of the island, expect long lines while waiting to enter a small parking lot that is full most of the day. As is true of most places you might visit in Acadia, really early or late may be best and bringing your patience is a must.

Climb out on the rocks (carefully), walk around the grounds, and take a stab at capturing this highly photographed location from your own perspective. The views are truly breathtaking.

To check out Bass Harbor Lighthouse, it will be about a 30-minute drive from Bar Harbor

Ship Harbor trail

View from Ship Harbor Trail in Acadia National Park

After leaving Bass Harbor Head Light Station, we recommend venturing onwards to the nearby Ship Harbor Trail which is only 1.5 miles down the road. This 1.4-mile figure-eight loop trail is a short, dog-friendly trail that brings you past a sparkling cove and through a spruce forest where wildlife is abundant. Skip some rocks on the glass-like surface of the water, or take a few moments to simply listen to the life all around and be fully present.

This is a great trail with beautiful views and we found it to be less crowded than some of the trails in the main section of Acadia National Park.

Stay in  Nature at one of Acadia’s local Campgrounds

RV fifth wheel at oceanfront site at Bar Harbor Campground in Bar Harbor Maine
We had great water views from our site at Bar Harbor Campground

Take your Acadia National Park adventure to the next level by staying in an environment surrounded by nature. As full-time RVers, we are a bit biased, but we find that camping and staying at campgrounds is the perfect way to further invite a more immersive nature-based travel experience. With nature right outside your door, it is hard not to lean into all that natural spaces offer in terms of physical and mental health benefits. You might find yourself more readily eating a meal outside, enjoying a sunset or star-filled sky, and enjoying the ocean breeze. This is also a great way to travel mindfully and often is a more economical option than local hotels.

Bar Harbor Campground

Sites at this family-run campground are first come first serve. We were lucky to score an absolutely gorgeous water view site after one night of staying off the water. Just north of Bar Harbor, this quiet wooded campground is convenient to downtown and Acadia National Park. It is the closest private campground to the park.

Bar Harbor Campground offers bathroom and shower facilities, a heated pool, sites with 30 and 50 amp service, and a stop for the free Island Explorer Shuttle Service. While no reservations can be a bit of a gamble, the risk might just be worth it! It was in our case. Important note: no credit or debit cards are accepted here.

National Park Campgrounds on Schoodic Peninsula

Schoodic Woods Campground: Staying on the mainland section of Acadia on Schoodic Peninsula will mean a stay at Schoodic Woods. This campground includes tent sites as well as RV sites with electric and water hookups. Here you can hop on hiking and biking trails straight from your campsite.

National Park Campgrounds on Mount Desert Island

If you are looking for a campground in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island:

Blackwoods Campground: Located on the east side of the island; has RV and tent sites, access to carriage roads, trails, and a shuttle

Seawall Campground: Located on the west side of the island; short walking distance to the coastline, 18 miles to Bar Harbor

For more information, check out our in-depth guide to the best camping near Acadia National Park

Fulfilling Things to Do in Acadia National Park Overall

Acadia National Park offers many great things to do that, when selected intentionally, can help you have a truly fulfilling trip.

Get lost in a thick green forest, climb to the top of the east coast’s highest mountain, soak in luminous sunrises and sunsets where sky and sea meet, get inspired by the New England charm, or indulge in some fresh Maine lobster. Give yourself permission to be free, explore, and challenge yourself with new experiences. In Acadia National Park there is truly something for everyone. It holds a special place in our hearts and memories. Ultimately we believe the perfect itinerary and best things to do are those that feel most fulfilling to you. What brings you joy?

Adventure awaits…go explore!

PLAN YOUR TRIP TO ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

Places to stay near Acadia National Park:

Acadia National Park Campgrounds:

Other Bar Harbor Area Accommodations:

 Bar Harbor Campground

If you are looking for the perfect one-stop shop for comparing RV parks and glamping options and prices with instant booking, we highly recommend Campspot.

Our favorite resources for finding great campgrounds and campsites include Campendium, RV Life, and iOverlander.

You can also check out HipCamp and TheDyrt for more unique camping experiences and accommodations.

RV Rentals: If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one RV Share. We used both of these services when renting out our Casita and found them to be high quality and easy to use!

Another great option is glamping or nature-centric stays. Here are some great options near Acadia National Park:

You can explore all Bar Harbor area accommodations and compare prices on Booking.com, which is a great resource for unique stays at the best rates.

Looking for other Acadia National Park Resources as you plan your trip? Check out our other guides!

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