Looking for the best sunrise in Acadia National Park? Whether you are lucky enough to score a reservation for Cadillac Mountain at sunrise or are looking for less popular spots to watch the dawn of a new day, the scenery of Maine’s rocky coast makes for the perfect backdrop for some of the most spectacular sunrises.
About Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine offers a dramatic rocky coast that is the highest along the Atlantic coastline, lush and diverse habitats ranging from pine forests to mountains and ocean coastline, historic sites, scenic hiking, and the amazing food synonymous with this state’s seaside towns.
Here you can connect with nature and enjoy an amazing Cadillac Mountain sunrise, which several months of the year is the first sunrise in the U.S.
Location: The main portion of the park is located on Mount Desert Island near Bar Harbor Maine (this includes Cadillac Mountain). The park also extends onto Isle Au Haut, and part of the Schoodic Peninsula on Maine’s mainland
Yearly Visitors: 4 million visitors a year, top 10 of the most visited parks run by the National Park Service in the U.S.
When to Visit: Peak season June-September, Offseason November-April
What to Explore: 158 miles of hiking trails, 45 miles of historic carriage roads (great for biking), and the 27-mile scenic drive along Park Loop Road. Covers about 49,000 acres of land or 76 square miles.
Entrance Fee: $35 for a 7-day vehicle pass. National Park Pass accepted (the best deal if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in a year)
A great place to start when you visit the park is the Hulls Cove Visitor Center! Learn about the park, talk to a ranger, and plan your perfect itinerary.
About Cadillac Mountain
One of, if not the most popular spot for sunrise, is Cadillac Mountain. Over the years it has become so popular that now Cadillac Mountain Sunrise reservations are required to access the summit with your vehicle.
While this can make planning a bit trickier, a Cadillac Mountain experience at sunrise is still one of the most special moments you can have in the park.
We will share exactly how to reserve your spot for the first light – but don’t worry! If you miss out on a reservation, we also share how to access the summit on foot (the reservation is really for a spot for your car in the parking lot near the summit) and some other amazing spots to enjoy an Acadia National Park sunrise.
Elevation: 1,530 feet above sea level
Located: Mount Desert Island (6.3 miles, 17 minutes from Bar Harbor)
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in Acadia National Park and the highest point/ tallest mountain within 25 miles of the East Coast of the U.S.
One of its biggest accolades is that Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise between October 7 and March 6 each year. If you are able to secure a permit, you can be one of the people able to drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain under a star-filled sky and watch as the sun rises in a dramatic glow where the ocean melts away into the horizon.
The summit has a parking area, paved trails as well as natural trails and also restrooms, and a gift shop!
If you aren’t able to secure a reservation for sunrise, you can also try to get a reservation to drive up during the daytime to soak in the panoramic views. We know a sunrise hike is certainly not for everyone…
How to Get to Cadillac Mountain‘s Summit
The two most popular ways to get up to Cadillac Mountain’s summit, either for sunrise or during the day, are by driving up or hiking up. You may also see lots of people biking up to the summit, and are able to take a ride share or taxi up to the summit as well. In both cases, you do still have to pay the entrance fee to get enter into Acadia National Park.
Hiking, biking, or taking a ride share to the summit will NOT require a Cadillac Mountain vehicle reservation. Driving your own vehicle up and parking will! We break it down here:
Driving to the Summit: Cadillac Mountain Reservation System
For 2023, reservations are required between May 24-October 22 to drive your vehicle to the Cadillac Mountain Summit. This area is not serviced by the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus. You can explore the area without reservation on foot, or by bicycle or taxi. Reservations must be made online and are in addition to the fee to enter the park. The NPS website states that vehicle reservations are sold on a rolling basis. Thirty percent of vehicle reservations are made available 90 days ahead of each date. The remaining 70 percent are released at 10 am ET two days ahead.
We fell into the category of needing to snag a reservation 2 days prior. It took us two tries, but ultimately we were successful! Here is everything you need to know to secure your reservation:
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Reservation
- Vehicle reservations for sunrise are only allowed once per vehicle every 7 days.
- You can enter up to 90 minutes after your reservation time
- Cost: $6.00 per vehicle, not refundable within 48 hours of reserved time
For Cadillac Mountain sunrise, we got up early and were third in the line of cars waiting to be let onto the summit road around 4 am. We found earlier to be better as we got parked and got settled in a spot to watch the sunrise before a lot of the crowds. We were also worried about being stuck in a long line of cars and missing part of the sunrise. It comes quickly! Sunrise is absolutely breathtaking and we would encourage you to invest in this experience if you are able.
The drive through the park and up to the summit in the early morning hours is VERY dark, but also very doable. Take it slow and keep an eye out for cyclists, hikers, and wildlife. If you want to catch all the colors of the sunrise, a good goal is to arrive at the summit at least 30 minutes in advance of sunrise time. If you want to enjoy some of the darkness and stars, you might consider getting there even earlier. We did not regret this earlier choice one bit.
Pro tip: bring along hot cocoa or coffee in a mug to enjoy!
Cadillac Mountain Daytime & Sunset Reservations
- One reservation allowed per vehicle per day
- 30-minute reservation window
Daytime reservations are a great option if you want to drive up to Cadillac Mountain’s summit as a stop along your scenic drive along Park Loop road. The panoramic views are beautiful, from the floating islands to the views of Bar Harbor and the sparkling ocean that stretches as far as the eye can see. This is also great if you can snag one of the later time slots to enjoy a sunset, perhaps even over a picnic. While sunrise will happen over the water of Frenchman Bay, you can expect sunset to happen over mostly views of land as it sets over the western side of Mount Desert Island.
Things to Know about Driving up Cadillac Mountain Before You Go:
- Vehicles over 21 feet are not permitted on Cadillac Summit Road (although we were allowed in our long-bed dually truck which technically exceeds this). Check with Rangers ahead of time if you have questions about our vehicle length. Typically RV’s are not allowed (although we did see Class B Vans at the summit).
- Cadillac Summit Road closes to vehicles at 10 pm
- The drive to the summit is a 3-mile wide, well-paved road
- Expect long lines at your reservation start time and be on the lookout for cyclists or hikers
- The summit has restrooms as well as a gift shop
- The QR code on your reservation will need to be scanned (print or mobile is fine)
- Reservations do not permit re-entry once you leave the summit
- Reservations cannot be made at the park, only online
- Dogs are allowed! Acadia National park is wonderfully dog friendly
Hiking up Cadillac Mountain
Looking to start your day with some exercise in the brisk New England air or weren’t able to snag a reservation to drive up? You can hike up to the Cadillac Mountain Summit for sunrise! This will require a really early start and a headlamp, but we saw plenty of happy hikers summiting just in time for the sun to peak over the horizon.
Hiking is also a great way to get a different Cadillac Mountain Summit perspective during the day as well. We hiked up the summit via the Cadillac North Ridge Trail and were able to enjoy a beautiful afternoon picnic overlooking all of Acadia.
Trails to Cadillac Mountain’s Summit:
Cadillac South Ridge Trail: 6.7 miles roundtrip. This trail is longer and more gradual but will require a really early start and a lot of hiking in darkness if you are hoping to make it to the summit for sunrise. We would recommend Cadillac North Ridge if hiking up for sunrise.
Cadillac North Ridge Trail: 4.2 miles roundtrip. This trail is shorter and steeper than South Ridge and should take less time to the summit if you are looking to hike up for sunrise. We really enjoyed this hike and did not find it too strenuous.
Gorge Path Trail: 2.5 miles roundtrip. This trail is steep and rocky. We used it as our return route after hiking up Cadillac North Ridge and would not recommend it if hiking up for sunrise as it would be tough to navigate in the dark.
You can check out reviews and updated information about trail conditions around the time of your visit on AllTrails!
For more information on these trails and more see our review of Acadia’s Best Hiking Trails
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Reservation Tips
Reservations for Cadillac Mountain sunrise are much harder to come by than reservations for daytime due to the small window of time in which it exists. We initially were nervous that we had missed the initial release of 30% 3 months out, but it is not always easy to plan so far in advance. If you’re like us, you are aiming for a last-minute reservation, don’t fret! With 70% released two days in advance, your odds are good. The process is pretty quick and painless.
Here are some tips and steps to help:
Step 1: Bring up the website and select either the sunrise or daytime (which includes sunset) option 5-10 minutes before 10am EST
Step 2: Have a universal clock ready to ensure your time is accurate
Step 3: At around 9:59:55 am (Eastern Time) refresh your browser
Step 4: Select the date that has just been released. This date will be 2 days out. Confirm the reservation. These reservations are per vehicle, not per person.
What to Pack for the Cadillac Mountain Summit
Weather will vary depending on the time of year of your visit, but in general, as you climb higher in elevation the temperature will drop and the sun’s effects will be stronger.
Here are some things to keep in mind when heading to Cadillac Mountain’s summit:
- Comfortable walking shoes if you want to explore any of the trails around the summit. There are lots of paved areas if that is more your speed.
- Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, or sun protective clothing
- Water and snacks; especially if hiking. Hiking safety and preparedness are key!
- If driving up, you will need a printout or screenshot of your reservation
- Layers! Just in case it is colder than you think, or there are abrupt changes in weather. Especially before the sun rises it can be cold up there. We had winter jackets, gloves, and hats for the sunrise we saw in October.
Is Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Worth It?
Catching a Cadillac Mountain sunrise in Acadia National Park takes commitment and planning.
From October 7-March 6, this magnificent sunrise is actually the first in all of the United States. Between securing a reservation, getting up early, and braving the cold it might seem like a lot of hoops to jump through, but for good reason. This is an experience you won’t soon forget and shouldn’t miss.
Watching the horizon catch fire in a pink-orange glow that slowly spreads across the sparkling Atlantic is mesmerizing. The dance of a waning starry night making way for a bright new day sends shivers down your spine, and not just from the brisk cold. Let yourself get lost in the moment.
Watching the sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain makes for a wonderfully mindful and immersive experience that leaves you a bit better off than when you woke up.
Other Great Sunrise and Sunset Spots in Acadia
Didn’t get a reservation for Cadillac Mountain sunrise? Don’t worry! Acadia has so many beautiful spots for an epic sunrise or a romantic sunset. Soak it all in by exploring some of these other scenic spots:
Acadia Sunrise Spots
- Otter Cliffs / Otter Point: Can park nearby if driving along Park Loop Road or hike along Ocean Path
- Bubble Rock overlooking Jordan Pond: Requires a hike along Bubbles Trail
- Thunder Hole: Can be parked near if driving along Park Loop Road or hiked to along Ocean Path
- Sand Beach: Enjoy sunrise with the added bonus of the sound of the waves crashing to shore. This is also where the Ocean Path trail starts, the perfect early morning sunrise hike!
- Dorr Mountain: A steep climb leads you to a beautiful vantage point looking out over Bar Harbor, right next door to Cadillac Mountain
We were lucky enough to enjoy breathtaking sunrises at most of the places above. They were all beautiful and worth the early wake-ups. In addition to the astounding views, getting up early also gives you access to better chances at parking and smaller crowds!
Acadia Sunset Spots
- Bass Harbor Head Light House
- Downtown Bar Harbor
We were spoiled with amazing sunsets at our oceanfront campsite at Bar Harbor Campground. We also enjoyed a beautiful sunset in downtown Bar Harbor after our hike to Bar Island. While we ventured to Bass Harbor on a morning, this would be the perfect spot for a picturesque sunset as well!
Fulfilling Travel Tips
Be present. Be where your feet are.
Cadillac Mountain sunrise is a wonderful opportunity for a moment of mindfulness or quiet appreciation of nature. As the world changes before your eyes you might sit quietly, admiring how the light changes the view of the landscape around you. Or, you might notice the sensations in your body as the warmth of a new day reaches out from the horizon.
Spend a few moments with the phone away, soaking it all in with your eyes and allowing the picture to soak into your mind, rather than just seeing it from behind a screen. It can be easy to get into the mindset of checking off items on the bucket list, but what would this experience look like if you allowed it to be more than that?
Sit in silence, be present, soak in the beauty of the world, the possibility a new day holds, and whatever thoughts or sensations might come along with that. Express some gratitude for these moments and all that is going well for you. Lean in and let it be a transformative experience. How could slowing down and practicing presence, connecting with the world around you, or expressing gratitude benefit you? Travel and experiences can be such a wonderful vehicle for well-being and fulfillment that go beyond just the break from work or normal day-to-day life.
Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Overall
At 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in Acadia National Park and along the entire eastern seaboard. It is a hard-to-miss landmark when exploring the park, and a worthwhile stop to complete your national park trip. Whether visiting Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, daytime, or sunset, we encourage you to secure a reservation and take a few moments to soak in the experience, away from screens or distractions. The view from above is pretty spectacular, no matter the time of day…but sunrise sure is something special!
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Reserve a Permit for Cadillac Mountain:
Places to stay near Acadia National Park:
Acadia National Park Campgrounds:
Other Bar Harbor Area Accommodations:
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.
RV Rentals: If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one through RV Share. We used this service 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!