How To Spend 1 Perfect Day in Acadia National Park

Being native New Englanders, we have a real soft spot for Acadia National Park.

Even after visiting National Parks all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe, Acadia National Park still comes in towards the top of our list of favorite parks.

Being a smaller park, the great thing is that even if you are short on time you can still experience a lot of what this great park has to offer.

After exploring all over the park, we are breaking down exactly how to spend 1 day in Acadia National Park so that you can make the most of your time.

From scenic drives, must-see stops, places to eat, and hikes to consider, here is everything you need to know about experiencing the best of Acadia National Park in 1 day:

About Acadia National Park

The rocky coastline of Acadia's Otter Cliffs along the Ocean Path in the orange glow of a morning sunrise
Otter Cliffs

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.

The main portion of the park is located on Mount Desert Island near Bar Harbor Maine, but the park also extends onto Isle Au Haut, and part of the Schoodic Peninsula on Maine’s mainland as well.

What To Know Before You Go

Yearly Visitors: 4 million visitors a year, top 10 of the most visited parks run by the National Park Service in the US. This is a busy park so expect crowds, especially on the weekends.

Best Time To Visit: We recommend visiting in early June or early October (foliage time!) during the shoulder seasons for great weather and smaller crowds. Peak season in Acadia is June-September, and the offseason is November-April. Park Loop Road is closed seasonally from December to April

How many days should you spend in Acadia?: If you want to hike some of the park’s great trails or venture over to the Schoodic Peninsula, we recommend at least 3 days in Acadia. This being said, if you are short on time you can see a lot of the park in 1 day, as we will lay out below!

Entrance Fees: $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)

Getting Around: The best way to get around in Acadia National Park will be by car. This will give you flexibility to explore on your own schedule, just know that parking can be tough around Mt. Desert Island. The earlier or later in the day, you explore and the closer to shoulder season you visit, the quiet the park will be

  • Island Explorer Bus: If you would prefer to not worry about parking, you can also take the Island Explorer Bus, which offers FREE rides from June through early October.
    • The bus offers several routes within and around Acadia National Park, connecting various popular destinations and trailheads. It serves areas such as Bar Harbor, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, the Visitor Center, and over to the Schoodic Peninsula. (Just note that it does NOT service Cadillac Mountain).
  • Click here for more information on the Island Explorer Shuttle and to see daily schedules

Accommodations: Bar Harbor sits right at the gates of the most popular areas of Acadia National Park and offers a variety of amazing hotels (and restaurants and shops) for your visit. Top places to stay when visiting Acadia include:

There are also several great camping options in and around Acadia National Park if you prefer a more rustic stay during your visit!

Best Things To Do With 1 Day in Acadia

A white sand beach with bright blue waters on the tree-lined coast of Acadia National Park

With only 1 day in Acadia National Park, you will want to see and do as much as you can!

These are the sights and stops that we think should be at the top of your list:

Stop by the Hulls Cove Visitor Center

The perfect first stop at any National Park is the Visitor Center. For the information and education, but also the souvenirs of course!

If you plan to stay overnight prior to your 1 day in the park, we recommend checking out the Visitor Center the night you arrive, which can help you plan your adventures the following day (as well as check for any closures in the park).

If you are taking a true day trip, this is an easy first stop for your visit as it sits along the one main road leading you into Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.

Drive the Scenic Park Loop Road

Park Loop Road winds its way out to the Otter Cliffs in the distance at Acadia National Park

No trip to Acadia National Park would be complete without a drive along the scenic winding stretches of 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:

  • Sand Beach
  • Thunder Hole
  • Otter Cliff
  • Jordan Pond
  • Bubble Rock
  • 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.

Hike Some Trails

A couple standing on rock during a hike with views of blue ocean and vast stretches of green trees in Acadia National Park

With over 150 miles of trails, Acadia National Park offers plenty of opportunities to escape into nature and enjoy the unique landscape.

With hikes ranging from short and easy to longer and more strenuous, you can easily find a hike that fits your needs and schedule.

We have hiked over 30 trails in Acadia National Park, check out our list of the best hikes in Acadia for more hiking inspiration!

See 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. 

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 (but we will show you how to incorporate this into your Acadia itinerary below)!

Explore Bar Harbor

A row of colorful buildings leading down to the waterfront in Bar Harbor Maine

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 laid-back walk mere minutes from the heart of Acadia National Park.

Catch a sunrise, a sunset, and the night sky

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

While Acadia National Park might be best known for its famous Cadillac Mountain sunrise, the sunsets and night sky in the park are truly just as special!

In our opinion, there is no better way to start and end your 1-day visit to Acadia than by starting with a sunrise and ending with a sunset and a star-filled sky.

On a clear night, you can even see the Milky Way here, in what is considered the largest tract of dark sky east of the Mississippi!

1 Day Acadia National Park Itinerary

You might be short on time, but luckily one day in Acadia National Park is enough time to see most of the popular destinations and attractions!

A perk of the quaint compactness of New England!

Use this 1 day Acadia National Park itinerary to make the most of your precious time exploring.

The map below provides a general route that you can follow to help guide you around Mt. Desert Island:


If you are up for an early start to the morning we highly recommend trying to reserve a permit to drive up to Cadillac Mountain Summit for sunrise.

Several months of the year this is the first sunrise in the U.S.

Sunrise permits are popular and can be tricky to get so if you can’t snag one for your visit, consider trying to get a daytime reservation and including Cadillac Mountain in your stops along Park Loop Road.

Cadillac Mountain Summit has some of the best views in all of Acadia National Park!


After (hopefully) catching a beautiful sunrise on the top of Cadillac Mountain, head back towards Bar Harbor to begin your drive along Park Loop Road.

The great thing about starting just after sunrise is that you will beat most of the crowds into the park and get to experience the sights of Park Loop Road in all of their morning glowy glory.

There are several stops along this scenic drive to enjoy (with plenty of picturesque photo opportunities), as well as several great hiking trails that can be done right along the route.

Our favorite easy Acadia hikes along Park Loop Road that won’t take too much time include the Jordon Pond West Side trail, South Bubble, and Jesup Path.

If you are up for a bigger adventure, consider braving the ladder rungs and exposed cliffs of the Beehive Trail for some stunning views of Sand Beach and Mt. Desert Island.

Mid Day:

By the middle of the time it’s time for a bite to eat!

Depending on how your morning has gone, we have two recommendations for lunch while exploring the park.

If you are still making your way around Park Loop Road and it’s not too busy, check out the Jordan Pond House restaurant (home of the infamous popovers). The shortest wait times for tables will be before 11:30, making this a great choice for an earlier lunch or “tea.”

If you have made your way around Park Loop Road or the wait time is too long at Jordan Pond House, we highly recommend enjoying a picnic on the Seawall.

This will be a great stop on the way to visit Bass Harbor Lighthouse. Grab lunch to go from nearby Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound and head to the beautiful Seawall for lunch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. You might even see some great wildlife and have a chance to do some tide-pooling here!


Whether you have lunch at the Jordan Pond House or near Southwest Harbor, the afternoon is a great time of day to visit Bass Harbor Head Light Station.

This being said, it can also be extremely busy as this is a popular spot for sunset.

The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse only has one small parking lot and it is common to wait in long lines to enter the lot (roadside parking is prohibited).

Ideally, showing up in the afternoon should allow you to experience Bass Harbor Lighthouse between the midday and sunset peak busy times.


Now that you have experienced a beautiful sunrise, seen the great stops along Park Loop Road, perhaps done a short hike or two, and visited Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, it is time to make your way back to Bar Harbor for a beautiful sunset over the water and a delicious meal.

Downtown Bar Harbor is another busy spot, but it is the perfect place to grab a meal after spending the day exploring. You can also see a great sunset here over the water!

Some great Bar Harbor Restaurants include:

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 $2 /hour to $4/hr with some spots having a 4-hour limit.

There is also some free parking along side streets that you can find if you are willing to walk a bit further.


After settling down for the evening, don’t forget to step outside and soak in the magic of the night sky up here in coastal Maine.

You could work your way back into the park for even darker skies, but chances are you will be able to see some pretty spectacular stars from wherever you are staying.


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

If you would prefer to camp, there are also great options for camping in Acadia National Park!

Acadia National Park Campgrounds:

Our top pick for a local private campground:

Have more time or looking for a more guided experience? Check out some local tours currently being offered in Acadia:

Check out these other Acadia National Park resources for more help planning your trip:

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