While visiting Acadia National Park requires committing to a 2-hour drive up and back from our bed and breakfast in Rockland Maine, it’s doable and well worth the effort. It is one of the top 10 national parks in the U.S. Acadia is also among the smallest and one of the most popular. For that reason, visiting the park in season can be challenging and it helps to know the lay of the land before planning a trip there. That’s why we like to guide our guests to the 11 best things to do in Acadia National Park before they venture off on their journey.
1. Stop at the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center
Head to Hull’s Cove Visitor Center, the main information center for the park, to pick up your entrance pass ($30 per vehicle, good for 7 days) and a map of the park and its attractions. Park rangers and large, digital information screens, provide an overview of the park’s history and diverse ecology. A park store and public restrooms serve visitors who stop in to plan their visit. Here you can also pick up the Island Explorer if you choose not to drive the Park Loop Road on your own.
2. Drive the Scenic Park Loop Road
On the east side of Mount Desert Island, the Park Loop Road winds through the park connecting the most popular points of interest. This well-loved scenic route loops around Acadia’s mountains, lakes, and shoreline via a 27-mile paved route. This allows access to such scenic points as Sand Beach, Otter Point, and Jordan Pond.
3. Ride the Island Explorer
The complementary Island Explorer bus operates from late June through mid-October offering visitors an alternative to driving the Park Loop Road when the park is operating at peak capacity. Stopping at all the major points of interest, taking the bus provides easy access to all the major points of interest, as well as providing transportation to the many trailheads and carriage roads for hikers and bikers.
4. Visit Thunder Hole
One of the marvels of Acadia National Park, Thunder Hole attracts a crowd, especially when a storm or changing tide forces water into the narrow granite channel. The resulting eruption of water indeed creates thunder along with wave sprays that can reach 40 feet. The best time to catch this wondrous site is 1-2 hours before high tide, but it’s popular with visitors at almost any time of day.
5. Climb Cadillac Mountain
The busiest times to visit Cadillac Mountain are sunrise and sunset. Its popularity is well-deserved due to the amazing view from the summit. But the spot draws crowds throughout the day as well and parking at the top can be difficult. Be aware that vehicle reservations to drive to the summit are required ($6 per vehicle) from late May through mid-October. Reserve your time 2 days in advance by visiting the dedicated website for reservations. Or simply take advantage of the Island Explorer, which stops here on its daily rounds.
6. Travel on the Rocky Carriage Roads
While you cannot drive the Carriage Roads of Acadia, other modes of transportation are welcome. This network of 45 miles of broken rock roads was a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr., a philanthropist and skilled horseman. He wanted to travel through the park by horse and carriage without worrying about encountering autos. Today the roads are traveled on foot and horseback and are well-loved by cyclists. And for a fee, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage for a trip through these scenic routes by contacting Wildwood Stables.
7. Take a Stroll on Sand Beach
The only ocean sandy beach in the park, Sand Beach attracts its share of visitors who simply want to stroll along the shore seeking seashells and sea glass. With average water temperatures ranging from 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, few actually spend much time in the ocean. Nestled between the mountains and rocky shores, the beach itself is more of a compilation of sand and seashell fragments.
8. Trek the Ocean Path
The trailhead for Ocean Path begins at the far end of the parking lot at Sand Beach. This popular 2.2-mile trail leads from the beach along granite cliffs to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs. Offering breathtaking views of the ocean, be aware that much of the path can be rocky with uneven surfaces making sturdy footwear a must for this trek.
9. Bravely Climb Otter Cliff
One of the few places anywhere in the world where you can rock climb above the ocean, Otter Cliff remains one of the most sought-after spots in Acadia. This iconic 110-foot pink granite cliff lures visitors to its stunning precipice from all over. Many an ankle has been twisted here, scrambling over the slippery rocks, so keep a watchful eye over young children.
10. Take the Beehive Loop Challenge (if you dare)
One of Acadia’s famous rung and ladder trails, Beehive Loop is not for the faint of heart. Along its 1.4-mile loop, you’ll encounter iron rungs and steep granite staircases to assist your ascent. But for those who dare, the reward is the stunning views of Sand Beach and Thunder Hole from the 450-foot summit. Do not attempt this trail if the weather doesn’t cooperate, as wet granite can be very treacherous.
11. Have Tea at the Jordan Pond House
The Jordan Pond House sits on a hill overlooking the spectacular Jordan Pond. The Jordan Pond House is an absolute must-do when visiting Acadia National Park. It is famous for serving ginormous popovers and tea on the sprawling lawn that tumbles to the pond. Make reservations in advance if you don’t want a long wait. Its busiest times is between 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM.
We encourage you to take a day trip to visit one of the country’s most beautiful national parks while you’re visiting our inn in Rockland. While this is only the tip of the iceberg, we wholeheartedly believe that these are the 11 best things to do in Acadia National Park. Whether you drive through the park on your own or take advantage of the Island Explorer, the beauty that awaits you in Acadia will absolutely amaze you.
Published: September 2022