Acadia National Park and Mt. Desert Island

Roaring waves, jagged cliffs, insane sunsets. Amazing hiking, delicious food, gorgeous scenery. Welcome to Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park, jewel of Maine.

IMG_0893You’d be hard- pressed to find a more beautiful locale. While some national parks are impressive in size and scope, this park is both impressive and stunning. You could easily spend two weeks or more exploring the park and surrounding area.

The best way to experience this particular road trip is to take your time getting there andIMG_0112 to make sure you plan enough time to stay. We went across country from Michigan to Maine and took a scenic route across New Hampshire that was amazing! Kancamagus Highway between Lincoln and Conway is a must- see, must- experience route.  With waterfalls you can play in, you will be glad you planned the extra time.


As far as lodging is concerned, I would definitely recommend getting a vacation rental on the island. You’ll appreciate the quiet personal space at the end of a long day hiking. I suggest looking for one with a washer and dryer so you can do a load occasionally for convenience.  This will take some research and planning well ahead of your scheduled vacation time.  Do your due diligence and find the perfect place for you.  We rented a house back in the woods outside of Bar Harbor and we LOVED it!

It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to Acadia. There is so much to do and see and there is something for everyone, all ages and abilities. You may want to get your feet wet in the park by driving the Park Loop Road, 27 miles, in order to get your bearings.  It will give you the lay of the land and make finding your way to the different attractions easier later on.  Maps are available online and at the park itself.

There are several spots where you can take in the glorious views simply by driving in and parking. Cadillac Mountain is one such place. It’s the highest point in the park and you can drive all of the way to the top to take in the views, and the views are spectacular, some of the best in the park.

In the evenings, people drive up, claim a spot and sit for hours taking in the landscape and waiting for the sunset. We did and it was breathtaking. Keep in mind, because of the convenience and the insane beauty of it, Cadillac Mountain is probably the most popular stop in the park, expect crowds.

IMG_0307Jordan Pond is another popular destination that can be accessed easily by car but you can also make the hike out of it if you take the mildly strenuous trail around the perimeter.  While the elevation doesn’t change much on this hike, it was still one of my children’s favorites because of the wildlife you may encounter and boulder climbing you can do from the trail.

There are hiking trails all throughout the park and many of your destinations can be visited while also hiking and taking in the abundant scenery.  For instance, you’ll want to stop at Thunder Hole and experience the awesome power of the ocean and you can do so while hiking along the coast on a gorgeous marked trail.  Be aware that the stunning stunning beauty comes with the possibility of danger. IMG_0813 You are able, from many of the trails, to walk right out onto the cliffs and boulders along the ocean’s edge, giving unparalleled views and experience, but those with young ones will want to avoid these trails and EVERYONE should be cautious.  Accidents happen.  Be alert and play it safe, don’t take unnecessary risks.

Some other popular trails are the Shore Path, an easy trail along Frenchman Bay and  Great Head, along the coastline and featuring granite steps.  You may want to tell everyone that you climbed a mountain and you can if you take the Gorham Mountain trail, a moderate 4 mile hike up the mountain with stunning views from the top.  There are also many more for all of the varying abilities, check the website for details and lists.

If you take bikes, there is abundant opportunity for riding in the park too.  Just be aware that traffic is thick and there is limited visibility on the roads as they twist and turn around the mountains with very little shoulder.  You can use the carriage roads in the park, open only to hikers, bikers and carriage tours.  You can see a lot of the park this way.

Speaking of carriage tours, there are tours of several varieties to be had on Mt. Desert Island, in and outside of the park.  Besides the carriage tours, you can take guided tours in the park, different types of tours for different types of people.  There are walking tours of all sorts in the park and around the island, including in the town of Bar Harbor.  Bar Harbor tours include haunted tours as well as tours of historic homes.  A popular and economical “tour” is the audio tour of the park.

IMG_0572If you’re visiting the area in the heat of summer, try stopping at Sand Beach or the warmer waters of Echo Lake.  Even if it isn’t swimming weather, stop by and take in the views.  There are several places along the coast to just sit and relax and enjoy the breeze off of the water while listening to the crashing waves.  Take some time to enjoy these as well.

From the convenience of your vacation rental on Mt. Desert Island, you can visit Bar Harbor and the park very easily.  There is limited parking in the town of Bar Harbor, but pretty convenient parking all throughout the park.  Plan for time to find parking if you’re visiting Bar Harbor and it’s many shops and attractions.  From here you can hop on a boat and go for a tour of the harbor or a longer ride to attempt a whale watch.  I’m going to include a quick disclaimer here, if you get carsick easily or have ever had any sort of seasickness, don’t attempt a whale watch.  It will be a miserable 3 hours…

The town of Bar Harbor has a lot to offer, views of the harbor being only one.  There are unique and fun shops as well as access to the sand bar that appears between Bar Harbor and Bar Island at low tide.  Parking can be tricky but you don’t want to miss this.  You can explore the bay floor while the tide is out and see crabs, starfish, spitting clams and the biggest seagulls you’ve likely ever seen.  Get the tide schedule and pay attention to your time.  The tide comes back in rather quickly and you don’t want to be stranded.

There are a few tips for a smooth Acadia vacation.  First, buy your park pass online. Second, have some idea of how you want to plan your time and which activities top your list of must- do’s, time is precious and you don’t want to waste a minute.  Third, bring appropriate footwear, know what you’ll need to accomplish what you’ve decided on.  I would suggest all- terrain trail shoes at the very least. And, finally give yourself enough time. Once you get there, you’ll never want to leave!

Some added excursions you may want to consider might be a sea fishing trip or the Frenchman Bay Dive- In Theater.  You may even want to look into canoe and kayak adventures you can take.  There are also opportunities for rock climbing in the park if you are of the more adventurous type.

I want to take a quick sidebar here and suggest visiting Mt. Desert Island and Acadia just outside of their peak time.  The summer months get pretty crowded and the park therefore loses some of it’s luster.  As with anything, fighting crowds sort of spoils the experience a bit.  Being in the extreme northeast of the US and on the ocean, it stays cooler longer and gets colder sooner than some other coastal vacation spots, so peak season is smack in the middle of summer.  If you visit in early summer (technically spring), before the temperatures get very high, you can see everything as it looks in the summer but beat the larger crowds.  I personally prefer visiting the park before the temps get very warm anyway for the sake of comfort.  There is a lot of hiking, biking and climbing to be done and the lower temps make doing so much more comfortable and a light jacket or sweatshirt takes care of the cooler periods when you aren’t quite as active.

I cannot even begin to properly describe the food of the area.  If you love seafood, you’re IMG_0602in the right place.  Make it a point to go to one of the lobster pounds for dinner and pick out a lobster that was brought in from the ocean only hours ago, and enjoy the cheapest, largest meals of superior seafood that you’ve ever had.  Blueberries, pop- overs and lobster rolls are also popular eats of the region.  Even if you don’t enjoy seafood, there is plenty of amazing food for you to enjoy. Budget well for eating out, you’ll be glad you did!

I challenge you to enjoy all that our national parks have to offer.  Acadia isn’t to be missed.  Of all of our travels, our trip to Maine is the all- time favorite in our family.  Begin planning your adventure today, you won’t regret it!


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