With summer gone, it’s time for the most beautiful season of the year, Fall. And there’s no better way to enjoy fall than a trip to hands-down the most captivating national park on the East Coast, Acadia National Park.
The majority of the park lies on the Mount Desert Island with a few parts of the park on a few nearby islands. Including travel time, I recommend about 4 days for a trip to Acadia, but if you’re short on time, you can skip the activities of the last day in this itinerary.
#TravelSmart Itinerary at a Glance
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Breakfast at Cafe This Way
- Sieur de Monts Nature Center, Wild Gardens of Acadia, Jesup Trail
- Carriage Roads
- Lunch at Jordan Pond House
- Penobscot Mountain
- Dinner at Jalapenos Grill
- Day 3
- Day 4
- Bonus #TravelSmart Tips
If you’re driving to the Acadia National Park, feel free to jump to the next section. For those planning to take a flight, keep reading.
Hancock County Airport in Trenton is only 10 miles away from Acadia National Park. However, not many airlines operate here, which means you may have to switch planes as well as spend more on the ticket.
I suggest that you instead fly to Boston Logan International Airport and drive to Acadia. Several carriers such as United, Southwest, and Delta service at this airport. If you’re looking for more budget flights, there’s Spirit and JetBlue.
The drive from BOS to Acadia is about 5 hours long. If you are open to spending extra on the ticket to drive less, try the Portland Jetport. Depending on your departure, you’ll be able to discover direct non-stop flights to this airport and cut the drive time by 2 hours.
If you’re planning to rent a car upon your arrival, do check out these 12 ways to rent cars the smart way.
The nearest major town (also touristy) to Acadia is Bar Harbor. There are comfortable inns, hotels, and Airbnbs throughout the area. If you are out of options, the town of Mount Desert is the next best option.
This blog on Finding the Right Airbnb will help you discover and reserve the best options in the area.
Folks that are local to the New England area should definitely plan to camp. The two most easily accessible and hence popular campgrounds in Acadia are Blackwoods and Seawall.
Although Blackwoods is open year-round and has 306 campsites, they sell out quickly, especially on weekends and during peak season (May-October). It costs $30 per site during peak season and $15 in April and November. Click here to make your reservation.
Seawall costs $30 for each site and is open only during the peak season. Reservations can be made on this website.
Sunset at Bass Harbor Lighthouse
The flight, drive, pit stops, meals, and check-in will probably take up most of your daytime on Day 1. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until the next day. Head over to the Bass Harbor Lighthouse to begin your Acadian experience.
This 160-year-old building attracts at least 180000 photographers, history lovers, and sightseers every year. Perched on the rocky shoreline, the lighthouse forms a spectacular vista, especially at sunset.
While entry is not permitted inside of the lighthouse, a staircase left of the structure will take you to the rocks from where you can enjoy the splendid panorama.
Reach at least an hour before the sunset to avoid missing one of the 27 parking spots.
Dinner at Thurston’s Lobster Pound
Overlooking Bass Harbor is a restaurant known for its local seafood and ambiance. Thurston’s Lobster Pound is part of a family business that dates back five generations.
The fresh lobsters at the checkout station are not inexpensive, but that’s for any other seafood restaurant in the vicinity.
Breakfast at Cafe This Way
Be prepared to wait if you wake up late. The fairly-priced mouth-watering combos of Cafe This Way appeals to a majority of the visitors in Bar Harbor.
Reach at least 20 minutes before the cafe opens to give yourself enough time to park your car on the street and join the line.
Sieur de Monts Nature Center, Wild Gardens of Acadia, Jesup Trail
The Nature Center is a great start to see some informative displays and ask questions to the rangers while skipping the crowds at the other larger visitor centers throughout the park.
The nearby Wild Gardens feature over 300 native plant species, each one of them labeled for the plant lovers to identify.
The highlight of this area is the Jesup Trail, part of which is on a boardwalk with blooming wildflowers and trees around it. It leads to a meadow with open sights of greenery or autumn colors, depending on the season. This short hike is intended to warm you up for the rest of your day.
Next, you might be tempted to drive the Park Loop Road, but keep that for the next day.
One of the ways to truly experience the interior of the park is by hiking or biking the Carriage Roads. These 45 miles of rustic paths are entirely inaccessible to motorized vehicles.
Along your bike or hike route, check out a few of the 16 stone bridges under which will be waiving streams, cascades, roads and cliffs that will please your eyes.
Check out this carriage roads map and follow the mentioned rules while biking. If you’re all about stone bridges, you should bike just south of the Jordan Pond area where you’ll locate most of the bridges as shown on that map. If you want a loop trail, start and end below the Eagle Bridge, looping the Eagle Lake.
To ride on the carriage roads, bikes can be rented from Acadia Bike or Bar Harbor Bike in Bar Harbor. If you ask, the staff will help you with recommendations on the best trails depending on your preferences.
Pick up a bike right after breakfast before entering the park, especially during peak seasons and weekends.
Lunch at Jordan Pond House
Being the only restaurant in the park, this place sees a wave of visitors at lunchtime all wanting to satiate their hunger. And indeed they do because the served food is yummylicious.
The cherry on the cake is the peaceful sight of the Jordan pond and Bubble mountains (just ask them for a table with a view). Don’t forget to try the soft popovers, a century-long Acadian tradition.
If there is a long wait for the restaurant seating, you can grab to-go items from the store at the second level, sit outside on the open terrace or the green grass and still enjoy the scene.
Now that you’ve seen the Jordan Pond from the ground how about a picture from the top?
Penobscot mountain offers mind-blowing stretches of not only the Pond but also the Atlantic Ocean with a few dispersed tiny islands. To reach the top, begin at the Penobscot Mountain trail from the Jordan Pond House.
To come down, take the Jordan Cliffs trail and then the Deer Brook trail ending the rocky descent at the Jordan Pond. Semi-circle around the Pond to return to the start. The entire hike should sum up to 3-4 hours. Time yourself well to avoid hiking in the dark.
Dinner at Jalapenos Grill
Last night’s dinner at Thurston’s may have been a splurge for some of you. So how about a satisfying and well-priced post-hike meal?
Jalapeno’s in Bar Harbor is a great choice. On your way out, don’t forget to look at the adorned Ivy Manor Inn across the street.
Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast of the USA providing terrific 360-degree prospects from its summit.
Wake up early and drive up to the peak at least an hour before the sunrise to truly enjoy the phenomenon. Latecomers may have to park their cars on the curbside.
You can pack a breakfast to savor with the view or drive down to Bar Harbor to fuel yourself up after the sunrise.
Check the weather the night before. Ideally, you want to be here with minimal clouds but don’t be disappointed if it turns out to be cloudy. Being engulfed in clouds (or fog) at 1530 feet is a breathtaking experience too.
Precipice Trail to Champlain Mountain
This via-ferrata style trail could be one of the most thrilling experiences of your lifetime. It’s more of a climb than a hike and adventurers love that. If you sign up for this, expect yourself to be on all fours most of the time.
Climbing through iron rungs and ladders, scrambling over and under big boulders, taking the support of handrails and facing open cliffs, you’ll reach the summit of Champlain Mountain covering an 800 feet elevation. The outlook is as rewarding as the hike to get there.
Although you cannot use the same route to descend, there are a few other routes for you to pick depending on your post-hike trauma or fatigue.
Take the Orange and Black Path to continue hiking on a similar rocky path like the one you faced at the beginning. If you can’t take that anymore, get down to the road and walk towards the parking lot.
Start climbing as early as you can to avoid the crowds. Pack super light and carry enough water and a snack. If you’re afraid of heights, do yourself and your group a favor and don’t attempt this one. For those looking for something less demanding should go for the Beehive trail.
Park Loop Road
Drive this 27 miles loop to see most of the easily accessible highlights of the park. Most of the road is one way and requires a fee. In less than a mile away from the Precipice trailhead, you’ll stop at a toll booth to pay the entrance fee.
- The fee costs $30 and is valid for 7 days.
- Planning to travel to Acadia more often? Buy the $55 annual pass for Acadia.
- Planning to travel to more national parks in the coming year? Purchase the $80 interagency pass to save on all your visits overall.
- Passes can be purchased at the following locations in the park:
- Hulls Cove Visitor Center
- Sand Beach Entrance Station
- Bar Harbor Village Green
- Blackwoods Campground
- Schoodic Woods Campground
- Seawall Campground
- The toll booth, as well as the parking lots at all the major attractions along the way, may get congested during holiday weekends.
In case you forgot, Acadia is on the coast, which means there should be a beach closeby. The Sand Beach inside the Newport Cove forms an incredible vista for the eyes.
On hot days, it is a perfect place to cool off and have your packed lunch. This is also the beginning of the Ocean Trail through which you can walk to the next few scenic stops.
If you wish to walk, be mindful that you’ll have to come back to your car and drive through the same stops since it’s a one-way loop.
I can only wish you good luck to be at this natural attraction on the right day at the right hour. If you are, you’ll understand the sheer power of the ocean.
Thunder hole is known for waves that crash into a small cave and splash up to 40 feet in height. The phenomenon creates roaring sounds and hence the name, Thunder Hole.
If the weather and sea conditions are too severe, you may not be allowed to even stand on the observation pedestal at a farther distance, let alone the railing right beside the hole.
A short walk from a tiny parking space on the right side of the road is required to arrive at the cliff. You’ll encounter a striking scene with the open blue ocean on the right and the Newport Cove and Sand Beach on the left.
Otter Cliff also marks the end of the Ocean Trail that I mentioned earlier. If you took the trail to reach here, you might see a section of the rocks where a few adventurers maybe rock climbing.
Side Street Cafe
A long exhausting day, ha? Then, you definitely need some lip-smacking and gut satisfying dinner. Head to Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor to savor the scrumptious food and enjoy the hip ambiance.
The town of Bar Harbor
Spend the morning of your last day exploring Bar Harbor. Take a walk on the Main street with some occasional wandering into the side streets, and you’ll spot local eateries, souvenir stores, ice cream shops, art galleries, museums, and much more.
This small town has a variety of activities to choose from, all of which are listed on this website. Whale watching, seaplane rides, kayaking trips, cultural tours; this little town has got it all.
Occasionally at the main harbor, you may spot a majestic cruise drop or board their patrons which determines how crowded the town will be on that day.
After visiting the commercialized yet charming town of Bar Harbor, how about seeing a sparsely populated part of Acadia with equally, if not more, picturesque nature trails and landscapes?
About 40 miles away from the park, the Schoodic Peninsula is the only part of Acadia that is in the mainland. If you have an extra day, consider camping at the Schoodic Woods Campgrounds for an ultimate close-to-nature experience.
For those just visiting, drive around the quiet Schoodic Loop road and stop at the following points to soak in this peninsula’s beauty.
Pick some lunch on your way to the Schoodic Peninsula and have it at the Frazer Point. You can picnic at this first stop along the loop road or simply enjoy the calmness of the surrounding harbor.
Next stop is the highest point of the peninsula (only 440 feet though) from where you can see the forests and lands of the peninsula as well as the surrounding islands.
Schoodic Head can be reached via a short hike through some rocky granites. There are several trails around this area if you’ve got more time to explore.
This is the perfect spot to end your Acadia trip. You’ll have the sight of the Cadillac Mountain and the Bar Harbor shore to yourself.
The unique thing about this place is the collection of massive chunks of dark basalt. It is a volcanic rock that forms the coastline of the southern tip of this peninsula.
Leave enough room in your schedule to arrive at the Boston airport for your return flight, in case you’re flying back. The road from Acadia to I-95 (a major highway on the East Coast) is single-laned in each direction and can be heavily trafficked at the end of long weekends.
Bonus #TravelSmart Tips
Park at Hulls Cove Visitor Center and ride the shuttle
Hulls Cove is the most visited and easily accessible visitor center of the park.
If you don’t want to drive around the park, you can leave your car in the large parking lot at this visitor center and board on an island shuttle that stops at several points of the park.
To cover the park entirely, you’ll have to hop on to the shuttles of other routes from the common junctions. Click here to obtain more information about the shuttle.
Route 4 of the shuttle service covers the Park Loop road, the most heavily trafficked road in Acadia. Click here to see the schedule.
Note that the shuttle only operates between June and October.
I assure you that you’ll be weak-kneed at the end of this extra-long weekend trip, probably the kind in which you’re tired but unquestionably the type in which you’re left in awe of what you just experienced.
Be it spring, summer, or fall, this small national park has so much to offer. Share your comments to let us know about your Acadian experience. Happy Exploring!