Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along America’s Atlantic coastline. This 47,000-acre recreation area — primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island — features woodland, rocky beaches and glacier-scoured granite peaks such as Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the United States’ East Coast. Among the wildlife are moose, bear, whales and seabirds. The bayside town of Bar Harbor, with restaurants and shops, is a popular gateway. And each year, more than 3.5 million people explore seven peaks above 1,000 feet, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads with 16 stone bridges.
My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Acadia is great park the whole family can enjoy! I have explored most areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Acadia National Park!
Explore Mount Desert Island
The majority of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island. The island offers an endless array of activities for everyone including a visit to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff. Here, the mountains truly meet the sea and you can enjoy one of the most spectacular settings on the entire East Coast. With its beautiful coastal scenery, the island is a great location for hiking or ocean kayaking. Bar Harbor, the largest town on Mount Desert Island is often thought of as synonymous with the Park. But visitors can also stay in charming Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Otter Creek, Seal Harbor or Somesville.
Drive the Park Loop Road
The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the best way to navigate through Acadia National Park. The loop begins near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center on the north side of the island in Bar Harbor. It connects the park’s lakes, mountains, forests and rocky shores — making exploration easy. Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff and other popular sites and trails can be reached from the road. 20 miles of the Park Loop Road is one way. But there is a two way section that begins near Wildwood Stables — perfect for taking in the magnificent views.
Hike, Bike & Ride the Carriage Roads
This 57-mile long network of paved paths created and financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. provides hikers, bikers, inline skaters, horse riders, and horse-drawn carriages a unique way to visit Acadia National Park. Over the course of the 27-year project, Rockefeller designed the paths to highlight the best scenery in the park — circling around Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and Mount Desert Island. The Carriage Roads are off-limits to motor vehicles. During the winter months, some of these allow for cross-country skiing and limited snowmobiling.
Explore Jordan Pond
When you think of the most idyllic spot in Acadia National Park, Jordan Pond with its pristine calm waters surrounded by lush, majestic mountains in all directions usually comes to mind. The Jordan Pond Nature Trail — an easy stroll through the evergreens — and the Jordan Pond Shore Trail — a more difficult trek along the rocky coast — spill out to the picturesque and pleasant respite of Jordan Pond. Regardless of your route, at the end you’ll find crystal-clear waters that mirror the surrounding mountains. Swimming is not allowed, but non-motorized boats such as canoes and kayaks are permitted.
Hike Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain — at 1530 feet — is not only is it the tallest mountain in the park, but it’s the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard. It’s also the first point of the United States to greet the rising sun — a spectacular sight to see. Largely composed of pink granite, it’s covered with spruce and pitch pine forests, tiny sub alpine plants, short gnarled trees and wild blueberries. You can hike the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail or drive the narrow 3.5-mile access road. The only attraction that can be reached by car, Cadillac Mountain tends to draw large crowds. There are several observation areas along the way — perfect for taking in the views before you reach the top.
Enjoy Sand Beach
On the east side of Mount Desert Island, Sand Beach is nestled between two walls of solid pink granite and surrounded by towering evergreens. With 290 yards of shoreline, Sand Beach is the most popular beach in the park because the views are outstanding. And, you can hike up the Great Head Trail for an even better vantage point. The beach is largely comprised of sand and shell fragments created by the pounding surf. The waterline can vary quite a bit because of the difference between high and low tide.
Visit Otter Cliff
One of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard, Otter Cliff is a classic stop along the Park Look Road. The famous 110 foot high granite precipice is one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands. In the summer, you may see adventurous rock climbers working their way up the granite cliffs and whale pods spouting off shore. In the fall, large flocks of ducks congregate here in the waves before migrating south for the winter.
Experience Thunder Hole
Feel and hear the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores at this small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks. At the end of this inlet is a semi-submerged cave where the waves rush in and air and water is forced out like a clap of thunder. Water can spray as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! To catch the big boom, there’s an element of luck, as well as timing. The best time to visit is when the tides are changing. From here, you can also take in the views — Schoodic Peninsula in the distance, Sand Beach to your left and Otter Cliff to the east.
Ride at Wildwood Stables
Wildwood Stables provides a variety of daily horse-drawn carriage rides and tours from end of May through mid-October of each year. Tours follow the famous and scenic carriage roads that were originally constructed by John D. Rockefeller. Tour lengths include one and two hours with the option to charter a private carriage driven by a Wildwood Stables’ coachman. The stables are located next to the picturesque Park Loop Road on the southeastern side of Mount Desert Island.
Explore Schoodic Point
Located at the southern tip of Schoodic Peninsula in Winter Harbor, Schoodic Point is composed of a craggy shoreline, granite headlands and spruce-fir forests. It provides one of the best places to view the pounding surf during rough seas as well as great views of Cadillac Mountain. Schoodic Point isn’t as easily accessible as some of the park’s other major attractions. But that’s precisely why park visitors find this area so special. There are four hiking trails; the Schoodic Head Trail, Anvil Trail and East Trail lead hikers through spruce-fir forests to pine woodlands at the top of Schoodic Head. The less-strenuous Alder Trail guides visitors through a shrubland.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!