Visiting Acadia National Park

Mary Gormandy White
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Acadia National Park

As Maine's only national park, Acadia provides visitors with an opportunity to enjoy the unique beauty of "the state's quintessential natural features." From its rocky shoreline and variable terrain to its diverse wildlife ranging from salamanders to whales, this park is the perfect place to explore the majesty of the northeastern United States.

When to Visit the Park

At least some parts of Acadia National Park are open all year round, though many areas are closed during the winter. Choosing the best season for your visit depends on your interests and activity preferences.

Spring

The temperatures are pleasant during the spring months of April to June, and the local hotels that close for the winter start to open in April. However, it tends to be pretty muddy in early spring (April and May) due to melting ice and snow. In mid-May, there are quite a few bugs that bite around, and these tend to stay active until mid-June. On a positive note, the park isn't typically too crowded this time of year.

Summer

Summer is when the majority of the park's more than 2.8 million annual visitors are on site, so it gets extremely crowded this time of year. Peak season crowds start to kick into high gear around Independence Day in July, and August is the busiest time at the park. The park gets so crowded during the summer that officials are considering implementing a reservation system to manage the flow of visitors.

Fall

According to U.S. News & World Report, September through early October is the ideal time to visit Acadia National Park. That's because the weather is still pleasant in advance of winter, but the hectic months of tourist season are over. This is also when the leaves begin to turn for fall foliage, according to Weather.com, though peak leafing time is usually mid-October in this area.

Winter

It gets extremely cold in Maine during the winter, but the park does not entirely close and a limited number of local restaurants and hotels stay open all year as well. If you don't like crowds and you enjoy cross-country skiing or other winter sports, you may enjoy visiting the park from November through March.

Activities to Enjoy at Acadia

There are plenty of activities to enjoy at Acadia National Park.

Trails

With more than 120 miles of trails, there are numerous opportunities for visitors to explore the park on foot. As with most parks, there are relatively short and mild hikes appropriate for casual hikers and families with kids, as well as longer, more strenuous options for experienced hikers looking for full-day (or longer) hikes.

Acadia National Park also has a special breed of super-strenuous trails referred to as "iron rung routes" that require hikers to "negotiate the steep mountain cliff contours with the aid of iron rungs, ladders, and handholds." They are difficult to navigate and definitely are not novices or the faint of heart - but they do provide access to what DownEast.com refers to as "terrific views."

Climbing

If you're looking for even more excitement than the iron rung trails, you may enjoy rock climbing in the park. According to RockClimbing.com, Acadia is known for "spectacular climbing on dramatic sea cliffs." Mojagear.com indicates that July through September has the best climbing weather in the park.

A wide variety of options are available, from bouldering to roping to sport climbing. Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School offers instruction and outings for climbers at all levels, including family and group outings.

Horseback Riding

There are also opportunities to explore the park by horseback. USAToday TravelTips indicates that the park has about 45 miles of "carriage roads" designated for horse-drawn carriages and horseback riding, as well as additional unpaved roads and trails that can be used for this purpose. During times that other roads are closed to vehicles, horseback riders can also use them. Horses are not allowed on trails designated for hiking.

  • Wildwood Stables provides carriage rides in the park and stall rentals for private horses.
  • Carousel Horse Farm provides guided trail rides in the park and surrounding areas.

Bicycling

Cycling is a popular activity here. While bicycles are not allowed on the park's hiking trails, they are permissible (encouraged, even) on the park's regular roads and carriage roads. Bicycling.com ranks cycling along carriage road in Acadia as one of "the 13 best rides in national parks." There are local bicycle shops where you can rent a bicycle if you don't want to transport your own to the park.

Birdwatching

Acadia National Park is recognized among the most "premier bird-watching areas" in the United States. The National Park Service indicates that 338 species of birds have been sighted in the park, including 23 different warbler species as well as peregrine falcons and bald eagles. There are prime birdwatching spots throughout the park, from forest trails to cliff sides to the shoreline.

According to OurAcadia.com, locals "extol" the pleasure of bird watching in the park during May, while the temperatures are still cool and before the summer tourist season ramps up. The Acadia Birding Festival is held on Mount Desert Island in the park each June.

Beachgoing

This park has two beach areas: Sand Beach and Echo Lake Beach. Both are located on Mount Desert Island and have lifeguards on staff during the summer.

  • Sand Beach offers ocean swimming in salt water and is the cooler of the two areas with an average water temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The beach's sand is made of shell fragments. It is situated between walls of granite and evergreen.
  • Echo Lake Beach offers freshwater inland lake swimming in somewhat warmer water. It is located beside Beech Mountain, providing for spectacular views. It tends to be less crowded and is a favorite among locals.

There is another beach area on Mount Desert Island (Seal Harbor). It is a public beach situated is outside of the national park's boundaries.

Boating/Fishing

There are several lakes and ponds within the park's Mount Desert Island where visitors can enjoy boating and/or fishing. Watercraft restrictions vary by body of water. Some areas are open only to non-motorized vessels, others have horsepower restrictions for motors and some are closed to personal watercraft. Visitors should also be aware that some island areas are restricted when seabirds or eagles are nesting.

A number of local companies offer boat rentals and water tours in and around the park. Options include canoe and kayak rentals, sea kayak tours, wildlife cruises, seal watching, lobster fishing, charter tours and more.

Scenic Drive

The 27-mile Park Loop Road is a highlight of any trip to Acadia National Park. You can drive the full stretch of road from April 15 to November, though some sections are open all year. Even though the drive itself is relatively short, it's a good idea to set aside at least half a day so you can enjoy all the sights along the way. National Parks Traveler actually recommends dedicating a full day to this drive, complete with packing a lunch to enjoy along the way. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, you can ride the loop on the free Island Explorer bus between late June and early October.

Winter Sports

According to New England Today, winter is definitely not the park's most popular time with tourists (as less than one percent of the park's annual visitors go this time of year), but that doesn't mean it's abandoned. Instead, the publication states, "it is then that the locals return to claim their prized park." It's also a wonderful time for tourists who enjoy winter sports to go.

There are plenty of activities to enjoy at Acadia in the winter, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, skijoring and more. Volunteers of the Acadia Winter Trails Association help to provide trail grooming to ensure that winter sports enthusiasts can make the most of the park's "spectacular scenery" during the winter.

Park Fees

Visitors entering the park between May and October must pay entrance fees, which provide park access for seven days. There is no cost to enter at other times of the year.

  • Vehicle pass: If you arrive in a private vehicle, you must purchase a vehicle pass for $25, which covers admission for all passengers.
  • Motorcycle pass: If you visit the park by motorcycle, you will need to buy a $20 motorcycle pass. This covers admission for up to two passengers.
  • Pedestrian/bicycle: For visitors who arrive on foot or by bicycle, admission is $12 per person.

If you will visit the park often, you may want to invest in a $50 annual pass, which covers the person who has the pass and others who arrive in the same private vehicle. For those who plan to explore multiple national parks within a single year, an interagency pass may provide even greater value.

Camping

Fees for the various campgrounds in the park range from $15 to $40 per night, depending on site type and season. Reservations are highly recommended as these campgrounds book up far in advance.

  • Blackwoods Campground: This campground is open all year (if weather permits), though only primitive, hike-in camping is available during the winter.
  • Seawall Campground: This location is open from mid-May through early September and has both walk-in and drive-in sites. Some RV spots are available.
  • Schoodic Woods Campground: This campground opens toward the end of May and closes just after Columbus Day in October. It also has hike-in and drive-up sites, with some that can accommodate RVs.
  • Duck Harbor Campground: This is a remote, primitive island campground that cannot be accessed by vehicle. There are a total of five campsites. They are open May 15 to October 15 and must be reserved in advance.

There are also a number of private campgrounds and RV resorts in Bar Harbor, which is conveniently located near the park.

Other Accommodations

There are no hotel rooms or cabins inside Acadia National Park. However, there are a number of accommodation options in the area. According to Travelocity and Hotels.com, you can expect rates to range from as low as $60 per night to well over $200, depending on season and property selected. Reservations are highly encouraged.

A Vacation to Remember

With so much to see and do, it's not surprising that Acadia is one of the ten most visited national parks. No matter when you visit the park or what activities you enjoy while you are there, you are sure to have a wonderful time and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Visiting Acadia National Park