Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

An Adventurer’s Guide to Getting Around Acadia National Park 

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Carved by glaciers some 18,000 years ago, Acadia National Park is home to dense forests, boulder-strewn clifftops, and wave-pounded coastline. Hiking along the park’s 120 miles of scenic trails is Acadia’s biggest draw, but there are many other ways to experience the wonders of New England’s only national park. There’s also biking along forest-lined carriage roads, swimming in Echo Lake, and kayaking along the rocky shoreline out to tiny islands dotting Frenchman Bay.

Related Guides

The Lay of the Land

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Acadia National Park spreads across two-thirds of Mt Desert Island, a 108-square-mile island off the northern half of Maine’s coast (called “Down East” in these parts). Mt Desert Island also contains the town of Bar Harbor, which has hotels, restaurants, cafes, outdoor suppliers, and several worthwhile museums. Smaller towns like Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor provide a more low-key stay with fewer crowds.

Apart from Mt Desert Island, the national park also includes a section of the Schoodic Peninsula, about an hour’s drive east of Bar Harbor (or a 45-minute ferry ride operated by Downeast Windjammer). The Cranberry Isles are also part of the national park (accessible by ferry only from Southwest Harbor) as is the stunning Isle Au Haut, a remote island with limited ferry access from the town of Stonington, a 90-minute drive southwest of Bar Harbor.

How to Plan for A Trip

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Book lodging or campsites (and a rental car if you need one) well in advance. Bring appropriate gear — expect rain and cool temperatures even in the heat of the summer. Apart from this, Acadia is a pretty easy place to explore without much preparation. All of the trails are for day use only, and most are well-marked (though it’s wise to pick up a good map before heading into the forest). Entrance passes, valid for one week, are required from May through October. You can pick these up at any visitor center, or save time by purchasing one online and printing it out before you arrive.

Best Time to Visit

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The national park is open year-round, though many park roads close from December to mid-April. The majority of visitors come during the busy summer season, which runs from June through August. There are definitely advantages to visiting during the summer — taking a refreshing swim in the (still chilly) waters off Sand Beach, for instance. However, you’ll have to plan your days carefully to avoid the worst of the crowds. Hit the most popular trails, like the route up Mt Cadillac, early in the day (like dawn), and reserve your accommodation as early as possible.

September and early October are excellent months to visit. The heavy summer crowds have gone home, the cooler early autumn weather is ideal for outdoor activities, and you can catch some fiery fall colors along the trails. Things start to wind down by mid-October, with campgrounds and visitor centers closing for the season, and many (but not all) services in Bar Harbor closing until spring.

Where to Stay

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The National Park Service maintains two large developed campgrounds with around 500 tent sites between them on Mt Desert Island, as well as one campground in the Schoodic Peninsula and a very tiny outpost on Isle Au Haut. All of the campgrounds are densely wooded but only a few minutes’ walk from the ocean. Reserve ahead through

If you prefer not to rough it, there are loads of appealing options in Bar Harbor and the other towns of Mt Desert Island. One of the best B&B options, the Bass Cottage Inn, has elegant sun-drenched rooms set in a 19th-century building just a short walk from the center of Bar Harbor. The stylish Bayview Hotel has top-notch service and amenities, plus an unrivaled location overlooking the Mt Desert Narrows. Over in Southwest Harbor, the historic

Claremont Hotel

 boasts attractive, recently renovated rooms and waterfront views from the wraparound porch.

Getting There

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cape Air flies daily between Boston Logan and Bar Harbor Airport (BHB), which is actually in Trenton, but still less than a 30-minute drive to the heart of the national park. Other options are flying or taking a train to Boston or Portland, then hopping onto the Concord Coach from there to Bar Harbor. From Bar Harbor, you can drive, bike, or bus into the park, along the Park Loop Road, a scenic 27-mile road (one way in parts) that takes you to many of the highlights on the east side of the island.

Getting Around

Image used with permission by copyright holder

During the busy summer season, it can be bumper-to-bumper traffic all along Park Loop Road. Finding a parking space can feel like a lost cause, especially if you’re just getting underway between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. You can cut down on the stress by hopping on one of the free Island Explorer buses that provide service on seven routes through the park and link key sights with hotels in Bar Harbor.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Acadia’s diverse hiking trails take in clifftops, craggy coastline, and lush valleys. You’ll find plenty of variety in difficulty, from flat, easy-going walks like the loop around Jordan Pond (best followed with tea and popovers on the lawn of the Jordan Pond House) to the thrilling vertical ascent via iron rungs and narrow cliffs of the aptly named Precipice Trail. The highest point in the park is 1,530-foot-high Cadillac Mountain, which some claim is the best place to be at sunrise. Various trails lead up to the top; our favorite is the 7-mile roundtrip ascent on the South Ridge Trail. Along the way, you’ll enjoy spectacular views over island-dotted Frenchman Bay. There’s also a road to the top.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

In the first half of the 20th century, philanthropist and noted equestrian John D Rockefeller donated funds for the creation of 45 miles of carriage roads. Made of crushed stone and crisscrossing the island’s forests, these idyllic car-free lanes make the perfect setting for a bike ride. Pick up a map of the Carriage Roads from a visitor center (Hulls Cove, which has carriage lanes right outside is a good bet). Various outfitters in Bar Harbor hire bikes for the day, including Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop.

Island Attractions

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Even if you have little interest in Acadia’s trails, there are plenty of other ways to spend a few days on Mt Desert Island. Various gardens dot the park, including the stunning Thuya Garden with its massive dahlias. If the weather turns sour, you can retreat to the Abbe Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate that delves into the history, traditions, and beliefs of the Wabanaki. Known as “the people of the dawn,” they have inhabited this region for thousands of years.

You can visit two of the Cranberry Isles on a pleasant day trip, perhaps timing your visit with a meal at the Islesford Dock Restaurant, serving outstanding seafood right over the water (reservations essential). Speaking of dining, you can’t leave Mt Desert Island without partaking in at least one lobster feast. Thurston’s Lobster Pound, on the quieter side of the island near Tremont, is a perennial favorite for its delectable crustaceans. On the way there, you can stop for a look at the 1858 Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, overlooking one of Maine’s most photogenic seascapes.

Regis St. Louis
Regis St. Louis is an author and freelance journalist who covered travel, world culture, food and drink, and sustainable…
In Yellowstone National Park, one woman was sent running after yet another too-close encounter with a bison
Here's why you should NEVER get in front of a wild bison, kids
Close-up of large black bison starting at camera from a grassy field

In the past few years, tourists have started visiting the best U.S. National Parks in record numbers. More people means more animal encounters — specifically wild animal encounters. It should go without saying that wild animals are, well, wild. That means they can be unpredictable, aggressive, and even dangerous when they feel threatened. Can you blame them? But that hasn't stopped some people from putting their safety, even their lives, at risk just to snag "the perfect selfie." Case in point: Yet another tourist who couldn't resist getting an all-too-close "ussie" with a wild bison, and nearly found herself the victim of another Yellowstone National Park bison attack.

Instagram user yesitisjen captured this brief video snippet of the encounter:

Read more
To avoid a bear attack, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed a road
Hungry bears get hangry, too
Black bears looking for food


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a haven for both nature enthusiasts and wildlife. However, coexisting with the park's wildlife has its responsibilities, especially when it comes to respecting and protecting its resident black bear population. A recent incident involving a bear encounter has prompted park officials to take a proactive step toward ensuring the safety of both visitors and these magnificent creatures.
Why Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed a road
On a seemingly ordinary day in the Cades Cove area, a visitor had an unexpected and heart-pounding encounter with one of the park's iconic residents — a black bear. While the visitor remained unharmed, the incident shed light on a concerning issue that has been gradually developing: bears becoming habituated to human presence and vehicles.

Read more
Getting a backcountry permit for Grand Canyon National Park just got a whole lot easier
Forget the month-long wait. Grand Canyon's permitting system is finally stepping into the 21st century.
Man running through the desert landscape of The Grand Canyon.

After a few long, weird years of the pandemic, many of us were looking for any excuse to get outside. It’s no surprise then that everything outdoors-related — RV’ing, camping, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking — exploded in popularity. So, too, did our national parks, and that’s made visiting the most popular ones more difficult than ever. Thankfully, some of the best National Parks have been marching into the 21st century with modern reservation systems to streamline the process for visitors. Grand Canyon National Park is the latest to upgrade its process by allowing most backcountry campers to pay for and reserve their spots completely online.

Beginning with all calendar year 2024 and later dates, the National Park Service is moving its Grand Canyon backcountry permits to According to the official press release:
Backcountry use areas available online will include above rim areas, popular campgrounds along the main inner canyon trails of the Bright Angel and North Kaibab, and for the fall, winter and spring months, all areas between the Hermit Trail and the Grandview Trail off the South Rim, and the Clear Creek trail accessed from the North Kaibab trail. Remaining use areas and dates will be requested by working directly with staff at the Backcountry Information Center.
The application window for 2024 dates won’t change from the current setup, meaning applicants must apply approximately four months in advance of their desired reservation. Applicants will be able to apply via an early online lottery system held over a two-week period ending on the first of the month that matches the existing deadline. So, for example, applicants will need to apply by January 1, 2024, for all May 2024 reservations; by February 1, 2024, for June reservations, and so on.

Read more