Your trip to Acadia National Park is sure to be an activity-filled adventure. However, with so many different things to do in the park, it can be hard to decide how to spend your time.
To help you make the most of your upcoming trip, here are the best things to do in Acadia National Park.
Best activities for summer
Take a boat tour
Acadia is a coastal park, so the ocean dominates much of the scenery in the area. There’s no better way to experience the true beauty of this park than on the water, especially if you’re keen to see some whales, seals, and seabirds along the way.
In Bar Harbor and some of the neighboring towns, there are plenty of great whale watching and sightseeing boat tours to choose from in the summer months. Some also offer the opportunity to visit remote lighthouses and islands that are otherwise inaccessible to visitors.
Visit Isle au Haut
Isle au Haut is a remote island located in the southwest of Acadia National Park. The island is only accessible via a small mailboat, which departs from the nearby town of Stonington a few times a day.
While the boat operates all year round, the park trails and the Duck Harbor Campground are only open in the summer and fall. In particular, summer is a great time to head over to this unique island for a day hike or to spend the night in Acadia’s smallest campground.
Hike the iron rung trails
All of Acadia’s hikes are incredibly popular, but the iron rung trails are a must-do for any summertime adventure. These hikes, which include the Beehive Trail, the Precipice Trail, and the Beech Cliff Trail, all feature plenty of scrambling and excellent views, as well as some exposed sections where you have to climb up iron rungs (hence the name).
While these hikes aren’t ideal for young children, they’re an excellent way to have a bit of an adventure and a workout in Acadia during the summer months.
Read More : What Should I Bring for A Day Hike?
Best activities for fall
Fall in Acadia National Park is all about the foliage. By mid-October, the entire park transforms into a sea of stunning autumn colors that shouldn’t be missed.
There’s no best way, per se, to go leaf-peeping in the park, though hiking is usually the most popular option. Hikes that take you to the summit of a peak, like the Beehive Trail or the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail are always a good choice for leaf-peeping.
Otherwise, a drive along Park Loop Road provides some great fall views along the way.
Bike Acadia’s carriage roads
If you want to experience the beauty of autumn in Acadia on your bike, cycling on the carriage roads is a sure bet. Although you can bike on Park Loop Road, too, the road tends to be quite busy in the fall, so it’s not always the best biking experience.
Alternatively, the carriage roads are only open to bikers, hikers, and horseback riders, so they’re a great option for a more serene cycling experience. The cooler weather of fall and the spectacular foliage make biking in the park an excellent activity for this time of year.
Have afternoon tea at the Jordan Pond House
Located within the heart of Mount Desert Island, Jordan Pond House is a cornerstone of Acadia National Park.
This small restaurant and café have been around since 1893 when Nellie McIntire served up her first tea and popovers (a type of Yorkshire pudding-esque baked good) to what we can only imagine were some very happy diners.
These days, Jordan Pond House is still serving these delicious popovers from April to October each year. Afternoon tea with popovers is particularly fantastic during the fall months when a strong cup of hot tea at the café can warm you up after a long morning of hiking in the mountains.
Best activities for winter
Ski the Carriage Roads
During the winter months, Acadia’s carriage roads are often covered by a thick layer of snow. As a result, they’re the perfect place to head out for a quick cross country ski trip. In fact, most winters, diligent volunteers even groom some sections of the carriage roads for you to enjoy.
If you’re not quite into skiing, the carriage roads also make for some great snowshoeing. There are some outdoor gear stores in town that offer rentals for both skis and snowshoes if you don’t have your own.
Search for snowy owls
Snowy owls are among the most elusive of Acadia’s wildlife, but they are perhaps the most satisfying birds to see. Bird watching in the park is particularly great in the winter months because many snowy owls migrate south to coastal Maine from the Arctic.
Keep in mind that snowy owls are particularly skittish, so do your best not to disturb them if you do manage to spot one. For your best chance of seeing these majestic birds, try hiking to one of the park’s many summits for sunrise or sunset, when snowy owls are likely to still be up and about.
Try ice fishing
Ice fishing is a popular pastime in the northeastern US, and Acadia National Park is no exception. The general ice fishing season in the park is between January and March, though always be sure to test out the strength of a frozen pond before you venture onto the surface.
Experienced ice anglers can come prepared with their own gear (don’t forget your Maine fishing license!), while others might consider some of the many guided ice fishing options in town.
Best activities for spring
Visit Thunder Hole
Thunder Hole is one of the most popular attractions in Acadia National Park, so it can get quite busy during the summer and fall. Thankfully, Thunder Hole is quite easy to access, even in the spring, so it’s the perfect activity if you’re looking to experience some of the park’s many wonders, without all the crowds.
The best way to visit Thunder Hole in the spring is to park at the Sand Beach parking area and start hiking on Ocean Path. If you have a free morning or afternoon, you can continue on and walk the entire Ocean Path, checking out some other famous park features, like Otter Cliffs, Boulder Beach, and Monument Cove, along the way.
Drive Park Loop Road
By mid-spring, most of Park Loop Road should be open and snow-free. This makes it a nice, relaxing activity that the whole family can enjoy, without having to wait in the usual summertime traffic.
If you have a free afternoon in late April or May, you can complete the full sightseeing loop from the Hulls Cove Visitor’s center, to Sieur de Monts, Sand Beach, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain for some excellent views.
Watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
While you can hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain all year round (with the proper gear, that is), it’s hard to beat the bliss of a crowd-free spring morning on the summit. Additionally, in the spring, fall, and winter months, Cadillac Mountain is actually the first place to experience the sunrise in the United States, so an early morning hike to the top is a particularly rewarding experience.
If you’re visiting the park in early spring (before mid-April), your only route to the summit is on foot as the road to the top is closed until about April 14th.
During these times, a hike up the South Ridge Trail is fun and challenging, though it can be icy, so don’t forget your trekking poles for balance and some warm clothing for watching the sunrise!
Best activities for kids
Go tidepooling in Bar Harbor
Tidepooling is an excellent activity for naturally inquisitive kids that love to learn about the world around them. There are plenty of great tide-pooling spots in Acadia, though the coast near Bar Harbor is perhaps the most accessible.
In general, tide-pooling is best between 1.5 hours before and after low tide, so be sure to check the Bar Island tide charts before you head out. Also, don’t forget to wear a good pair of hiking sandals or water shoes to protect your feet as you explore Acadia’s intertidal zone.
Try rock climbing at Otter Cliff
If your kids are feeling a bit adventurous, a day of climbing at Otter Cliff is a great way to spend your time in Acadia. Plus, there are quite a few local climbing guide services that can show your kids the ropes if you’re not a climbing guru yourself, and many companies also offer family climbing packages so everyone can try something new.
Otter Cliffs is an ideal first time climbing destination, thanks to its high concentration of beginner-friendly climbs. It’s also one of the few locations in the region where you can rock climb right on a cliff and experience some sea spray, all at the same time.
Have some fun in the sun at Sand Beach
Aptly named, Sand Beach is, well, a sandy beach. As one of the only truly sandy areas of coastline in Acadia National Park, Sand Beach is the perfect place to take kids for a day of fun in the sun on a summer’s day.
The beach itself is located just a short walk from the parking area, so it’s easy enough to pack a picnic and towels for an all-day adventure. After you’ve enjoyed some lounging time on the beach and a few dips in the ocean, you can check out the 2 family-friendly trails that leave from Sand Beach – the Great Head Trail and the Ocean Path.
Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.