Best Things to do in Acadia National Park Header

15 Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Located in Maine, Acadia National Park is the only national park in the Northeast. Despite being one of the smaller national parks, its size can be deceiving. Inside, you’ll find nearly 50,000 acres along the Atlantic Coast with more than 150 miles of hiking trails to explore.

But the secret is getting out. This park has become more and more popular over the years, with it regularly getting more than four million visitors annually. It’s easy to see why when you pay it a visit. There’s something for thrill-seekers, wildlife watchers, scenic drivers, and even history lovers. 

Planning your own trip and wondering what the best things to do in Acadia National Park are? We’ve compiled a list of the coolest things to do in and around Acadia, from stunning drives to sunrises you won’t want to miss. Stick to this list, and you’re bound to have an amazing time in the “Crown Jewel of the Atlantic Coast.”

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1. Enjoy the Scenic Drive on Park Loop Road

Best Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Park Loop Road

Park Loop Road is the main scenic road in the national park and one of the must-do Acadia National Park activities. Though it’s open year-round, fall tends to be one of the best times to take the road, as you’ll capture spectacular fall foliage along your drive. 

However, one major benefit to going in the summer is that you can take the Island Explorer shuttle bus instead of having to drive. Whether you take the shuttle or drive yourself, this road will give you access to many of the best sights in Acadia National Park, like the Sieur de Monts, Sand Beach, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, the Bubbles, and Cadillac Mountain.

Cool Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Park Loop Road

Be mindful that this road is often packed from June through mid-October, so expect to take your time on it. But it’s a good idea to always take your time to enjoy all there is to see and do. Stop at the many scenic overlooks or park by the trailheads to hike to some of the many points of interest along the route. 

2. Take in the Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

Unique Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Cadillac Mountain

Checking out Cadillac Mountain is one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park, and there isn’t a bad time to take in the view from this mountain, which is the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard of the US. 

You have multiple options to get to the top. The summit is accessible by car via the Cadillac Summit Road, but you can also hike to the top by the Cadillac North Ridge Trail and the Cadillac South Ridge Trail. The former is the shorter of the two, though it’s still over four miles round-trip. The latter, however, is the more scenic of the trails. 

While sunset is a popular time to visit the summit, right before sunrise is the best time to get to the top. From October 7 to March 6, Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the country you can see the sunrise!

Naturally, sunrise is also the busiest time to get to the top of the mountain. To account for the summer and fall crowds, the park requires vehicle reservations to be made in advance if you intend to use the Cadillac Summit Road to reach the top. You’ll need to book specifically for a sunrise time slot.

3. See the Sunset from Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

What to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

While Cadallic Mountain is where to go for sunrise, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is where to go just before sunset. Built in 1858, this historic lighthouse is famous for being a critical part of Maine’s maritime transportation and for its iconic red light. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

There’s no public access inside, but it’s still worth it to visit the lighthouse and explore its grounds. Visiting the lighthouse is one of the most popular things to do in Acadia National Park and the most visited place on the west side of Mount Desert Island. 

Must do Things in Acadia National Park, Maine: Bar Harbor Head Lighthouse

As it’s so popular, you should always expect crowds here, but the time everyone wants to visit here is at sunset. The sunset from the lighthouse is truly spectacular. There’s nothing like seeing the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain and ending the day with the view from the lighthouse grounds as the sun makes its descent.

4. Go Stargazing at Sand Beach

Acadia National Park, Maine Things to do: Sand Beach

But your day doesn’t have to end with sunset. After dark, head over to Sand Beach for some incredible stargazing. Bring a blanket and spread out over the sandy shores to enjoy taking in the night sky.

If you don’t intend on staying out after dark, you can and should still enjoy Sand Beach, one of the best Acadia National Park attractions, during the day. Sand Beach, as the name implies, is the biggest sandy beach in the national park. It’s also one of the most popular swimming spots. 

Best Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Sand Beach

Swimming is best left to those most experienced as the waves and tides can be especially strong here. The water also tends to be very cold. But if you’re visiting on a hot day in the summer, you might be willing to brave the frigid temperatures.

5. See the Flowers of the Wild Gardens of Acadia

Taking in the beauty of the Wild Gardens of Acadia is one of the coolest Acadia National Park activities. Born out of a desire to preserve the natural beauty of Mount Desert Island, the gardens are home to over 400 native plant species divided among the natural plant communities found within the national park.

The gardens serve as a monument to and an educational resource for the native vegetation of the park. From plants found in the coniferous forest to those that line the park’s shores, the plant life is vast and varied. 

Take your time exploring the winding paths that weave throughout. The gardens are as much a place to learn as they are a place to find tranquility and peace.

6. Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride

Best Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Horse Drawn Carriage Ride

Acadia National Park wasn’t built with cars in mind. Instead, 45 miles of carriage roads were constructed, which go around the mountains and through the valley, offering a motor-free byway that would just be for horses and carriages. Those carriage roads provide some of the best sights in Acadia National Park today, allowing you to get up close to the natural beauty of the park than driving in a car would.

These historic carriage roads can be traversed today in a variety of ways, but one of the coolest things to do in Acadia National Park is to take a horse-drawn carriage ride on them. Wildwood Stables offers carriage rides through the park, allowing you to travel just as John D. Rockefeller Jr. envisioned when he built the carriage roads.

There are multiple tour options available, though it’s recommended to reserve your trip in advance as their tours are one of the most popular things to do in Acadia National Park. Their shortest option runs for one hour and circles around Day Mountain, taking you in and out of the woods. 

They also have two longer options. The two-hour Mr. Rockefeller’s Bridge Tour takes you to see three of the bridges that were built in the park, which remain some of the most impressive examples of bridgework in the US. Meanwhile, the Day Mountain Summit Tour, which is also two hours long, takes you to the top of Day Mountain, where you can stop to view the Cranberry Isles. 

7. Bike the Carriage Roads

Cool Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Carriage Roads

Want to take the carriage roads on your own time and at your own pace? Biking the carriage roads belongs on your Acadia National Park bucket list! The carriage roads have crushed rock surfaces, which make for perfect biking conditions.

You’ll weave your way around 45 miles of roads, going under and over 17 historic bridges while you take in the sights of all the different landscapes in Acadia. Taking the carriage roads is particularly lovely when the fall foliage starts to arrive. 

You can bring your own bike or rent one. There is no bike rental outlet in Acadia, but there are several in nearby Bar Harbor, including Acadia Bike. In addition to bike rentals, this outfitter also offers guided bike tours throughout Acadia National Park, which are led by National Park Service rangers.

If you’re planning to skip the tour and just bike on your own, keep in mind that you’ll have to stay on carriage roads. Bikes are not allowed on hiking trails.

8. Get the Popovers at Jordan Pond House and Stroll Around Jordan Pond

Acadia National Park, Maine Bucket List: Jordan Pond

Dining at Jordan Pond House is one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park, but it will test your patience. As the only restaurant inside Acadia National Park, the lines here tend to get very long. And while you can make reservations up to one month in advance, those tend to go quickly as well. 

But there’s one thing that makes it worth the wait: popovers. Well, there are actually quite a few things that make it worth some patience. The popovers, which are an American take on English Yorkshire pudding and typically associated with quintessential New England cuisine, are one major drawing point. You can also have them in the restaurant’s Popover Sundae, which features locally-made Maine ice cream. 

The other big draw is the beautiful view of Jordan Pond. When you’re done eating, be sure to spend some time on the Jordan Pond Path. It’s a relatively easy walk that allows you to take in the beauty of the pond, which is likely quite a bit larger than any pond you’ve seen before.

9. Visit Bar Harbor

Must do Things in Acadia National Park, Maine: Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor is essentially the gateway to Acadia National Park, and visiting this coastal Maine town is a must for your Acadia National Park bucket list. Not only does it offer plenty of cozy places to stay for your Acadia vacation, but you’ll find that Bar Harbor is worthy of exploration all on its own.

This bustling community is filled with fun things to do. Take a ride on a real lobster boat or go whale watching. Learn about the culture of the Wabanaki at the Abbe Museum, one of the first museums ever built in Maine. 

What to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Bar Harbor

Or simply enjoy strolling around the colorful and quaint downtown, which includes boutiques of all kinds, local watering holes, and restaurants serving up some of the freshest lobster around. Downtown Bar Harbor looks like it popped out of a storybook. Be sure to have your camera ready to capture the unique architecture and historic landmarks.

10. Head to Thunder Hole at High Tide

Cool Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Acadia National Park

Thunder Hole isn’t just one of the best sights in Acadia National Park. You’ll also want to visit for its iconic sound. If you’ve ever wanted to experience just how powerful the tides are, this destination is the place to do it. 

Thunder Hole is a carved-out inlet along the shoreline of Mount Desert Island. When the tides force waves into its narrow channel, you’ll hear a thunderous roar, hence the beloved inlet’s name. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Thunder Hole area draws people from all over to witness this geological marvel. As the waves crash, water can spray upwards of 40 feet in the air.

It’s best to visit one to two hours before high tide to experience the full force of the thunder. However, there are also some benefits to coming at low tide. Although you’re less likely to witness the thunder at its full strength, you will be able to take the stairs down for a closer look at the cliff walls carved by the water, something you’d be unable to do at high tide.

11. Enjoy the Sights on the Beehive Loop

The Beehive Loop is one of the top Acadia National Park attractions, thanks to its incredible views. Though it is one of the most popular trails in Acadia, it’s not meant for beginners. This hike is best suited for experienced hikers and those without a fear of heights. 

Acadia has several rung and ladder trails, meaning that you’ll need to rely on iron rungs to get to the summit. You’ll also face steep granite staircases and exposed cliff faces without guardrails on many of these hikes, including the Beehive Loop. 

Though the Beehive Loop is not considered the most challenging of these types of trails (we’ll get to the toughest one below), it is still quite a workout and requires both physical and mental strength. 

Once you begin the climb, you’ll need to keep moving forward as it’s not recommended to go back down the rungs and ladders. Additionally, as this trail is one of the most popular in the park, you’ll need to keep moving to allow others to make the climb.

But for those who are up for a challenge, they’re in for a treat. At the top of this 450-foot cliff trail, you’ll take in a breathtaking vista of Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and the Gulf of Maine. 

12. Take a Puffin Cruise

Unique Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Puffin

Maine’s islands provide the only nesting sites for Atlantic puffins in the US. These islands offer a habitat for more than 4,000 puffins every summer. One such island is Petit Manan Island, which is just north of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula. 

If you’re visiting in June or July, taking a puffin cruise to see these stunning creatures is one of the most unique things to do in Acadia National Park. Acadia Puffin Cruise is Maine’s original puffin boat and offers two-hour tours out of Pigeon Hill Bay toward the island.

During the tour, you’ll get magnificent views of the Petit Manan Wildlife Refuge and Bois Bubert Island. Keep your eyes peeled for those puffins, but be sure not to ignore all the other creatures you’re bound to see. 

Petit Manan is home to a variety of seabirds and mammals, including razorbills, Arctic terns, and bald eagles. You may also catch a glimpse of harbor seals or gray seals. 

13. Go Tide-Pooling

Fun Things to do in Acadia National Park, Maine: Ship Harbor Trail

With so many different ecosystems in Acadia National Park, you’ll find that there’s all kinds of wildlife to see here. Tide-pooling is one of the best Acadia National Park activities if you want to see the critters who call the rocky shores home.

There are a few different places where you can go tide-pooling in the national park. One of them is reachable if you take the Wonderland Trail. This coastal trail is one of the easier hikes in the park. You’ll venture through a coastal forest and stumble upon a rocky tide-pooling area at the end of the trail. Here, you might spot barnacles, marine snails, crabs, and sponges.

Or you can try the Ship Harbor Trail, which is another easy, family-friendly hike. You’ll see much of the same critters, as well as potentially spotting sea urchins and sea anemones. 

If you plan to go tide-pooling, aim to arrive a bit before low tide, as the tide-pooling area is exposed when the tide is low. You’ll then have some time to explore before the tide rises again. Also, keep in mind you’re exploring animals’ homes. Be careful to watch where you step and wash off any sunscreen, hand sanitizer, or bug spray if you intend to touch the water. 

14. Step Back in Time at the Carroll Homestead

The Carroll Homestead is a piece of history. It represents life on Mount Desert Island before Acadia National Park came to life. As people began to flock to the island in the late 1800s, farms were sold and the fields on homesteads like this one were reclaimed by the forests. The Carroll Homestead is what remained.

For over 90 years, three generations of Carrolls lived on this homestead, working a small-scale farm. But as time went on, living outside of town became inconvenient. The house didn’t have running water, gas lighting, or electricity. With the journey to town being so long, the family decided to move in 1917 to be closer to more modern conveniences. 

But the Carroll family kept the house, using it as a retreat from the modern world. But in 1982, it was donated to Acadia National Park, where it would serve as a symbol of a bygone era. The homestead is now open to explore by park guests.

15. Challenge Yourself on the Precipice Loop

Acadia National Park, Maine Bucket List: Precipice Loop

This recommendation comes with a warning. While the incredible views at the top of Champlain Mountain make hiking the Precipice Loop one of the coolest things to do in Acadia National Park, it’s also one of the most challenging. No pets are allowed on the trail, as well as no children under 12. 

It’s also a bit of a misnomer to call this loop a hike. Much of the time, you will actually be climbing. You’ll ascend over 1,000 feet in less than a mile. You’ll deal with rock scrambling, open cliff faces, and having to rely on iron rungs to lift yourself up. Because the rocks and rungs can get slippery from the ice and rain, you can only hike this trail in the summer and fall.

If you crave a challenge, this hike is for you. But if you’re not an advanced hiker, have a fear of heights, or struggle with upper-body strength, you should pass on this trail. And be honest with yourself. There’s no turning back once you start this trail, and several people have been injured on it. 

If you’d like to explore Champlain Mountain and don’t feel the Precipice Loop is a good fit, the Beachcroft Path might be a better option. You’ll still get stunning views and one serious workout. There is still rock scrambling on this path, but you won’t have to rely on iron rungs. 

There you have it—the 15 best things to do in Acadia National Park. What’s your favorite thing to do in Acadia? Drop us a note and let us know!

About the Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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