From mountain views to deep sea blues: Exploring Acadia National Park
Millions of outdoor-lovers head to Acadia National Park (near Bar Harbor, Maine) each year, making it one of the most visited national parks in the United States. You’ll find rugged granite peaks, glacial ridges, secluded ponds and waterfalls at Acadia; it’s also home to the only fjord in North America. With all these gorgeous natural features, it’s no surprise that the park has outdoor adventures to spare. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a guide to the ultimate Acadia experience.
1. Take a (slightly chilly) swim at Sand Beach
Sandwiched between the mountains and the eastern shores of Mount Desert Island, Sand Beach is a 290-yard sliver of seaside beauty. You can venture into the ocean for a swim, but keep in mind—the water rarely goes above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t feel like taking the plunge? Try the nearby oceanside trail, which you can access from the upper parking lot. It takes you past Thunder Hole, a semi-submerged cave that fills with waves. The pounding of the waves inside the cave can be as loud as a thunderstorm. Stop by when the tides are changing for the coolest sound effects.
2. Sail on a lobster boat
Get an authentic Maine experience with a sail on a real lobster boat. The vessels used by Downeast Friendship Sloop Charters were built in the late 1800s and are still popular today. Lobster boat tours usually run about two or three hours; you can also charter a private sail that lasts up to six hours. You’ll escape the touristy parts of Acadia and explore the quieter side of the island, keeping an eye out for seals, porpoise, eagles, and the occasional whale. Forgot your binoculars? No worries—the crew keeps extras on board.
3. Ride the carriage roads
With more than 45 miles of carriage roads, Acadia is perfect for horseback travel. A relaxing ride is a great way to see the park at a leisurely pace and appreciate the natural beauty around you. There are no horse rentals available in the park, so you’ll need to bring your own horse or go for a horse-drawn carriage ride with Wildwood Stables. If horses aren’t your thing, bring a bike. The crushed rock surfaces make for great cycling.
4. Watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain
For about half the year, the summit of Cadillac Mountain is the first spot in the United States to see the sunrise. Set your alarm clock for an early-morning hike up the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail, and welcome the sun yourself. This leisurely trail is beginner-friendly and provides awesome views of Mount Desert Island and the ocean. If you’re up for a slightly more challenging trek, try the South Ridge Trail to the summit. This trail is more isolated, with secluded ponds, marshy pools, and gorgeous views of pink granite peaks along the way.
5. Pedal the Park Loop Road
If you want a quick tour of the park, the best way to do it is to bike the Park Loop Road. This 27-mile loop hits most of Acadia’s highlights; you’ll pass Otter Cliff, Thunder Hole, and Sand Beach as you wind your way around Mount Desert Island’s eastern side. Don’t want to commit to the full length of the loop? Put your bike on the Island Explorer, Acadia’s free shuttle bus, and tackle the Loop Road in bite-sized segments. Pro tip: Using the Island Explorer also lets you avoid an especially narrow two-way stretch near Jordan Pond.
6. Learn about rocks by EarthCaching
Sponsored by the National Park Service, EarthCaching is a geocaching-meets-geology treasure hunt. You’ll need a GPS unit, a map of the park, and some information from the NPS website to follow clues and claim your caches. Unlike traditional geocaching, no physical containers are used. The real treasure is learning about the unique glacial features and history of each spot. It’ll take you about four to six hours to finish the EarthCache program for Acadia, and you’ll get to explore a good chunk of the park during that time.
7. Paddle the sea around Mount Desert Island
The epic scenery of Mount Desert Island makes it a perfect spot for kayaking. Paddling the ocean is for experienced kayakers only; the rough waters and cold temperatures make it easy to get in a jam. Beginners should opt for a guided kayak tour. National Park Sea Kayak offers a tour that explores the remote west side of the island, and Acadia Park Kayak Tours will take you paddling around the rugged Porcupine Islands (keep your eyes out for eagles, heron, and seals).
8. Climb Otter Cliff
The most popular climbing spot in Acadia, Otter Cliff, is a fantastic place for beginners to get some experience scaling a cliff. There are a number of climbing routes to choose from. Experienced climbers can challenge themselves with the Guillotine, or you could try Child’s Play or In the Groove for a gentler climb. From the top, you’ll get spectacular views of the ocean and the surrounding granite cliffs. Look for the rock formation called “The Spindle.” In 1604, explorer Samuel de Champlain’s ship struck the huge rock, forcing him and his crew to spend the winter at the cliffs.
9. Hike uphill on Precipice Trail
Champlain Mountain is one of the tallest peaks in the park, and its steep cliffs are just begging to be climbed. The Precipice Trail will take you up these cliffs in a thrilling, near-vertical hike. The trail offers some strategically-located ladders and rungs to help hikers along, but you’ll still find yourself scrambling up rock faces and negotiating a few tricky spots. The hike is only a mile to the summit, and you’ll gain 1,000 feet of elevation in that short stretch. If you have a fear of heights, you may want to skip this trek.
10. Explore art, music, and history at Bar Harbor
Take a break from the park and hit the town of Bar Harbor for an afternoon of museum-hopping. The museums in Bar Harbor are small, but they offer a focused look at the area’s Native American heritage and local ecosystems. Visit the Abbe Museum to learn about the culture of the Wabanaki, native people who have lived in Maine for thousands of years, or check out the Mount Desert Oceanarium for a hands-on experience with Maine’s lobsters. Browse the town’s galleries, and check out work by local Maine artists. Want to end your visit on a musical note? Time your trip to Acadia to coincide with one of the area’s celebrated music festivals like Bar Harbor Music Festival or Bar Harbor Jazz Festival; you’ll be able to hear everything from chamber music to contemporary jazz.