With its rugged coastline, lush forests, and mountains overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia National Park in Maine is a must-see when visiting New England. From paddling on pristine lakes to watching the first sunrise in the continental United States, Acadia is full of incredible adventures.
The park stretches across Mount Desert Island, several smaller islands, and the mainland. Despite being one of America’s smallest national parks, Acadia attracts millions of annual visitors. Around 3 million people travel to Acadia each year, making it one of America’s most popular national parks.
This destination guide covers the essential things you should know when planning your trip to Acadia, including when to visit, what to bring with you, what activities to do while you’re there, and where to stay. We’ll also go over some key facts and history about the park, as well as weather and climate data.
Native Americans have called the area that is now Acadia National Park home for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows there were Native American encampments on Mount Desert Island as far back as 6,000 years ago, but native peoples have lived in Maine for about 12,000 years.
Acadia National Park is located in the ancestral homeland of the Wabanaki people, or “People of the Dawnland.” The Wabanaki includes four different tribes – the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Penobscot. Using birch bark canoes, these peoples reached Mount Desert Island, where they gathered berries, harvested shellfish, hunted, and fished for many years.
In 1604, French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived on Mount Desert Island and recorded the first contact with the people living there. About a decade later, French Jesuits settled on the island and were welcomed by the native people until a conflict with the English led the area to become a contested territory. Sadly, warfare and disease brought by Europeans decimated the native populations in New England by the mid-1600s. The following 150 years saw frequent conflict between the French and English, and Mount Desert Island mainly became a landmark used by seafarers.
From the mid-1700s through the mid-1800s, English settlers arrived on Mount Desert Island and began farming, fishing, and lumbering. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that tourism began in the area. Known as “rusticators,” early tourists found modest accommodation with farmers and fishermen and returned to enjoy the area’s relaxing atmosphere and natural beauty each summer.
By 1830, there were 30 hotels, and tourism had proved itself a profitable industry. The area became a popular retreat among wealthy families on the East Coast, including prominent names like the Morgans, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Fords, and Astors.
The influx of wealth and opportunity led to increasing development and private land ownership in the Bar Harbor area in the early 1900s. This transition resulted in concerns about preserving this beautiful natural landscape. Led by George B. Dorr (known as “the father of Acadia National Park”) and Charles W. Eliot, preservationists helped Acadia become the Sieur de Monts National Monument on 8 July 1916. Three years later, the area received full national park status and was named Lafayette National Park. Officials changed the park’s name to Acadia National Park (after the former French colony of Acadia) and expanded the territory to include Schoodic Peninsula in 1929.
Since then, landscape architects, engineers, and conservationists have designed, built, and expanded the park’s carriage roads, trail systems, and infrastructure to make Acadia what it is today.
Key Facts about Acadia National Park
Size: 76.7 square miles (198.8 square kilometers)
Number of visitors: 3.43 million in 2019 and 2.67 million in 2020
Established on: 8 July 1916 (national monument status), 26 February 1919 (national park status)
Length of hiking trails: over 150 miles (241 km) of hiking trails
Highest point: Cadillac Mountain at 1530 feet (466 meters)
Lowest point: sea level along the Atlantic Ocean
Other interesting facts about Acadia:
- By land area, Acadia is the fifth-smallest US national park, but it is consistently one of the top ten most visited parks in the country.
- Acadia is the only national park in the northeastern US and was the first national park east of the Mississippi River.
- Most of Acadia’s territory lies on Mount Desert Island, which was explored by Frenchman Samuel de Champlain in 1604. He called the island “L’Isle des Monts-déserts,” which translates to “the island of barren mountains.” Covering an area of 108 square miles (280 km2), it is the largest island off of Maine’s coastline and the second-largest island on the East Coast of the US.
- There are 26 mountains in Acadia National Park. The highest is Cadillac Mountain (1530 feet/466 meters), and the lowest is Flying Mountain (284 feet/86.6 meters).
- From about mid-October to early March, the summit of Cadillac Mountain experiences the first sunrise in the continental US.
- Almost all of Acadia’s land came from private donations, which George B. Dorr and Charles W. Eliot helped secure.
- Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak on the East Coast. There is no higher peak along the Atlantic Coast in the Americas until you reach Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- A drought in 1947 led to a wildfire on Mount Desert Island that burned about 15.6 square miles (40.5 km2) within Acadia National Park and cost millions of dollars in property damage.
- Acadia is a dog-friendly national park. Many of the park’s trails and campgrounds allow dogs, provided they are leashed at all times.
Climate and Weather
The New England coast is known for its variable, unpredictable weather, and Acadia National Park is no exception. Acadia falls within a maritime climate zone due to its location on the coast of Maine. The geography creates milder temperatures than typically experienced by locations this far north and results in lots of moisture. Within the US, the climate of coastal Maine is ranked second in annual precipitation, just behind the Pacific Northwest. The area sees frequent rain and fog year-round and snow and ice storms in the winter and early spring. Here are more details about what to expect in each season.
Summer (June to August)
Summer is the nicest time of year in Acadia. Still, you should expect substantial variations in temperature and weather conditions, with sudden changes common. Temperatures in the summer can range from 45-90°F (7-32°C), but the average highs typically reach the 70s Fahrenheit (22-25°C). Nighttime lows are usually in the 50s Fahrenheit (10-14°C) but can get much colder.
Although June, July, and August are the driest months, they each still see about 3 inches (76 mm) of rainfall. The weather can change quickly, with sunshine, fog, rain, and even hail all possible in a single day. Visitors should also prepare for potentially significant changes in weather between the areas at sea level and the mountain peaks, like Cadillac Mountain.
Fall (September to November)
Autumn in Acadia sees highly variable weather, with temperatures ranging from below freezing overnight to the low 70s Fahrenheit (21°C) during the day. Average highs drop from 68°F (20°C) in September to 48°F (9°C) in November. Average lows shift from 49°F (9.4°C) to about 33°F (1°C) as the fall progresses.
Fall visitors should pack for every season. Your visit may be warm and sunny, or you may experience heavy rains and even snow flurries. November is the wettest month of the year, with 6 inches (152 mm) of precipitation, on average.
Winter (December to March)
Winter weather in Acadia is significantly milder than inland Maine. Still, visitors should prepare for cold temperatures, wet conditions, ice, and snow. The park experiences about 60 inches (152 cm) of snow each year. Temperatures in Acadia in the winter months vary from 14-35°F (-10 – 2°C).
Spring (April to May)
Spring in Acadia is known for its challenging and erratic weather conditions. You may experience pleasant t-shirt weather on a spring visit, or you could get a series of cold, rainy days and a late snow flurry. Cold temperatures and rainy, foggy days are common in April, but things usually start to get better in May. Average lows warm up from just above freezing in April to the low 40s Fahrenheit (5°C) in May. Daytime highs range from 52°F (11°C) in April to 64°F (18°C) in May.
When to Visit
Late spring through autumn is the best time to visit Acadia for most people. July and August are typically the most crowded months, with the leaf-peeping season in mid-October also being quite busy. These are excellent times to explore the park but prepare for congested roads and busy attractions.
Late summer is the best time to visit if you want to enjoy swimming and other water sports. Those who primarily want to go hiking and camping will enjoy visiting the park anytime between late May and late September – watch out for blackflies and mosquitoes in May and June. October also occasionally offers excellent conditions and comes with the added bonus of viewing the stunning fall foliage.
Hikers should know that several cliff areas (Precipice Wall, Valley Cove Wall, Jordan Cliffs, and Beech Cliffs) and the hiking trails that pass through them are closed annually from around 15 March to 15 August because of the peregrine falcon nesting season. If these trails are on your bucket list, you should plan your visit after 15 August.
Park Loop Road and the road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain are usually closed from the beginning of December to mid-April, but this depends on the weather conditions. Winter and spring are less ideal times to explore Acadia but offer visitors a chance to experience the park without the peak season crowds.
December to February is an excellent time to visit for winter sports enthusiasts who don’t mind the cold. When snow falls in Acadia, it’s a stunning sight that snowmobilers, skiers, snowshoers, and winter hikers can enjoy in peace.
If you don’t mind muddy trails, foggy mornings, melting snow, and wet conditions, spring is a great time to experience Acadia in solitude. Keep in mind that most facilities are either closed or have limited hours until mid to late April.
Visiting Acadia National Park doesn’t require any special equipment. You’ll be good to go with a standard set of seasonally appropriate clothing and outdoor gear suited to the activities you plan on doing.
No matter what time of year you visit, you should pack rain gear and plenty of layers so that you are prepared for Acadia’s variable and often wet weather conditions. If you’re planning a trip in the spring, summer, or fall, you’ll also want to take extra care to protect yourself from insects. Acadia can get quite buggy. Bring insect repellant and a head net and follow the steps in our Insect Protection article to keep yourself safe from mosquitoes, blackflies, and ticks.
Since we’ve already covered the essentials of packing and preparing for an outdoor adventure in our Backpacking Checklist article, we won’t go into any more details here. You can review that guide for a detailed packing list and more advice about what to bring when visiting natural areas like Acadia.
What to Do in Acadia National Park
Hiking is one of the top activities in Acadia National Park. There are incredible day hikes in the park that will take you through Mount Desert Island’s coastal forests, up granite sea cliffs, and to barren peaks overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t be fooled by their short length. Many of the iconic trails are very steep, with near-vertical sections and significant exposure.
The best time for hiking in Acadia is in the late summer and fall, but it’s possible to enjoy this activity year-round. Many of the trails become covered with ice and snow in the winter. Make sure to bring traction devices for your boots and trekking poles to improve your grip and balance on the trails, and be extra careful when walking on slippery granite surfaces. Check out our Guide to Winter Hiking for more detailed advice about how to prepare.
While Acadia National Park has excellent hiking, it is not the best destination for backpacking, and backcountry camping is prohibited. If you are interested in multi-day hikes, there are fantastic backpacking destinations elsewhere in Maine that you can visit before or after your trip to Acadia.
Best Hikes in Acadia National Park
From easy strolls along the coast to hair-raising ascents up vertical cliffs, Acadia has trails to suit hikers of all different abilities. Here are the park’s best hikes.
- Precipice Trail: This challenging, adrenaline-inducing trail ascends a 1,000-foot (305-meter) cliff on Champlain Mountain with a series of steep switchbacks and metal rungs to help you up the rock face. Hikers should be comfortable with exposure and basic rock scrambling. Make sure to take some breaks to enjoy the breathtaking views of Frenchman Bay. Descend via the Orange and Black and Champlain North Ridge Trail Loop for a total of 2.1 miles (3.4 km). The trail closes for part of the summer due to peregrine falcon nesting activity.
- Beehive Loop: Like the Precipice Trail, the Beehive Trail is best for those who aren’t afraid of heights. This 1.4-mile (2.3-km) trail makes a near-vertical ascent up a 450-foot (137-meter) cliff with the help of metal rungs and ladders. From the top, you’ll have gorgeous views of Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and the Gulf of Maine. Since it’s shorter, the Beehive Loop makes a good warm-up to get used to the exposure before attempting the Precipice Trail.
- Cadillac North Ridge Trail: This 4-mile (6.4-km) out-and-back trail will take you to the top of Acadia’s highest peak – Cadillac Mountain. The trail has some steep sections with easy rock scrambling. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay. You should expect to share the summit with many other visitors since there is also a road to the top.
- Dorr Mountain Ladder Trail: This strenuous 2.7-mile (4.3-km) loop trail features a sustained ascent up a long stone staircase, as well as some iron rungs and ladders. Although it’s less exposed than the Beehive and Precipice Trails, the Ladder Trail still requires a good level of comfort with heights. The summit features spectacular panoramic views.
- Acadia Mountain and St. Saveur Loop: Located in the western part of Mount Desert Island, this 3.9-mile (6.3-km) trail is a perfect way to escape the crowds on the east side of the island. There are some steep sections requiring a bit of rock scrambling, but most hikers shouldn’t have a problem navigating the trail. The scenery and views are incredible – you’ll even get to see Somes Sound, the only fjord on the US’s eastern coast.
- Jordan Pond Full Loop Trail: Enjoy an easy to moderate hike around scenic Jordan Pond on this 3.4-mile (5.5-km) loop trail. You can take in iconic views of the pond’s calm waters framed by forested mountains. The trail is very popular, so expect crowds during the high season. Stop in for a meal or snack at Jordan Pond House after your hike. To make the trip more challenging, hike and scramble up to the top of South Bubble.
- Ocean Path: This easy 4.5-mile (7.2-km) trail along the coast is suitable for hikers of all skill levels and features some of Acadia’s most iconic attractions: Thunder Hole, Monument Cove, and Otter Point. The trail is dog-friendly and accessible throughout the year. It can get very crowded in the high season.
Camping is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the beauty of Acadia National Park. Within the park’s boundaries, visitors have several options: there are two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut, and one campground on the Schoodic Peninsula. Blackwoods Campground on Mount Desert Island is the most popular, thanks to its proximity to Bar Harbor and many top hiking trails.
Most campgrounds don’t open until late April or early May. For the 2021 season, the park is not offering any same-day availability for sites. Instead, you must make reservations in advance online in order to gain access to the park’s campgrounds. More information about camping in Acadia and COVID-19 protocols are available from the National Park Service here.
In Acadia backcountry camping is prohibited, so you have to stay in one of the campgrounds if you plan to camp in the park.
Acadia is filled with a network of bike paths, gravel roads, paved roads, and 45 miles (72 km) of car-free carriage roads that are perfect for cycling. Many of these paths are open to cyclists year-round, but the best time for biking in the park is from May to October.
Acadia’s sea cliffs make for an unforgettable rock climbing adventure. The best areas are Otter Cliff, Precipice, South Bubble, and Great Head. Experienced climbers can rock climb in Acadia using their own equipment, while beginners can book a guided climbing tour with a local guiding company.
Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, and Other Water Sports
With 26 lakes and ponds on Mount Desert Island and an extensive coastline, Acadia National Park is an excellent destination for water sports enthusiasts. Not all of these bodies of water permit boating and swimming, so make sure to check the restrictions ahead of time.
The best time for these activities is in the summer when water temperatures are the warmest. During the summer months, the ocean temperature ranges from 50-60°F (10-16°C), and lake temperatures vary from 55-70°F (13-21°C). Sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and other vessels are available for rent in many communities near Acadia National Park, or you can bring your own.
Horseback riding is a fun way to experience Acadia. There are stables within the park that provide room for horse trailers and are available for equestrians to rent. The stables also offer horse-drawn carriage rides.
Acadia’s carriage roads also create excellent cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities when snow falls in the winter months. You can bring your own equipment or rent it from a gear outfitter in Bar Harbor. Snowmobiling is also allowed on most of the park’s unplowed roads.
Where to Stay
Since Acadia covers a small area, you can explore the entire park no matter where you stay. The best option for you will depend on your budget and personal preferences.
If you want to stay within the park’s borders, your only option is camping. You can stay in one of the lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut or in a tent or RV at various campgrounds. Camping is the most affordable option when staying in Acadia and a fabulous way to experience the park.
Mount Desert Island has tons of accommodation options outside the park’s boundaries. You can choose from private campgrounds, glamping, hotels, inns, apartments, cabins, and homes for rent. The popular tourist destination of Bar Harbor is considered the gateway to Acadia. The town is an excellent place to stay, with plenty to do and see and easy access to the park. Whether you’re eating local lobster at one of the many fantastic restaurants or taking in views of the seaside,
is the perfect place to experience New England’s charm. The town gets very busy during the summer months, and it may not be the best choice for those looking for peace and quiet.
Ellsworth, Maine, is located just to the north of Mount Desert Island and tends to be more affordable than Bar Harbor. As a result, this spot is ideal for budget travelers who want easy access to the park.
Families or couples seeking a slightly quieter getaway should consider Blue Hill, a scenic area across from Mount Desert Island. It can still get busy in the summer months but is usually a bit calmer than Bar Harbor. The area also offers many opportunities for outdoor adventures.
For those who prefer an urban area or want to avoid other tourists, Bangor, Maine, is about an hour’s drive from the park. It’s considered Maine’s cultural hub and is a good option for those who don’t mind the additional driving time and want to explore inland Maine.
How to Get There and Getting Around
If you plan on flying in, the closest airport to Acadia National Park is Hancock County–Bar Harbor Airport (BHB) in Maine. The nearest major airport is Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), located about 5 hours away by car. If you want to take a road trip along Maine’s scenic Coastal Route 1, it will take you about 6.5 hours. Other options include Portland International Jetport (PWM) in Portland, Maine, and Bangor International Airport (BGR) in Bangor, Maine. The trip from Portland takes 3-3.5 hours, depending on your route, while Bangor is a little over an hour away.
You can rent a car at any of these airports if you want to drive to Acadia. There are also buses and/or shuttle services available to Bar Harbor from all of these cities.
Unlike many larger US national parks, you don’t need a car to get around Acadia. If you are visiting during the peak summer months, it may be even more convenient to go there without a vehicle or leave your car parked at your campsite or accommodation.
From June to October, Island Explorer shuttle buses provide free service between Bar Harbor, Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport, other local communities, trailheads, and points of interest within the park. You can view the routes and timetables here.
If you are bringing your own vehicle, check with the park to see if you need a reservation ahead of time. As of 2021, Acadia requires vehicle reservations for some of the park’s most popular attractions, including Cadillac Summit Road.
From ascending near-vertical sea cliffs to biking along car-free carriage roads, tons of exciting adventures await you in Acadia National Park. The park’s small size makes it possible to see all the highlights in a short visit, but those who are planning a longer stay will not be disappointed. Whether you’re thinking of a single-day outing or a week-long excursion, you’ll find ample opportunities for outdoor adventure in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, and the surrounding region.
Did you enjoy this guide to Acadia National Park? Check out our other national park guides to plan your next adventure in some of the world’s most beautiful wild spaces.