Acadia National Park is made up of 49,000 acres of land spanning several small islands off the coast of southeastern Maine. Despite being one of the smaller national parks in the country, it remains one of the most visited. Unlike other parts of Maine, Acadia isn’t known for sandy beaches or lobster dinners. Instead, many of the beaches are rocky, and the weather is often characterized by plumes of misty fog.
Acadia is beloved just for that reason: Magically bizarre landscapes give the impression of standing on the edge of the world, and mist igniting cypress and pine forests create a fragrant old-world experience. I remember the first time I stood on an outlook over Bar Harbor—a giant cruise ship looming off its shores. The fog was melted by the sun for several minutes until the white ship disappeared once more. Turning back on my path, clusters of fluorescent green moss highlighted old bridges and worn trail signs. Unlike commercialized Maine, Acadia feels wild, and it is.
People have been living in and around Acadia for 12,000 years. The Wabanaki (meaning “People of the Dawnland”) were known for the impressive birch bark canoes they used to travel through choppy surf off the coast. Setting up temporary camps along Somes Sound, the native tribes would hunt, fish, and harvest clams. After they guided French explorer Samuel Champlain to the island then called Pemetic (meaning “range of mountains”) in 1604, he renamed it for its (seemingly) barren mountains, a name that stuck—right up to modern day.
Most of the park sits on this island, known as Mount Desert Island, which began gaining in popularity in the early 19th century when a group of nature-loving summer vacationers built mansions around its coasts, preserving the land in the center of the island and ultimately donating it to the government. The park was established as a national monument in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson, and as a national park in 1919. It underwent a series of name changes before being officially named Acadia National Park in 1929.
Now receiving more than 2 million annual visitors, parts of Acadia are open year round, with the majority of the foot-traffic occurring in July and August. There’s a lot to see in Acadia, and hiking is by far the best way to do it. Here’s a three-day itinerary to help you get the most out of your visit.
Start your trip by getting the lay of the land with a drive on Park Loop Road. Approach the loop from the south on ME 3. Be sure to make stops at the Jordan Pond House (for delicious tea and scones with views of the pond), and the Sieur de Monts Nature Center and Wild Gardens of Acadia (for garden walks and bird-watching). Skip Cadillac Mountain for now, we’ve got that covered later on.
The best time to visit Cadillac Mountain is at sunrise (or sunset). Sunrise is ideal for catching it in near solitude with a few sleepy visitors sipping coffee and watching it right alongside you.
You’ll likely want to drive up at that hour, but if you do want to hike, check out the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail (a great option for those who choose to visit for sunset).
Afterward, head to Ship Harbor and check out the historic Bass Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1858. Opt for some of the area’s lighter hikes including Ship Harbor Trail or Wonderland Trail. Both are 1.4-mile easy day hikes where you can spend a few hours by the ocean. End the day by checking out downtown Bar Harbor and grabbing some grub at local favorite McKay’s Public House.
Take a ferry to the most remote part of the park, Isle au Haut. Accessible only by boat June through September, the number of visitors is limited by the park, meaning you can enjoy this part of Acadia without the crowds. From the Isle au Haut visitor’s center, follow Duck Harbor Trail south for an easy 7.8-mile out-and-back that spans the height of the island. Be sure to check out Deep Cove Trail as well, a quick 0.2-mile junction in the center of the island offering scenic ocean views.
If time allows, end the day by getting to the top of Acadia’s second highest peak, Champlain Mountain. Approach it from the south for a gradual 5-mile climb on Champlain Mountain South Ridge Trail or choose a faster, more strenuous route on it’s west side, the 2.3-mile Beachcroft Path.