A visit to Acadia National Park will no doubt be a highlight of any trip to New England. With a rugged coastline, tranquil lakes, mountains, hiking trails, carriage roads and more there are plenty of things to do at New England’s only designated “National Park.” While two days in Acadia National Park might not be long enough to see everything, you’ll still be able to enjoy the best of what this park offers.
Acadia National Park covers most of Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine and the second largest on the east coast of the United States (trailing only Long Island in New York). The French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1604 and is generally credited as being the first European to explore the island. He named it “Isles des Monts Deserts,” which means “island of barren mountains.”
While there are several small towns and villages on Mount Desert Island, the city of Bar Harbor is the center of activity and where you will find the majority of the island’s services. There, you’ll find plenty of options for lodging, shopping, and dining. That said, Bar Harbor is not a large city. In fact, it is important to note that while Mount Desert Island welcomes roughly 2-2.5 million tourists each year, the year-round population is only about 10,000 people.
Yes, that small-town charm is part of the appeal of the area.
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When to Visit Acadia National Park
We have now visited Acadia National Park twice. The first visit was in the summer of 2016 when we spent several nights camping and exploring the park during our New England summer RV trip. Our second visit was in the early fall of 2022, with my mom and sister.
Read more about our New England RV trip here.
Summer is definitely the busy season. In fact, many businesses are only open from mid-May to mid-October. You can expect to find the warmest temperatures and most people during July and August, so pack your patience if visiting during this time.
There’s another surge of visitors in October as the fall foliage hits its peak, generally around the middle of the month. In fact, Acadia National Park is widely considered one of the best national parks for leaf peeping.
Honestly, our visit in late September was probably one of the best times to visit Acadia National Park. We managed to hit the small window between the summer and fall foliage crowds. At the same time, the temperatures were mild and the leaves were just starting to turn. It really was a nice balance of low crowds and comfortable weather.
Winter brings snow and road closures, so it would probably not be the best time to visit Acadia if it is your one and only trip. That said, I’d love to spend some time snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on some of the carriage roads!
Spring can also be a great time to visit Acadia National Park. Just be sure to check the park’s official website for the opening dates of park roads and facilities.
Getting Around Acadia National Park
Having a personal vehicle gives you the most flexibility for exploring Acadia National Park. That said, parking can be extremely difficult, especially during mid-day and the busy summer season. For that reason, you might consider using the Island Explorer shuttle, which provides transportation around the park and into the local communities.
The propane-fueled shuttles make regularly scheduled stops and many park landmarks, the campground, carriage road entrances and many trailheads. Additionally, you can flag down buses along their route and drivers will pick up passengers anywhere it is safe.
Buses are equipped with a wheelchair lift, can carry up to six bicycles and will allow well-behaved and leashed or crated pets. You can get more information on the shuttle buses on the Acadia National Park website or the Island Explorer website.
What to Do in Acadia National Park
Start your visit to Acadia National Park at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. From the main parking lot, you’ll have to climb 52 stairs up to the official visitor center. If that sounds daunting to you, there are a number of exhibit panels at the bottom of the stairs that provide quite a bit of information. For those with a handicap-parking decal, you can follow the signs to a small accessible parking area that provides easy access to the visitor center.
The visitor center is not large and mostly just provides an opportunity to talk to a ranger and shop at the small bookstore. If you don’t have any questions for a ranger, you can probably get all the information you need from the exhibits at the parking lot. And, you’ll find a much bigger souvenir shop at Jordan Pond and another small one at the top of Cadillac Mountain.
Drive Park Loop Road
From the visitor center, drive south to the main area of the park. Just inside the Cadillac Mountain park entrance, a one-way road loops around the north, east and south sides of the park. On the west side, a two-way road provides access to Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond, two of the most popular places at Acadia National Park.
A drive around the park loop road is not to be missed. The drive itself provides scenic views of both the rugged coast and mixed coniferous and deciduous forest. And, there are plenty of places to get out and enjoy an overlook or take a walk along one of Acadia’s many trails or carriage roads.
Sieur de Monts
As you turn east on the one-way Park Loop Road, one of the first areas you’ll pass is a turn-off for the Sieur de Monts area. In addition to the Sieur de Monts spring, you’ll find a Nature Center, Wild Gardens of Acadia and Abbe Museum.
We stopped here on our first trip to Acadia National Park and enjoyed the garden that highlights the different ecosystems within the park and the flora.
Sand Beach and Thunder Hole
Continuing south on Acadia’s Park Loop Road, you’ll quickly reach one of the most congested areas of the park. Even during our September visit, when crowds were generally low, parking was nearly impossible to find in the middle of the day. Arrive early and pack your patience if planning to stop to explore here (which we highly recommend).
Sand Beach is located right where the loop road reaches Acadia’s rugged coastline. As the name indicates, Sand Beach is one of just a few sandy beaches on Mount Desert Island and the only one inside the park.
Swimming is allowed from mid-June to early September, That said, it’s important to note that the water temperature is generally between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the summer.
Just down the road, Thunder Hole is a favorite stop of ours and one of the best places in the park to enjoy the rugged coast. In fact, its name comes from the crashing waves that are best heard 1-2 hours before high tide. Be careful, though, as erratic waves can make the granite rock slippery and dangerous to walk on.
As noted above, this area is one of the most congested parts of Acadia National Park. If you find a place to park, take it and walk between Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and any other overlooks that you want to enjoy.
From Thunder Hole, the road continues west and then turns north, away from the coast. You’ll pass the turnoff for the campground and stables just before the road transitions to two-way traffic. From there, you can continue north to Jordan Pond and/or Cadillac Mountain or turn south to go into the town of Seal Harbor and other areas on Mount Desert Island.
Jordan Pond is another one of Acadia’s most popular landmarks. On our first visit, we arrived early in the day to beat the crowds and took a walk along the Jordan Pond Path, a 3.2-mile trail around the shoreline of the pond. The trail is nice and level, easy for anyone to do and offers stunning views everywhere you look. We also saw a nesting loon at the north end of the pond. Very cool, indeed!
Since my mom was with us on our second visit, we skipped the entire shoreline hike and just walked a small portion of it after lunch at the Jordan Pond House (more on that below). Honestly, the small part of the path that connects the Jordan Pond House to the next parking lot over is a nice, easy stroll that still offers some nice views of the pond.
If you have the time and ability, we definitely recommend hiking the full loop. But, even a short stroll along just part of the trail is well worth it. Just know that parking in the middle of the day can be extremely difficult.
Jordan Pond House
Jordan Pond takes its name from the family that built a farmhouse here back in the 1840s when there was a logging operation and a small mill at the pond. By the late-1800s, the pond became a popular vacation spot and the farmhouse was turned into a small restaurant. Around 1895, the first popovers and tea were served, a tradition that still stands today.
While the menu now offers a wide variety of appetizers, soups, sandwiches and entrees, the popovers are still a favorite and can be found on nearly every table. For those not familiar with popovers, it’s a light, airy, buttery pastry that resembles a muffin on the outside. The inside, though, is nearly hollow.
In addition to delightful popovers and other tasty menu items, the location of the Jordan Pond House adds to its popularity. The inside of the restaurant is charming but the outside lawn seating, just steps from the pond, is one of the most picturesque places to eat inside a national park. Due to the cool temperatures and strong winds, we sat inside during our visit. If visiting in the summer, I highly recommend sitting outside.
Pro Tip: Call ahead or use the online priority seating reservation to ensure your name is at the top of the waitlist when you arrive.
Just north of Jordan Pond lies Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the island. In fact, at an elevation of 1,527 feet, it is the highest point on the eastern seaboard of the United States. A visit to the summit of Cadillac Mountain is one of the most popular things to do at Acadia National Park. In fact, from late May to late October, vehicle reservations are required.
At the summit, you can enjoy uninterrupted views over Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island and the surrounding waters. The paved Cadillac Mountain trail winds a half-mile around the summit, providing a wide range of panoramic views. While the walk along the trail is relatively easy, there are several short areas of uphill, downhill, and stairs.
For those not able to handle the trail, you can enjoy magnificent views right from the parking lot.
Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain is extremely popular, especially since it is one of the first spots in the United States to see daylight. If mornings aren’t your thing, sunset at Cadillac Mountain is also quite nice. On our first visit, we stopped at the Blue Hill Overlook on Cadillac Mountain for a transcendent westerly view at sunset.
Pro Tip: Be sure to secure vehicle reservations for Cadillac Mountain in advance but don’t fret if you’re planning a last-minute visit. Thirty percent of reservations are available 90 days ahead of each date. The remaining 70% are released at 10 am Eastern time two days ahead.
Without a vehicle reservation, the only other way to reach the summit is by bicycle or a strenuous trail hike. There is no public transportation to the summit and walking along the road is not advised.
Note: The drive up to Cadillac Mountain is closed in winter (mid-November to mid-April).
If you are looking to get in some exercise, a walk along one of Acadia National Park’s 45 miles of carriage roads is simply divine. Constructed between 1913 and 1940 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family, the network of carriage roads provided motor-free travel around the heart of Mount Desert Island.
The carriage roads are around 16 feet wide with a bed of broken stone. Rockefeller built them to preserve trees and offer sweeping vistas and scenic views. There are many different parking lots and entrances to the carriage roads, which are used for hiking, biking, horseback riding and carriage tours. In the winter, the carriage roads can be explored on snowshoes or cross-country skis.
During our first visit, we enjoyed a nice walk from Brown Mountain Gatehouse leading into a box canyon called the Amphitheater. It was very relaxing, even for a five-mile hike. The route we took was peaceful with a few nice views along the way.
If you are looking for something a little more strenuous, there are also more than 150 miles of rugged hiking trails. You can choose from hikes in the forest, along the coast or up to several different summits.
Honestly, we haven’t done much hiking at Acadia National Park but certainly hope to if we ever return. The park’s website allows you to explore the hiking trails by environment (forest, lake, coast, mountain top), route (out and back or loop) or location.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Many of the most popular areas of Acadia National Park are found on the east side of Mount Desert Island, around the Park Loop Road. But, the park boundaries actually weave all over the island, over to the Schoodic Peninsula and even onto a couple of other small islands.
The well-known Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is actually part of Acadia National Park but is located on the southern tip of the western half of Mount Desert Island. From the park loop road, it’s a 30-45 minute drive over to the lighthouse.
As you drive around Mount Desert Island, you’ll transition in and out of the park in many areas. At times, it may be difficult to know if you’re actually inside the park. But, the drive is fantastic and even the small fishing communities that you’ll pass as you drive are interesting and charming.
It is important to note that the classic coastline view of the lighthouse is reached only by descending a large staircase and scrambling across large rocks. If you aren’t up to that feat, you can see the lighthouse by walking down a short paved drive. I’ll be honest, though, that view isn’t nearly as spectacular.
Despite being one of the most photographed lighthouses in New England, parking at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is extremely limited. And, the National Park Service does not allow parking along the road. Arrive early in the day and be patient if visiting during peak times.
Exploring Bar Harbor
No trip to Acadia National Park would be complete without a visit to Bar Harbor. Whether you are shopping, enjoying the waterfront, hiking out to Bar Island or simply getting dinner or groceries, you should definitely make time to explore the town.
The main drag of Bar Harbor is lined with souvenir shops and a wide variety of restaurants. Still, it maintains its New England charm and small-town feel. The Village Green provides a city-block-sized park and sidewalk-lined streets provide easy walking around town and to the coast. Agamont Park is another large green space
The Bar Harbor Shore Path begins at the Town Pier near Agamont Park, another large green space right in downtown. The paved trail follows the coast providing fantastic views of the town and the shoreline. Past the main drag, this classic New England fishing town positively bubbles with beautiful homes and seaside cottages.
Be sure to allow yourself a little time to wander around town, do a little shopping, and simply enjoy the charm of Bar Harbor.
Bar Island Trail
If you can time it right, one of our favorite things to do in Bar Harbor is the hike out to Bar Island. Bar Island is located just offshore of Mount Desert Island, north of Bar Harbor. The island can be reached via a 1/2-mile “land bridge” that is only accessible 1.5 hours before and after low tide.
Start the hike by taking Bridge Street to the shoreline, then continue across the gravel bar to the island. As you cross, be sure to take your time and search the tide pools for small critters left in the puddles of water. Once on the island, you can follow the trail across Bar Island for views of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay.
The hike is relatively easy but you do need to check the tide tables carefully before starting out. This hike is only doable when the tide is out; the sand bar is completely covered by water closer to high tide. If you lose track of time, you’ll have to wait about 9 hours before it is safe to cross again!
This truly was one of our favorite things that we did while in Bar Harbor the first time. In fact, we were bummed that we couldn’t get the timing to work out during our second visit.
How to Spend Two Days in Acadia National Park
So, how exactly should you build your two-day Acadia National Park itinerary? Of course, that all depends on your interests and how much you want to be out and about. We have learned over the years that everyone has a different travel style and different priorities.
Our suggestions are for the average visitor who wants to see the highlights of the park at a moderate pace. You may be able to add more stops if you move quickly or typically spend a longer day exploring. Or, you may need another day or two if you prefer a more relaxed pace.
Finally, a few activities are best visited (or only possible) at low- or high-tide. Adjust your itinerary as needed based on current tidal charts.
Day 0 (arrival day)
If possible, we suggest stopping by the visitor center on your arrival day to pick up a park map, talk to a ranger and ask about current conditions. As mentioned previously, the exhibit signs in the parking lot are also great places to get information if you arrive after hours.
From there, head into Bar Harbor to pick up groceries or grab dinner (see below for restaurant suggestions). If you have time, wander around town and simply enjoy the town.
Start your day at Jordan Pond. If possible, park close to the Jordan Pond House restaurant. By arriving early in the day, you’ll beat the worst of the rush and should have an easier time finding parking.
Enjoy an easy hike along the Jordan Pond Path, where you can take in the pond, the glacier-carved valley and the two rounded peaks known as the Bubbles. There are also a number of carriage roads that connect to the Jordan Pond Path, allowing you to extend your walk or simply take a different path.
If you prefer a more challenging hike, you can both the Jordan Cliffs Loop (5 miles) and Pemetic Mountain Loop (4 miles) branch off the Jordan Pond Path.
After your hike, enjoy lunch at the Jordan Pond House – just be sure to make a reservation for priority seating ahead of time. While waiting for your table (or after your meal), pick up souvenirs at the shop by the restaurant’s main entrance.
After lunch, drive up to the Cadillac Mountain summit (vehicle reservation required late May to late October; closed in winter). Wander along the Summit Trail, taking in the views and snapping as many pictures as you can.
Drive back into Bar Harbor or one of the surrounding small towns for dinner.
Start your second day by driving the east side of Park Loop Road. Several overlooks and pullouts provide places to enjoy scenic views. Be sure to stop at the Sieur de Monts area and the Sand Beach/Thunder Hole area.
Turn south and drive through the small towns of Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor on your way to the west side of Mount Desert Island. Be sure to pick up lunch at one of the many lobster pounds or other restaurants along the way.
Enjoy a leisurely drive around Mount Desert Island as you make your way to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Pack your patience, though, as parking is limited at this popular stop. Honestly, if you can’t make the trek down the stairs and across the rocky shoreline, I’d skip this stop unless you manage to find parking quickly.
A few miles north of the lighthouse, the Carroll Homestead provides a look at an early settlement on Mount Desert island. The house and farm date back about 200 years and housed three generations of the Carroll family on a traditional New England farm.
Spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying a leisurely walk on one of the park’s many carriage roads. Or, if the tidal charts cooperate, drive back over to Bar Harbor and take a walk out to Bar Island.
End your visit with one final meal in Bar Harbor or one of the many other small towns around Mount Desert Island.
With More Time
With additional time in and around Acadia National Park, you can enjoy more time on the trails and carriage roads or explore the more remote areas of Acadia National Park. Also, if seeing Thunder Hole near high tide or walking out to Bar Island at low tide are priorities for you, you may need more than two days at Acadia National Park to fit those in at specific times.
On our second visit, we really enjoyed touring the Schoodic Peninsula, which is the only part of Acadia National Park on the mainland. The drive from Bar Harbor to the Schoodic Peninsula takes about an hour. After arriving on the peninsula, a six-mile, one-way road loops around the coastline and out to Schoodic Point.
A Welcome Center at the Schoodic Institute provides a small visitor center with exhibits on the history of the area and some of the flora and fauna. There are also several pullouts where you can stop to enjoy the rugged coastline and crashing waves.
While the Schoodic area of Acadia National Park is generally less crowded than Mount Desert Island, we still found the parking lot at Schoodic Point to be nearly full in September. Still, it was a nice drive and well worth the time it took to get there and back.
Where to Eat Near Acadia National Park
For a relatively small town, there are a number of great places to eat in Bar Harbor. And, if you’re a seafood fan, there are a ton of great lobster pounds dotted all over Mount Desert Island where you can enjoy fresh catches. If you’re not familiar with the term “lobster pound,” it’s basically the Maine equivalent of a crab shack.
Stewman’s Lobster Pound
We actually visited Stewman’s Lobster Pound, a dockside restaurant right in downtown Bar Harbor, on both of our visits. Yes, you’ll pay a little more for the location but it was worth it for us. On both visits, Grant enjoyed a classic lobster roll. I opted for a haddock sandwich the first time and fried shrimp the second time. Both were outstanding!
On our first visit, we sat outside and watched the fishermen drag a cage of freshly caught lobster right across the patio and inside. With the setting sun right behind us, it was just about perfect. They have indoor seating too if that is your preference or the weather isn’t great.
Beal’s Lobster Pier
Because Grant can never get enough Maine lobster, we stopped at Beal’s Lobster Pier while driving through Southwest Harbor on the south end of Mount Desert Island. Here Grant opted for a Sriracha lobster roll while I chose the fish tacos. Again, there’s just something about eating fresh seafood on a dockside patio that can’t be beaten. That’s what we love about New England in the summer!
When you’re looking for something quick and easy, you can’t go wrong with pizza. We opted to pick up a to-go order from Pat’s Pizza one night, which we all really enjoyed. We chose a couple of pizzas and a calzone for Grant. Perhaps my only complaint is that our order was ready a little too quickly and wasn’t quite piping hot by the time we got it back to the Vrbo. Still, we didn’t have to wait and no one burned their mouth!
Side Street Cafe
On our second visit, we chose Side Street Cafe to celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday. She enjoyed Serena’s Lobster, which is served “lazy style,” meaning it’s just the meat, making it a cleaner and easier meal. Grant chose their signature 1/2 Rack & Mac, consisting of ribs and classic mac and cheese. I opted again for the fish tacos, which were absolutely scrumptious.
We also enjoyed some of their signature cocktails: Grant really enjoyed the Smoked Pina, made with Mezcal and chipotle pineapple liqueur. I chose the Chamomile Citrus Gin Collins, with tea-infused gin, which was certainly unique.
Of course, we ended the meal with a slice of blueberry pie, a classic in Maine!
Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park
When visiting Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is the obvious town to stay in. That said, there are a wide range of hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, vacation rentals, and campgrounds to choose from all over Mount Desert Island.
Hadley’s Point Campground
On our first visit to Acadia National Park, we camped at Hadley’s Point Campground for 3 nights. You can choose from full hookups or water/electric only. We opted for water/electric only and took advantage of the honey wagon service to empty our tanks one time.
Overall, we really enjoyed the campground and our site provided plenty of space to sit out and relax. And, its location on the north end of Mount Desert Island, only about 15 minutes from downtown Bar Harbor, was great!
Read our full campground review on RV Life here.
Vrbo on Mount Desert Island
For our second visit, since there were four adults, we opted for a Vrbo about 15 minutes west of Bar Harbor. The property was a recently renovated basement apartment with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a nice living room and a small kitchenette.
I have to say, this was absolutely perfect for us! Our host was easy to work with and quick to get back to us when we had questions. The apartment was clean and well-stocked, with comfortable furnishings.
The drive from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park wasn’t bad at all and we actually liked being outside of town where it was quiet. In fact, the location off a well-maintained but unpaved road was perfect for us.
Perhaps the only downside is that the walk from the parking to the door was over a sloped grassy area, which was a little difficult for my mom. The owner communicated this to us, though, so it wasn’t a big surprise.
If you’re visiting Acadia National Park and need 2 bedrooms, we highly recommend this Vrbo!
Read the reviews and book this Vrbo.
Final Thoughts on Acadia National Park
We thoroughly enjoyed both of our visits to Acadia National Park. Not only is the park simply fantastic, but Mount Desert Island and its small towns are just charming!
With two days in Acadia National Park, you’ll have time to see the highlights and enjoy a little bit of the surrounding area. That said, if you’re looking to do a lot of hiking or just want to be able to relax a bit more, you could easily spend a week here.
In the summer, you’ll find pleasant temperatures and will really be able to enjoy the outdoors. In the fall, temperatures will be a bit cooler, but you’ll generally find less people. While Fall foliage is a big draw to the area for good reason, Acadia and Bar Harbor are beautiful any time of year.
Whether you are just looking to enjoy a few scenic drives, want to do some hiking, or want to check out the rugged coastline and tranquil lakes, there is something for everyone at Acadia National Park.
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