Free Things To Do in Acadia National Park
- #1View all Photos#1 in Acadia National ParkFree, Hiking, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Hiking, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Standing about 1,530 feet in height, Cadillac Mountain wins a lot of superlatives. Not only is it the tallest mountain in the park, but it's the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard. Whether you hike up the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail or drive up the 3 1/2-mile narrow access road, go early. As the only attraction in the park that can be reached by car, Cadillac tends to draw crowds. If you do arrive by car, you should drive slowly, especially as the roadside cliffs get steep. Along the road, you'll find several small observation areas: take advantage of those before you reach the top, where the crowds and tour buses congregate.
For the ultimate vistas, set your alarm clock and try to catch a sunrise here. Cadillac Mountain is the first point of the United States to greet the rising sun's rays from early October to early March, and visitors assure it is a spectacular sight to see. While recent travelers said a trip to Acadia isn't complete without a stop at Cadillac Mountain, they also cautioned the area gets crowded, even in the early morning hours (some reported arriving two hours before sunrise). If you're visiting during the winter months, you'll have to hike the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail; the park closes down the access road for the winter season. Pack blankets and hold on to your hats, too, as it gets chillier as you ascend.
- #3View all PhotosfreeJordan Pond#3 in Acadia National ParkFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Both the Jordan Pond Nature Trail (an easy stroll through the evergreens) and the Jordan Pond Shore Trail (a more difficult trek along the rocky coast) spill out to the picturesque and pleasant respite that is Jordan Pond. Pick your poison (or trail) and at the end, you'll find crystal-clear waters that mirror the surrounding mountains. The nearby Jordan Pond House Restaurant serves soups, lobster rolls and its signature popovers and tea.
Recent travelers were equally impressed with the restaurant's menu as they were with the spectacular scenery. They also appreciated the restaurant's kid-friendly atmosphere. However, visitors warned that the restaurant can get very crowded around lunchtime, especially in the summer. If you don't want to wait long for a table, try getting to the restaurant early (reviewers raved about the afternoon tea). If you can time your hike accordingly, you can also make reservations by calling the restaurant. And when you're ready to move on, the Perpendicular Trail, as well as a handful of other paths, start in the area. If you'd rather drive here than hike, the restaurant has its own parking lot, but space is limited. You can access the parking lot from Park Loop Road. You can also arrive via the Island Explorer shuttle (Route No. 5 stops here).
- #4View all PhotosfreeSchoodic Point#4 in Acadia National ParkBeaches, Natural Wonders, Free, Hiking, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Free, Hiking, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
As the only portion of Acadia National Park that's actually located on the mainland, Schoodic Point isn't as easily accessible as some of the park's other major attractions. But that's precisely why recent travelers found this area so special. Much like Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Point is composed of a craggy shoreline, granite headlands and spruce-fir forests. But unlike the island, its removed location lends a feeling of secluded intimacy.
Located about an hour's drive northeast from Bar Harbor, Schoodic Point is perhaps best known for the crashing surf that explodes against its rocks. When you're not admiring the waves, look to the west for incredible views of Cadillac Mountain. Most visitors park themselves in beach chairs to take in the nature show, but there are plenty of other things to do here as well. There are seven hiking trails; the Schoodic Head Trail, Anvil Trail and East Trail lead hikers through spruce-fir forests to pine woodlands at the top of Schoodic Head. The less-strenuous Alder Trail guides visitors through a shrubland, while leisurely Sundew Trail brings them along the coast to the Schoodic Education and Research Center. If your legs need a break from all the climbing, take a seat at the Frazer Point picnic area. It offers tables, fire rings, water fountains, restrooms and a dock.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Acadia National ParkFree, HikingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, HikingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
If you want to experience a stunning sunrise without the crowds of Cadillac Mountain, head to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. This lighthouse was constructed in the late 1800s and is considered one of the most picturesque lighthouses in all of Maine. It's owned and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and is the only lighthouse on Mount Desert Island. Access inside the lighthouse is closed off to visitors, but it's best observed from outside anyway.
The landmark sits on the southern tip of Mount Desert Island. Visitors can reach the lighthouse viewing platform by parking at the free lot off Lighthouse Road in Bass Harbor and then walking down a short, sloped trail to sea level. Travelers with limited accessibility should be cautious of the steep path and the often slippery stones of the viewing platform. Previous visitors said both sunrises and sunsets are spectacular here. They also laud the platform's location as it's the perfect spot to witness groups of dolphins and seals up close. However, in the peak summer months there is often traffic congestion on the drive to the lighthouse, so plan to arrive early or take the Island Explorer, which drops passengers off a half-mile from the lighthouse. For more information, visit the National Park Service website.
- #6View all PhotosfreeSand Beach#6 in Acadia National ParkBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Sand Beach is filled with sharp shells and its water rarely warms above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. But still, this is the most popular of the park's two beaches. Why? Because the views here are outstanding. Sandwiched between two walls of solid pink granite and surrounded by towering evergreens, the approximately 900-foot-long shoreline is not your average beach. When you're not admiring the views from the shore, consider hiking up the Great Head Trail for an even better vantage point. This trail, which starts at the eastern end of the beach (the opposite end of the parking lot), has ascending granite steps that start at the base of the cliffs. Once you get to the top, you'll enjoy spectacular views of the beach and be able to spot The Beehive, a mountain that attracts experienced hikers.
You'll find this beach off Park Loop Road, just south of the east entrance pay station. If you choose to drive, you'll find a parking lot off Park Loop Road (this is also where the beach's changing rooms are located). The free Island Explorer shuttle also makes frequent stops at the beach. Because of its location off of Park Loop Road, Sand Beach is only open from mid-April to December.
- #7View all PhotosfreeCarriage Roads#7 in Acadia National ParkFree, Recreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Recreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Carriage Roads are a 57-mile long network of paved paths created and funded by John D. Rockefeller Jr. from 1913 to 1940. Over the course of the 27-year project, Rockefeller hand-designed the paths to highlight the best scenery the park had to offer, circling around Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and Mount Desert Island. After a weatherproofing and modernizing project in the 1990s, the Carriage Roads reopened to the public. The roads (which are off-limits to motor vehicles) are great for those on bikes, horses and inline skates who want to explore some of Acadia's more rustic areas. And unlike most other trails, the Carriage Roads are kept open in the winter to be repurposed as skiing and snowshoeing routes.
Recent travelers said a walk or bike ride here really allows visitors to appreciate the beauty of Acadia, and many highly recommended planning a fall visit just to see the spectacular foliage. Many also suggest booking a horse-drawn carriage ride along the trails for an unforgettable experience; be sure to reserve a spot early though, as they fill up quickly. If you want to avoid the crowds, reviewers suggest you get on the road early and try to visit on a weekday.
- #8View all PhotosfreePrecipice Trail#8 in Acadia National ParkFree, HikingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, HikingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Precipice Trail is one of the most rewarding hikes in the park, as long as you have the guts to attempt it. The challenging, 2-mile round-trip path has visitors scrambling up the side of Champlain Mountain by iron rungs and ladders fixed to exposed cliffs, all for a scenic summit and unparalleled view of Sand Beach.
Unfortunately, the trail isn't one size fits all. Recent travelers warned that the trail isn't well-suited for visitors who are afraid of heights. If you're on the fence about whether you're up for the challenge, reviewers suggest you first try tackling the Beehive Trail – a strenuous but shorter trail on the park's east side. And to avoid being stuck behind fellow hikers, start your climb early.
- #9View all PhotosfreeThunder Hole#9 in Acadia National ParkNatural Wonders, Free, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Free, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
A raucous natural phenomenon, this semi-submerged cave booms an hour or two before high tide. Waves fill the cave in such a way that the slapping is as loud as a thunderstorm – hence the name – and water can spray as far as 40 feet, so wear a poncho if you want to stay dry.
To catch the big boom, there's an element of luck, as well as timing. Recent travelers said the best time to visit is when the tides are changing. Visitors also warned that it can be difficult for those with mobility issues to enjoy since the rocks can be uneven. However, those who can't make the descent can still see and hear the waves. If you venture outside of the viewing platform (which includes a railing and level steps), walk carefully; the rocks will likely be wet and slippery. When you're not admiring the spectacular show, take a moment to take in the views: you'll spot Schoodic Peninsula in the distance, Sand Beach to left and Otter Cliff to the east.
- #10View all PhotosfreeOtter Cliff#10 in Acadia National ParkFree, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Another classic stop along the Park Loop Road, Otter Cliff is a giant 110-foot-high granite precipice with one of the most breathtaking ocean views on the East Coast. Be careful not to fall off the ledge as you burst through the spruce trees that cap the precipice. In the summer, you'll see adventurous rock climbers scrambling up the granite and whale pods spouting off the shore. In the fall, giant flocks of ducks gather here in the waves before migrating south for the winter.
Recent visitors said a stop here is a must for the views alone, but they also point out that Otter Cliff is much less crowded than some of the park's other top spots like Sand Beach. Travelers said the lack of crowds made their visit especially peaceful. Otter Cliff is accessible via Park Loop Road year-round and is located less than a mile south of Thunder Hole. If you're already at Sand Beach, you can take the Ocean Path all the way to Otter Cliff (and pass Thunder Hole along the way). You can also get here via the free Island Explorer shuttle (Route No. 3, Sand Beach/Blackwoods, stops here). If you decide to drive, you'll find a parking area across the road from the cliff. From there, you'll see granite steps leading to the cliffside.
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