Oh, Acadia. There was really nothing better than getting to see my very first national park this summer. This country’s landscape is so diverse, and I came home to look at other national park information online so I could add more photos to my Places I Want to Visit board on Pinterest. (Is it too early to start planning a trip to Yosemite or Joshua Tree??) I also came home with a few lil lessons learned after traveling through a national park. Without further delays, here’s some tips for your first trip to Acadia.
1. Summer is peak season
Let’s be honest, Acadia is stunning no matter what time of the year you visit. During the winter, you can experience cross-country skiing and see how beautiful the park is when it’s coated under snow. The spring is also a perfect time to visit because the moderate temperatures mean you aren’t breaking down into a sweat 24/7. Fall is an absolute magical time to visit because you can see the fall foliage. But summer is no doubt the most popular time to visit Acadia.
I know summer is the most ideal time for many people to travel because their children aren’t in school or they prefer to use their vacation days during the warmer months. My family also travels during the summer, and I really do think it’s a nice time to visit other places because my sister and I don’t have to worry about homework. But know that there will be a lot of people in Acadia at this time of the year. I think some people assume (include myself before I came to Maine!) that crowds in a national park aren’t really a thing because our national parks cover so many acres, but the most popular spots in a park do draw a crowd. In some places, I tried to take photos of nature without travelers but it didn’t work.
So yes, there are some crowds. But how can’t there NOT be a lot of Acadia? I mean, this park is gorgeous! No wonder everyone is drawn to this park.
2. The early bird truly gets the worm
Arriving early to your destination is the best thing you can do! Case in point: Cadillac Mountain has 157 parking spots. Sounds good to me, right? But on the 4th of July, cars had to turn back because there were no spots left and workers got involved. The entrance to the parking lot can close by noon on summer days. Jordan Pond’s parking lot is filled by 11 a.m., and cars were forming long lines as the very first cars were circling around the lot.
– Also, if you want to experience the soul-stirring event of witnessing a sunrise or sunset from Cadillac Mountain…better be willing to get there early :)-
We got to Jordan Pond at around 8:45 a.m. And guess what? It wasn’t completely empty. Kids carried their family’s kayaks toward the direction of the water, guys were packing their backpacks, and parents were putting on their hiking boots. Heading out to Jordan Pond at this time of day is blissful. It’s so quiet. It’s just you and the beautiful Maine outdoors.
I’m not saying to wake up at 7 a.m. every day and plan your days with military precision, but I would say to wake up early on the days you want to visit Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond! But don’t forget to avoid burnout! Sleep in on the days you want to stroll around Bar Harbor.
3. Have a back-up plan
If there aren’t any parking spaces left at Jordan Pond, know at the back of your mind where else you can go to explore the park. If you don’t think you can go cycling one morning due to rainy weather, know you can seek refuge and explore Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum or the Wendell Gilley Museum in Southwest Harbor. We love prepared travelers!
4. Dress for the weather and remember that layers are your best friend
As a downstate New Yorker, I fall in love with New York even more during the summer. Everyone is out and about, as there are movie nights in parks, yoga in Bryant Park, and outdoor festivals. Weekends are spent on the beaches. But 80-90 degree weather also means you’re sweating and you can feel your hair stick to your neck as you’re walking to work and then breathe a sign of relief when you walk into your air-conditioned office.
I was excited to head up north to Maine and to get a respite from the hot weather, even though I am obsessed with this season and love everything about the long days. Here’s why you should like Maine’s cooler weather: Do you really want to hike South Bubble Mountain in 80 degree weather? Cooler temperatures meant I wasn’t getting tired super quickly. It’s perfect weather for touring a national park.
It was in the 60s when I would wake up, and we didn’t even need to use air conditioning. It would climb into the low 70s on sunny days, but some cloudy days meant 55 degree weather. So packing properly was key! Definitely bring jeans. I took capris, but didn’t wear them once. I wore a T-shirt and windbreaker the first day, but what we ended up doing was wearing a T-shirt and hoodie when we left our house and putting our windbreakers in our car. We’d put them on if we felt like we needed them once we got to Acadia, and 8 times out of 10 we did put them on. It definitely did the job. I wore a baseball cap to keep my hair at bay when it was windy. Comfortable sneakers are a must, take your broken-in sneakers that you love and not the new sneakers you got two days before your trip. Bonus points if you choose to bring specialized hiking boots!
A nice backpack to hold your granola bars, water, and camera will work wonders. Also, reusable water bottles are the best thing ever.
5. Know the key sites to visit in Acadia National Park
Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, Bubble Rock, Sand Beach, and Otter Cliffs are a must! Don’t forget about Wild Gardens and the Jordan Pond House too!
6. Strongly consider taking a bus tour
I’m a strong believer that everyone visiting Acadia should take the 2.5 narrated bus tour. Not having to be the one behind the wheel means you get to unwind and really take in your beautiful surroundings. Your focus will just be on this park! Sitting back and relaxing is also perfect for those wanting to get that perfect shot on their cameras.
The second reason I believe everyone should take a bus tour is because it’s narrated. Your lively and energetic bus driver doubles as your tour guide, providing historical information from when Champlain discovered Mt. Desert Island to the 1947 Acadia fire. And did I mention that the driver is energetic? He’ll crack jokes, tell you anecdotes about local life in Bar Harbor, and will take a genuine interest when asking where you’re visiting from. You’ll also learn more tidbits about Maine, like how tourism is the biggest economic powerhouse in the Pine Tree State after the lobster industry and that lobster ice cream is actually a thing. My tour guide seriously made my day.
The tour makes stops at Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and the Wild Gardens of Acadia. The bus departs across the street from Testa’s Restaurant in Bar Harbor. Reservations are required. If you can, don’t miss this opportunity! Expect lots of laughs, feelings of awe, and happy memories.
7. Consider taking a Wildwood Stables carriage tour
Got the horses in the back? I can’t imagine a more perfect start to the day than taking a horse-drawn carriage tour. Going on a horse-drawn carriage tour and taking in the park views around me was such a peaceful start to the morning. Take a break from hiking and relax on this narrated tour….Wildwood Stables really delivers!
Wildwood Stables offers four types of carriage tours: a one-hour day mountain sightseeing tour, a two-hour Mr. Rockefeller’s bridge tour, a two-hour day mountain summit tour, and private carriage charters. We took the day mountain sightseeing tour. It was so nice to be surrounded by the forest and see the ocean views and make out the Cranberry Isles from a distance. Our guide was awesome. She told us more about Acadia’s wildlife and was more than happy to answer all of our questions. You’ll definitely learn more about John D. Rockefeller’s carriage roads throughout the ride.
And can I just talk about the horses? They’re all so beautiful! Before you board, you’ll see the area where the horses graze and ohmygosh they’re all so cute. Our two horses were Charlie and Thumper, two Normandy Percherons that were gentle giants. I just had to pet them after the ride.
What I loved about this experience was that it was a chance to appreciate the park even more. There were only eight people on the tour, and I loved it. It’s great to take this all in with your family by your side and take photos along the way.
8. Don’t limit your lodging options to Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is the village known as the gateway to Acadia. It’s home to Bar Island, shops, restaurants, and of course, lodging. Your lodging choices are endless–hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts.
Bar Harbor, home to 5,000 locals, also comes alive during the summer months and there can be over 15,000 travelers. 3 cruise ships can dock into the village in one week. Don’t forget there are other places on Mount Desert Island that you can stay in. Rub shoulders with the famous at Seal Harbor or head to Southwest Harbor-this place has the cutest Main Street with a bakery, lodging options, and a restaurant overlooking the water.
For me, the icing on the cake was Bass Harbor, a village on the southern part of the island that is further past Southwest Harbor. This oasis in the middle of an island is peaceful, home to stunning sunsets, has the beautiful Bass Harbor Head Light, offers nature boat tours, has a car ferry that takes you to Swan’s Island, and Mainely Delights has great seafood. Staying in a cottage here is heavenly. Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor are excellent choices for lodging if you’re visiting Acadia because of the more leisurely lifestyle.
9. Consider taking a nature tour from Bass Harbor
I already swear by Bass Harbor and think it’s the most picturesque New England village ever with its sunsets, country roads, and lobster boats. Captain Eli’s Island Cruises makes the Bass Harbor experience even more memorable. A two-hour afternoon nature cruise on the R.L. Gott, a 40-foot lobster boat, makes for a great day on the water. You’ll see the cutest seals! Eli is both your captain and guide: you’ll learn more about Bass Harbor’s lobster history (The wait time to be a lobster fisherman here is 52 years!) and you’ll watch him haul a lobster trap. You’ll also learn more about Maine as a whole.
10. Think about rainy day activities
I know, this is something you don’t want to think about. But rain along the Maine coast is inevitable. That doesn’t mean your Acadia trip will be ruined! You can get lost in a book and pick up a souvenir to commemorate your trip at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop & Café, eat and shop in Bar Harbor, and visit the Abbe Museum.
Don’t forget to check out the Seal Cove Auto Museum and Southwest Harbor’s Wendell Gilley Museum! Gilley was a decorative bird carver, and the museum has both carvings and paintings (There’s a Jamie Wyeth painting!)
11. Yes, there’s fog
Being in coastal Maine= experiencing foggy days. We had one sunny day, and then the next three days were foggy. The fog can stay awhile. But that’s part of Maine’s magic! Think about how mysterious, cool, and edgy your photos will be! And cloudy weather is the perfect condition for shooting photos!
12. Take advantage of the food
As a traveler making your first pilgrimage to Maine, it’s your duty to try lobster! The lobster here is just as good as everyone says it is. You can get the classic lobster roll, and there’re are also unique spins on the dish like lobster poutine!
Try having a meal at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant- it’s an Acadia tradition! You get to sit outside and enjoy your meal with Jordan Pond views. This is THE place to try Maine pop-overs: they’ve been serving pop-overs here since 1890! A pop-over is a light roll that looks like an inflated croissant. You can’t find pop-overs in Maine grocery stores, so you have to try them at this restaurant! (Pop-overs are this restaurant’s specialty!) Nothing beats eating them with Maine strawberry jam and butter-along with blueberry soda. The menu here is great-I loved my Shepherd’s Pie! (All of this food was heavenly after a South Bubble hike).
13. Bring your own kayaks
You’re allowed to canoe and kayak on Jordan Pond! You can bring your own canoe and kayak and launch it into the water near the Jordan Pond North parking lot.
14. Pack for your hikes (Seriously, pack dark chocolate)
Having a sturdy backpack to hold all your gear is a must! Don’t forget a reusable water bottle and granola bars/fruits (bananas are great) and sandwiches! Pack dark chocolate! No, this is not a joke. The high calories mean it’s filling and will give you fuel. Dark chocolate has potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Sunscreen and chapstick are also a must.
15. Purchase your vehicle pass ahead of time
If you want to head into Acadia, you need to buy and then show a weekly, annual, or lifetime pass. A private vehicle pass is $30 and covers seven days, a motorcycle pass costs $25 and covers seven days, and bicyclists/hikers/pedestrians pay $15. You can buy and purchase your tickets online or visit a station. Don’t forget to display your pass once you park!
That’s all for now folks! Happy exploring!