Stretching almost 3,500 miles from New Hampshire to Canada, Maine's dramatic shoreline is at its wildest in Acadia National Park, a rocky and mountainous coastal landscape more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest than the Eastern Seaboard. Within the park's nearly 50,000 acres are 120 miles of hiking trails, 30 lakes, three expansive campgrounds, and myriad options to hike, fish, bike, and boat.
Glacier-carved mountains offer panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, peninsulas, islands, cliffs, and valleys. Be the first in America to watch the sunrise from atop Cadillac Mountain, or cast your line at one of a dozen freshwater fishing spots within the park. Mount Desert Island, where the majority of the park is located, also has a distinctly New-England feel, with small fishing villages, lobstering boats, and buoys bobbing quietly in the harbors.
While New England’s only national park can get crowded during the summer, its sheer size makes for plenty of ways to get away from the bustle to immerse yourself — in near solitude — in the park’s natural splendor.
Acadia National Park is most accessible from April 15 through November 31, when Park Loop Road, the access road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain (the highest point in the park), the visitor center, campgrounds, and picnic areas are open. But for the adventurous, visiting during the winter can be extremely rewarding.
It's only then that the empty park is blanketed in snow, transforming a popular summer destination into a secluded winter wonderland. Although two short sections of Park Loop Road — Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road — remain open year-round, the best way to experience the park in winter is to leave the car behind. Instead, explore Acadia by snowshoe or cross-country skis on its carriage roads. Hiking is also possible, but you’ll need experience in winter hiking, and the use of microspikes or crampons is required. Daytime highs often hover around the freezing mark, but temperatures can drop well below that.
If visiting during the park’s June to late August high season, book accommodations months in advance. Pleasant 50- to 70-degree temperatures bring visitors in droves, making it more difficult to find tranquility and solitude. Luckily, the vast majority of visitors head straight to Mount Desert Island; they overlook the less-popular northern section of the park on the Schoodic Peninsula. In summer, shops and restaurants in the nearby resort town of Bar Harbor are open, offering options after a day in the park.
September through October is arguably the best time to visit the park. Although temperatures can be on the chilly side (50s or 60s during the day and sometimes dropping below freezing at night), the crowds have dispersed and most amenities are still open. Peak foliage — from maple, oak, beech, birch, and elm trees — usually occurs during the first few weeks of October and is a spectacular time to be in the park. Keep in mind that there is usually an uptick in visitors during the most colorful foliage weekends.
Spring, or “mud season” as it’s referred to by the locals, can be a good time to visit if solitude is the main priority. But the carriage roads are often closed due to the softer ground, and many businesses in Bar Harbor haven’t yet opened for the season.
The easiest way to get to Acadia is by car, taking ME-3 (Route 3) south from Ellsworth for 15 miles. The drive is about four-and-a-half hours from Boston Logan International Airport — you can also fly from Boston directly to Hancock County Airport, a ten-minute drive from the park. Bangor International Airport also provides service from a number of airports around the country and is about an hour from the park. Rental cars are available at both airports.
While having a car is the most convenient way to get to the park, it isn’t always the most convenient way to actually explore it. You can also get there by bus: Concord Coach and Greyhound both offer service to Bangor from Portland. From there, Downeast Transportation offers service to Bar Harbor.
If driving from points south, make sure to leave extra time to explore some of Maine’s other coastal destinations, like Portland, Kennebunkport, Freeport, or Ogunquit. These charming New England towns offer seafood, beaches, and shopping. (The flagship L.L. Bean store in Freeport is a good stop for park-appropriate clothing.)
The park has four entrances, each of which accesses Park Loop Road. The Hulls Cove Entrance is located on Route 3; the Cadillac Mountain Entrance, just south of Bar Harbor, is your best bet if heading in during dark hours to await sunrise; the Sieur de Monts Entrance is to the south, also located on Route 3; from Seal Harbor, access the Stanley Brook Entrance on the park’s southwest side.
Once in Bar Harbor, the Island Explorer provides free shuttle service during the summer to destinations within and around the park, including trailheads and campgrounds. Even if you have a car (especially during the summer months), using the shuttle helps minimize congestion on Park Loop Road. In fact, to combat the congestion, the park will implement a reservation system to drive on certain portions of Park Loop Road beginning in 2021.
If you’re up for a human-powered adventure, a number of hiking trails connect to the park from Bar Harbor or Northeast Harbor. Hiked straight through, the 10.4-mile journey takes about four hours and offers plenty of opportunities to jaunt off for side excursions, including fishing, camping, or checking out other trails. You can also rent bicycles in Bar Harbor, the perfect way to explore the park’s carriage roads.