Like many of our national parks, summer is the busiest time to visit Acadia — but it’s also the time of year that offers the greatest opportunity for outdoor recreation. During the summer, nearby seaside towns like Bar Harbor are bustling, with plenty of lodging, culinary, and tour options to choose from. Visitors drive Park Loop Road, stopping to hike the 1,058-foot summit of Champlain Mountain via the renowned Precipice Trail and to take in the sights and sounds of popular attractions like Thunder Hole.
While Acadia doesn’t have as much expansive wilderness as some of its western counterparts, there are still opportunities to avoid crowds and get off the beaten path. And if you don’t mind sharing the park’s beauty with others, summer can be one of the best times to visit.
Hiking — With over 120 miles of trails for hikers of varying ability levels, leaving Park Loop Road to head for the hills is a great option. And as your car disappears into the distance, so will the majority of travelers who prefer viewing the sights from the comfort of paved parking lots.
The Precipice Trail, while one of the busiest in the park, is also one of the most unique. Hikers scale cliff faces via a network of narrow trails, bridges, metal ladders and handrails, taking in spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean on the way. If you can bring yourself to wake up before the sun, getting there early can result in you having one of the park’s most popular hikes to yourself. For those looking for something less intimidating, the Jordan Pond Nature Trail and Bubble Rock Trail are great options. There are also a number of less-frequented hikes on the island west of Somes Sound, such as Acadia Mountain.
Rock climbing — The cliffs of Acadia, eroded over time by waves and glaciers, are at the heart of the park’s beauty. But in addition to affording visitors outcrops to take in the views and unique geological features to admire, they are also home to some of the best rock climbing in New England. Climbers head to Otter Cliffs, located right next to the ocean, for the novelty of climbing on sea cliffs above crashing open waves — an experience unique to the East Coast. The South Wall, which is the same cliff band the Precipice Trail is on, offers high-quality rock climbs with panoramic views of the surrounding bays. Acadia Mountain Guides and Atlantic Climbing School, both located in Bar Harbor, offer guided climbing trips and courses.
Cycling — The park’s 45 miles of car-free carriage roads, financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as far back as 1913, are great for exploring the park by bicycle. The roads meander through the park’s wooded boundaries, over and under historic stone bridges and past streams, affording users the solitude they can’t get from the Park Loop Road viewpoints.
If you do opt to cruise on Park Loop Road, you’ll have to keep an eye out for pedestrians and vehicles, but you’ll still get a more engaging perspective than simply driving through Acadia in your vehicle. Pedal as much of the 27-mile loop as you can over two days, and bring your A-game, as parts of the road are quite steep. Acadia Bike, located in Bar Harbor, offers bicycle rentals and can provide information regarding and maps of the carriage roads.
Sea and lake kayaking — Exploring Acadia by water is one of the best ways to experience this coastal park. Kayak tours allow visitors to take a step back and admire the dramatic coastline from afar, visiting remote beaches and spotting wildlife along the way. National Park Sea Kayak offers guided tours between five- and six-and-a-half miles long from late May through October. The island is also home to freshwater ponds and lakes that can be paddled easily without a guide. National Park Canoe Rental offers canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals on the shore of Long Pond.
Go to the beach — While most lakes and watery areas in the park are closed to swimming, you can take a dip at Sand Beach — the one place in the park where you can have a more classic summer beach experience. Just note that the waterline can shift a lot because of the tide here. Also, if you’re used to warmer ocean water further down the coast, you may be in for a surprise. The water is chilly.
Cruises — If a day of paddling the (sometimes) turbulent water off the coast of Maine isn’t your idea of a relaxing day, you can still explore Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park from the ocean. There are plenty of cruise operators in the area offering a variety of cruises, from bird and whale-watching to private sailboat charters. Downeast Sailing Adventures is the only cruise operator on the island that offers trips on a 47-foot Downeast wooden boat, locally built in the late sixties. Guests on their lobster fishing cruise will learn the ins and outs of lobster fishing, which is the lifeblood of Maine. They also offer sailing trips to surrounding islands and deserted beaches.