MANY OF OUR nation’s national parks are composed of vast wildernesses filled with massive glaciers, towering peaks, and wild rivers — and few roads — that require multiple days of exploration even to scratch the surface. Fortunately for those on a time crunch, Acadia isn’t one of those parks.
Instead, much of Acadia’s craggy coastline and glacier-carved summits can be easily reached by car or with a short hike. What’s more, a critical part of the experience is simply immersing yourself in the culture of Downeast Maine, exploring the small fishing villages and harbors around the park. While multiple days would allow you to explore some of the lesser-traveled sections of the park, there is quite a bit you can accomplish in one day. Here’s what to do.
Hike the Precipice Trail first-thing
If you have to choose only one hike in the park, the Precipice Trail should be it — as long as heights and technical terrain don’t deter you. The Precipice Trail utilizes metal rungs and railings fixed into granite to ascend the east-facing cliffside of Champlain Mountain, affording hikers spectacular views of the Mount Desert Narrows and surrounding landscape. To avoid the crowds and make the most of your day, consider getting there as early as possible; if you’re hiking by or shortly after sunrise, you’ll be in good shape and will likely have the trail to yourself.
The trailhead is about two miles from the Sieur de Monts park entrance on Park Loop Road. Before heading out, check the park’s website for closures, as this part of the cliff is often closed between mid-May and mid-August for peregrine falcon nesting. An alternate hike that offers similar exposure — but is slightly shorter — is the Beehive Trail, which can be accessed at the Bowl Trailhead near Sand Beach. To avoid the cliffs altogether, consider hiking the Bowl Trail to the summit of the Beehive or the South Ridge Trail to the summit of Champlain Mountain.
For a hike without the technical aspect, try North and South Bubble, each offering panoramic views without much need to break a sweat. Both are combined into a 1.5-mile roundtrip free of the Precipice Trail’s metal rungs and potential for vertigo.
Get brunch at Cafe This Way
No matter which trail you choose, chances are you’ll work up an appetite during the hike. Continue along Park Loop Road until you hit Otter Cliff Road, which will connect you back to Route 3 and Bar Harbor. Located right in town, Cafe This Way is a great spot to re-energize for the remainder of the day with some brunch classics (think tasty breakfast burritos or French toast) and a cup of coffee. Of course, if you’d like to save time and avoid exiting and re-entering the park, you can pack your own lunch. But the detour is well worth it, and you’ve paid your admission fee already — no need worry about being charged again to re-enter the park.
Drive Park Loop Road
Park Loop Road circumnavigates much of the central section of the park, just outside of Bar Harbor, before cutting straight up through the middle back towards town. The drive alone offers many opportunities to pull off to take in the coastal views and stroll along the coastal cliffs. Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Point are three stops to look out for, but keep in mind they can get very crowded during peak season.
Stop for popovers and tea at the Jordan Pond House
Shortly after Park Loop Road leaves the coast and begins its journey north, it passes the Jordan Pond House, an Acadia staple. This historic farmhouse overlooks Jordan Pond and North and South Bubble Mountain and has been offering popovers and tea for well over a century. Stroll the trails around the pond, or simply enjoy the views from the outdoor patio while having a snack. Popovers are an iconic New England pastry treat made of a buttery pudding, a direct tribute to what you’d find across the pond in Yorkshire.
If you skipped breakfast at Cafe This Way and something more substantial is in order, try Geddy’s in Bar Harbor. Equally as “iconic New England” as the Jordan Pond House, here you’ll find the freshest of fresh seafood — including Maine lobster that you hand-pick from the tank — to enjoy with a cold beer.
Drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain
The access road leading to the summit of Cadillac Mountain is located just before the exit back toward Bar Harbor. If time allows, a quick drive up the meandering road to the tallest point on Mount Desert Island is a great way to cap off your time in the park. Or visit the Schoodic District, the only part of the park located on the mainland. The one-way loop road can be done in an hour or so, including pull-offs to explore the deep-forested peninsula.
Afterward, simply strolling the streets and watching the ships bob off the coast of Bar Harbor is a relaxing way to spend the evening. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from and shops and galleries to check out. The Looking Glass keeps the views going and is a great family option, and dinner reservations at Havana will bring a romantic flair to the evening after a whirlwind day in the park.