Nestled into the northeast coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is home to majestic forests, tranquil ponds, stunning mountains and scenic coastline. Acadia is also home to over 40 species of animals (including moose, black bears and coyotes) and is the only National Park in New England. We loved our time in Acadia National Park (and the surrounding area) and would rank Acadia in our top 5 favorite National Parks. After spending a week in the park, here are our Top 5 What to Do Acadia National Park recommendations.
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Note: This post is written off a trip taken late October when fall colors were near peak. Also, see our Top 5 Best Hikes in Acadia National Park and our Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park posts for more helpful information on visiting Acadia.
#1 What to do Acadia National Park: Hike
Acadia National Park has so many unique and picturesque hiking trails. From easy flat wooded and coastline walks to more challenging cliff exposed summit climbs (that utilize metal rungs and ladders), there really is a hiking trail to suit everyone’s hiking abilities in Acadia.
Further, many of the hiking trails in Acadia National Park intersect and there are many different ways to hike to the same spot. We loved the ‘choose your own route’ hiking options in Acadia. These allow you to optimize your time in the park and see many more trails through hiking loop routes rather than exclusive out and back trails. These build your own options also allow you to opt in or out of more technically challenging paths (ladders, metal rungs, rock scrambling, etc) while still getting to the same summit.
We spent a week hiking in Acadia National Park and hiked as many of the trails as possible. See our Top 5 Best Hikes in Acadia National Park post for more information on all our favorite hikes in the park. Here is a quick rundown of some of the trails in the park.
- Best Family Hikes
- Jordan Pond
- Ocean Path
- Jessup Trail
- Best Thrill Seeker Hikes
- Jordan Cliffs Trail
- Precipice Trail
- Beehive Trail
- Best Moderate Hikes
- South Bubble Trail
- Beech Cliffs Loop Trail
- Gorham Mountain
#2 What to do Acadia National Park: Visit Jordan Pond
We loved the Jordan Pond area. Jordan Pond itself is stunning (first picture in post) and you can see some other stunning views from hikes that start here too. You can hike the flat trail around the lake or one of the more challenging hikes for some stunning elevated views of the pond (above). Further, you can stop in the Pond House, which has been around since the 1890s, for some tasty popovers (puffy bread) and tea after your hike.
See our Top 5 Best Hikes in Acadia National Park for more on hiking Jordan Cliffs, South Bubble and Jordan Pond.
Tip: Arrive Early for Parking During High Season
We were told by many other travelers that parking is a bit of a mess here during busy season and to arrive as early as possible to get parking. We had no issues parking at the Jordan Pond House during our visit but we were visiting after peak season.
#3: Visit Echo Lake Area
The Echo Lake area is somewhat of a hidden gem in the park as it is on the less busy side of the park but has equally pretty views. When we visited, we only saw less than 5 other cars in the parking lot. The beach here was so serene and one of our favorite hikes up Beech cliff was here too.
See our Top 5 Best Hikes in Acadia National Park for more on hiking Beech Cliff, Beech Cliff Loop and Canada Cliffs
#4 What to do Acadia National Park: Visit the Oceanarium
We had one rainy day when we were in Acadia, and we were actually glad we did because we probably would have not come here had we not had a rainy day. The Oceanarium was really cool! It is located about 10 minutes outside the park entrance along Highway 3 in Mount Desert on your way into the park. Here, we got to see several naturally uniquely colored lobsters including a very rare blue lobster, tangerine lobster and a half blue/half red lobster. Our daughter also got to touch starfish and sea cucumbers in a touch tank here which she thought was pretty neat. Further, there was a replica lobster boat our daughter enjoyed playing on. Definitely do this if you have littles. And even if you don’t have littles, Sam and I learned a lot about lobsters and enjoyed visiting here too.
#5 What to do Acadia National Park: Eat a Lobster Roll
These are so yummy! Lobster rolls consist of rich lobster dressed with a butter or mayonnaise based sauce inside a hot-dog style bun, served hot or cold. They are pricey but get at least one while you are here. We had a fun experience at Downeast Lobster (a bit North of the park) where we actually got to hold our Lobster before it was cooked. There are many places to try out different style rolls in the greater Acadia area. In our opinion, the Lobster rolls are much tastier than the plain lobster itself (and a lot less work to eat).
Honorable What to do Acadia National Park Mentions
- Bike Carriage Roads–The carriage roads were built by John D. Rockfeller Jr. in the early 1900s as a way to travel the valleys and mountains of Acadia on motor-free byways via horse and carriage. The roads give different expansive and close-up views throughout the park. If we did not have two very little travelers in tow, we would have biked these roads.
- Visit Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse–This is a very pretty and picturesque spot (picture above). We’d recommend coming here to watch the sunrise or sunset on the rocks (Note: not safe for young children though). Otherwise, there is not much to do here other than view the lighthouse.
- Lobster Boat Tour–For a classic Maine activity, take the Lulu Lobster Boat. This is the only lobster boat tour in Bar Harbor.
- Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain–Seeing sunrise at Cadillac Mountain is a classic Acadia activity. It is very popular as it is one of the first spots in the US to see the sunrise and you can drive here. This is a great option to get panoramic and high up coastline views without hiking. We honestly think you get better views hiking throughout the park though and would skip this one if you are able to hike. Important note, you typically need to make a reservation for this prior to visit (we did not need these as we were visiting after October 15th). Check recreation.gov for the most uptodate information on need for reservations.
Acadia National Park FAQs
Where to stay near Acadia National Park?
We LOVED our stay at the Getaway Cabin a bit outside of Acadia in Ellsworth. This cozy cabin nestled in the woods was the perfect escape and place to relax after days spent exploring the park. This cabin truly felt like home. For more on our stay, see our Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park post.
Best time to visit Acadia National Park?
If able, visit Acadia during fall colors as it’s stunning and less busy than the summer season. We visited about a week after ‘typical’ peak fall colors and loved how we had most of the trails to ourselves (other than around the very popular Beehive/Sand Beach). At this time, we did not need reservations for Cadillac Mountain sunrise either. Although fall timeframe would always be our first choice, you really cannot go wrong visiting Acadia during any season.
How does Acadia compare to other National Parks?
Acadia is the only National Park in New England. It is unique in that it has coastline, ponds, forests and mountains all within one park. This is also the only National Park where we have ever used metal rungs and ladders on our hikes. We loved our time in Acadia (and the surrounding area) and think it is a gem. We’d rank Acadia in our top 5 favorite National Parks.
We hope this guide helps you plan what to do in Acadia National Park. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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