Top 10 Things to Do in Acadia National Park

by Jon D. B.
acadia-national-park

Acadia National Park offers a vast array of breathtaking ventures for visitors, which can make it hard to plan for. But Outsider’s got you covered with our Top 10.

The oldest U.S. National Park east of the Mississippi, Acadia exemplifies the splendor of northeast America, leading to its status as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast.”

Mostly located on Mount Desert Island (the largest island off the coast of Maine), Acadia offers 47,000 acres of Atlantic coast, woodland, glacier-formed granite peaks, and pristine rocky beaches. And with so much available, it can feel a monumental task to plan the perfect Acadia National Park excursion. We’ve got you covered, though. Stick to these top 10 to prep your ultimate Acadia adventure, and you’ll be set for one of the best national park experiences America has to offer.

10. Gorham Mountain Trail

Sand Beach Cove and Great Head from Gorham Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine, United States. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Looking for an excellent overview of what Acadia has to offer? Head for Gorham Mountain Loop for a truly beautiful hike. Here, you’ll find rocky coastline, Cadillac Mountain’s silhouette in the distance, and a panoramic view of ocean drive.

To traverse Gorham Mountain Trail, head to the southwest corner of Gorham Mountain parking lot. There stands a large stump with Gorham Mountain Trail carved into it, and your journey begins.

Acadia National Park, Maine. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A 3.5 mile round trip, the trail also offers the Cadillac Cliff trail section. This portion doesn’t change the distance of your hike, but will change the difficulty. The entirety of Gorham is rocky with uneven footing regardless, so be sure to wear proper hiking boots (which is always solid advice for any hike, regardless of difficulty or terrain).

For the best safety prep, see our Acadia National Park Safety: Best Practices to Stay Safe While Exploring the National Park.

9. Jordan Pond

Acadia National Park, Maine. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

One of the park’s most pristine environments, Jordan Lake offers gorgeous mountain scenery carved by glaciers long ago.

Here, visitors have enjoyed canoeing and kayaking, exploring nearby carriage roads, and the Jordan Pond House for a century. To share in this experience, head to the two-way section of Park Loop Road. Jordan Lake is a good 30 minutes from Hulls Cove Visitor Center. Or, Acadia’s Stanley Brook Entrance in Seal Harbor also offers access to Jordan. Either way, follow signs for Jordan Pond and you’ll be set.

Or, the fare-free Island Explorer also stops at Jordan Pond. Check their bus schedule for routes and timetables to plan your trip to Jordan Pond.

8. Precipice Trail on Champlain Mountain

Ready to ascend over 1,000 feet in less than a mile? Gather your physical and mental strength to summit Champlain Mountain via Acadia’s Precipice Trail loop. But please note, this rugged, non-technical climb features open cliff faces and iron rungs, so it is not for inexperienced trekkers. The park does not recommend visitors with small children or people with a fear of heights tackle this trail.

Precipice Loop begins with a rugged slope, then leads trekkers across a wooden bridge and occasional iron handrail crossings of narrow, exposed ledges. Finally, it allows visitors to reach the summit of Champlain Mountain. There, climbers are rewarded with incredible views of Acadia National Park. If wet weather is afoot, however, the park does not recommend attempting this 3.2 mile loop.

7. Bubble Rock

MAINE, UNITED STATES – 2002/01/01: USA, Maine, Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, ‘bubble’, Granite Rock Formation. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Known as a “glacial erratic,” the immense Bubble Rock sits perched high atop Acadia’s South Bubble Mountain. As you can imagine, getting to Bubble Rock can be a challenge as a result.

Bubbles Trail that begins at Jordan Pond is a strenuous hike than involves scrambling and bouldering. For a much more leisurely ascent, head for the trail marked west from the Bubbles parking lot.

Getting to Bubble Rock is also possible via the western portion of the Bubble Divide Trail, but it is also a steep ascent. Regardless of how you get there, standing in this natural icon’s presence is an Acadia experience for the bucket list.

6. Carriage Roads

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Thursday, April 21, 2005: Grace Sawyer of Beaverton, Oregon makes her way down the carriage road in Acadia National Park with Jordan Pond in the background. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Ready for 45 miles of rustic carriage roads? Famous American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family funded their construction, and they’ve been in use since 1913 by – you guessed it – horse-drawn carriages. Visitors can live this experience today, weaving around the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park.

Acadia’s 16-foot-wide carriage roads are an example of broken-stone roads used at the turn of the 20th century. Seeing the Gate lodges, stone-faced bridges over streams, waterfalls, motor roads, and cliff sides are all worth the journey tenfold.

SEAL HARBOR, MOUNT DESERT, MAINE, UNITED STATES – 2009/10/20: Sightseeing by horse drawn carriage in Acadia National Park. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Want to travel the carriage roads the old fashioned way? Most of those roads are available for horseback travel either on a carriage ride with Wildwood Stables. Or, if you have your own horse, bring them along to travel the roadways via horseback.

Please note, only pedestrians, bicyclists, horses, and horse-drawn carriages are allowed on the roads. There’s no driving allowed by motorized vehicles of any size.

For further amenities in Acadia, see our Acadia National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations in Blackwoods, Duck Harbor and More.

5. Otter Cliff

BAR HARBOR, ME – JUNE 2: Katrina Schweikert climbs on Otter Cliffs at Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with the aid of Alden Strong, a climbing instructor with Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School in Bar Harbor, Maine. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Otter Cliff is not for the faint of heart. But those willing to brave this thundering climb over the Atlantic’s churning coastline are in for an unmatched experience. In Acadia, most cliffs are composed of solid coarse-grained pink granite, and Otter Cliff provides a spectacular setting for sea cliff climbing not commonly available elsewhere. Great Head also provides a similar experience, but Otter Cliff is part of the greater Otter Point, accessible off Park Loop Road (below).

Looking to tackle these cliffs? Climbing instruction and guiding is available locally from private companies in Bar Harbor.

Want to see this spectacular geology without scaling vertical cliffs? Head to Otter Point from Park Loop Road for amazing views of Acadia’s unmatched beauty.

4. Park Loop Road

Road through Acadia National Park. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If you plan one route of travel through Acadia, make sure it’s Park Loop Road. One of three types of major road systems on the island, Park Loop Road is surrounded by fascinating nature and history. It took decades (starting in the 1920s) to construct, and allows vehicle access to the park separate from local roads and non-motorized carriage roads.

Stretching for 27-miles, Park Loop Road takes you around the eastern portion of Mount Desert Island. It connects to some of Acadia’s biggest attractions, including Sieur de Monts, Sand Beach, Otter Point, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain.

To capture the full “tour experience” by car, begin your route at Acadia’s Hulls Cove Visitor Center. From there, the road heads south along Paradise Hill Road before beginning the actual “loop” section. Along the way, follow signs for the one-way section to Sand Beach, and you’re set.

For a rundown on the wildlife you’ll see surrounding Park Loop Road, see our Acadia National Park Wildlife: Which Animals You’ll Spot and How to Stay Safe.

3. Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole, Acadia NP, Maine, ME, USA (Photo by: myLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A famous seaside chasm with surrounding cliffs and gardens, Thunder Hole is an Acadia icon that shouldn’t be missed. As with all national park icons, be sure to arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds.

The park cites high tide as 2 PM ET, though, so the most impressive display of crashing ocean waves (for which Thunder Hole gets its name) will be in the afternoon. It’s a must-see stop regardless of time, and the craggy granite cliffs carved by the ocean, alongside history’s glaciers, is one of the park’s most unique geological formations.

In short, Thunder Hole lives up to its name and is of the most powerful experiences Acadia has to offer. Easily accessible from Park Loop Road, getting down to Thunder Hole requires many steps – so be sure to plan accordingly.

2. Champlain Mountain via Beehive Loop Trail

Looking for an incredible and intense mountain experience in Acadia National Park? Many pros and visitors prefer the Beehive Loop Trail to summit Champlain Mountain.

An adventure that takes ample athletic ability and endurance, Beehive Loop winds to the top of Champlain and offers gorgeous outlook points over Acadia’s lakes and mountains. You’ll scramble boulders, use metal rungs to advance to higher ground, and scale cliffs that lead to Champlain’s top.

The above considered, please do not attempt Beehive Loop if you are not comfortable with heights, drop offs, or intense hikes. Once you get about halfway up the trail, turning back is not an option.

Hiking boots are also a must. Be sure to wear layers, too, as weather is unpredictable in Acadia.

1. Cadillac Mountain

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, ME – JUNE 28: Rolling cloud cover sweeps over the top of Bar Island as seen from the summit of Cadillac Mountain Tuesday, June 28, 2016. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

This may feel a predictable #1 for Acadia, but no visit to the Maine national park is complete without summiting Cadillac Mountain, period. The highest point on the U.S.’s eastern seaboard, Cadillac Mountain offers unparalleled views of the northern Atlantic’s glaciated coastal and island landscape.

Unlike most famous American mountains, Cadillac is accessible by car. It’s the perfect family-friendly destination due to the short, paved Cadillac Summit Loop Trail. Along the way, you’ll find interpretive waysides, restrooms, and even a gift shop at Cadillac’s summit.

BAR HARBOR, ME – JULY 31: Hundreds of visitors flock to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to watch the sunrise Monday, July 31, 2017. At 1530 ft. Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain along the Eastern Coast of the United States. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Cadillac sunrises are unrivaled, and visitors have been flocking to the summit to witness first light for generations. To catch a sunrise and/or see the historic mountain for yourself, be sure to snag your vehicle reservation ahead of time. Reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road from May 25 through Oct 22, and you can purchase them on Recreation.gov in advance. The park recommends doing so as far ahead of your visit as possible.

To learn more about Cadillac Mountain and the surrounding history of Acadia, be sure to visit Outsider’s Top 10 Things to Know About Acadia National Park next.

For help planning the ultimate excursion, see our Acadia National Park in Maine: Everything You Need to Plan Your Trip from Lodging, Camping and Views.

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