Top 10 Things to Know About Acadia National Park: PHOTOS

by Jon D. B.

Brush up on your Acadia National Park facts and learn the fascinating history behind the North Atlantic’s crown jewel before your trip.

Breathtaking sunrises from atop Cadillac Mountain. Craggy, Game of Thrones-esque coastal cliffs. Gorgeous, ancient mountain forests. You’ll find all of these in a single park: Maine’s Acadia National Park. Millions of visitors flock to Acadia from around the world every single year, and once you visit, it’s not hard to see why.

The first National Park east of the Mississippi, Maine’s premiere natural destination holds some of the most fascinating history – and present-day happenings – of any place in America. Below, we’re hitting the highlights with our Top 10, so be sure to dive in before your next New England trip.

10. Acadia is Home to the East Coast’s Highest Point: Cadillac Mountain

Rolling cloud cover sweeps over the top of Bar Island as seen from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

The highest point on the U.S.’s eastern seaboard, Cadillac Mountain has been a desirable destination for all of North American human history. Acadia’s lands are home to the Wabanaki people, who’ve inhabited the area for thousands of years (more on their incredible past and present below). Early in U.S. history, colonists used this waypoint to map out the coastline, eventually making it a popular tourist destination very early in America’s history.

From atop Cadillac Mountain, visitors get a gorgeous birds-eye view of the Atlantic and the glacial coastal landscape carved into its shore. To get to the top, the park offers the paved Cadillac Summit Loop Trail, alongside plenty of interpretive signs. Once you make it to the top, restrooms and a great gift shop await.

9. From Dense Forests to Craggy Coasts, Acadia is Wildly Diverse

The view from “Raven’s Nest” a secluded spot on the Schoodic Peninsula side of Acadia National Park, seen on a gray day. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Firstly, with everything from steep cliffs and dense forests to freezing Atlantic waters, safety is paramount when visiting Acadia. Each of the park’s amazing geological components makes for incredible exploring, but Acadia is never to be tackled lightly.

Go in prepared, and you’ll be able to hike the side of immense cliffs over ancient forests, take whale watching excursions into the Atlantic, or take a horse-drawn buggy through historic, castle-like stone homes. All in the same park.

Sightseeing by horse drawn carriage in Acadia National Park. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

But remember, safety should always be #1 priority while exploring anytime, anywhere. And with the sheer ecological diversity of Acadia National Park, a bit of safety prep goes a long, long way.

To best prepare, see our Acadia National Park Safety: Best Practices to Stay Safe While Exploring the National Park.

8. Plants Rule Acadia National Park

Acadia’s Echo Lake in autumn color. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Whether in water or on land, plants dominate Acadia National Park. In fact, over 1,000 different plant species are abundant within park lands.

In Acadia, forests are only the beginning of plant life. Abundant wetlands flourish here, as do coastal, mountain and dense valley ecosystems. Both deciduous and coniferous forests thrive in Acadia, with ash, spruce, aspen, pine, beech, maple, birch, and white cedar trees all present.

You’ll also find plenty of wildflowers and berry bushes in the meadows of Acadia. And at high mountain elevations, juniper and raspberry shrubs are common, too.

There’s no shortage of plant-filled marshes, bogs, and ponds, either, so be sure to keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that lives in tandem with Acadia’s remarkable flora.

7. So Do Birds of Prey

A pair of Maine ospreys took up residence in this nest hours after it was put up. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Of all the amazing animals in Acadia National Park, birds of prey are among some of the most remarkable. You’ll see anything from a moose to North American porcupine in the park, but it’s raptors that rule this landscape. Eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and osprey all call Acadia home.

The park does a phenomenal job of engaging bird of prey conservation, too. Wildlife biologists have tallied tens of thousands of raptors in the last quarter century, with no signs of slowing down. Come fall, park conservationists host Hawk Watch, where ornithologists and volunteers watch the raptors fly south for winter atop Cadillac Mountain.

And it’s not just birds of prey that are abundant in Acadia, but hundreds of species of birds. More bird species have been catalogued in the Maine national park than any other in the nation. A whopping 338 bird species have been encountered in the park.

For more on Acadia’s wildlife, head to our Acadia National Park Wildlife: Which Animals You’ll Spot and How to Stay Safe.

6. Weather Changes Rapidly in Acadia

Skies clear as a storm rolls into Acadia National Park, Bass Harbor Lighthouse. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If there’s one thing to prepare for in Acadia, it’s unpredictable weather. Rain, in particular, can show up instantaneously in this coastal ecosystem. The park can change from a sunny, hot day to a dark, cold, and very wet one in minutes. Bring layers for Acadia, and be sure to check the weather forecast ahead of time.

The driest months of the year are typically July & August. Visiting during these peak summer months means contending with huge crowds, however. If you’re willing to brave freezing temperatures, visit Acadia in winter for a true wonderland. Always check park closures due to snow and ice ahead of time, though.

Outsider recommends brushing up on your weather safety ahead of an Acadia National Park visit.

5. Acadia National Park is a Premiere Camping Destination

 Otter Cove, Acadia National Park, Maine. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As Outsider’s Amy Myers cites, “Acadia National Park has a total of four campgrounds (three front-country, one backcountry), and while this might not seem like a lot, there are plenty of sites at each of these four locations.”

Camping in Acadia is a fantastic experience, with hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and historic trails at your disposal. The park offers great camper amenities, too, for those who aren’t looking to rough it.

“Also important to know is the fact that the park requires reservations for staying at any of these grounds,” Amy adds. “There are no sites available upon arrival, but you can book your reservation up to two months in advance. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring.”

You can book your reservations for Acadia National Park lodging here. Or, for an in-depth look at the park’s camping and lodging offerings, see our Acadia National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations in Blackwoods, Duck Harbor and More.

4. Fishing is a Way of Life in Acadia

Sunday 8/1/05 Staff Photo by Fred J. Field — Isle Au Haut, Maine: — Light and dark colored rocks under a patchwork quilt sky are featured in this view of Duck Harbor in Acadia National Park on Isle Au Haut. According to the National park Service Duck Harbor provides the best location for hiking the 18-miles of trails in the park. (Photo by Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Ah, The Isle au Haut. What an incredible, historic island and culture. Acadia’s mainland Stonington ferry is the way to go for a visit, which Outsider highly recommends. You’ll travel 15 miles past the coast of Mount Desert Island by boat, and one of the most fantastic and oldest fishing communities in the U.S. awaits.

Half of Isle au Haut is managed by Acadia National Park, the other half being privately owned. That private ownership dates back prior to 1943 when a large portion of land was donated to the Department of the Interior for conservation.

As a whole, fishing is the lifeblood and primary occupation of Isle au Haut residents, and has been for over 200 years. Today, visitors can visit this incredible, unique fishing community that remains much as it did hundreds of years ago – something you won’t want to miss.

3. 158 Miles of Hiking Trails Await

A line of hikers files up the Beehive Trail near Sand Beach at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor in July. (Photo by Michael G. Seamans/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Ready to hike Acadia National Park? You’ll have 158 miles at your disposal, so be sure to pack a great pair of hiking boots.

No matter your skill level, Acadia offers gorgeous hikes for all. And you’ll be treated to some of the best views of America’s broad East Coast ecosystems throughout. The “North Atlantic’s Crown Jewel” never disappoints hikers, and Outsider stand behind this by recommending:

  • Cadillac Summit Loop (easy)
  • Ocean Path Trail (easy)
  • Around Mountain Carriage Road (moderate)
  • Western Head and Cliff Trail (moderate)
  • Beehive Loop (moderate to strenuous)
  • Precipice Loop (strenuous)

For an in-depth look at Acadia’s hiking offerings, see our Acadia National Park Must-Sees: Hikes, Views, and Landmarks, from Cadillac Summit to Precipice Loop.

2. How Acadia National Park Got Its Name

This photograph taken on October 30, 2018, shows a woman sitting beside the artificial lake of Ladon, in the northwestern area of Arcadia in Greece. (Photo by Angelos tzortzinis / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Look familiar? Scroll up and you’ll find a near-identical landscape in the form of Acadia’s Otter Cove. But this latest photo hails from the other side of the planet in the Arcadia region of Greece. Which is exactly where the national park’s modern name comes from.

Originally, Acadia was first signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson as Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916. Then, in 1919, it became the first national park east of the Mississippi under the name Lafayette National Park. But this would change yet again in 1929, when the park was finally named Acadia National Park.

GREECE – SEPTEMBER 04: A section of the Arcadia coastline, Peloponnese, Greece. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

The name comes from Arcadia, a region of Greece that’s lakes, rolling mountains, and craggy coasts greatly resemble this portion of Maine, as this second photo shows. It’s unclear why the ‘R’ was dropped from Arcadia other than to distinguish the park from its Greek counterpart.

1. The Wabanaki Tribes Have Inhabited Acadia’s Land for Over 12,000 Years

Sat., April,14, 2012. Penobscot indian Donna Brown from Indian Island in Old Town dances during the Wabanaki Arts Festival at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. (Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

If there’s one thing to take to heart about Acadia National Park, its the past, present, and future of the land’s Indigenous Peoples. Native American tribes have inhabited what we know as Maine for over 12,000 years. Let that sink in.

And as with all Indigenous Americans, they are not the past. They are the present and future. Today, four tribes collectively known as the Wabanaki, call the lands of Acadia National Park and Maine home. These tribes include the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot.

When visiting the park, be sure not to miss the nearby Abbe Museum. This fantastic native-guided Wabanaki museum is full of their art, culture, and history, and allows visitors to learn much of these amazing peoples.

Excited for Acadia? It’s a remarkable national park. Head to Acadia National Park’s Top 10 Things To Know Before Visiting next for more ahead of your trip.