You've heard about the beautiful scenery in Acadia National Park—but you might wonder what the best way is to explore this incredible landmark. While there's no wrong way to begin, there are certainly routes and strategies that can match your personality and interests. One of the best ways to explore Acadia National Park begins from the doorstep of your very own cabin rental just outside the park. From here, the best activities of the park will be experienced when you step outside your threshold.
Where to Begin
There is no lodging in Acadia National Park, a national park located on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine. Most people begin their exploration on the mainland, in Bar Harbor or one of the neighboring coastal towns. From here, it is easy to spend a day hiking along the 125 miles of trails, kayaking along the shoreline, or attending ranger-led programs. After choosing your lodging, the next big decision to make is whether or not to bring a car into the park.
Depending on when you visit Acadia National Park, you will have two options for transportation. From approximately late June through early October, the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus is operational on the island. This bus delivers the option of a car-free vacation, allowing no one in your family to be stuck behind the wheel and miss out on all the beautiful scenery. The shuttle runs through Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and various locations throughout Acadia National Park. It's a very green environmentally friendly option and is fare-free.
Independent travelers will also have the option of bringing a car into the park. Weekly passes are available for approximately $25 per car. One reason people love to bring a car is for a scenic drive along the Park Loop Road. This journey stretches along a 27 mile road for a three or four hour tour. However, keep in mind that due to significant snowfall, this road closes each year on December 1.
Another reason to bring a car is to plan your own outdoor activities. With a car you can be in charge of planning hikes or cycling trips along 45 miles of carriage roads on the island. Biking is also allowed on the Park Loop Road, but cyclists should be aware that there is no shoulder and sharing the road with traffic can be daunting at busy periods. Other fun outdoor activities include kayaking and canoeing along the shoreline or swimming (in both salt water and fresh water) at the island's two beaches.
No visit to Acadia National Park would be complete without signing up for some of the educational programs. From the middle of May through the middle of October, park rangers are on hand to lead a variety of programs from hikes and cruises to children's programs and evening entertainment. If your kids want to learn more about wildlife, popular programs include the chance to see falcons or raptors.
The Junior Ranger program is also a favorite. Designed specifically for families and kids, these programs include the chance to set out a scavenger hunt, draw their favorite animals, visit the Nature Center, or set out a ranger-narrated boat tour. Check out the Park's newspaper, called the Beaver Log, for complete listings on all the programs created each year with kids in mind.
Goals of Your Visit
Everyone will have different goals when it comes to visiting the Park. If you want to get off the beaten path, away from other visitors, venture out to the west side of the island which is known for being less crowded. If you're planning a shorter visit or want to remain closer to Bar Harbor, you will find plenty of things to do on the eastern section of the island.
Many travelers plan a trip here with the goal of seeing the best of fall foliage. Leaves in this national park start to change in September, but it isn't until the middle of October that the colors really peak. Between the first and third week of October, Acadia National Park has the best and brightest colors. For the scenery and the cool, crisp air this is one of the best times of year to hit the local hiking trails.
Back for More
Whether you come to swim in the summer or hike in the fall, there is always another reason to visit Acadia National Park. If you only explored the eastern side of the park, come back next time to venture further into the west. With over 125 miles of trails, there will always be something new to see when you return.
Meet the Author: Kiley works and writes from Denver and has been editing and writing travel articles for the past five years. She and her husband have three kids, proudly call themselves “Colorado Natives” and love road trips exploring the Rocky Mountains and the West.