Acadia National Park is a stunning natural wonder located on the coast of Maine. It is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River, and it offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway or a longer stay, you can find plenty of things to do within the park. On a two-day visit, you can experience the majesty of Acadia by taking a drive along the Acadia National Park Loop Road, hiking the Ocean Path past Thunder Hole to Otter Cliff, exploring the summit of Cadillac Mountain, discovering Bar Harbor, and kayaking Western Bay and Blue Hill Bay. Each of these activities will provide you with a unique experience in one of America’s most beautiful destinations.
Creating Your Itinerary
You can easily pick and choose the activities you prefer to create a custom itinerary. One easy 2-day itinerary is to do all the activities listed under Mount Desert Island on Day 1 and the activities listed under Bar Harbor on Day 2. This allows you to spend your time more efficiently and not waste time driving back and forth between the two areas.
Mount Desert Island – Acadia National Park Loop Road and Hiking Highlights
Touring the Acadia National Park Loop Road is a great way to experience the beauty of the park and take in most of its top attractions. The 27-mile road is the most popular way to explore the park and can be done by driving your vehicle, taking the free Island Explorer from mid-June to mid-October, or biking all of part of the loop. The road passes by most of the park’s iconic sites, such as Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Cadillac Mountain.
If you’re choosing to drive or bike around the Acadia National Park Loop Road in the summer when crowds are greatest, consider doing so either before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. to avoid the congestion and to catch the best light for photos. If you’re following this two-day itinerary, getting an early start is paramount. Start at the Visitor’s Center to get the park map and a stamp in your National Park Passport, then head to Sieur de Monts Springs, home to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, the Nature Center, and the site of the original Abbe Museum. You can also enjoy a 1.7-mile walk along the boardwalks on the Jessup and Hemlock Loop Trail.
Ocean Path to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff
The Ocean Path Trail is a 4.5-mile out-and-back nature walk that begins at the Sand Beach upper parking lot. It follows the eastern coastline of Mount Desert Island in a southerly direction past Thunder Hole and then continues until it reaches Otter Cliff to the south. You should consider doing this easy hike as it is highly recommended for its unrivaled coastal beauty on the eastern seaboard of the continental United States. If you don’t want to walk, please note that the Park Loop Road follows in the same direction.
- Sand Beach is nestled in a small inlet between the granite mountains and rocky shores of Mount Desert Island. This gorgeous 290-yard-long beach is one of the most popular points of interest on the island. The thousands of years of pounding surf created a beach that is largely comprised of unique sand of shell fragments. Although the water looks inviting, you may want to reconsider wading in first-thing since the ocean temperature rarely exceeds 55 degrees in the summer.
- Thunder Hole is the place to experience the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores of Maine! On calm days you may wonder what the fuss is all about. But wait until the waves kick up a few notches. Thunder Hole is a small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks, where the waves roll into. At the end of this inlet, down low, is a small cavern where, when the rush of the wave arrives, air and water are forced out like a clap of distant thunder. Water may spout as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! Hence the name: Thunder Hole.
- Otter Cliff is one of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard. On the east side of the Park Loop Road, about .7 miles past Thunder Hole, is the famous 110-foot-high Otter Cliff – one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands north of Rio de Janeiro. Just before Otter Cliff is a beautiful spot called Monument Cove. Right after this, the road begins to curve to the left. To the right is a small parking area with portable rest facilities. On the other side of the street is a path that leads to the cliff.
Sunset from Cadillac Mountain
A fantastic way to finish your first day in the park is to enjoy the sunset from Cadillac Mountain. At 1,530 feet above sea level, it is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. It is also the first place to view sunrise in the United States from early October through early March. One of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island, Maine that were pushed up by Earth’s tectonic forces millions of years ago, it gets its name from Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac.
Important Note: If you want to drive up the scenic Cadillac Summit Road to enjoy the sunset at Cadillac Mountain, you will need a vehicle reservation that you can purchase for $6 at Recreation.gov. In addition, recreational vehicles, trailers, and vehicles over 21 feet long (including bike racks and hitch attachments) are prohibited on Cadillac Summit Road. The road meanders along the North and eastern side of the mountain for approximately 3.5 miles until reaching the top. There are several small observation points along the roadway that offer prime viewing opportunities, and we took advantage of most of them.
There is no Island Explorer bus service on the Cadillac Summit Road, but you can bike or hike to the summit without a reservation. Popular trails that you can take to the summit include the Gorham Mountain Loop, the Beehive Loop, the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, and the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. All of these trails offer stunning views of the surrounding scenery, and they’re a great way to explore the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Bar Harbor – Touring the Abbe Museum and Kayaking Tour
A trip to Acadia National Park wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the town of Bar Harbor and a visit to the Abbe Museum. Here you can gain a much richer understanding of the history and cultures of Maine’s Native people, the Wabanaki. It is important to us as we travel across the United States to learn as much as we can about the native peoples who honored and revered this land, long before our ancestors arrived. The museum brings together oral traditions, personal stories, cultural knowledge, language, and historical accounts with objects, photographs, multi-media, and digital interactives. It really is a first-class museum, and in 2013 it became the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine.
After leaving the museum, wander around town and stop for lunch at Jordan’s Restaurant, an unpretentious breakfast & lunch joint long known for its wild Maine blueberry pancakes. Once you’re all fueled up, you’ll be ready to explore Acadia National Park from the water on a guided kayak trip.
On our tour, we paddled the remote “Westside” which includes Western Bay and Blue Hill Bay. We highly recommend it because it is so peaceful over there. We did not see any tour boats, just a few working lobster boats. The course they led us on was selected to utilize the wind and tides to our advantage. This made the 6-mile paddle pretty easy. We went between several islands, explored the coves, and made one short rest stop. We saw abundant wildlife including harbor seals, eagles, osprey, and loons. Seeing the rocky, tree-lined coast from the vantage point of the ocean was special unto itself.
For the more experienced kayaker, a trip around the Schoodic Peninsula is a must-do. No matter how you choose to explore, you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable experience.
Where to Stay
Staying at a campground is a great way to enhance your Acadia National Park trip. If you don’t have an RV, you can still enjoy a fabulous camping trip with a rental from RVshare. You can choose from a wide range of driveable or towable RVs and even have one delivered to the campground and set up for you!
- The Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA is a great option if you’d like amenities and activities while staying in close proximity to the national park. Located right on the Western Bay, you’ll enjoy fantastic views, a dock, and fishing opportunities. Choose from a range of RV sites, tent sites, or a cabin at this convenient location only 30 minutes from the Hull Cove Visitor Center at Acadia National Park.
- Stay in Acadia National Park at one of its three campgrounds. The Blackwoods and Seawall Campgrounds are located on the main portion of the park, Mount Desert Island. Schoodic Woods campground is located on the quiet Schoodic Peninsula. The campgrounds have RV and tent sites with centrally located bathrooms, but no hookups (water, power, or sewer) at the individual campsites. They do offer the ability to hike in the national park right from the campground.
Enjoy Other Coastal Maine Destinations
Acadia is the crown jewel of Coastal Maine, but there are many other beautiful destinations in the region. From the picturesque Monehegan Island to the charming town of Camden, Maine’s coastal destinations are sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.
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