Thinking of visiting Acadia National Park this summer? It’s the star attraction of Mount Desert Island, an island about the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but with 24 mountain peaks. That alone expands the roster of great things to do there.
Acadia became a national park in 1919, but the first village on Mount Desert Island was founded in 1761. Today Acadia’s boundaries are intermingled with the charming, postcard-perfect villages of this New England island, adding even more activities to engage park visitors.
So, what activities should you plan to include in your visit? Here are some favorite things to do both in and around the park.
1. Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. At some 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States, and it is breathtaking. Make sure you wear a warm fleece even if it’s August.
2. Drive the Park Loop Road. You can get your best overview of Acadia by driving these 27 miles of unsurpassed beauty, created in part through the masterful collaboration of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. There are many lookouts so have your camera ready.
3. Eat lobster. Whether you want a lobster roll, lobster stew, or a two-pounder steamed, you can find a wide range of topnotch restaurants, harbor side lobster pounds, and quaint cafes to serve you. Our favorite is Thurston’s in Bass Harbor.
4. Go biking. Thanks to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Acadia offers 45 miles of car-free carriage roads that will lead you around mountains, alongside lakes, and into serene boreal forests. Visit Hull’s Cove Visitor Center first, just outside of downtown Bar Harbor, where there is plentiful parking and good advice about the best bike routes for you and your family. I love their 3D map.
5. Stroll, hike, or climb. The park boasts 125 miles of well-maintained hiking trails that appeal to all levels of fitness. The most exciting trails, such as the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs, feature rungs and ladders. A beautiful, moderately challenging hike is Acadia Mountain, overlooking Somes Sound, the only fiord in North America. If you’re looking for easier strolls, consider Asticou Trail and Wonderland – they’re lovely.
6. Have popovers at Jordan Pond House. Select a biking or hiking route that stems from behind Jordan Pond House so that you can conclude your afternoon with lemonade or tea – and, most certainly, popovers — on the lawn looking towards the Bubbles, a sight that has mesmerized visitors at teatime since 1896. It’s a favorite destination for everyone, but worth the wait. What about popovers filled with blueberry ice cream?
7. Go to the beach. Sand Beach is a stunning crescent of white sand, with cliffs at each side and the Beehive Trail behind it. The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. Another option for a swim is the beach at Echo Lake on the island’s “Quietside.”
8. Visit a lighthouse. Maine has over 60 lighthouses, and one of its most beautiful is on Mount Desert Island in Bass Harbor. It’s a great spot for photographers. Afterwards, visit the working harbor busy with lobster and sail boats.
9. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride. Carriages of Acadia offers a number of picturesque drives within Acadia National Park, starting at Wildwood Stables and encompassing destinations including Day Mountain and Jordan Pond. Another option is to enjoy a tour of downtown Bar Harbor with Wild Iris Horse Farm.
10. Learn from a park ranger. The National Park Service offers very entertaining talks and walks on subjects ranging tidal pools to birds of prey to the stars over Sand Beach. Scan The Beaver Log to figure out how you can fit in more than one.
11. Touch nature – literally. There are several enterprises, including Mount Desert Biological Laboratories, The Dive-In Theatre, and the Mount Desert Oceanarium, that feature touch tanks full of lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. I always end up liking this stuff just as much as the kids do.
12. Visit the local wineries and micro-breweries. On Mount Desert Island you can enjoy free tours and tastings of two award-winning micro-breweries, Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company. Venture off the island to discover the acclaimed fruit vintages of Bartlett Winery.
13. Get out on the water. This great national park is on an island so you must see it from the vantage point of the sea. Whether you’re powering yourself in a sea kayak or the wind is propelling you on a Downeast Friendship Sloop or the Margaret Todd, being on the water is a special part of a trip to Acadia National Park.
14. Experience farm to table cuisine. Maine is known not only for its great fishermen, but also its farmers. And nowhere in Maine has the renaissance of local and organic ingredients been as great as on Mount Desert Island. A long list of top restaurants, including Burning Tree, Fathom, Red Sky, and Town Hill Bistro, awaits the discerning diner. Make reservations!
15. Take an art class. If you’ve ever pictured yourself sketching or learning watercolors in an idyllic seaside location, make that fantasy a reality. Among the many wonderful artists on Mount Desert Island is Judy Taylor, who offers workshops that include cruises to some of the most picturesque islands surrounding Mount Desert Island.
16. Relax at a spa. Bar Harbor is home to a number of spas that run the gamut from sophisticated to funky. If your idea of a great vacation is a day of outdoor activities topped off by a soothing massage, then you’ll find a vacation to Acadia perfect from the pine-scented trails to the aromas of the spa.
17. Experience the “Way Life Should Be.” That Maine slogan is your personal invitation to church suppers, local parades, blueberry festivals, farmers’ markets, crafts fairs, and terrific libraries. If you pull off the road and depart from your schedule, you’ll be amply rewarded. After all, those practical folks who invented ear muffs in 1873 just named Whoopie Pies as their “State Treat.”
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