Acadia National Park, more than any other national park that we’ve visited in the United States, brings to mind the word leisure.
In many ways, Acadia feels less like a national park in the way that we are accustomed to thinking of the word (rugged, challenging, remote, full of difficult hiking opportunities), and more about a beautiful place to relax, like a neighborhood park you would like to have a picnic in.
Just, you know–a lot more majestic and quite a bit bigger.
Sure, you can hike in Acadia–but as its tallest mountain tops out at a modest 1529 feet, this is not a place you should compare to the likes of the Rocky Mountains and Grand Tetons.
That being said, there are still plenty of amazing things to do in Acadia National Park.
Take a leaf out of the books of the Rockefellers and other wealthy families who used to patron the oldest of the United States National Parks east of the Mississippi: the best things to do in Acadia National Park are about taking a step back to relax and bask in the beauty of the place.
Here are 12 things to do in Acadia National Park that you won’t want to miss.
Amazing Things to Do in Acadia National Park
Take in the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain.
If you’ve seen a picture of Acadia, it has probably been taken from the top of Cadillac Mountain, with the small islands off the coast showing in the distance. It’s a gorgeous spot–hike or drive up to catch the views, and don’t plan on being in a big hurry to come back down.
In the fall and winter, this spot is the first place to where the sun rises in the United States, and watching those sunrises is one of the most popular things to do in Acadia National Park. Come catch the first sunrise in the country, or, if you’re like us, sleep in and catch the sunset instead.
If you’re willing to hike rather than climb, you’re also in for a treat: Cadillac Mountain is one of the best hikes in Maine.
Drive Park Loop Road.
There are very few times in my life I’ve ever considered using the phrase “pleasure drive”, but of all the things to do in Acadia National Park, this may be the most classic: 27-mile Park Loop Road drives right past most of Acadia’s most well-known sights, making it an efficient way to take in the breathtaking views–not to mention a great addition to any New England road trip itinerary.
Simply pull over on the right-hand side of the road whenever a trail, a view, or anything else catches your eye: in most places, parking is incredibly easy to come by, though there can be some traffic congestion at popular spots.
Admire the changing leaves in the fall.
Sadly, we didn’t get to witness this beauty ourselves as we visited in July, but I have no doubt that the view from Cadillac Mountain when the trees are bursting with autumn color is absolutely breathtaking, and could rank as one of the best New England fall road trips!
It will be the first item on our list of things to do if we ever visit Acadia National Park at the “right” time of year!
See if you can catch the thunder at Thunder Hole.
A small inlet in Acadia’s rugged coastline gets regularly slammed by the ocean waves as the tides change: at lucky moments, the crash sounds just like thunder.
Thunder Hole wasn’t performing for us when we were there–the tide has to be coming in just the right way–but definitely check for ideal times to try to hear the phenomenon and swing by during that window if you can.
Eat blueberry everything.
During our weekend in Acadia National Park, we managed to have blueberry pie, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, blueberry tea, and blueberry habanero sauce (which was surprisingly good!).
At the Jordan Pond House, we counted no less than seven blueberry-themed drinks on the menu: suffice it to say, Maine takes their blueberries seriously.
Luckily, they are completely delicious: bask in the options and eat everything you can.
Check out Sand Beach.
Bright, clear water, colorful picnic blankets, families sprawled on the beach, and children shrieking while they swim… it definitely sounds more like a scene from Florida than Maine, but that’s Sand Beach!
Of course, the fact that the water is freezing and the weather was only 65 degrees in July makes it very clear why only people under the age of 10 tend to think that swimming is a good idea there… but the beach is still beautiful and worth seeing.
Eat a lobster roll.
What’s a trip to Maine without a lobster roll? Lobster pounds (aka hole-in-the-wall places that serve primarily lobster) are everywhere around the island.
Lobster rolls come in two varieties: cold with mayo, or hot with butter.
We tried Charlotte’s Lobster Pound, which serves cold lobster rolls, and while we can now confidently say that cold lobster rolls are not our thing, the blueberry pie was amazing.
Watch the sunset at the Bass Harbor Head Light.
Is there anything more quintessentially Maine than a rocky Atlantic coastline paired with an adorable lighthouse? I doubt it.
Take a stroll around Jordan Pond (after you eat).
The Jordan Pond House has been serving popovers (a sort of hollow bread roll served with butter and jam) for more than a hundred years… but it’s not the only thing they know how to make. Stop by for lunch or afternoon tea to have a meal, perhaps a glass of wine, and stare out over the restaurant’s lawn to Jordan Pond itself.
While we were there, they closed down the lawn for dinner and only had people eat inside or on the porch–for that reason, I recommend going for an earlier meal.
Plus, that leaves you time in the day for a relaxing 3.2 mile walk around Jordan Pond after you’re finished–you’ll need the walk to digest.
Explore the Carriage Roads.
You can thank John D. Rockefeller for this: in the first half of the twentieth century, he financed the production of 57 miles of carriage roads in Acadia. No cars are allowed on these roads, but they’re perfect for walking, biking, and horseback riding.
If you are feeling a bit old-fashioned, consider taking part in one of the most iconic things to do in Acadia National Park: ride in a horse-drawn carriage along the roads, similar to how the wealthy patrons of Acadia explored it long ago.
Our time in Acadia went by way too quickly–though it is a small park by United States National Park standards, there are more than enough wonderful things to do in Acadia National Park to keep any outdoors lover entertained for days.
Climb along the coastline.
Acadia’s rocky coastline makes for a wonderful jungle gym for adventurous souls: simply pick a place and (carefully) climb down to the shore: listening to the waves lap at the rocks and checking out all of the tidal pools near the water are worth the effort to get down there.
Have a picnic.
On the rocks by the sea, near Jordan Pond, at a random grassy pullover, along a trail, in a field with flowers… it doesn’t matter where! Any quiet corner of Acadia National Park is a great place for a picnic.
Should You Rent a Car in Acadia?
While shuttles during the busy summer season mean that it is technically possible to visit Acadia without a car, we wouldn’t recommend it: this is a place for exploring, and you’ll want the freedom to drive. Plus, Acadia makes an epic conclusion to one of the best road trips in the USA!
If you’re planning to rent a car for your trip to Acadia, use Discover Cars to search for the best combination of price, reliable company, and rental terms for your road trip.
Price out rental cars with Discover Cars today!
Where We Stayed in Acadia National Park
Sara’s Retreat — This was our first time staying in a private room (rather than a full apartment) in the USA, and the first time we ended up in another family’s house while they were there–and it couldn’t have gone better! The room was very clean, Sara and her daughter were incredibly nice, and the location was perfect for driving all over Acadia National Park. Located in Mount Desert, Sara’s house is set away from the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor, which we really appreciated. Be warned: a short drive on a well-maintained dirt road is required to get to the house!
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If you’re looking for something special, be sure to check out this great list of unique Airbnbs in New England from our friends at Two Drifters!