A beginner’s guide to visiting Acadia National Park

Jul 5, 2020

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The striking, craggy coastline of Maine’s Acadia National Park has been an enticing destination for travelers since it first was declared a national park in the summer of 1916. On Mount Desert Island, three hours up the coast from Portland, deep cobalt waters crash in foamy waves against granite cliffs and mist-shrouded beaches. The great northern woods roll down hillsides to meet the Atlantic Ocean at the easternmost reach of the United States.

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All of the beauty of Maine’s wilderness comes together in Acadia National Park: Ancient coniferous forests, rugged mountains, wildlife and the untamed Atlantic marry in a way that makes the area feel untouched and unexplored, despite its unsurprising popularity.

In This Post

Getting to Acadia National Park

Cadillac Mountain
Sunrise in Acadia National Park from the top of Cadillac Mountain. (Photo by Ultima_Gaina / Getty Images)

To reach Acadia National Park, you can fly into Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) and catch a direct flight to Hancock County–Bar Harbor Airport (BHB), served by Cape Air, Silver Airways, JetBlue and United Airlines, which is a short 10-minute drive from the park.

Of course, this means you’ll miss the drive up Maine’s Coastal Route 1, which is about a 6.5-hour road trip through many of Maine’s most picturesque coastal towns. Airlines flying to Boston include American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest and United. To offset flight costs, Frontier’s Kids Fly Free promotion is one option; JetBlue’s flash sales can also help you save money or points.

Additionally, Bangor International Airport (BGR) is about an hour inland from Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. There are a limited number of airlines serving BGR — currently, Allegiant, American, Delta and United.

Portland International Jetport (PWM) is yet another possibility, especially if you want to also explore Portland. This airport is roughly three hours south of Acadia National Park. Airlines serving this airport include American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United.

Whether you fly into Boston, Bangor or Portland, you’ll want to rent a car for your trip to Acadia National Park.

Related: 5 American road trips to take with the family this summer

Acadia National Park Entrance Fees

The current fee per vehicle into Acadia National Park is $30, and it’s valid for seven days from the purchase date. There’s an annual Acadia National Park pass ($55) valid for one year from purchase date, and if you’re traveling to at least one other national park this year, you might want to consider the annual America the Beautiful pass, which costs $80 and grants you and everyone in your vehicle free access to all the national parks, as well as national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The best times to visit Acadia National Park

My favorite time of year to visit Acadia is in October: The swarms of tourists have dramatically decreased, the mosquitoes are gone and daytime temperatures are still pleasant enough for hiking or beachcombing.

Photo by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy.
Photo by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy.

In truth, I’ve been to this area in all seasons and there is something to be said for each. Winter offers raw, icy landscapes and a desolate, abandoned atmosphere. In spring, a joyful mood takes over in the form of tree buds and wildflowers. Summer brings warmth, vacationing families and favorite pastimes in Bar Harbor’s historic downtown.

Where to Stay

If you’ve noticed Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor used somewhat interchangeably here, it’s because Mount Desert Island is home to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. A visit to any one of those places means you’ll likely explore all three. The island is just big enough to accommodate a (small) array of hotels, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, campgrounds and other lodgings. But it’s small enough that, no matter where you stay, you’ll be able to explore the whole area.

Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park (Photo by Jerry Monkman / Aurora Photos / Getty Images)

Best points hotels near Acadia National Park

If you’re using points for your hotel stay, there aren’t a lot of options, but the incredible setting is compensation, regardless of where you’re staying. Hampton Inn Bar Harbor is within walking distance of downtown Bar Harbor and a three-minute drive from the hotel to the entrance of the national park. It has both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a free hot breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Rates start at 48,000 points.

About a mile from downtown Bar Harbor and a couple more beyond that to the entrance of Acadia, Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor overlooks Frenchman’s Bay, complete with a pool, bay views and 1,000 feet of ocean frontage. Rates start at 50,000 points per night.

If neither of these work for you, there are still other ways to offset the costs of a stay on Mount Desert Island. You can find great shoulder season deals and also earn bonus points for a stay at an independent property, by using a card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x).

Bar Habor

Or, if you want to rough it, there are multiple options for camping within Acadia National Park as well. The forested Blackwoods Campground, for example, offers basic facilities (bathrooms and water fountains) and campsites include a picnic table and fire pit. It’s a perfect location for travelers who want to hike and climb in the park, and you can easily walk out of your tent and pick up the popular South Ridge trail up Cadillac Mountain.

Related: 19 national parks every traveler needs to see at least once 

Things to do in Acadia National Park

Aside from exploring Bar Harbor and the rest of Mount Desert Island, Acadia itself is full of outdoor adventures.

Best hiking in Acadia National Park

My personal favorite thing to do in Acadia (probably most people’s favorite) is a hike to the top of the 1,529-foot Cadillac Mountain — the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard — for sunrise. You’ll need to leave very early, probably around 3 a.m., but you’ll be rewarded with uninterrupted views of the island, ocean and wilderness below.

Photo by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy.
Photo by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy.

If you make it there for sunrise, you’ll be among the first in the U.S. to see it, because each day begins when the sunlight hits Maine. Just be prepared to share the experience with, well, everyone else in the park. There’s a road to the top too, but it’s not nearly as rewarding as hiking to the summit.

Another favorite is the Precipice Trail, which traverses cliff faces and has a number of steep stretches that require the use of ladders and bridges and rungs (you might want to leave the little ones at home for this hike). Travelers who love an adrenaline boost should also look to the similarly exposed Beehive Trail, which overlooks the aptly named Sand Beach.

There are numerous other trails to enjoy in the national park, as well — 120 miles of trails, to be exact. Often, the trails are interconnected and range from an easy walk to strenuous hiking. There are 57 miles of historic carriage trails in Acadia, offering bike-riders of all levels a chance to explore this coastal area on two wheels.

Other activities in Acadia National Park

Sea kayaking, rock climbing, wandering around Sand Beach, a visit to Jordan Pond for scenic walks and popovers at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, or a stop at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse are all popular Acadia activities.

You can’t travel to Bar Harbor without stopping to hear the thunderous clap of waves crashing into the rocky inlet known as Thunder Hole. Don’t forget to grab a cheeky souvenir magnet or hilarious postcard from the nearby gift shop.

And it wouldn’t be a visit to a national park without seeing wildlife. Watch for harbor seals, peregrine falcons and other raptors and a variety of seabirds, herons, dolphins, whales and other marine mammals. There are also smaller, easy-to-miss wildlife such as salamanders and other amphibians.

During low tide, you can even walk out across a sand bar from downtown Bar Harbor to Bar Island. Be sure to watch for barnacles, scurrying hermit crabs and starfish in the tidepools.

You’ll also have the chance to see otters, foxes and, if you’re lucky, even a moose during your trip to Acadia National Park.

Bottom Line

Visiting Acadia National Park offers the perfect blend of a rugged, outdoor adventure with the comforts and amenities of a bustling seaside town.

A trip to Acadia National Park is a great way to use those hard-earned points you’ve been saving for a vacation. It’s a rugged wilderness destination and stunning stretch of the East Coast.

Here are some more outdoorsy vacations you may enjoy: 

Feature photo by Deb Snelson / Getty Images.

Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman. 

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