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The striking, craggy coastline of Maine’s Acadia National Park has been an awe-inspiring destination for families 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 boisterous, foamy waves against dramatic granite cliffs and small, unassuming beaches. The great northern woods roll down hillsides to meet the Atlantic Ocean at the easternmost reach of the United States.
All of the beauty of Maine’s wilderness comes together in Acadia National Park: Bold coniferous forests, rugged mountains, wildlife and the wild Atlantic marry in a way that makes the area feel untouched and unexplored.
Getting to Acadia National Park
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 minutes from the park. Of course, this option 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 picturesque coastal towns. Airlines flying to Boston Logan include American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Southwest and United. To offset flight costs, Frontier’s Kids Fly Free promo is one option; JetBlue’s flash sales are another way to save money and/or points.
Additionally, Bangor International Airport (BGR) is about an hour inland from Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park. There are a limited number of airlines serving BGR — currently, Allegiant, American, Delta and United. If you have a an airfare companion certificate, such as the one given on your card anniversary with the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, this could be a decent option for an airport that will get you closer to Acadia National Park.
Portland International Jetport (PWM) is yet another possibility, especially if you want to also explore Portland too. PWM is roughly three hours south of Acadia National Park. Airlines serving this airport include American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United. Southwest’s Companion Pass is a great way to balance costs.
If you fly into Boston, Bangor or Portland, you’ll have car rental options — Enterprise, Hertz, Budget and more.
Acadia National Park Entrance Fees
As with all national parks, there is an entrance fee. The current fee per vehicle into Acadia National Park is $30; it is valid for seven days from purchase date. There is an annual Acadia National Park pass ($55) that is valid for one year from purchase date, and if you’re traveling to at least one or more additional national parks, consider one of the America the Beautiful passes.
When to Go
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. 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 the three names Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor used somewhat interchangeably here, it is 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) variety 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.
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 one mile from downtown Bar Harbor and a couple more beyond that to the entrance of Acadia, Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor is a gem of a hotel overlooking Frenchman’s Bay, complete with a pool, bay views and 1,000 feet of ocean frontage. Rates start at 50,000 points for a night’s stay.
If neither of these work for you, there are still other ways to offset the costs of a stay in Mt. Desert Island. For example, a bevy of lodgings are available via Hotels.com/venture. If you have the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and use it to pay for your stay, you’ll earn 10x miles per dollar spent.
Or if you want to rough it, there are multiple options for camping within Acadia National Park as well.
Must-See Acadia Attractions
Aside from exploring Bar Harbor and the rest of Mount Desert Island, Acadia itself is chock-full of potential outdoor adventures. My personal favorite (OK, probably most people’s favorite…) is a hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise. Sitting atop the mostly bare 1,529-foot mountain, you’ll have uninterrupted views of the island, ocean and wilderness below, and if you do make it there for sunrise, you’ll be among the first in the US to see it. In all the United States, each day starts first in Maine.
There are numerous other hiking 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.
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. You’ll have the chance to see otters, foxes and, if you’re lucky, even a moose.
Visiting Acadia National Park offers the perfect blend of a rugged, outdoor adventure with the comforts and amenities of modern lodgings. Words like idyllic, quintessential and stunning all are clichés but perfect to describe this slice of the East Coast.
Acadia National Park is a national treasure. Visiting this park — at any time of year –is worth every one of those points that you’ve been saving for a vacation. It’s a rugged wilderness that is unparalleled in its beauty.
Here are some more outdoorsy vacations you may enjoy:
- Visiting the Grand Canyon With a Family: Where to Camp, Stay and Play
- Family Camping Adventures in Yellowstone National Park
- Guide to Visiting Redwood National and State Parks
- How to Visit America’s National Parks for Less
- The Best Southwest National and State Parks to Visit With Kids
- How to Travel by RV With Kids — and Actually Enjoy It
Featured image by Photography by Deb Snelson / Getty Images
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