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10 Things Not To Miss on Your First Visit to Acadia National Park

Located in Maine's Mount Desert Island, Acadia is the only National Park in the Northeast. This coastal beauty offers rocky shores along the Atlantic, large granite mountains, trees that showcase incredible Autumn colors, and Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak in the park.

Acadia encompasses all that New England has to offer and more. If you're planning a trip to this beloved National Park, there are a number of things to do and see that you cannot miss!

There are so many hikes and sights to see in Acadia and in the surrounding areas of Bar Harbor. If you're a first time visitor, these 10 highlights should be high on your list so you can get a feel for what Acadia has to offer.

Scroll to the bottom for a 3-Day itinerary for Acadia National Park!

Please note that the photos you see were either taken during the month of May or November.

1. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Although this has been an iconic landscape to Mount Desert Island for many years, this lighthouse only officially became part of Acadia National Park in July of 2020. This landmark was transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service.

Maybe I enjoy a coastal lighthouse more than the average person, but I believe visiting the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is a must-do for any visit to Acadia.

It's one of the best places to photograph on the island and it's a lovely spot to watch the sunset. There isn't much else to do besides take in the beauty, but luckily there are a few other places to see in Bass Harbor that make the 30 minute drive from Bar Harbor worth it.

The lighthouse can get extremely crowded during peak seasons, so plan accordingly.

Other notable things to do near Bass Harbor include a visit to Seawall in Southwest Harbor, hiking the short-but-scenic Wonderland Trail, and making a pit stop at the Somesville Bridge, which should be around halfway between Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor.

2. Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

No trip to Acadia would be complete without seeing the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain! Fun fact: Cadillac Mountain is the first place you're able to see the sunrise in the United States (from Oct-Mar).

It can get really cold in the morning - blankets are highly recommended!

This is one of the most popular things to do in Acadia, so arrive with ample time before the sunrise to park. From October 1st-18th in 2020, the National Park Service is piloting a vehicle reservation system for certain areas of the park (including Cadillac) to combat heavy traffic and parking issues. Always make sure to check current conditions of the park before you go!

3. Beehive Trail

The Beehive Trail is a must-do hike! Acadia is known for their "iron rung" trails, which include ladders along the route - an exciting way and unique way to add a bit of climbing to your everyday hikes.

This trail can be extremely exposed at times, so be prepared if you have a fear of heights. After parking near Sand Beach, you'll head up the Beehive Trail for the most breathtaking views of the ocean and Sand Beach. This trail loops with the Bowl Trail, so you'll be able to take a different way down than the trail on the way up.

Mileage: 1.4 miles RT

Difficulty: Moderate/Hard due to exposure to cliffs

Here's a closer look at what you can expect in terms of climbing the iron ladders.

4. Afternoon at Sand Beach (& a Drive Around Park Loop Road)

Park Loop Road has so much to offer. Take a drive around this one-way road and take it all in for yourself at one of the many pull-offs.

Start with a picnic at Sand Beach, then head to Thunder Hole, a natural inlet of rocks where the waves from the Atlantic crash in and a thunderous sound erupts, with water sometimes reaching 30-40 feet in the air! However, to witness this, the waves and conditions must be just right. I've heard that 2 hours before high tide is the best chance to see Thunder Hole in all of its glory.

Regardless of the waves, this is still an awesome a sight to see!

Waves crashing in Thunder Hole

5. Eat Lobster!

Probably my favorite thing to do in Mount Desert Island. Eat alllll of the lobster! There are SO many places to choose from!

The Thirsty Whale: Located in Downtown Bar Harbor, this casual restaurant has incredible lobster rolls and clam chowder. We ate here multiple times!

Thurston's: Zach's family loves Thurston's - they have the best lobster on the island (or so I'm told)! I didn't have a chance to make it here for a meal, but with 4.6 stars and almost 1,000 reviews on Google, you know this place must be special. Thurston's is currently closed for the season.

Bar Harbor Inn: If you're looking for a nicer sit-down meal or to celebrate a special occasion, I recommend the Reading Room at the Bar Harbor Inn. There are panoramic views of the water, and I had the best surf & turf of my life.

Jordan Pond House: For an option inside the Park, try the lobster roll from the Jordan Pond House. Zach and I felt like they skimped on the lobster, but it was still good.

The Thirsty Whale
Reading Room at the Bar Harbor Inn

Jordan Pond House

6. Jordan Pond House Popovers and 3-mile Loop

I'll be honest, I didn't even know what a popover was before I visited Acadia. A popover is a light roll with flaky insides, complemented beautifully with butter, cream or jam. Yum!

Jordan Pond House is known for their popovers. It's a must-do. Like seeing the sunrise on Cadillac, you must get popovers at the Pond House, accompanied by Blueberry Lemonade, too!

After (or before) enjoying some popovers, take a stroll along the easy, 3 mile Jordan Pond Loop.

7. Beech Cliffs Trail

This is my favorite trail in Acadia for so many reasons! Beech Cliffs was the very first hike I ever did in Acadia - it offers expansive views, fun and challenging iron rungs, and it's more off the beaten path than the Beehive Trail.

Beech Cliffs is located on the "quiet" side of the island, next to Echo Lake. In the Summer, Echo Lake is is the perfect place to swim after your hike!

Mileage: 1.4 miles RT

Difficulty Moderate

Beech Cliffs offers incredible foliage in the Fall

8. Explore Downtown Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor is a quintessential small town in the Northeast, with local shops and cozy restaurants - not to mention it's right on the coast and offers beautiful views.

Check out some of the stores that have been around for years and years!

9. Jordan Cliffs Trail

The Jordan Cliffs Trail is another must-do hike, along with Beech Cliffs and Beehive. This loop offers an array of views, iron rung ladders, and more length than some of the shorter hikes. This trail begins near the Jordan Pond House and you'll hike up to the Penobscot Mountain summit. You can also keep hiking to the Sargent Mountain Summit, which would add another 1.5 miles to your trip.

Hiking tip: Hike this loop counterclockwise - this way you'll be climbing up the ladder routes rather than down.

Mileage: 3 miles RT

Difficulty: Moderate/Hard, due to steep climbs

10. Bike the Carriage Roads

Grab your bike and ride around Acadia's 45 miles of historic carriage roads and stone bridges. These have been around since 1913 and offer a different way to explore Acadia rather than by car or foot!

Check out this map of the Carriage Roads to find your starting point. Popular places to begin include Jordan Pond, Bubble Pond, Eagle Lake, or the Hulls Cove Visitor Center.

Honorable Mention - Precipice Trail

Closed during most of peak season due to Peregrine Falcon nesting, the Precipice Trail is the most thrilling (and dangerous) hike at Acadia National Park. This short but tough trail is incredibly exposed to the edge of the cliff - even more so than the Beehive Trail! If you are very afraid of heights, maybe sit this one out. If you aren't, it shouldn't be an issue.

Mileage: 2.1 miles RT

Difficulty: Hard

This trail is only open from late Summer to March, but is extremely dangerous to hike once it snows. The best months to hike this trail are September-Early November.

Almost to the top of Champlain Mountain!

Enjoy your trip to Acadia! Feel free to save or screenshot the below 3-Day Acadia Itinerary.

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