Updated October 26, 2020
Acadia National Park Itinerary
As one of the oldest and most visited National Parks in the US, Acadia National Park has it all. From rugged coastlines, to mountain top trails, and a multitude of activities to fill your days, it’s the perfect place to spend an extra long weekend.
The best 4 Day Itinerary in Acadia National Park & Bar Harbour, Maine that works for families, couples, and visitors from around the world includes:
- Day 1: Best of Acadia & Park Loop Road: Cadillac Mountain Sunrise, Beehive Trail or Ocean Path, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House & Hike
- Day 2: Explore Bar Harbour: Walk to Bar Harbour Island, Visit Downtown & Abbe Museum, Boat Tour & Lobster Dinner
- Day 3: Carriage Roads & Gardens: Carriage Road System by bike or tour, Asticou Gardens
- Day 4: Lighthouse & Easy Trails: Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse, Wonderland Trail and Ship Harbour Trail
This is why it is on our family’s East Coast bucket list. We were considering a road trip down to Maine while in Nova Scotia for a wedding this year, before travel restrictions hit. Here is the itinerary I planned for our family, that will work for yours too!
Trip planning can be stressful. That is why I have created a free 4 Day Itinerary At-A-Glance & Acadia Vacation Worksheet, to help make your planning easier. You can find it at the bottom of this post.
Read on for an overview of all the things you need to know before you go. Followed by a more in depth activity guide for the ideal 4 day family friendly itinerary. We hope you stick around, there’s so much more to explore.
Acadia National Park Tips – What You Need To Know
Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island in northern Maine, across the water from Nova Scotia, Canada.
The majority of things to do are on the eastern side & in Bar Harbour. The western side is quieter and less visited, but has some great hikes, gardens and gorgeous views, so save some time for this section of the island.
There are no lodgings within the park itself, so for this trip we suggest your home base be Bar Harbour.
Make your first stop is the Hull Visitor Centre, to pick up maps, and gather information for your day in the park. The park rangers are super friendly and can give helpful advice for trails and parking.
Dogs are allowed on many of the trails, but make sure they are leashed.
If you prefer camping, there are two campgrounds located in the park itself, one on the Schoodic Peninsula, and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut. However they are closed for the 2020 season.
Winter in Acadia
Winter time in Acadia offers amazing cross country skiing, and snowshoeing on the carriage roads, as well as ice fishing. Safe winter hiking trails include Ship Harbor, Ocean Path and carriage roads.
Please note the Park Loop road is only open April 15 – December 1. Jordan Pond Road and parts of Ocean Drive are open and plowed in the winter.
What is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is from the end of May into the fall. After Labor Day until mid-September is less busy, with good weather, before the leaf peeping crowds arrive. Mid -September until mid October is best for fall colours. Visit early October for peak fall foliage in the park.
How many days do you need for Acadia National Park?
To make the most of Acadia National Park, you will need at least 3-4 days. If you are planning on exploring the Schoodic Peninsula section of the Park, or taking day trips from Bar Harbour, you could spend a week or more in the area.
We’ve planned out a 4 day itinerary in Acadia and around Bar Harbour, but if you have less time, days one and two hit the major highlights of the area. Or pick and choose whatever catches your fancy.
There are so many amazing sights, hiking trails and activities to do in this area, you can’t go wrong.
Park Hours & Entrance Fees
Acadia National Park in Maine is open 24 hours year-round, and you will need a pass to enter and park. To avoid line ups, buy your park pass online. Vehicle and per person passes are good for seven days and cost:
- Private Vehicle: $30
- Motorcycle: $25
- No Car: $15 per person
- Youth 15 and under: Free
- Annual Pass: $55
The visitor center is open daily from April until October from 8:30 am – 4: 30 pm (new hours). Pick up your shuttle bus map and the required park pass here if you forgot to buy one online.
Starting in 2020, vehicle reservations will be required in two of the most popular sections of the park. So plan ahead for:
- Cadillac Summit Road (4:30 am to 6:30 pm)
- Sand Beach Entrance (7 am to 5 pm) sections of the Park Loop Road, which provides access to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Ocean Path, the Beehive, Great Head, and Gorham Mountain.
Other areas of the park, and entering by foot or bike do not require reservations.
As things are constantly changing, it is a good idea to check the National Park website for all the latest news and requirements, before you book your trip.
Insider Tip: The park offers free shuttle service with your park entrance fee that can take you most anywhere you want to go. So if you don’t want the hassle of trying to find a parking spot, which can be challenging during peak tourist season, the free seasonal Island Explorer shuttle is highly recommended. NOTE: Cancelled for the 2020 season.
Can you drive to Acadia National Park?
It is possible to drive to Acadia National Park from adjacent cities and states, and makes a great New England Fall Foliage Road Trip. Some common routes, distances and approximate driving times to the park include:
- Portland, ME: 170 mi / 274 km, 3 hours
- Bangor, ME: 50 mi / 80.5 km, 1 hour
- Boston, MA: 264 mi / 425 km, 5 hours
- New York City, NY: 482 mi / 775 km, 9 hours
- Saint John, NB: 227 mi, / 291 km, 5 hours
- Montreal, QU: 370 mi / 595 km, 8 hours
- Halifax, NS: 437 mi / 703 km, 9 hours
How to get to Acadia National Park?
Most tourists fly into Bangor International Airport, then either rent a car, or take the bus or shuttle into Bar Harbour. Once in Bar Harbour, the entrance to Acadia National Park is only a 5-10 minute drive or shuttle ride away.
|Travel Options from Bangor, Maine||Transportation||Availability||Time||Cost|
|Rent A Car||Book in advance online||Flexible||1 hour||Varies|
|Take a Bus||Downeast Transportation||Monday to Friday (limited schedule)||1.5 hours||$9|
|Take the Shuttle||Bar Harbour – Bangor Shuttle||June through October – by reservation||1 hour 15 min||starts at $50 one way|
Where to Stay in Acadia National Park, Maine?
Now all you need is a cozy place to stay. As Acadia does not have lodgings in the park itself, we recommend a stay nearby in iconic Bar Harbour, or Southwest Harbour, on the other side of the island.
Campground in Acadia National Park
If you are set on staying inside the park, camping is the only option, which allows easy access to hiking, open night skies and fun. They are typically open mid May – mid October.
Inn on Mount Desert – Bar Harbour
The Inn on Mount Desert, combines all the best things of a clean modern boutique hotel, with the coastal decor and nautical feel of a charming Bar Harbour bed and breakfast.
What guests love: Guests rave about the breakfast. The inn is conveniently located only a 10 minute walk to the waterfront, a 5 minute walk to the shops & restaurants in downtown Bar Harbour and 1 mile (1.6km) from the park itself.
The Bar Harbour Inn & Spa – Bar Harbour
The sprawling 8 acre oceanside property of the Bar Harbour Inn, offers beautiful views, an infinity edge pool and two hot tubs, plus a spa.
What guests love: Convenient access to main street in 5 minutes, and a 10 minute drive to the park. Stunning sunset views, instant access to the shore path and a delicious continental breakfast. Enjoy freshly baked warm cookies in the afternoon.
Harbour Cottage Inn – Southwest Harbour
For a more quiet escape, the cozy Harbour Cottage Inn, near the Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse is a quaint B&B tp stay in.
What guests love: Exceptional service, delicious breakfast. The peaceful and relaxing atmosphere on the quieter side of the island while still being close to everything.
One of our favourite ways to travel is to stay at AirBnBs. The cozy Poet’s Cabin tucked in the woods of Southwest Harbour looks like an amazing place to get away from it all. Or try a Bar Harbour hideaway close to downtown, and the waterfront
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY
Day One: Best of Acadia & Park Loop Road
It’s easy to see why Acadia National Park is one of the top National Parks in the US, between gorgeous sunrises, hiking trails, carriage roads, and beaches, there are so many fantastic activities to do.
For day one you will be heading out on the Park Loop Road which takes you to all the major highlights and attractions in Acadia National Park.
The 27 km Loop Road drive takes about 3-4 hours, if you stop and go while enjoying mountainous scenery, and rugged coastline.
What to Pack: You will be spending the day out here, so pack your camera, beach bag (towel, swimsuit, sunscreen, sunhat), water and snacks.
EARLY MORNING: Cadillac Mountain Sunrise (Optional)
If you are a morning person, watching the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain will be your first order of business. This is the first place to view the sunrise in the United States from early October through March, and is a popular place early morning. Arrive early to grab your parking spot (at least an hour before sunrise to be safe).
If you can’t fathom getting up early on vacation, or are travelling with teenagers who aren’t pleasant before noon, visit Cadillac Mountain for sunset.
Then head out on the Park Loop Road to your next destination, Sand Beach & the Beehive Trail or Ocean Path.
MORNING: Sand Beach, Beehive Trail or Ocean Path Trail & Thunder Hole
You will find parking in the Sand Beach parking lot, or on the right lane of the Loop Road (watch the signs). From here you can hit the beach and both of the hiking trails.
Beehive Trail – Moderate Difficulty
The Beehive Trail is a somewhat easier version of the Precipice Trail. However you will still need to be able to climb metal rungs & fearlessly walk cliff edges, so not recommended for young children.
It’s a fairly strenous 0.8 mile (1.3 km) hike because of the steep grade and steady climb. Go early to avoid the crowds.
For a slightly longer hike (2 miles / 3.2 km), return via the Bowl Trail. You’ll be rewarded with more amazing views and a hike by a beautiful lake.
Insider Tip: If you are looking for more adventure on an advanced trail, the well known Precipice Trail is a 5 minute drive up the road.
Ocean Path – Easy
The Ocean Path is a great family friendly alternative for those with young children, or anyone who wants an easy oceanside trail.
This path begins near Sand Beach and runs parallel to Park Loop Road and the ocean 0.7 miles past Thunder Hole all the way to Otter Cliff and Otter Point, (4miles or 6.4km one way).
Return the way you came, or flag down the Island Explorer shuttle when it is running, and bus back to your car or Bar Harbour.
You may also like: Yellowknife Hiking – Cameron Falls or this What To Pack For a Summer Beach Vacation (with Kids)
After your hike, head to the beach for some sand, sun and relaxation. Explore the tidal pools, build a sandcastle, then go for a cool dip in the ocean.
After a relaxing beach morning, head out on the road again towards Jordan Pond House for lunch. Along the way be sure to stop at Thunder Hole if you chose the Bee Hive hiking trail this morning.
Thunder Hole is where the spectacular sight of crashing of waves meets thunderous booms, as water is forced through a rock crevice and into a small cave. The noise is loudest 1-2 hours before high tide, or just after a storm.
If you have time stop at Otter Point and walk the southern tip of Mount Desert Island.
AFTERNOON: Jordan Pond House & Hike
Jordan Pond House and Trail is a fun way to spend an afternoon. The Tea House is perched on a lawn overlooking the pond for which it is named, and glacier errants called “The Bubbles“.
Their menu spans everything from local lobster and scallops, to stews, chowders and sandwiches, and of course their famous popovers. Choose an outside table in warm weather.
The Jordan Pond Loop Trail is an easy 3.4 mile roundtrip hike, which takes you around the pond. An ideal family friendly hike, as you be walking on fairly flat well groomed surfaces. The last mile is over raised wooden boardwalk along the wetlands.
For a more moderate hike, loop into the South Bubble Trail, which will take you to a balanced rock, Bubble Rock. Be sure to take the iconic photo of you trying to push the rock off the cliff edge. After a millenia, it’s still there, so good luck!
Insider Tip: As the only full service resturant in Acadia, Jordan Pond House can be overcrowded. Who doesn’t want to try one of their popovers? To avoid a long wait, reserve your lunch date online before you go. If you forgot to reserve, pick up a sandwich or snack at the shop and head out on the trail for a picnic.
Free tools to help you plan your trip to Acadia National Park. Get your very own 4 Day Itinerary At-A-Glance & Acadia Vacation Worksheet from my free resource library. You can get the password at the bottom of this post.
Day Two: Explore Bar Harbour
Bar Harbour, Maine is a bustling coastal town, and a popular home base for visitors to nearby Acadia National Park. It is the shopping, dining, and nightlife centre of Mount Desert Island. Here you can also book tours of all sorts from boat & whale watching tours, to carriage rides in the park.
Bar Harbour has some of New England’s best restaurants. The seafood, craft beer and locally roasted coffee are highlights. Be sure to save room for dessert.
What to Pack: You’ll be walking on sand / gravel to Bar Harbour Island, so bring or wear beach shoes, camera, sun hat, sunscreen, water, snacks, and a light sweater or long sleeve shirt.
MORNING: Walk to Bar Harbour Island
Start your morning off by walking the land bridge to Bar Harbour Island, followed by a stroll through downtown Bar Harbour, and a visit to Abbe Museum.
Check the timing for low tide as Bar Harbour Island is only reachable along the sand bar for the 2 hours before and up to 2 hours after low tide. Shift your plans accordingly. If you get stranded on the island, it’s an expensive water taxi ride back (but at least there are options).
If you are heading up West Street watch for the signpost that indicates where to turn onto Bridge Street to reach the Bar Island Path.
On the island you will find hiking trails, and picturesque views of Bar Harbour, but no washroom facitilies.
Bar Harbour, Maine: Visit Downtown, Abbe Museum & Walk the Shore Path
Bar Harbour is best explored by foot. Stroll along Main Street for cute shops, restaurants and a sweet treat.
If you are feeling particularly brave, try the lobster ice cream at Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium on Main Street. If that doesn’t satisy your sweet tooth, they also offer 70+ other flavours of ice cream and gelato, as well as homemade fudge, chocolates and candy.
End your morning with a promenade along the Shore Path. Follow the half-mile walkway, from Ells Pier to Wayman Lane, down the east shore. Along the way, you’ll be delighted by many iconic sights; the Bar Harbor Inn, Porcupine Islands, Balance Rock and Egg Rock Light.
Now that you’ve enjoyed the incredible scenery, it is time to learn about the history and culture of the Wabanaki, the original people of Maine.
The Abbe Museum and it’s satellite branch in the park is the only Smithsonian-affiliated museum in Maine. Abbe features permanent and changing exhibits, as well as special events throughout the year.
AFTERNOON: Boat Tour
This pick is for the kids. Diver Ed’s Dive-in Theater Boat Cruise is a unique and fun way to spend two hours. Board the “Starfish Enterprise,” and head out on the water to a special diving spot.
Watch a live video as Diver Ed descends to the bottom of Frenchman Bay. Then enjoy the interactive part of the show as he brings back a touch tank full of sea creatures you can observe and handle.
If touching sea cucumbers and star fish are not your cup o’ sea (har har), there are plentiful tour options to head out on the water; whale watching, lobster boats, kayaks, stand up paddle boarding, sailing and more.
If you love lobster as much as my partner does, then you definitely want to make sure to plan a special lobster dinner or two. The grocery stores will even cook one up for you if you want a cheaper option to take back to your hotel, or for a fancy picnic by the sea.
If seafood doesn’t appeal, there are retaurants and cuisine to suit everyone’s palate. Below is juste a taste of what Bar Harbour has to offer.
A few places we were interested in trying for Breakfast:
- Cafe This Way: Locally sourced foods, eggs benny, blueberry pancakes, breakfast fare – 14 Mt. Desert St, Bar Harbour, ME
- Chocco-Latte: Homemade bagels, coffee & hot chocolate, breakfast sandwiches – 240 Main St, Bar Harbor, ME
- Coffee Hound Coffee Bar: Crepes & fancy coffees – 27 Main St B, Bar Harbor, ME
A few restaurants we were interested in trying for Lunch & Dinner:
- Side Street Cafe: Soups & Sandwiches, Lobster rolls & stew – 49 Rodick St, Bar Harbor, ME
- Thrive Juice Bar & Kitchen: Smoothies, fresh juice, salads, wraps – 51 Rodick Street, Bar Harbour, ME (open seasonally)
- Geddy’s: “Wood-fired” Pizza, Burgers – 9 Main St, Bar Harbor, ME
- Galyn’s: fish, seafood, steak, prime rib – 17 Main Street, Bar Harbour, ME
- Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound Lobster & Seafood – 1237 Bar Harbor Rd., Trenton, ME (open seasonally)
Day Three: Acadia Carriage Roads & Asticou Gardens
For day three we will be returning to Acadia Park to explore the Carriage Road system by bike, foot or horse drawn carriage and the Japanese / Azalea Gardens within Asticou Gardens.
If meandering through colourful gardens doesn’t appeal, the drive to Northeast Harbour is a beautiful alternative. There you will find a quaint village, at the entrance to Somes Sound, and waters dotted with yachts and sailing vessels.
What to pack: Bike, bike helmet, camera, sweater or jacket, water, snacks.
MORNING: Acadia National Park Carriage System
Rent a bike and tour around some of the forty-five miles (72 km) of rustic carriage roads, a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and family.
The Acadia National Park Carriage system was built between 1913 and 1940 and weaves through the beautiful mountains, valleys and woodland roads of the park and over 17 stone bridges.
For a more relaxing way to see the carriage roads, take a horse drawn carriage ride & tour. Hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and horse-drawn carriages share these roads, as no motor vehicles are allowed.
Eagle Lake and Bubble Pond access points are wheelchair accessible. Both have parking and wheelchair accessible washrooms. Other access points on Mount Desert Island include Jordan Pond, and the Hulls Cove Visitor Cente. Check out the map to plan your adventure
AFTERNOON: Asticou Gardens
The Asticou Gardens were created in 1956 by John Savage and financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. A colourful delight, these gardens are influenced by Japanese stroll garden design, with coastal Maine influences.
Stroll the trails through the azalea garden encircling Asticou Pond, as well as the mountainscape, lawn and sand gardens to name a few.
The gardens are free to enter, but the suggested donation is $5 to help support this volunteer run place.
If you love gardens, and gorgeous parks, then a visit to Victoria, BC should be on your bucket list. Here’s some inspiration: 25 Free and Cheap Things to do in Victoria. Or try this list of my top 5 favourite parks in Victoria, BC.
Day 4: Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse, Wonderland Trail & Ship Harbour Trail
The western side of Acadia National Park is quieter, and less frequented. Our day four itinerary will take you past Southwest Harbour to the Bass Harbour Lighthouse and two family friendly hiking trails; the Wonderland Trail & Ship Harbor Trail.
What to pack: Picnic lunch, camera, sun hat, sunscreen, sweater or jacket, tide pool identification guide.
MORNING: Wonderland Trail & Ship Harbour Trail
The Wonderland and Ship Harbour Trails are located near the town of Bass Harbour on the southern tip of Mount Desert Island. Both of these trails are easy, family friendly strolls, with mostly level terrain through pine forests, ending oceanside.
Wonderland is a short, very easy trail that follows an old gravel road to rocky shoreline. This 1.5 mile hike roundtrip will take about an hour. Add more time in for tide pool exploration.
Ship Harbour Trail is also an easy 1.5 miles roundtrip hike to the ocean shore. Bring a picnic lunch or head back to Southwest Harbour for lunch, before heading back out to the lighthouse in the afternoon.
AFTERNOON: Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse
The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is one of the most famous and photographed landmarks of Acadia National Park. Constructed in 1876, the lighthouse is located at the southernmost tip of Mount Desert Island, south of Bass Harbour.
While you can’t go into the lighthouse itself, you can explore around the lighthouse and trails which will take you to a viewing platform. The perfect place to take that iconic rugged coastline with lighthouse in the background photo.
Bass Harbour Lighthouse is also a popular place to visit at sunset.
What Should You Not Miss In Acadia National Park?
So now you have a fun Acadia National Park Itinerary to inspire your next adventure. I’ll put all our suggestions in a handy list below, in case you want to create your own itinerary.
The top 21 things to do in Acadia National Park, you, your family and friends definitely should not miss:
- Park Loop Road
- Riding the Carriage Roads
- Cadillac Mountain Sunrise or Sunset
- Sand Beach
- Beehive Trail
- Ocean Path
- Thunder Hole
- Otter Cliff
- Otter Cove
- Jordan Pond House & Hike
- South Bubble Trail & Bubble Rock
- Downtown Bar Harbour
- Abbe Museum
- Bar Harbour Island
- Lobster Dinner
- Boat Tour
- Wonderland Trail
- Ship Harbour Trail
- Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse
- Asticou Gardens
- Northeast Harbour
Download your 4 Day Acadia National Park Itinerary & Vacation Worksheets
Get the password for our freebie library, PLUS the Acadia Itinerary & Vacation Worksheets (Download #01) here:
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If there are sights or things to do in Acadia National Park we’ve missed, let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on social media. We’d love to hear from you.