How to do Acadia National Park in one day!
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How to do Acadia National Park in one day
Acadia National Park is in Northern Coastal Maine just outside of the town of Bar Harbor. It was created in 1916 and was the only National park east of the Mississippi. Today it has more than 3 million visitors each year and is one of the top 10 most visited National parks. It is a beautiful place to road trip from NYC or Boston.
It is famous for its granite cliffs, clear lakes, and rock formations. It takes most of Mount Desert Island and parts of some smaller ones as well.
It is popular all times of year, but is especially busy in the fall because of the stunning foliage.
What you can do in one day in Acadia National Park
I’m sure most people don’t plan to go to Acadia with the idea of doing only one day, but lots of people plan trips to Maine. If you find yourself in the position where you can give one day to Acadia, do it!
We are here to show you you can do it!
With only one day to spend in the park you will need to get an early start! We got there around 10 am and wished we had been there at 8:00-9:00 am. You want to make the most of your daylight hours!
I recommend going to these hikes and overlooks in this order:
- Sand Beach
- Thunder Hole
- Cadillac Mountain
- Jordan Pond
- Bass Harbor Head lighthouse
This will allow you to drive the least and be in certain places at beautiful times of day. (If you are really early risers you may want to do Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise and then head back to Bar Harbor for breakfast before heading to Sand Beach!)
Sand Beach is a fabulous place to take a frigid dip in Maine waters but it is popular because it is the beginning of Ocean path, a 3 mile round trip walking path.
The path will take you past cliffs, beaches, and some of the prettiest views you will find in Acadia. Follow the path to Otter Point and you will pass Thunder Hole.
Plan on 1.5 -2 hours to walk the loop and stop to see the sights.
Thunder hole is a little channel in the rocks on the shoreline. As water flows in and out the channel sprays water and creates a large thunder sound. You may have to wait for a minute or two for the waves to come in strong, but the spray and the sound are worth waiting for.
Thunder Hole also has a small parking lot if you are forgoing the Ocean path.
Here is a little video we took of the sound!
Plan on 15-20 minutes
If you could only go to one place in Acadia, this would be it!
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in Acadia and is the first place to see the sun rise in the United States (from October -March). The reason for tourists flocking to the peak early in the morning.
It offers panoramic views of Bar Harbor, and the Atlantic Ocean. You honestly won’t be able to stop taking pictures!
The granite mountain was created by large glaciers and the rocks have a peculiar etched and rigged appearance. They make for great climbing and scrambling. My kids ran all over the mountain for well over an hour and only left because we were trying to fit so much in.
How to get to the peak
Drive to the top! This is the best way to get to the top if you are short on time, but you will miss the beautiful views alone the way. (This is what we did to maximize time!)
Plan on spending an hour at the peak.
Most people drive to the top of the mountain but for the adventurous (or those with older kids) there is the North Ridge Trail that is a 2.2 mile trail and a very popular way to get to the peak of Cadillac Mountain. It is a steeper climb than the South Ridge Trail but it will give you more of a climbing experience.
Plan on 1.5-3 hours
If you have more time you can take the South Ridge Trail. It is an 8 mile trail that will take you past a waterfall and give you some spectacular views.
Plan on 3-4 hours
Jordan Pond Path
Jordan Pond is the largest lake in Acadia and has crystal clear water. The path around the pond is quite flat and easy to walk. It is long and if you are trying to do this all in a day you won’t want to do the entire 3.5 mile loop.
I would suggest parking at the Jordan Pond North Parking lot and walking for 20 minutes or so and then turning around. If you have forgone other hikes and want a family friendly one you might want to do the loop. (I still think I would choose the Sand Beach trail if I had to pick one family friendly trail.)
Plan on 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how long you dedicate to the trail.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
If you have ever seen pictures of Acadia, odds are you have seen this image of the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse before. This lighthouse is so beautifully placed on the rocky cliffs looking down to the beach below. No wonder Maine uses it in tourism campaigns!
You will be leaving Mount Dessert Island to get to this Acadia landmark. That means a little bit of a drive but totally worth it, especially if you can go around sundown. You will be rewarded with a breathtaking view.
On either side of the lighthouse is a trail to viewing location. The trail on the right leads you to the actual lighthouse tower. (You can not climb it but it is cool to see up close.)
The trail on the left leads you to steps to the beach and a great spot to take pictures. That’s where you want to be to enjoy the sunset. You will probably have quite a bit of company so plan on being there around an hour to an hour and a half before sunset so you can find parking.
How to get entrance tickets to Acadia National Park
Acadia requires entrance tickets unlike some National Parks. The fee for a car is $30 for 7 days and is non-transferable.
I recommend buying your ticket online and printing it out before you come. It will save you from having to enter at certain places to buy one on site. If you can’t print one out or came at the spur of the moment, you can buy a pass on the village green in Bar Harbor or at Sands Beach.
*In 2020 the park initiated a new program that took place in October. You would have to buy parking passes online for Cadillac Mountain and Sand Beach. This was in an effort to eliminate crowding. You had to book a few days in advance to get the times you wanted but the pass was only $2 per parking lot. So if you are planning on going during fall foliage season, check ahead about parking passes.
You can see a lot of the main attractions in Acadia in one day. If you have more time to spare you can explore more of this gorgeous national park. Don’t miss out because you think that it isn’t worth it for one day!
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