Things to do at Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor
Acadia is a whole different national park! The large climbable rock formations, the salt waves, the towering trees, the rocky beaches make for a vast and beautiful visit. Prepare to immerse yourself in a varied landscape of salty air and cool breezes with mountains, lakes, woods, islands and coastal views. This area has something for everyone.
There are gravel pathways to stroll and take in all the sights, challenging and moderate treks for hikers, carriage lanes for bikers, calm waters for boaters (motor or human-powered) and the village of Bar Harbor for restaurants and shopping. This is all primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island which is easy to access from the mainland.
This national park also boasts a one way circular road around the outskirts of the island for those who would like to get a feel for the park before deciding on where they’d like to venture out. I like to sample all that the park has to offer during my quick trips. I opted for the highlights with adventure mixed in!
Sand Beach and Thunder Hole area:
This is an iconic Acadia area and will take a couple hours of your day to experience the feel of this park (albeit, you’ll have many other people with you that are doing the same thing). Park near the Sand Beach area and meander about a mile south to Thunder Hole. You can either walk along the sandy path (“Ocean Path”) near the road to see the views of the shoreline or, like me, wander across the large boulders (built from massive geological forces over time). At some areas you may need to go up to the path, walk a little ways, and then back down. Thunder Hole may or may not be “thundering” – it depends on the height of the seas. No matter – it’s still a very interesting area for all the senses.
Gorham Mountain Hike:
I just love to hike and there are so many wonderful options at Acadia! This hike ticks all the boxes – trees, rocks, summit, streams – and it’s about 4.5 miles round-trip if you make your u-turn at The Bowl. Plus it’s not nearly as busy (people-wise) as the BeeHive hike.
Parking for Gorham Mountain hike:
Parking is off of the Park Loop road about 1/4 mile past the Thunder Hole gift shop area. There is actually a Gorham Mountain parking lot (where the trailhead begins), but it’s often full. You can always park on the right side of the road. Just remember, it’s a one way park loop, so you don’t want to go too far past your trailhead, if possible.
Beauty and Options for Gorham Mountain hike:
Overall, the trail is moderately rated with a lot of flat rocks and treed and open trails – perfect level of strenuousness – not too easy and not too hard. The way up to Gorham Mountain summit is mostly uncovered. After the summit, where you view Sand Beach, the Gulf of Maine, BeeHive and Otter Point, there is a nice canopy of trees to continue your hike – follow the trail signs and cairns to The Bowl. The Bowl is a spring fed mountain pond wrapped around the beauty of the mountains. There are slightly elevated tree boards to walk around The Bowl (thanks National Park Service) and, if you head to the left side when you reach the pond, you will find a delightful little rocky stream! If you’d like to continue your hiking from here – cross the stream and head up to Champlain Mountain. Another option is to loop to the Ocean Path which is the sandy trail, along the road and the coast, back to the parking lot. As I mentioned earlier, many of these trails intersect, so you can make your hike as long or short as you want.
Yes, it’s a touristy area on top of Cadillac Mountain, but it is a “must-see” because it’s the highest point on the Atlantic seaboard, never mind Acadia, and the views are spectacular. Plus it’s a joy to climb all over the large boulders and be able to view the beauty of the land for miles. Also, if you’re astute, there are blueberries to snack on nestled in the bushes right there within easy walking distance from the parking area. You can spend an hour or two here easily checking things out. *Reservations may be needed.
Jordan Pond Loop Trail:
I would loosely call this trail a “hike” as it’s more of a stroll around Jordan Pond. The picturesque trail stays close to the calming pond at all times with pretty views of the mountains. The 3.4 mile trail includes a bit of easy rock scrambling, some walkable tree planks (“boardwalk”) and some nice pathways. The trail starts at the Jordan Pond House (parking is difficult at peak hours) which offers a restaurant and gift shop as well as an afternoon tea. I recommend going early as this trail is very popular, but it is a lovely walk and shows off the graceful landscape of the interior of Acadia.
Another option for this same area (Sand Beach) is a hike to the scenic BeeHive summit. I opted for the out and back (alternative BeeHive Trail) and not the BeeHive circuitous route with the rungs and precipitous drops. Same summit but less of a risk and a nice moderate hike of 2 miles. The trail is right before the main Sand Beach entrance on the western side of the Park Loop Road. The sign for the hike is small and easy to miss.
Beehive Hike Trail:
The trail is very rocky (think: hiking from rock to rock) and hiking poles would help especially after or during rain but are not required. Keep careful footing (wear hiking shoes) and enjoy the tall canopy made up of red spruce, fir, hemlock and pine trees. You can’t miss the turn off for the BeeHive rungs trail – it is a wooden sign surrounded by an avalanche of small rocks. The BeeHive rungs trail is to the right and the Bowl Trail (which will bring you to the same BeeHive summit) goes straight.
At the top of the summit you’ll be treated to views of Cadillac Mountain, Champlain Mountain, sand beach, the rocky shoreline and some smaller islands. Beautiful views in all directions! To make your way back down, your only option will be to make a u-turn as the BeeHive face trail (with the rungs) is only a one-way.
Note that many of the trails in the park intersect each other and this sometimes get confusing as there are trails of the same name, at some signs, pointing in different directions. You can get a free map at the visitor’s center, or take a photo at the beginning of the hike where there are sometimes maps posted. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow hikers – I find that most people love to help out!
I mean, lob-stuhs, said with a Downeast accent so prevalent in these parts. Lob-stuhs are aplenty all around the Acadia area. Just look for the signs on the many restaurants that offer this delectable crustacean. I stayed close to Trenton, so I enjoyed my lobster at the no-frills, Gateway Lunt’s Lobster Pound. Very reasonable prices (compared to other menus I’ve seen), good service and delicious sides as well as several alternatives for the non-seafood friendly eaters.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse:
The Bass Harbor Lighthouse was built on top of a rocky cliff on the western side of Mount Desert Island, and you’re able to view this historic beauty from 2 areas: up close as well as from the rocky beach below it. There are stairs down to the beach area and large boulders to traipse across to get a look at the lighthouse from below, the Gulf of Maine and Swan’s Island.
Bar Harbor: When I envisioned Bar Harbor I expected a seaside town with many cute shops and restaurants, salty air, and boats abound. And that’s exactly what I found! It’s definitely worth a half day to shop, go to an eatery and check out a pub/brewery.
Other options for adventures at Acadia: Biking the carriage roads and kayaking