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The top 5 things to do at Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in autumn

The first national park to be established east of the Mississippi River, Acadia protects one of the country’s most beautiful seacoasts: A mashup of ice-sculpted granite mountains and headlands, forested lakes and ponds, and beaches and tidepools set against the North Atlantic.

Its rugged oceanfront beauty, diverse ecology (whales, moose, wildflowers, and more), and rich lineup of outdoor activities draw more than 3 million visitors annually to this roughly 50,000-acre park. Set in Maine’s Mount Desert Island, the park occupies a portion of the mainland Schoodic Peninsula and several smaller islands and islets including Isle au Haut.

This year-round destination is among the top 10 most popular national parks in the country. With numerous things to see and do, consider the following 5 activities an introduction to Acadia National Park's scenery and ambience.

Sunrise as seen from Cadillac Mountain

Take in the Atlantic sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

At 1,527 feet, Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island is the highest coastal summit on America’s Atlantic Seaboard. Besides the fantastic highlands-to-islands vista it offers, it’s also a famous sunrise-watching destination. Thanks to the mountain’s elevation on the North Atlantic coast, it’s the first place in the U.S. to be hit by sunrise in the fall and winter.

Cadillac Mountain’s accessible by car, but there are also several hiking trails leading to the summit. During peak season from June to September, parking is limited and tends to reach full capacity every day.

A kayaker in a creek at Acadia National Park

Go for a paddle

Acadia National Park encompasses an assortment of waterways, giving canoeists and kayakers of all skill levels a wealth of options. Choose from idyllic inland ponds and large lakes to sheltered straits, bays, and open ocean. 

Take a canoe or kayak out on Aunt Betty Pond, Half Moon Pond, Echo Lake, or try your hand at sea kayaking along the splendid coast. Frenchman Bay is a suitable destination for newbies, and more proficient paddlers have access to miles of scenic routes. 

Jordan Stream carriage road at Acadia National Park in winter

Ski or snowshoe through Acadia in the winter

About 45 miles of carriage roads offer fantastic cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes through Acadia’s winter wonderland. When there’s enough snow, volunteers often groom portions of the carriage-road system including the Witch Hole Loop, Paradise Hill Loop, and Upper Around Mountain. You can also ski or snowshoe on unplowed Acadia routes if you don’t mind sharing the roads with snowmobilers.

Skiing or snowshoeing the frosty coastal landscape of Acadia National Park delivers unique views of this iconic place in its off-season.

Acadia National Park with fall foliage

Marvel at the beautiful fall foliage

Many visitors flock to Acadia National Park during peak foliage-viewing season in mid-October when golden and crimson canopies paint the shoulders of the coastal peaks. Take a scenic driving tour via the one-way, 27-mile Park Loop Road, which starts at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and passes through to Cadillac Mountain. Along the way, take in overlooks, vistas, ponds, beaches, and carriage roads. Alternatively, catch a ride with the Island Explorer Park Loop Shuttle, or plan a bike ride on this scenic route.

A puffin bird at Acadia National Park

Take a guided tour or cruise

While you can explore Acadia National Park independently, there are also plenty of guided tours. Join ranger-led bicycling tours and cruises that combine the world-class scenery with insights into natural and human history. Meanwhile, outfitters and charters in Bar Harbor and elsewhere nearby offer whale- and puffin-watching cruises, kayak outings, and lighthouse tours.

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Road trip planning resources

AAA Travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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