The best way to see Acadia National Park  on a short trip or to get an overview for longer stays is a drive on this highway, which does a lazy circle around the entire eastern side of the island. To enter Acadia National Park, you’ll need to get a visitors pass ($20/vehicle), which is good for a week from the purchase date.
The Acadia National Park Visitors Center (Park Loop Rd., 207/288-3338, www.nps.gov/acad ) not only provides maps and passes, it’s also where you can pick up an audio tour to enhance the ride. (Note: while the visitors center is open year-round, most of the Park Loop Road, including Cadillac Mountain, is closed from December to mid-April.)
The road rises steeply from the visitors center to Sieur de Monts Spring, where a garden and nature center give an overview of the park’s flora and fauna. Along the rocky coast that follows, be sure to stop at Thunder Hole, a natural waterspout that is particularly active an hour or two before high tide.
The horizon opens up with Otter Cliffs, granite cliffs shot through with crystals of quartz and feldspar that are the highest on the eastern seaboard. Short trails take hikers through the primeval forest that was spared by the great fire. After the turn back inland, the Jordan Pond House was the traditional stopping-off point for afternoon tea and hot popovers. A new building constructed in 1979 carries on the tradition.
After Jordan Pond, be sure to note Bubble Rock, a glacial moraine that looks precariously balanced on the slope above. Finally, a side road rises through a series of switchbacks to the park’s grand attraction, the 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain, where thousands gathered for the millennium to be the first to see the sun in the United States.
From the parking lot near the summit, visitors can take a short hike to the peak for a stunning view of the island-dotted waters of the Gulf of Maine below.