10 Best Outdoor Activities in Acadia National Park

A giant sprawl across Mount Desert Island, there’s as much to see and do in Acadia National Park as there are days in the year. However much time you have to spend in the park, whether it’s a day to a week or more, start with these ten shortlisted outdoor activities for a thoroughly rewarding experience.

View from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National park
Cadillac Mountain. Photo © Hilary Nangle.

Park Ranger Programs: Join one of the numerous programs, from guided hikes and photography tours to natural history programs and children’s activities, offered daily by park rangers.

Park Loop Road: If you do nothing else on Mount Desert Island, drive this magnificent road that takes in many of Acadia National Park’s highlights.

Sieur de Monts Spring: This lovely oasis is home to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, the Acadia Nature Center, the Sweet Waters of Acadia spring, and the original Abbe Museum, as well as the base for hiking Dorr Mountain.

Sand Beach: Spread a blanket on one of the few beaches in this part of Maine.

Thunder Hole: Time your visit right to see the tide surge and explode through this geological formation.

Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park.
Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park. Photo © Jon Bilous/123rf.

Jordan Pond House: Come for tea, popovers, and ice cream on the lawn, but allow time to walk or ride the carriage roads or explore the nature trail.

Cadillac Mountain: Acadia’s prime feature is the highest point on the eastern seaboard, allegedly where the sun’s first rays land. Drive, bike, or hike to the 1,530-foot summit for stunning views.

Carriage Roads: Fifty-seven miles of meandering crushed-stone paths crossing 17 handsome stone bridges welcome walkers, bikers, horseback riders, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers.

Eagle Lake: A mountain backdrop and undeveloped shores contribute to Eagle Lake’s popularity. A small-boat launch and a carriage road make it easy to explore.

Gorham Mountain Trail: This trail requires a minimum amount of effort to produce maximum rewards. It’s an excellent family hike—kids love the Cadillac Cliffs.

For more great hikes, check out the ten best hikes in Acadia.

About Acadia National Park

Rather like an octopus, or perhaps an amoeba, Acadia National Park extends its reach here and there and everywhere on Mount Desert Island. The park was created from donated parcels—a big chunk here, a tiny chunk there—and slowly but surely fused into its present-day size of more than 47,000 acres (35,332 acres are owned by the National Park Service; the balance is privately owned land under conservation easements managed by the park).

Permanent boundaries do exist—Congress certified them in 1986—but they can be confusing to visitors. One minute you’re in the park, the next you’ve stepped into one of the island’s towns. This symbiotic relationship is a reminder that Acadia National Park, covering a third of the island, is the major presence on Mount Desert. It affects traffic, indoor and outdoor pursuits, and in a way, even the climate.

Maps - Acadia National Park 5e - Mount Desert Island
Mount Desert Island

Acadia’s history is unique among national parks and is indeed fascinating. Several books have been written about the high-minded (in the positive sense) and high-profile personalities who provided the impetus and wherewithal for the park’s inception and never flagged in their interest and support. To spotlight a few, we can thank George B. Dorr, Charles W. Eliot, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. for the park we have today.

The National Park Service began keeping track of Acadia’s visitors in 1919, when 64,000 people were counted. Given Acadia’s complicated boundary, an exact count is impossible, but park officials estimate an average of 2.5 million visits annually. A big bump in numbers is expected in 2016, when Acadia celebrates the 100th anniversary of its creation.

In 2014, the park began implementing a comprehensive plan to reopen and maintain the planned vistas from the historic carriage roads and motor roads in the park, so don’t be surprised to find tree-cutting crews at work over the next few years. The reward is enjoying the views that were purposefully designed into the systems.