At first glance, Mount Desert Island might seem an expensive place to visit, especially if you’re not a fan of camping. Truth is, you can afford to visit Acadia National Park on a budget.
Consider this: Once you’ve paid for your park pass, your recreation is free. There are no further fees to hike, canoe, bicycle, or swim, unless you need to rent equipment. If so, plan ahead and ask about any deals. Some sports outfitters offer a discount for advance reservations or multiday rentals. Some will allow you to rent a bike after a certain time and keep it for the next day, charging you for only one day. That allows you to get in an extra evening ride—ideal at the peak of summer when daylight lasts well into the evening.
Outside the park, many of the recommended sights are free. Perhaps you can’t afford to take the family to the Oceanarium, but you certainly can visit the MDI Biological Laboratory. Most of the park ranger programs are free (check the Beaver Log), including evening ones presented in the park’s campgrounds. Free concerts and lectures are regularly presented at many locations around the island; check local newspapers or ask at information centers.
You must eat, but you can keep prices down, even when dining out. For starters, opt for lodging with an in-room refrigerator if possible. Then stock up on breakfast, sandwich, and salad staples (milk, cereal, bread, luncheon meats and cheeses, vegetables, fresh fruit, etc.) at the supermarket. If you don’t have a refrigerator, a cooler will do, but remember to keep it stocked with ice. (Collapsible coolers are available and easy to pack or carry on an airplane, or you can purchase an inexpensive Styrofoam one.) You can survive on this; I’ve done so. Even better is to have access to boiling water to make instant soups or ramen noodles, to which you can add all kinds of vegetables for a healthful meal.
If you want to dine out, lunch is almost always less expensive than dinner. For dinner, look for restaurants with early-bird specials; many places have very reasonable meals available before 6 or 6:30pm. Or consider combining your meal with evening entertainment at Reel Pizza. When you do dine out, take home any leftovers (assuming you have a refrigerator or cooler). Other inexpensive options are public suppers; look for notices on bulletin boards and in local newspapers.
As for lodging, in general the farther you get from the key sights or town centers, the less it will cost. Look for accommodations within an easy walk of the Island Explorer bus so you won’t have to drive (or perhaps even bring) a car. If you’re staying for a week or longer, your best move is to find a cottage rental. (Hint: Prices for many rentals drop the week before Labor Day.) Another option is to consider a camping cabin. These rustic shelters generally do not have any plumbing—you’ll have to walk to a shared bathhouse—but they are clean and dry and have real beds; some even provide linens or minimal cooking facilities. What you sacrifice in privacy is more than offset by the folks you’ll meet from around the world.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, always ask about any applicable discounts: automobile clubs, seniors, military, family rates, etc. And finally, ditch the car and use the free Island Explorer bus to get around. Not only does doing so save you money on gasoline and avoid parking hassles, but—big bonus points—it benefits the environment.