Acadia National Park for Budget Travelers

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.

It doesn’t cost extra to see Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park. Photo © Jon Bilous/123rf.

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.

Acadia on Mount Desert Island

Hilary Nangle

About the Author

Despite brief out-of-state interludes for college and grad school (and a stint as a ski bum), Hilary Nangle has never been able to resist the lure of her home state. She grew up on Maine’s coast, spending much of each winter skiing in the western mountains. Her sense of wanderlust was ignited when she became a Registered Maine Whitewater Guide on the Kennebec River, which gave her a chance to explore the central and northern regions of the state.

When she tired of her parents asking when she was going to get a “real job,” Hilary drew on her writing skills and began seeking out editorial work. She started out editing pro ski tour publications, then became a managing editor for a food trade publication and a features editor for a daily newspaper. Now, she freelances professionally for national magazines, newspapers, and websites.

Hilary never tires of exploring Maine, always seeking out the offbeat and quirky, and rarely resisting the invitation of a back road. To her husband’s dismay, she inherited her grandmother’s shopping gene and can’t pass a used bookstore, artisans gallery, or antiques shop without browsing. She’s equally curious about food and has never met a lobster she didn’t like. Hilary still divides her year between the coast and the mountains, residing with her husband, Tom Nangle, and an oversized dog, both of whom share her passions for long walks and Maine-made ice cream.

For updates between editions and to follow Hilary’s travels, visit

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