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The Best 3 Day Acadia National Park Itinerary: The Best Hikes, Food & More

October 12, 2022

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Acadia National Park is a unique and beautiful place that offers stunning ocean views, thrilling hiking trails, magnificent scenic drives, unique cuisine and more. Whether you are visiting to scale the ladders of The Beehive or see the first sunrise in the United States, there is something for everyone in this unique US national park.

In my opinion, Acadia is worth it no matter how long you have to spend. But to fully experience the top sights in the park, I think that three days is a perfect amount of time. After spending three weeks in Acadia in October 2022, this is the itinerary I recommend for spending three days in Acadia if you are interested in hiking and adventure.

If you’re looking for more hiking trail suggestions, check out my detailed guide to all of the best hiking trails in Acadia.



Overview and Tips for Visiting Acadia

  • It costs $30 per vehicle to enter Acadia National Park and the fee is valid for seven days. If you will be visiting more national parks over the course of a year, I highly recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass, which will grant you entry into all parks for a year for $80.
  • Acadia is one of the few national parks where dogs are allowed! Just be sure to keep them on a leash.
  • Acadia is one of the top visited US national parks, so don’t be surprised to find full parking lots and busy trails. If you’re crowd adverse, visit the popular spots early in the morning and consider exploring some of the less trafficked trails on the west side of Mt Desert Island.
  • Guide Along offers an audio tour of Acadia and it's a great way to learn about the park and discover stops along the way as you drive around!

Acadia National Park 3 Day Itinerary

Day One in Acadia

Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, hike the Bubbles Nubble Loop, eat popovers from Jordan Pond House, hike Beech Mountain, visit a lighthouse and have dinner in Southwest Harbor.

Watch the Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

The sun rising above a cloud inversion from Cadillac Mountain.Lydia standing at watching the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

For part of the year (mid-October to March), Cadillac Mountain is where you can take in the first sunrise light in the United States. Even if your visit is outside of that time, it’s worth seeing the sunrise from the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. On a clear day, it’s a stunning view to watch the sun come up here.

Reservations are required to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain from the end of May to October (May 25 - October 22 in 2022). For sunrise, they are hard to get, so you really need to be logged on as soon as they go on sale and I recommend having a back up day in case you can’t get them.

Make your reservation for Cadillac Mountain on recreation.gov.

If you cannot get a reservation, you can still hike to the top! There are two different trails to reach the top - the North Ridge and the South Ridge. The North Ridge Trail is 4.2 miles round trip while the South Ridge trail is 6.7 miles round trip. The parking is limited so make sure you arrive early enough to claim your spot.

If you do get a reservation, expect there to be a lot of people joining you at the top. Arrive early to get a close parking spot and claim a spot. Plus, bring layers and a blanket to stay warm while you wait. Be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp too! It may seem crowded, but if you keep walking further from the parking lot, you’ll likely be able to find some space for yourself.

I saw a gorgeous cloud inversion during my sunrise and it was well worth the early wake up call!

Hike the Bubbles Nubble Loop

A huge rock sitting on the edge of a cliff on the Bubble trail.
Bubble Rock
Looking down at a lake from the North Bubble. The mountain is covered with yellow trees.
The view from North Bubble

Since you’ve already gotten an early start for the sunrise, it’s a great time to hit another popular trail before the crowds. I recommend heading to the Bubbles and hiking the Bubbles Nubble Loop trail before it gets too busy.

This fun 3.6 mile trail will take you to Bubble Rock (a rock that looks like it’s about to roll off the cliff), South Bubble, North Bubble and Conners Nubble. The South and North Bubbles offer fantastic views of Jordan Pond, while Conners Nubble has a view of Eagle Lake.

This is a fun trail that has a little bit of rock scrambling and elevation, but is not overly challenging. It has a lot to offer and some fantastic views throughout. It’s a great one to make sure to include on your Acadia itinerary!

If you’re short on time, you can just hike up to see the Bubble Rock and the views from South Bubble for a shorter adventure.

Eat Popovers from Jordan Pond House

Two plates of popovers and a salad from Jordan Pond House.An ice cream sundae inside of a popover that has been cut open.
Popovers from Jordan Pond House

In the late 1800’s, Mr. and Mrs. McIntire turned a farm house into a small restaurant to serve summer vacationers. The Jordan Pond House Restaurant keeps the tradition alive today by still serving popovers and tea to a multitude of park goers.

The restaurant overlooks Jordan Pond and offers a large menu in addition to the famous popovers and tea. The restaurant gets crowded, so it’s best to make a reservation. But if you don’t have one, the wait tends to move quickly (the earlier in the day, the better your chances).

While there are a lot of options on the menu, the popovers are really a must. They are crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and pair perfectly with jam or butter. If you want dessert, I also recommend the popover sundae - you’ll be served a scoop of ice cream inside of a popover!

If you enjoy the meal, you can head next door to the gift shop and purchase popover mix and tins to make them yourself.

Pro Tip: Parking can be really difficult near the Jordan Pond House during peak times. Be patient and have a back up plan!

Hike the Beech Mountain South Ridge Loop

Looking at the Fire Tower with red brush in front of it.Lydia standing on the Beech Mountain South Ridge Loop trail surrounded by moss-covered boulders.
Views on the Beech Mountain South Ridge Loop

Head over to the quieter side of the park for an afternoon hike with beautiful views. The Beech Mountain South Ridge Loop is one of my favorite trails in Acadia because it has fantastic views of the surrounding water, a fire tower and an enchanted forest full of boulders and trees covered in green moss.

The trail is 2.4 miles and has a bit of rock scrambling but is doable for most abilities. The loop has a lot to offer and is a great way to explore a bit of the west side of the island.

If you’re looking for a longer trail, I recommend adding the Beech Cliff Ladder and Canada Cliffs loop. This is a nearby 1.8 mile loop that includes a series of a few ladders. You could connect this trail with the Beech Mountain Loop (I would recommend starting with the Beech Cliff Ladders) or do them separately.

Visit Bass Harbor Head Light Station

A white lighthouse attached to a white building.
Bass Harbor Head Light Station
Looking at the ocean and a rocky shore.
Views from Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Staying on the west side of the island, it’s worth a quick stop at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. It was built in 1858 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you can time it right, this is a really beautiful and popular place to watch the sunset. However, expect parking to be limited. This is the most visited place on the west side of Mount Desert Island.

Have Dinner at Hearth and Harbor

Holding up a cocktail with a wood-fired pizza oven in the background.A plate of gnocchi from Hearth and Harbor.
Hearth and Harbor

Stay on the west side for a fantastic dinner at Hearth and Harbor, located in the community of Southwest Harbor. This was easily my favorite meal during my time in Acadia!

This cozy restaurant serves wood fired pizza, handmade pasta, craft cocktails and more. If you can get a seat in the right spot, you can even watch the chefs prepare the food and fire the pizzas. I really enjoyed the gnocchi, the seasonal apple cider cocktail and the zeppole for dessert. Everything was delicious and I highly recommend this spot for your Acadia trip.

Day Two in Acadia

Hike the Beehive Trail

Looking down at a small lake surrounded by fall foliage from the Beehive Trail.Lydia climbing up metal rungs on the Beehive trail.
The Beehive Trail

Get an early start for one of the most iconic and popular trails in the park - the Beehive Trail! This trail involves a series of ladders and has instances of steep drop offs, so do not attempt if you are afraid of heights. There are also a couple instances where you’ll need to pull yourself up a bit, so it may be more difficult if you’re short or lack upper body strength. If you have hiking experience and aren’t spooked by heights and drop offs, you should be okay. Just be sure that you know your limits.

While it’s a bit scary, the climb is short and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views at the top. You will overlook Sand Beach and the coast, plus enjoy endless views of the surrounding mountains and hills.

Please do not climb down the ladders, but instead hike down the backside of the mountain. I recommend taking the trail past the Bowl (a small lake) to maximize your views. It’s a relatively easy trail back down and the entire loop is 1.5 miles.

Explore the Ocean Path

A sandy beach scattered with rocks along the Ocean Path trail.
Sand Beach

After the Beehive is a great time to hike or drive between the other popular sights in this coastal area of the park.

The top sights to explore are Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff, Otter Point and Otter Cove. Thunder Hole is the one that I recommend most. It’s an inlet where the waves crash down in a narrow channel and make a thunderous noise during the hours leading up to high tide.

At Otter Cliff, you may see rock climbers and in the other areas you’ll enjoy some great views. If you choose to hike along the Ocean Path, there are several places to walk out onto the cliffs, discover tide pools and take some beautiful photos.

Rent Bikes and Explore the Carriage Roads

Lydia standing next to a bike on the Around the Mountain Loop.Lydia biking on a path surrounded by tall trees on a Carriage Road in Acadia.
Biking the Carriage Roads in Acadia

Take a break from hiking and explore the Carriage Roads via bike for the rest of the day! The Carriage Roads were built by John Rockefeller as motor-free byways around the park. Today they are used for bikes, pedestrians and horses.

The Carriage Roads are made of broken-stone and are very smooth to ride on. They were designed to align with scenic views and you’ll also cross over several picturesque stone bridges along the way. This is a really unique activity in Acadia that I definitely recommend if you’re interested in biking.

I opted for an e-bike for an easier time and had a great experience renting from Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. Acadia Outfitters is another local rental shop to consider as well.

There are 45 miles of Carriage Roads in the park, so there are plenty of routes to choose from depending on your interests and time. The bike rental shops can also make recommendations. I biked almost 30 miles past Eagle Lake, Bubble Pond and to the Around the Mountain Loop.

The Around the Mountain Loop was definitely the highlight. The loop has fantastic views and there are even a few waterfalls along the way.

Check out my guide to biking the Carriage Roads for more details.

Walk to Bar Island

The path to Bar Island at low tide.
The path to Bar Island
An old stone fireplace on Bar Island.
Ruins on Bar Island

If you can time this with low tide, take the easy walk over to Bar Island when you return to downtown Bar Harbor. You can walk from town to the island via a land bridge that only appears during the hours surrounding low tide. It’s important to check the tide charts and only walk over in the window of 1.5 hours before and after low tide so you do not get stuck on the island.

As you walk across the bridge, you’ll likely see a variety of wildlife such as seagulls and starfish. When you reach the island, there are a couple of short trails you can enjoy. It’s worth walking to the highest point of the island for a view and to see the ruins of Jack Perkins Estate (a reporter who formerly lived on the island).

The walk over and the trails on the island total just over 2 miles. This is a unique trail for all abilities and a great area to explore before dinner in Bar Harbor.

Have Dinner in Bar Harbor

Enjoy a dinner out in Bar Harbor after a day full of adventure. There are several great restaurants in town but the two I recommend are Geddy’s or Side Street Cafe.

Geddy’s is really known for their seafood, making it a great spot to try a Maine lobster roll. They also serve pizza, salads and a variety of other items. They take reservations and you’ll likely need one or you may be waiting hours.

Side Street Cafe has a large menu of fun and creative dishes and many of the items feature seafood. One of the menu items they are most known for are their signature macs. There are some delicious mac and cheese options or you can build your own with a variety of different toppings. They are also known for their blueberry margaritas and blueberry pie (blueberry is the state berry of Maine!). Side Street Cafe also gets very busy but you can add yourself to the waitlist online ahead of time.

Day Three in Acadia

Hike the Precipice Trail

Lydia climbing up metal rungs on the Precipice Trail.
Ladder rungs on the Precipice Trail
Lydia standing on a rock and looking out at the water from the top of the Precipice Trail.
Views from the top of Mount Champlain

If you enjoyed the Beehive Trail, challenge yourself further with the Precipice Trail on your final day in the park. Just like the Beehive, this trail features ladders, but there are many more than the Beehive.

Also like the Beehive, this trail gets really crowded and it’s not fun to be in a line of people when there are ladders involved. Go early to get a parking spot and avoid the masses.

The trail begins with a ‘test’ ladder where you’ll get a taste of what's to come. There are a few instances where you’ll need to have some strength to pull yourself up. After that, there is a little cave area to climb through before you reach the main portion of ladders.

The ladder climb lasts about three quarters of a mile and includes many steep drop offs and narrow ledges along the way. It is definitely not something you should attempt if you’re at all afraid of heights.

At the top, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the water and surrounding islands. To come down, you’ll want to take the North Ridge Trail and then Orange and Black Path to get down. I walked down to the road for the last portion of the trail so that I didn’t have to go down any ladders. The entire loop is a little over 2 miles with just over 1000 feet of elevation gain.

Overall, this trail is a challenge but incredibly rewarding. If you are up for it, it’s an incredible way to top off your time in Acadia.

Eat Brunch in Bar Harbor

Two plates of breakfast food from Cafe This Way. One has am scrambled eggs with veggies and toast. The other has pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and toast.Holding up a mug that reads "Cafe This Way" inside the restaurant.
Cafe This Way

As a reward for conquering a difficult trail, head over to Bar Harbor for brunch. I really enjoyed Cafe This Way for a delicious breakfast and really friendly staff. It gets crowded but the wait moves quickly. They have a large breakfast menu with all kinds of options, but I especially recommend trying the blueberry pancakes.

After brunch is a great time to do some shopping in Bar Harbor if that is of interest to you. Check out In The Woods for handcrafted wood items, Acadia Park Company for outdoor gear and Island Artisans for locally made gifts.

Hike the Great Head Trail

Looking down at Sand Beach from the Great Head Trail.
The View of Sand Beach from the Great Head Trail

End your time in Acadia with a couple more easy trails with rewarding views. First, hike the Great Head trail for beautiful views of the coast. The trail also connects to Sand Beach if you haven’t had a chance to explore there yet.

The trail is either 1.6 or 1.8 miles depending on which loop you take. Either way, there is some minimal rock scrambling with a wonderful view looking out at the water. It’s a short but pleasant walk that will offer some new views.

Visit the Jesup Path and Wild Gardens of Acadia

Looking down the boardwalk of the Jesup Path, surrounded by fall foliage.Looking down the boardwalk of the Jesup Path, surrounded by fall foliage.
Jesup Path

Finally, not far from the Great Head Trail you can visit the Wild Gardens of Acadia and the Jesup Path. The Wild Gardens of Acadia is a small garden area where you can learn all about the native plants found on Mount Desert Island. The gardens are maintained by volunteers and free with the suggestion of a donation.

Right next to the gardens, don’t miss the Jesup Path. This flat boardwalk trail follows an area of marshland white birch trees. It is especially gorgeous in the fall when you’ll enjoy a scene full of orange and yellow leaves in addition to the greenery.

A relaxing afternoon in this area of the park is a great way to end your time in Acadia.

Where to Stay near Acadia National Park

Ideally, you should stay on Mount Desert Island so that you’re super close to all of the hiking trails and activities in the national park. However, it’s hard to find hotels and accommodations for less than $200 a night that are actually on the island. If you’re visiting Acadia on a budget, you may want to stay in Ellsworth, which is located just about 30 minutes away.

Here are 3 hotels of different price points on Mount Desert Island or nearby.

Budget: Acadia Sunrise Motel

The Acadia Sunrise Motel is located in Trenton, which is just a couple minutes from Mount Desert Island. It has a pool, gets great reviews and is convenient while still being affordable.

Mid-Range in Bar Harbor: Elmhurst Inn

The Elmhurst Inn is located right in the town of Bar Harbor, so you’ll be able to walk to various shops and restaurants. It’s a historic inn that provides a daily breakfast so you’ll be starting your days on a great foot.

Unique Luxury Experience: Terramor Outdoor Resort

If staying in a luxurious canvas tent with all of the amenities you could need sounds fun, check out Terramor Outdoor Resort. This unique lodging experience includes a dog park, a daily continental breakfast, common areas with grills, lawn games and more. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for something special but still want to be close to the park.

When to Visit Acadia National Park

The vast majority of visitors go to Acadia in the summer or the fall. During the winter and spring, the majority of the Park Loop Road is closed and a lot of businesses are closed during this time as well.

I visited in October and got to see beautiful fall foliage (the leaves usually peak mid-October). It was very crowded, but I’ve heard it’s just as crowded (if not more) in the summer months.

Also keep in mind that some popular trails, like The Precipice Trail, are often closed for peregrine falcon nesting from March to August.

With all of these factors in mind, I think that the fall is the best time to visit Acadia and it’s a huge bonus if you can visit during mid-October and enjoy the fall foliage! I have a full guide on visiting Acadia in the fall if you want to learn more about what to expect.

How to Get To Acadia National Park

The closest major airport to Acadia National Park is in Bangor and about one hour away. However, many visitors also choose to fly into Portland, Maine because it has a larger airport with more available flights. Portland is three hours from Acadia.

Either way, I highly recommend renting a car to get around the park.

Final Thoughts

Acadia National Park is a beautiful destination that should definitely be included on a New England road trip! From gripping ladder trails to miles of bike paths, it is such a special place. I hope this Acadia itinerary helps you plan your trip!

For more New England travel guides, check out these blogs:

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