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How To Spend One Day in Acadia National Park (Full Itinerary)

October 18, 2022

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Acadia National Park is the place for thrilling climbs, stunning mountain and ocean views, delicious popovers and so much more! Maine’s coastal national park is definitely one that should be on your national park bucket list.

I would suggest spending at least three days in Acadia National Park to really see everything that the park has to offer. However, I’m a firm believer that any amount of time is worth it when traveling, and you can see a lot in one day if you go in with a plan!

If it’s your first time visiting Acadia National Park and you’re short on time, keep reading! I spent three weeks in Acadia National Park in October 2022 and I’m breaking down the best things to do in Acadia if you only have one day.

Things To Know Before 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 most 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!

When to Visit Acadia

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.

Looking down the Jesup Path boardwalk trail in Acadia. It's lined with fall colors.A round-shaped mountain with yellow trees. There is a reflection of the mountain on the water.
Acadia in the Fall

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!

To learn more about visiting Acadia in the fall, check out my Acadia fall guide.

Where to Stay near Acadia

If you’re only spending one day, you should stay on Mount Desert Island so that you’re close to all of the hiking trails and activities in the 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.

For a mid-range historic hotel that is centrally located in the town of Bar Harbor, check out the Elmhurst Inn. It provides breakfast and will be walking distance to the restaurants in town.

How to Get to Acadia National Park

The closest major airport to Acadia National Park is in Bangor, Maine and about one hour away. 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.

If you’re combining your trip to Acadia with other areas of New England, check out my 7 day itinerary for New Hampshire and Vermont or my one day guide to visiting Boston!

Acadia One Day Itinerary

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and a stunning place to watch the sunrise and take in the views. In fact, during part of the year you can see the first sunrise in the US here.

The sun rising over a cloud inversion from Cadillac Mountain.
Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

As a result of its popularity, Cadillac Mountain requires reservations to drive to the top. For sunrise, they are extra competitive. You will need to make a reservation on Passes go on sale 2 days in advance. Be sure to check what time they will go on sale and be logged on and ready at release time.

If you can’t get a reservation, you also have the option to hike to the top. Either way, it’s definitely worth it to include Cadillac Mountain in your Acadia itinerary.

Pro Tip: Despite the reservations, it’s still crowded for sunrise. Keep walking a bit further from the parking lot to find space for yourself! I recommend bringing warm layers and a headlamp.

Hike the Beehive Trail

One of the most iconic and unique hiking trails in Acadia is the Beehive Trail. If scaling up a cliffside using iron rungs sounds fun to you, then you’ll want to make time for this trail. If you’re at all afraid of heights, skip this one because it’s not for the faint of heart.

Looking down at a small lake surrounde by fall foliage from the Beehive Trail.Lydia climbing up ladders on the Beehive Trail.

To begin the trail, park at Sand Beach or nearby and take the Bowl Trail to the Beehive Trail. You will want to climb up the ladder portion and then hike down on the backside of the mountain. It’s much safer to only have people climbing the ladders in one direction.

The ladder section is short but includes some narrow ledges and a couple instances where you’ll need some strength to pull yourself up. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the coast and the surrounding mountains.

I recommend hiking a loop that will take you next to The Bowl (a lake) for a scenic 1.5 mile trail. However, you also shorten the hike a little bit by turning to hike down before reaching the lake. After the lake, it’s a gradual downhill trail through the forest until you reach the starting point.

This trail is incredibly unique and rewarding. If you love a challenging hike, I highly recommend prioritizing it for your short trip to Acadia.

If you know that you’re comfortable with heights and ladders and are hoping for a more challenging trail, it might be worth skipping the Beehive and instead hiking the Precipice Trail. The Precipice is essentially a much longer version of the Beehive and includes many more ladders and iron rungs to climb up. This is a fantastic trail to check out if you’re extra adventurous and up for the challenge.

If you’re looking for something that doesn’t involve any ladders, I recommend the Great Head Trail. This is a beautiful trail that offers some amazing views of the coast. Plus, it’s not far from the Beehive.

Explore along the Ocean Path

From the Beehive trail, continue on the one way Park Loop Road and check out some of the iconic ocean views. Visit Acadia’s only sandy beach, listen for the waves at the Thunder Hole and take in the views from Otter Point.

A rocky coastline seen along the Ocean Path in Acadia.
Views along the Ocean Path
A whirlpool of water surrounded by tall rocks, with a viewing platform on the left.
Thunder Hole

You will have some views from the road, but I recommend getting out of your car to see the Thunder Hole up close. If you’re there in the hours leading up to high tide, you’ll hear a thunderous noise as waves crash into a narrow channel. However, it’s cool to see even if the timing isn’t quite right.

Visit Jordan Pond and Jordan Pond House

Next on your day in Acadia, make your way to Jordan Pond. This is the perfect time to visit Jordan Pond for lunch or a snack. They are most known for their popovers and tea, which they’ve been serving since the late 1800’s. You can make a reservation or expect there to be a wait during peak times.

Looking across Jordan Pond at two round mountains reflecting in the water.
Jordan Pond
Two plates of popovers and a salad from Jordan Pond House.
Popovers from Jordan Pond House

Before or after your meal, make sure to take in the views of Jordan Pond. My favorite view of the pond is the one you’ll get right next to Jordan Pond House, where you’ll see the North and South Bubbles (mountains that look extra round) on the opposite side of the lake.

Hike the Bubbles

After exploring Jordan Pond, spend your afternoon hiking up to Bubble Rock and the South Bubble. You can either hike directly from Jordan Pond or drive to the separate parking area. The other parking lot is really small, so I recommend staying parked where you’re at since it’s already afternoon and parking can be really competitive.

A huge rock sitting on the edge of a cliff on the Bubble trail.
Bubble Rock
Looking down at Jordan Pond, which is surrounded by fall foliage.
Views from South Bubble

There are fantastic views of Jordan Pond from the South Bubble and it’s fascinating to see Bubble Rock - it’s a giant boulder that looks like it could tumble off of the cliff at any moment. If you have time and up for even more hiking, you can also add on the North Bubble and Conners Nubble.

To do this trail from Jordan Pond, you’ll take the flat Jordan Pond Path for about a mile before connecting to the Bubbles Trail. A half mile further, there is the Bubbles Divide Trail, so you can make it a loop. Be prepared for some steep and difficult rock scrambling as you reach the top.

Visit Bar Island if the Tides Are Low

Make your way to the town of Bar Harbor for the evening. If you still have daylight and it’s during low tide, take a walk to Bar Island. This island is accessible on foot via a land bridge, but only for 1.5 hours before or after low tide. The tide comes in quickly and will get stuck on the island if you stay out there too long.

The path to Bar Island at low tide.
The Walk to Bar Island

If the timing is right, this is a really unique and fun activity. The island has some nice views looking back at the main island and it’s fun to see the tide pools as you walk out. If you’re lucky, you may see starfish or other marine life.

There is a short trail on the island that leads to a viewpoint and to some ruins of a former house. It’s a great way to get another walk in before dinner.

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 most are Geddy’s or Side Street Cafe.

Geddy’s is known for their seafood; it’s 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 for hours.

Side Street Cafe has a large menu of fun and creative dishes. They are most known for their signature macs. 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.

Final Thoughts

While one day will fly by, you can still cover a lot of ground if you go in with a plan and get an early start! Most likely, you’ll get a great taste of the park and look forward to returning in the future. I hope this helps you plan your perfect Acadia itinerary!

For More New England Travel Guides, check out these blogs:

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