How to Spend 24 Hours in Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a hidden gem on the eastern coast of the United States. It's location a bit remote about 3 hours north of the closest big city, Portland, ME, in the vast wilderness of the state of Maine. This remoteness allows the spot to have a rugged beauty on Mount Desert Island. Surrounded by water, tall mountains and lush green trees abound, this spot is perfect for the nature lovers out there.
The park is pretty much a single ring road (one way for a good portion of it), that has a bunch of spots to pull off of to explore the vast trail network or view the rocky coast as the Atlantic Ocean beats on it. Below find some of my favorite spots to hit to make the most of 24 hours in Acadia National Park.
The first spot in America to see the sun rise is the tallest point in the park, Cadillac Mountain. But in order to see it you have to get up in the pitch black of morning to either start the couple hour hike to the top or if you are a lucky one that can snag a parking spot right at the top then you get to sleep a little longer. If you do not want to make the trek to the top in the black of night then you have to move quick to gain one of the few parking spots at the top, the spots are released in stages. 25% of the 200ish spots are released a couple months before otherwise you have to get up at 10am a couple days before your trip to hope to get one of the spots in the remaining 75% lot. Check the parks website for more information on this process.
If you decide to hike to the top, there are several different trails that lead there. You can take the North Ridge Trail, South Ridge Trail or West Face Trail. The north ridge trail is about two mile hike up, the south ridge trail is about a 4 mile hike up, and the west face trail is about a mile and half all with over a 1,00ft of elevation gain. But once you get to the top you will get to enjoy in the delight of seeing the sun slowly rise over the horizon for the first time in America. And on a beautiful day you will get to see the island slowly light up with the glow of the suns rays.
After your early morning visit to Cadillac Mountain, head down to Northeast Harbor to grab breakfast since it is still morning after all since the sun usually rises at about 5 in the morning. Here you will find the Colonel's Bakery and their mouthwatering donuts. The blueberry donut was unanimously the best one in our group, as expected with the best blueberries coming from Maine. They do not have a large selection of flavors but the other couple donuts we had were just as finger-licking good as the blueberry one.
Although they had coffee, I would skip it as it was just your standard premade coffee in the thermos near the entrance. If you need coffee, I would stop at one of the several coffeeshops in Bar Harbor then after you come down Cadillac Mountain and before you head south to Northeast Harbor.
Jordan Pond Trail
After stuffing your face with the awesome donuts from Colonel's, it is time to work them off at the first hike I am recommending, Jordan Pond Trail. There is a southern loop road entrance not far from Northeast Harbor to easily get back into the park. This 3.5 mile trail, meanders right along the edge of Jordan Pond in the middle of the park. The trail is pretty much flat the entire way, with almost half of it on a raised wooden boardwalk and then a little rock scrambling near the half way point. Although the trail is not challenging at all the views you get along the entire route, especially on the back side, near the half way point are just breathtaking with expansive views over the huge pond with the massive cliff sides framing the pond on both sides. A nice easy way to break yourself in to the hiking trails of Acadia as well as an easy way to work off the breakfast you just ate.
The main parking lot at Jordan Pond Cafe is a bit small but there are a couple satellite parking lots right near by if this one is full. And yes there is cafe, the only one actually in the park, that you can grab some food at if you want with amazing views from the restaurant overlooking the pond, similar to the views you get at the half way point on the hike. This cafe is infamous for their popovers, so if you have time or still hungry after the donuts, make a stop here.
Bar Harbor + Side Street Cafe
After completing your hike around Jordan Pond, I recommending continuing your trip in a clockwise direction on the loop road and head out the Cadillac entrance into Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor is the main town on Mount Desert Island and where most people station themselves when visiting the park. This quaint downtown is your quintessential New England town with tons of delicious restaurants, local small business, coffee shops, and more. Take your time and explore the many storefronts that call this place home. The only qualm I had, and maybe this is because I went on a Friday just before Fourth of July weekend, but parking was a PITA. They do have a few public parking lots downtown but they are not huge and there is parking on the main streets but fills up due to the small parking lots and when you try to park on the side streets they are blocked off to permit parking only. So Bar Harbor if you are listening, fix your crappy parking situation. Rant over.
Although the town is filled with many eateries that are hard to go wrong with, I recommend checking out Side Street Cafe just off the main thoroughfares of downtown Bar Harbor. This restaurant has a nice little outdoor deck and large indoor area. The fare here is American tavern, with a big focus on the custom mac and cheese plates that were delicious. Just realize the portions are huge even for half macs. The drinks were just as tasty as well, especially the MDI Iced Tea that uses Maine Blueberry Moonshine, so good. Just get yourself and enjoy some seriously delicious food.
And if you still have room in your stomach, feel free to stop by the Mount Desert Island Ice Cream with their delicious homemade ice cream.
After filling yourself up again, head back on to the Loop Road towards Sand Beach. From the Sand Beach parking lot, you can walk in the opposite direction of the beach to access the Beehive trail. I will say this, this trail is not for the faint of heart. The trail has you walking on the edge of the mountain with sharp drop offs, climbing up near vertical rock scrambles, over a sketchy metal bridge all with no railings or anything to hold you up on the mountain. Looking at it from the bottom of the mountain and seeing people scale pretty much near vertical sections does make you question whether this is worth it. I am telling you this right now, it is so worth it. The trail is exhilarating and exciting with views that are 100% worth the climb. One thing I recommend is definitely do not do this trail unless its ideal conditions out, those rungs and flat rock surfaces will get slippery during wet weather. I also recommend wearing a decent pair of hiking shoes that have some grip to them. The good thing about this trail is it is nice and quick. The trail is only anywhere from a mile to a mile and half long if you do not take the shortcut back and take a visit to The Bowl, with the uphill scramble only being only about a quarter mile of the hike. The trip back down is much easier though, so do not think you have to do that all again to get back down. The backside is a bit more meandering with a staircase to get you back down. Due beware that this trail can sometimes get backed up due to the people that get freaked out on the way up and take a little extra time.
There is another trail in the park that is similar to Beehive with the edge walks, climbing up rungs, and traversing dropoffs called the Precipe Trail. Which if you liked Beehive I would recommend doing Precipe as well but just beware that for pretty much the entire summer that trail is closed to help with bird nesting, which is primarily why I recommend this trail instead. Several trails in the park are closed in the summer for bird nesting such as the Jordan Cliffs trail.
After you get back down from conquering Beehive, I recommend checking out Sand Beach while you are parked there. This white sand beach is the only beach in the park and large and expansive so plenty of room to pick a spot. This is the northern Atlantic though so if you want to go in the water, beware that it is always freezing, despite what people might tell you.
And if you want, you can go beyond the beach a little and take a walk along the up and down trail that meanders through the Great Head point. You will get great views of the Atlantic Ocean from this point.
Otherwise this is a quick visit as there is not much to do here besides see the beach but they do have some public restrooms and changing rooms that you wont always find while out exploring the park.
Atlantic Brewing Co./Mainely Meat
Before you know it the day is almost over and somehow you made it to dinner time. As your driving from Sand Beach to the southern entrance to leave, enjoy the beautiful drive along the coast and feel free to stop at the several turnouts along the road and attractions such as Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff. And then after this make your way to Atlantic Brewing Co. and their on site restaurant, Mainely Meat.
This place has you feeling like your at a BBQ at your neighbors house vibes, very chill. They of course got your classic beers such as the ales, IPAs and porters as well as seasonal specials like the summer ale as well as the delicious blueberry ale, this is Maine of course, it would be wrong to not have a blueberry ale brewed. And while you are sipping on those you can enjoy the BBQ meat from Mainely Meat. They got your traditional BBQ items from pulled pork, chicken and ribs all served with your classic BBQ sides of coleslaw and potato salad. I would say, two things that this BBQ place is missing that I typically find at BBQ places is the brisket and mac and cheese. You will still leave here feeling stuffed and happy.
And with that, you just completed a day in Acadia National Park and the surround areas. If you can only make a quick trip this is a great guide for you. This park and surrounding area is chock full of stuff to do so if you can make your trip last more then a day I would definitely recommend working that out.
Let me know if you have been to Acadia before and what some of your favorite things to do in the area are? Have you done any of the places I mentioned here? Let me know if you go and do any of the activities I recommend.
See you in the next adventure!!
-The Wandering Professional