Acadia National Park is near Ellsworth, reached via Route 3. Normally travelers take U.S. Route 1 to Ellsworth from southern Maine, but you can avoid coastal congestion by taking the Maine Turnpike to Bangor, then picking up I-395 to Route 1A and continuing south into Ellsworth. Though this is longer in terms of miles, it’s a quicker route in summer.
From Ellsworth, bear right onto Route 3 (U.S. Route 1 doesn’t go onto the island) and continue about 15 minutes to the island causeway in Trenton. Cross the bridge and you’re on the island. Consult a map carefully to determine which route to take from here; there are three possible choices, all leading to very different destinations: routes 3 and 233 go to Bar Harbor, Route 198 goes to Northeast Harbor, and Route 102 leads to Southwest harbor.
Year-round, there are several flights daily from Boston (and, seasonally, Newark) on small planes to the Hancock County-Bar Harbor airport (airport code BHB; www.bhbairport.com) in Trenton, just across the causeway from Mount Desert Island. Contact Cape Air (www.capeair.com; tel. 800/227-3247) or PenAir (www.penair.com; tel. 800/448-4226) for Boston flights, or Elite Airways (www.eliteairways.net; tel. 877/393-2510) for Newark.
From the airport, call a taxi, rent a car, or—best of all—ride the free shuttle bus to downtown Bar Harbor from late June through mid-October.
VISITOR CENTERS & INFORMATION
Acadia staffs two visitor centers. The Thompson Island Information Center (tel. 207/288-3411) on Route 3 is the first you’ll pass as you enter Mount Desert Island. This center is maintained by the local chambers of commerce, but park personnel are often on hand to answer inquiries. Open daily at 8:30am mid-May through mid-October, it’s a good first stop for general lodging and restaurant information.
If you’re interested primarily in information about the park itself, continue on Route 3 to the National Park Service’s Hulls Cove Visitor Center, about 7 1/2 miles beyond Thompson Island. This attractive, stone-walled center has professionally prepared park-service displays, such as a large relief map of the island, natural history exhibits, and a short introductory film. You can also request free brochures about hiking trails and the carriage roads, or purchase postcards and more detailed guidebooks. The center is open daily from mid-April through the end of October.
Information is also available year-round, by phone or in person, at the park headquarters (tel. 207/288-3338), on Route 233 between Bar Harbor and Somesville, open daily (except closed weekends in summer). You can also make inquiries online at www.nps.gov/acad.
ENTRY POINTS & FEES
Entrance fees to the park are collected at several gates and points from May through October; the rest of the year, entrance is free—one of this nation’s great outdoor bargains either way. A 1-week pass, which includes unlimited trips on the Park Loop Road (closed in winter), costs $25 per car from May through early October; there’s no additional charge per passenger once you’ve bought the pass. Hikers, cyclists, and anyone else traveling without a vehicle (that is, motorcyclists or boaters) must pay a $12-per-person fee.
You can enter the park at several points in the interwoven network of park and town roads—a glance at a park map, available free at the visitor center, will make these access points self-evident. The main point of entry to Park Loop Road, the park’s most popular scenic byway, is near the official park visitor center at Hulls Cove (on Route 3 just north of Bar Harbor); the entry fee is collected at a tollbooth on the loop road, a half-mile north of Sand Beach.
No daily pass to Acadia is available, so if you’ll be here more than 2 weeks, purchase a $50 annual Acadia pass for your car instead of several $25 weekly passes. Or, if you really travel a lot, consider buying an $80 “America the Beautiful” national parks pass—it gets you and your vehicle and your passengers into nearly all properties managed by the National Park Service for an entire calendar year.
A free summer shuttle bus service known as the Island Explorer (www.exploreacadia.com) was inaugurated in 1999 as part of an effort to reduce the number of cars on the island’s roads. It’s working; the propane-powered buses—equipped with racks for bikes—serve multiple routes covering nearly the entire island, and will stop anywhere you request outside the village centers, including trailheads, ferries, small villages, and campgrounds. (Bring a book, though; there are lots of stops.)
All routes begin or end at the central Village Green in Bar Harbor, but you can hop onto the bus almost anywhere else—a handy way to avoid parking hassles in town. Route no. 3, which runs from Bar Harbor along much of the Park Loop, offers easy free access to some of the park’s best hiking trails.
The buses operate from late June through mid-October; ask for a schedule at island information centers, in shops, or at any hotel or campground.
Acadia National Park Tours (www.acadiatours.com; tel. 207/288-0300) offers 2 1/2-hour park tours from mid-May through October, departing twice daily (10am and 2pm) from downtown Bar Harbor. The bus tour includes three stops (Sieur De Monts Springs, Thunder Hole, and Cadillac Mountain) and imparts plenty of park trivia, courtesy of the driver. This is an easy way for first-time visitors to get a quick introduction to the park before setting out on their own side trips. Tickets are available at Testa’s Restaurant (at 53 Main St.) in Bar Harbor; the cost is $30 for adults, $17.50 for children 12 and under.
Avoiding crowds in the Park
Early fall is the best time to miss the mobs yet still enjoy the weather here. If you come midsummer, try to venture out in early morning or early evening to the most popular spots, such as Thunder Hole or the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Setting off into the woods at every opportunity is also a good strategy. Probably four out of every five visitors restrict their tours to the loop road and a handful of other major attractions, leaving most of the gorgeous trail system to the more adventurous.
The best guarantee of solitude is to head to the most remote outposts managed by Acadia, such as Isle au Haut and Schoodic Peninsula, across the bay to the east. Ask for more information about these areas at the visitor centers.
Frequent ranger programs are offered throughout the year at Acadia. These include talks at campground amphitheaters and tours of various island locales and attractions. Examples include an Otter Point nature hike, walks across the carriage roads’ stone bridges, cruises on Frenchman Bay (rangers provide commentary on many trips), and discussions of the changes in Acadia’s landscape—there was even a small earthquake here in October 2006, causing rock slides that still keep a few trails closed. Ask for a schedule of park events and more information at any visitor center or campground.
The usual national park rules apply. Guns may not be used in the park; if you have a gun, it must be “cased, broken down, or otherwise packaged against use.” Fires and camping are allowed only at designated areas. Pets must be on leashes at all times. Seat belts must be worn in the national park (this is a federal law). Don’t remove anything from the park, either man-made or natural; this includes cobblestones from the shore.
WHEN TO GO
While spring is forgettable in Acadia—often intensely foggy or rainy—summer is the peak tourist season. The weather in July and August is perfect for just about any outdoor activity. Most days are warm (in the 70s or 80s/low to mid-20s Celsius), with afternoons frequently cooler than mornings owing to the sea breezes. Light fogs occasionally roll in from the southeast on a hot day, which gives a magical quality to the landscape. Sunny days are the norm, but come prepared for rain; this is the Atlantic Coast, after all. Once or twice each summer, a heat wave somehow settles onto the island, producing temperatures in the 90s (30s Celsius), dense haze, and stifling humidity, but this rarely lasts more than a few days. August in Acadia is when both heat and traffic peaks—traffic jams on the Park Loop Road and at the top of Cadillac are, sadly, the norm, and Bar Harbor is a zoo. If you can come earlier in the summer or hold off until September, consider it.
Soon enough (sometimes even during late August), a brisk north wind will blow in from the Canadian Arctic, forcing visitors into sweaters at night. You’ll smell the approach of autumn, with winter not far behind. Fall here is wonderful. Between Labor Day and the foliage season in early October, days are often warm and clear, nights have a crisp tang, and you can avoid the congestion, crowds, and pesky insects of summer. It’s not that the park is empty in September; bus tours seem to proliferate at this time, and it’s when the cruise ship season kicks into high gear in Bar Harbor. Not to worry: Both the cruise and tour bus crowds tend to stick to the pavement—hikers and bikers need only get a minute or two off the road to find relative solitude on the trails and carriage roads.
Winter is an increasingly popular time to travel to Acadia, especially among those who enjoy cross-country skiing the carriage roads. Be aware, though, that snow along the coast is inconsistent, and services—including most restaurants and many inns—are often closed down outright in winter. Expect to stay in either a really cheap motel or an expensive resort, and to often eat what locals do: pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.