5 Tips for Visiting Acadia National Park
Updated: Jan 2
Acadia National Park makes the bucket list for many adventurers—and I don’t blame them! Forest blanketed mountains, rocky coastlines, and a scattering of lakes—Acadia is one of the most beautiful parks on the eastern seaboard. I, too, had Acadia near the top of my bucket list, and upon visiting, I discovered a handful of facts that I wish I had known in advance. While I would love to write about the best places to see in Acadia, today I'm here to point out some logistical tips for planning your trip. Here are five tips I wish I had known before visiting this remarkable Maine jewel.
1. Expect to drive—a lot.
In total, Acadia is comprised of 47,000 acres across Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, and Isle au Haut. Not being from a coastal area, I assumed the park was geographically condensed, and at first glance of a map, Acadia doesn’t look big at all. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We booked a campsite at Schoodic Woods Campground, not realizing that the Schoodic Peninsula was a little over an hour’s drive from Mount Desert Island, where most of Acadia’s main attractions were. As new visitors to Acadia, this was a slight inconvenience because we had to budget in an hour of drive time to go to Bar Harbor or any popular scenic destinations on Mount Desert Island. Despite our misjudgment of the map, our mistake wasn’t a complete dealbreaker for my husband and me. The Schoodic Peninsula was much quieter than the central parts of Acadia, and our campground was both clean and peaceful. In all my years tent camping, I’ve seen it all: uncourteous neighbors, unattended children and pets, and unclean facilities, but Schoodic Woods Campground was by far one of the best campgrounds I’ve ever stayed. For travelers who prefer proximity to the popular attractions, I recommend booking lodging directly on Mount Desert Island or no farther North than Ellsworth.
2. Cadillac Mountain Reservation
I had a loose itinerary planned for Acadia since I wanted to be surprised, but I did have one concrete goal: to view a sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Inspired by online first-hand accounts and the claim that this mountain peak glimpses the first sunrise in America, I determined to rise before dawn to experience the earliest sunrise. Yet none of these accounts mentioned the park’s newly instated reservation requirement for Cadillac Mountain—even in the middle of the night. So, we showed up at the entrance of Cadillac Mountain just to learn that our 3 AM venture was in vain because we hadn’t made a reservation. Fortunately, we quickly made a reservation for 6:30 AM and proceeded to watch the sunrise at a different place in the park, but we did miss the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. Presently, $6 vehicle reservations are required from May through October to reduce congestion at the park’s most popular overlook. Aside from Cadillac Mountain and the park entrance pass, reservations are not currently required anywhere else in the park.
3. Parking is challenging—but not impossible.
Prior to our trip, I wondered if I should even bother driving into the park upon hearing countless parking-related disaster stories from disgruntled visitors who spent their time seeing Acadia from the road. I also knew that parking would be difficult to find during peak season, especially with the uptick in visitors that national parks are experiencing across the country. Aside from Cadillac Mountain, which controls congestion through its reservation system, all other attractions have first-come-first-serve parking. Hard-to-find parking is certainly not an over-exaggeration; however, it’s not impossible.
For the best availability, visit in the early morning or evening over peak hours. Even midday, we found that we only had to circle lots once or twice before finding an open spot. There are also designated areas where visitors can pull off along the right side of Park Loop Road but keep an eye out for signs that indicate where roadside parking is allowed.
If fighting for a parking spot doesn’t interest you, Acadia does offer their free-service Island Explorer shuttle bus, which provides transportation between park destinations, local communities, and the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Regional Airport. These propane-powered buses are part of a conservation effort to reduce pollution on the island and have regularly scheduled stops at campgrounds, carriage road entrances, and several trailheads. According to the National Park Service, guests can also flag down buses along their routes as long as there is a safe place to stop. Luckily, parking wasn’t as onerous as expected, but it did require a little planning and patience.
4. Camping Necessities
As outdoors people and camping veterans, my husband and I tent camped for our entire stay in Acadia. We have a solid system for packing up tenting essentials and know where to go for last-minute necessities, and still, despite our preparation, we had some basic expectations unmet.
The first was that there were no campground showers. This was surprising since we had not rented a primitive site, yet, upon further investigation, we discovered that showers are not in any of the park campgrounds to conserve water. This was also our first time camping in a national park, rather than a state park, which we now know water conservation is a larger effort across all national parks. Although mildly annoying, we were excited to learn that the park was environmentally aware and taking measures to protect this beautiful landscape.
The good news was that we didn’t have to go the entire week sweaty and greasy because many local businesses in nearby towns provided showers. As I already mentioned, our location in Schoodic Woods Campground meant we were at a slight disadvantage since most of those businesses were central to Mount Desert Island. Fortunately, local park rangers offered us an ingenious idea: look into gyms. Most gyms offer day or week-long passes for access to their facilities. Once we did the math, we discovered it was cheaper (and nicer) than using the coin-operated showers offered by businesses on Mount Desert Island.
The second inconvenience was access to groceries. With a 13-hour drive, we packed nonperishable foods and opted to stop at a grocery store closer to our campground for anything we needed to cook or keep in a cooler. The problem was that our campground was also far from any grocery stores. The nearest town with shopping options (and coincidentally a gym) was Ellsworth, ME.
5. Plastic Bag Ban
Our last surprise was learning (after filling a cart full of groceries) that Maine has banned disposable plastic bags—which is a great development! Again, go Maine for taking strides toward saving the environment. Coming from a plastic-bag-reliant state, this wasn’t a bad discovery, but it caught us off guard since we forgot our reusable bags. The resolution was simple: buy some reusable bags. So there you have it, bring your reusable bags to Maine and be prepared to see how easy it is to cut plastic bags out of your routine.
I left Acadia National Park understanding why so many travelers are attracted to its rocky shores, pine forests, and dramatic mountain views. It’s the kind of place you could visit for years and still find sights you missed before. As one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States, it's no surprise that travelers might experience a snag or two when competing against the droves of visitors that flock to this striking Maine jewel. But these setbacks are worth it when you finally step foot on the summit.