Bountiful Acadia National Park is open year-round, and depending on when and where you go, your experience will be a vastly different thing: One trip might offer expansive mountains and bustling communities, while another is slowly-meandering rivers and quiet, tucked-away corners.
Acadia on Mount Desert Island
Mountains tumbling to the sea, ocean waves crashing upon granite ledges, serene ponds, and wildflower-filled meadowlands—the Mount Desert Island section of the park has it all, in spades. Watch the sun rise out of the Atlantic from Cadillac Mountain’s summit, drive along the icon-rich Park Loop Road, hike trails through forestlands and up coastal peaks, scale granite cliffs, or paddle the coastline’s nooks and crannies. Intimate yet expansive, wild yet civilized, Acadia is as accessible or as remote as you desire.
Mount Desert Island Communities
Excursions into the park depart from the surrounding communities, which have attractions of their own: museums, gardens, shops, and theaters. Bar Harbor is the island’s hub; tony Northeast Harbor is located at the mouth of Somes Sound, a rare fjard; Southwest Harbor is the heart of the island’s quiet side. All edge sections of the park, and, of course, these communities, along with the smaller fishing villages, are where you’ll find a lobster dinner with all the fixings.
Everything changes when you continue north on Route 1: the pace slows, fast-food joints and even stoplights disappear, and independence reigns. Schoodic Point’s pink granite shores are undoubtedly the highlight of the park’s only mainland section, but there are other reasons to mosey off the beaten track. Back roads and scenic byways loop through fishing villages, bisect a mountain- and lake-speckled wilderness preserve, access a national wildlife refuge, and edge those pink shores. It’s a bonanza for hikers, bikers, anglers, boaters, and bird-watchers.
Blue Hill Peninsula
Water, water everywhere. Around nearly every bend is a river or stream, a cove, a boat-filled harbor, or a serene pond. It’s an inspired and inspiring landscape dotted with historic homes and forts. The locals, a blend of summer rusticators, genteel retirees, artists, boatbuilders, and back-to-the-landers, have worked diligently to preserve not only the landscape but also the heritage. It’s a fine place to kick back, relax, and savor the good life.
Deer Isle and Isle au Haut
If Deer Isle isn’t the end of the world, there’s a sense that you can see it from here. Tethered to the mainland by a soaring bridge over Eggemoggin Reach, Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle are fishing communities accented by a vibrant arts community. Depart the island’s tip by ferry for Isle au Haut, where the most remote and rugged piece of Acadia National Park awaits hikers and those for whom even Deer Isle is a bit too crowded.
Ellsworth and Trenton
To visit Mount Desert Island, you must pass through the madness of Ellsworth and Trenton, a traffic-clogged, curse-inducing strip of mini malls and big-box stores. There are a few gems hidden amid the sprawl, including historic buildings, trails for hiking, and lakes for boating. Perhaps most delightful is Birdsacre, the former home of ornithologist Cornelia Stanwood, now a preserve with nature and bird rehab centers. It’s a fine place to refuel your soul.
When to Go to Acadia National Park
If you yearn to be car-free on Mount Desert, plan to be here in summer, particularly between late June and mid-October, when Acadia’s Island Explorer shuttle service operates.
If you plan to visit the Isle au Haut section of the park, time a visit for early June-mid-September to coincide with the Isle au Haut passenger ferry service to the park dock; otherwise you’ll have nearly a 10-mile round-trip hike to Duck Harbor.
High Season (July-Aug.)
Summer means plentiful festivals and fairs, nightlife in Bar Harbor, nature tours, concerts (jazz, classical, and pop), carriage rides, hiking, and whale-watching trips. The downside is the crowds, although the surrounding towns on Mount Desert Island as well as those on the Schoodic and Blue Hill Peninsulas and on Deer Isle are far quieter.
Mid-Season (late Apr.-June and Sept.-Oct.)
Spring tends to be something of a blip in Maine; the park starts reawakening around mid-late April, when the entire Park Loop Road reopens (including the Cadillac Mountain Road). Even then, some of the carriage roads tend to be fragile and open only for foot traffic, not for bicycles. Trails can be muddy, and ice still coats some of the rocks, but you’ll be rewarded by hardy wildflowers poking up here and there. Until about mid-May, you’ll also be spared the annoying blackflies. In May the weather can be unpredictable, and many businesses still haven’t opened for the season.
Fall is fantastic in the park and on the island; it’s my favorite season here. Nights are cool (mid-40s to mid-50s), days are often brilliant, and the fall foliage vistas are dramatic (see www.mainefoliage.com for reports). The word has spread through the grapevine, though, and fall is popular with cruise lines, so you won’t be alone—but the visitor head count is still far lower than in July and August.
Low Season (Nov.-mid Apr.)
Although Acadia is open in winter for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling (with some restrictions), hiking, and even camping, there are few services and no programs; even the surrounding towns all but roll up the sidewalks.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Acadia National Park.