The variety of guided activities in the park and nearby is astonishing: There are park ranger walks and talks and cruises, bus tours, bicycling tours, sea kayaking tours, birding expeditions, guided hikes, horse-drawn carriage rides, and even deluxe camping outfitters.

Park Ranger Programs

When you stop at the Hulls Cove Visitors Center, pick up the current schedule of ranger-led programs (or download the schedule ahead of time). You’ll find a whole raft of possibilities for learning more about the park’s natural and cultural history.

A ranger talks to a group in Acadia National Park.

A ranger-led nature program at Acadia National Park. Photo © Hilary Nangle.

The park ranger programs, lasting 1-3 hours, are great—and most are free.The park ranger programs, lasting 1-3 hours, are great—and most are free. During July-August there are dozens of programs each week. Included are 7am birding walks; moderate-level mountain hikes; tours of the historic Carroll Homestead, a 19th-century farm; Cadillac Mountain summit natural-history tours; children’s expeditions to learn about tide pools and geology (an adult must accompany kids); trips for wheelchair users; and even a couple of tours a week in French. Some tours require reservations, and others do not; reservations can be made up to three days in advance.

Reservations are required and fees charged for several different boat cruises with park rangers, who provide natural-history narration. The specific cruises can vary from year to year, but they usually include Baker Island, Dive-in Theater, Frenchman Bay, and Islesford.

Park rangers also give evening lectures during the summer in the amphitheaters at Blackwoods and Seawall Campgrounds. And best of all, you can join almost every ranger program via an Island Explorer bus (late June-mid-Oct.).

Bus and Trolley Tours

The veteran of the Bar Harbor-based bus tours is Acadia National Park Tours (ticket office Testa’s Restaurant, Bayside Landing, 53 Main St., Bar Harbor, 207/288-0300, May-Oct., $30 adults, $15 under age 13). A 2.5-3-hour naturalist-led tour of Bar Harbor and Acadia departs at 10am and 2pm daily from Testa’s Restaurant, across from Agamont Park near the Bar Harbor Inn, in downtown Bar Harbor. Reservations are advised in midsummer and during fall-foliage season (late Sept.-early Oct.); pick up reserved tickets 30 minutes before departure.

Oli's Trolley offers narrated tours of the park. Photo © Hilary and Tom Nangle.

Oli’s Trolley offers narrated tours of the park. Photo © Hilary and Tom Nangle.

If you have a time crunch, take the one-hour trolley-bus tour operated by Oli’s Trolley (ticket office 1 West St., Bar Harbor, 207/288-5443 or 866/987-6553, 4 trips 10am-3:30pm daily July-Aug., $16 adults, $11 ages 5-12, $6 younger than 5), which includes Bar Harbor mansion drive-bys and the Cadillac Mountain summit. The ticket office is downtown at Harbor Place, next to the town pier on the waterfront. Dress warmly if the air is at all cool; it’s an open-air trolley. Reservations are advised. The trolley also does 2.5-hour park tours (10am, 11am, 1pm, and 2pm daily May-Oct., $30 adults, $16 ages 5-12, $6 younger than 5). The bus and trolley routes both include restroom stops. Tours depart from the boardwalk at the Harborside Hotel, 55 West Street.

While the Island Explorer buses do reach a number of key park sights, they are not tour buses. There is no narration, the bus cuts off the Park Loop at Otter Cliffs, and it excludes the summit of Cadillac Mountain.

Bird-Watching and Nature Tours

For private tours of the park and other parts of the island, contact Michael Good at Down East Nature Tours (150 Knox Rd., Bar Harbor, 207/288-8128). A biologist and Maine Guide, Good is simply batty about birds. He has spent more than 25 years studying the birds of North America and has even turned his home property on Mount Desert Island into a bird sanctuary. Good specializes in avian ecology in the Gulf of Maine, giving special attention to native and migrating birds.

A fuzzy Great Horned Owl baby perched in a tree in Acadia National Park.

A Great Horned owlet spotted on the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Whether you’re a first-timer wanting to spot eagles, peregrine falcons, shorebirds, and warblers or a serious bird-watcher seeking to add to your life list, perhaps with a Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow, Good is your man. Prices begin at $75 per person for four hours and include transportation from your lodging; kids are half price. Bring your own binoculars; Good supplies a spotting scope. He also offers a two-hour wetland ecology tour ($40 adults, $20 kids).

Carriage Tours

To recapture the early carriage roads era, take one of the horse-drawn open-carriage tours run by Carriages of Acadia (Wildwood Stables, Park Loop Rd., Seal Harbor, 877/276-3622), one mile south of the Jordan Pond House. Six one- and two-hour trips start at 9am daily mid-June-mid-October. Reservations are not required, but they’re encouraged, especially in midsummer. The best outing is the two-hour Day Mountain Summit ($26 adults, $12 ages 6-12, $7 ages 2-5) ride at 4pm. The one-hour loop around Day Mountain is $20 for adults, $10 for children, and $6 for little kids.

You can also arrange for a private 1-4-hour carriage road tour. A one-hour trip is $180 for up to four passengers, plus $35 for each additional passenger; two hours is $240 plus $50; three hours is $360 plus $50; and four hours is $480 plus $50. Wildwood has no trail rides, but you can bring your own horse and stable it here ($25 per night for a box stall). A basic campground has sites ($15) for stall renters.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Acadia National Park.