Acadia National Park is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in New England to visit for fall. With a charming downtown area, tons of incredible hiking trails to choose from, beautiful landscapes – and yes, all the drool-worthy lobster rolls you could ever dream of, a trip to Acadia National Park in fall is a dream come true.
If visiting Acadia National Park is on your bucket list, we share all of the best things to do in the area plus information on how to time your trip to make the most of fall colors. Let’s dive in!
Important Visitor Tip: Driving up Cadillac Mountain is one of the top things to do at Acadia National Park but this requires you to make special reservations for Cadillac Summit Road ahead of time. These tickets get booked up quickly especially for the highly coveted sunrise spots. Plan ahead and book the vehicle reservations here!
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the fall but timing fall colors on the East Coast can be a bit difficult. Some of the factors that can affect fall peak times include altitude, fires, and rain amount of that season.
We’ve made fall trips to New England for the past few years and sometimes it’s a hit or miss. The most accurate way to time changing of the leaves is by looking at Fall Foliage Prediction Maps.
These maps are pretty accurate and we’ve used them on our trips in New England to adjust our itinerary as we travel in the fall months. From our experience the inland regions like the Adirondack Mountains, Stowe, and the White Mountains experience color first, then the coast.
We visited Acadia National Park in mid-October and the timing was just perfect for fall foliage. The entire landscape during our trip had turned into a colorful sea of yellows, oranges, and reds with some greens for contrast.
To visit Acadia National Park, most people fly into the Bangor International Airport (BGR). This airport is about an hour’s drive from Bar Harbor but supports most of the incoming flights for Acadia National Park.
Keep in mind that this is a small airport so it gets very busy and you can expect long lines, especially for departing flights. On our return flight, we waited in the security line for nearly an hour to get through and some people around us even missed their flights.
The airport staff was super nice and patient with everyone but the airport has a hard time accommodating the busy fall travel crowds so get there early!
How To Get Around
To explore Acadia National Park, you will need a car – unless you plan to book a guided bus tour like this one.
Renting a car for East Coast trips is essential especially if you want to explore different parts of New England.
We were able to get a good rate with Alamo Rental Car which is located at Bangor International Airport.
Acadia National Park is somewhat of a small park, but you will need a car to reach the main attractions like driving up Cadillac Mountain.
Where To Stay
Based on our own experiences and research, we have selected some of the best places to stay around Acadia National Park for visitors.
These hotels are within a short walk from the main Bar Harbor amenities like restaurants, breweries, shops, and other attractions:
- The Bar Harbor Grand Hotel has a three-star rating and is housed in a replica building of the historic Rodick House at the center of Bar Harbor’s Main Street. Elegance and first-class amenities are all part of the experience at the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel. Many of the decorations and furniture pieces are built to replicate those from the original hotel in the 1800’s.
- Bar Harbor Inn and Spa – Bar Harbor Inn and Spa is an iconic hotel situated on the waterfront near the historic downtown. Here timeless charm lives on with the added benefits of luxurious and contemporary amenities including two on-site restaurants, spa, heated outdoor pool, and jacuzzi.
- Bar Harbor Villager Motel – Downtown is an excellent choice for a casual stay in Bar Harbor. Each room at this motel comes equipped with a coffee machine and a mini-fridge along with a grab-and-go breakfast to start the day off right. Guests can also enjoy the seasonal heated outdoor pool.
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To enter this park, you will need to purchase an Acadia National Park pass which you can do at the entrance gate. A vehicle pass costs $30 and is valid for 7 days.
I personally have America The Beautiful Pass. It costs $80 but this pass will grant you unlimited entry into any US National Park for a year. I’ve had this pass for several months now and it’s a pretty great deal, especially if you’re someone who travels to US National Parks a lot.
If you plan to drive the Cadillac Summit Road (which most people do), you will also need to reserve a separate entrance ticket for this road which costs $6.
Things To Do In Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a stunning coastline park covering 47,000 acres of wilderness including 158 miles of hiking trails. This tiny but mighty park gets 3.5 million visitors a year making it one of the top 10 most visited National Parks in the US.
While it’s somewhat of a small National Park, there is still plenty to do to keep you busy for several days. Here are some of the best things to do in (and around) Acadia National Park!
Hike The Beehive Trail
The Beehive Loop Trail is by far one of the most popular and memorable hikes to do in Acadia National Park especially in fall.
This trail is not for the faint of heart – you will need to scramble across giant boulders, climb up metal ladders and walk on narrow ridges that will make your heart skip a beat. But if you love thrilling hikes with a little bit of an adrenaline punch – this trail is for you!
Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views overlooking Sand Beach, Newport Cove, and the surrounding landscape from the summit. It is truly one of the most remarkable views I’ve experienced that looks especially stunning on sunny days when Sand Beach water reflects turquoise and blue hues.
This is a one-way trail so once you reach the top you can continue down along a much easier path that’s less vertical. It is not recommended to climb the same way down to avoid congestion and passing people on narrow ledges.
Location: Beehive Trailhead, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Hike The Precipice Trail
Precipice Loop Trail is very similar to the Beehive Trail, just a more challenging version of it. The Beehive Trail is located only 500 feet up the mountain while the Precipice Trail is located 1000 feet up.
The drop-offs on the Precipice Trail are much steeper and the vertical section goes for longer. That means more ladders, more climbing, and yes – more thrill! But If you can handle the Beehive Trail, you should be fine on the Precipice Trail as well.
For me completing the Precipice Trail felt like a bigger accomplishment, but people have been seriously injured and died from hiking this trail so know what you’re getting into.
If you are someone who experiences vertigo, dizziness, shakiness, or general panic attacks from heights, steep drop-offs, and narrow ledges, I would start small and check out some of the other trails in Acadia National Park before attempting the Precipice Trail.
For safety reasons, you want to hike the Precipice Trail at optimal weather conditions when the sky is clear. You want to avoid hiking this trail during rainy, misty, or wet conditions when these ledges can get slippery and dangerous.
It started raining during the last 15 minutes of our climb and the metal bars became very slick and difficult to hold on to. Plus, once we reached the top, the views were covered in fog and we couldn’t see anything in front of us.
Location: Precipice Trail, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Drive To The Top Of Cadillac Mountain
Sitting at 1530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the East Coast of the United States. This mountain is located within Acadia National Park and is a major attraction for most park visitors. You can access Cadillac Mountain via 3.5 miles long Cadillac Summit Road which goes directly to the top.
To prevent overuse and overcrowding you will need to purchase entrance passes for specific time frames so plan your visit accordingly. Between October and March Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States to see the sunrise so the sunrise tickets usually go the quickest.
30 percent of the tickets are released 90 days in advance. The remaining 70 percent of tickets are released two days in advance which works better for those who don’t have an exact itinerary planned.
Unfortunately during our visit, a drive up Cadillac Mountain turned into a complete bust. We had purchased tickets for late afternoon expecting to stay through sunset but a couple of hours before our desiganted time frame heavy fog started rolling in and didn’t clear up for the rest of the night.
While we did end up driving the Summit Road to the top, we didn’t see much when it came to scenery and views. If you come on a clear day, you should be greeted by magnificent 360 panoramic views of the Atlantic ocean and the surrounding islands.
Location: Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Drive The Park Loop Road
If you’re short on time (or just not up for hiking), you can still enjoy the scenery of Acadia National Park from the comfort of your car. Acadia’s Park Loop Road follows 27 miles on a paved highway passing some of the best attractions in the park.
This is a mostly one-way road that starts next to the coastline and continues through mountains that look especially colorful in fall.
Some of the most popular attractions along the Park Loop Road include:
- Sand Beach
- Thunder Hole
- Otter Cliff
- Jordan Pond
- Cadillac Mountain
Take A Stroll Around Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond is one of the most stunning places to visit in Acadia National Park, especially at sunset for photography.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also take the 3.1 mile-long Jodan Pond Path which is relatively easy and follows the lakefront in a loop.
This trail is mostly flat making it a wonderful activity for families with kids. If you want to extend the hike, you can also connect it with other trails and viewpoints like South Bubble and North Bubble.
After the hike, you can head to the historic Jordan Pond House restaurant for some tea and popovers that have been served here since 1893.
Location: 2928 Park Loop Rd, Seal Harbor, ME 04675
Hike To Bubble Rock Overlooks
If you’re looking for an incredible (but lesser-known) trail, consider hiking to Bubble Rocks. This trail goes to two separate viewpoints called South Bubble and North Bubble that overlook Jordan Pond from up top.
The Bubbles Trail is 1.6 miles long and gains around 500 feet in elevation. If you’re short on time, you can also hike to one of the lookouts and skip the other. We enjoyed the South Bubble viewpoint the most because it offers unobstructed views of the lake that look especially great for sunset.
The North Bubble is higher up in elevation and has more trees blocking the views, but still a pretty great sight if you have the energy to climb to both!
Photography Tip: Bring a wide lens for your camera to capture the entire magnificence of Jordan Pond and its surrounding landscape (pssst! I use this one).
Location: Park Loop Rd, Mt Desert, ME 04660
Visit Sand Beach
Sand Beach is one of the first major stops along Park Loop Road. This is a scenic beach that is known for its white-sand shoreline and turquoise water. Here you can walk in the sand, hike to the Sand Beach Overlook, or even jump in the water for a swim.
Sand Beach is quite a unique attraction as it’s one of the few cold-water shell-based beaches in the world. For the best views of Sand Beach, I recommend climbing the Beehive Loop Trail to the summit which offers direct views of this stunning shore.
To access the beach itself, there is a small visitor parking lot with a short path that connects to it. This parking lot shares spaces with hikers for the Beehive Trail so it can fill up quickly. More parking is available along Park Loop Road along the right shoulder.
There are also restrooms and water fill-up stations in the parking lot for visitors. Dogs are allowed on Sand Beach from September 8 to June 15.
Location: Sand Beach, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Walk On The Ocean Path
Ocean Path is a walking trail that follows the coastline next to the Park Loop Road for about 2 miles each way. If you want to visit some of the main Acadia National Park attractions, but don’t want to look for parking every time, you can take this path instead.
The Ocean Path starts at Sand Beach and trails down to Otter Point and back passing highlights like the Thunder Hole, Boulder Beach, and Otter Cliffs. Ocean Path has little elevation gain making it a great alternative to some of the more strenuous hikes in the park.
Stop By Thunder Hole
Thunder Hole is a section of the rocky Acadia National Park shoreline where the water crashes against the rocks spouting high in the air.
The main attraction here is a viewpoint overlooking a cave that creates thunder-like noises by trapping air and releasing it with bursts of ocean water. But to see and hear this nature show you have to arrive at the right time which is around 2 hours before high tide.
The timing for our visit to Thunder Hole was slightly off. We arrived at low tide and stood around waiting to hear… absolutely nothing. As we looked around we overheard other visitors murmuring “Is this really it?!” as they were walking away. So if you want to do it right, time your visit properly!
Location: Thunder Hole, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Take In The Views From Otter Cliff
Otter Cliff is a wonderful viewpoint that overlooks the coastline and consists of interesting granite rocks.
If you’re unable to secure sunrise tickets for Cadillac Mountain, this is a great alternative place to watch the sunrise as it offers unobstructed views of the ocean. This is also a popular place for sea cliff climbing.
The parking lot for the Otter Cliff Overlook is quite small but it’s not as busy of an attraction as some of the other highlights at Acadia National Park. Once you park you can head down to the Otter Cliff right by the parking lot or continue on a path through a forest to a second viewpoint.
Location: Otter Cliff, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
Explore Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor is a small but charming downtown area near the entrance of Acadia National Park. This is where you can find most of the hotels, private rentals, eateries, bars, souvenir stores, and other fun spots.
Wander around Main Street and take in all the amazing shops, top-rated restaurants, and beautiful architecture. Or take some time out of your day to enjoy relaxing at one of its quaint parks like Village Green and Agamont Park.
There’s plenty of food & drinks to indulge in downtown Bar Harbor. Here are some of our favorite eateries that we tried on our visit:
- Quick breakfast – Coffee Hound Coffee Co.
- Sit down breakfast – 2 Cats Bar Harbor
- Best Lobster rolls – Side Street Cafe
- Best for dinner – Geddy’s
- Live Music – Ivy Manor Inn Village Center
- Late-night cocktails – The Barnacle
Indulge In A Lobster Roll (Or Two… Or Three)
I never thought I’d ever say this in my life, but after our trip to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, I was totally “lobstered out”.
I’ve never seen so many lobster dishes sold in my life! Lobster rolls, lobster dips, lobster omelets, lobster pizzas, and even… lobster ice cream at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium. And yes, we tried it, and yes it was… buttery and kind of good, believe it or not!
While you can get some version of a lobster dish at most restaurants and eateries, Side Street Cafe was our favorite spot for lobster rolls. It was so good that we came back twice!
Side Street Cafe’s lobster roll is made fresh and is so tender that it simply melts in your mouth. And while you’re there, don’t forget to order the award-winning Lobster Mac & Cheese – their specialty! Come hungry and indulge in some of the best lobster dishes in Bar Harbor.
Travel Tip: Side Street Cafe is one of the most popular eateries in town but you can head to their website and easily add your name on their online waitlist. Even on busy weekend nights, our table was ready by the time we parked and walked over to the restaurant.
Rent E-Bikes To Ride Around Acadia National Park
Getting an e-bike rental is one of the best ways to experience visiting Acadia National Park. Instead of spending the day in a car, you can cruise around the park taking in the fresh air on e-bikes that will assist you with the hilly sections. Book an E-Bike rental here!
Go On A Walking Culinary Tour
A walking culinary tour combines the best of a walking tour, history, and my favorite part – eating. During this walking culinary tour, you’ll visit several local Bar Harbor eateries and get to try a variety of goodies while learning about this region’s history. Book the Bar Harbor Culinary Walking Tour here!
Go Sailing On A Tall Ship Cruise
This 2-hour sailing cruise offers great views of Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor that look especially stunning in fall. During this cruise, you’ll get to see the raising and lowering of the sails, enjoy the scenery and observe lobster boats. Book the Tall Ship Cruise here!
If you’re a big fan of chasing fall colors like me, you’ll want to set aside a few days to explore all the best that Acadia National Park has to offer. With dramatic coastline landscapes, all the seafood you could ever imagine, and charming mom and pop shops, Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor will steal your heart!
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