7 tips for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park

Last year, so many people visited Acadia National Park – more than 3 million – that the road to Cadillac Mountain had to be closed 12 times, and the Park Loop Road to Sand Beach, twice.

acadia traffic

Hopefully new parking attendants on top of Cadillac in 2017 will make for a stress-free visit to Acadia.

Maybe the crowds were larger than usual in 2016 because of the Acadia Centennial, and maybe park plans to have parking attendants on top of Cadillac this year will help. With Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start of the busy summer season, it’ll surely help to know these 7 ways for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park.

1) Buy your Acadia National Park pass online, go early or late to the main Hulls Cove Visitor Center, or get the pass at one of the other local sites. New this peak season: Do not go to the park headquarters on ME 233 to buy your pass, since you’ll just be directed to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. The surest way to start off a stress-free visit to Acadia: Don’t get in a long line to get a park pass. Online, you can buy the usual 7-day Acadia pass or even the annual park pass. If you’re age 62 or older, you can buy the lifetime Senior Pass for $10 in advance at a participating federal recreation site near home, or via mail, before the price is slated to go up to $80 on Oct. 1. Hulls Cove is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in May and June, and after Labor Day through October, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. July through Labor Day. And there are plenty of other local sites you can buy a pass at, as listed on the park’s Web site:

acadia

The online pass was developed by NIC Inc. and the National Park Service. Or you can buy a pass in the park or at area locations. (Image courtesy of NIC Inc.)

  • Bar Harbor Village Green Information Center – late May to Columbus Day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Thompson Island Information Center – early May to mid-October, hours vary
  • Sand Beach Entrance Station
  • Blackwoods Campground
  • Schoodic Woods Campground
  • Schoodic Institute, Rockefeller Hall
  • Seawall Campground
  • Cadillac Mountain Gift Shop
  • Jordan Pond Gift Shop
  • Mount Desert Town Office
  • Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce
  • Southwest Harbor / Tremont Chamber of Commerce
  • L. L. Bean in Freeport, ME

Tips for a stress-free visit to Acadia

Island Explorer bus in Acadia National Park

While the Island Explorer bus is fare-free, be sure to get an Acadia National Park visitor pass to help support that and other park services. (NPS photo)

2) Take the fare-free Island Explorer bus if you’re visiting Acadia National Park between late June and Columbus Day, to avoid the frustration of trying to find parking at some of the more popular trailheads and sites. A direct bus route goes from Hulls Cove Visitor Center to the Jordan Pond House, making it that much easier to have tea and popovers or get to the trails near the pond. Bus stops were recently added at Acadia Mountain, Bubble Rock, Parkman Mountain and the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. Some stops may not be marked on the bus map available for free at local businesses or online, but you can ask the bus driver to let you off, even if it’s not an official stop (as long as it’s safe). You can even take your bicycle on the Island Explorer to the carriage roads, with a bicycle express bus to the Eagle Lake network. And dogs on leash are welcome on board too. Be sure to buy a park pass at the Bar Harbor Village Green Information Center across from the Island Explorer hub. The Island Explorer is definitely one secret to a stress-free visit to Acadia.

3) Head to less-traveled park trails, whether on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island west of Somes Sound, the quieter side of Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland, or the quietest side of Isle au Haut, accessible only by mail boat. West of Somes Sound, try out St. Sauveur Mountain, Beech Cliff Loop or Bernard Mountain Loop. Or try out the new hiking trails over on Schoodic, about 1 hour’s drive from Bar Harbor (or a 1 hour ferry and Island Explorer ride from Bar Harbor during the peak season). All these trails, and more, are included in the 3rd edition of our Hiking Acadia National Park, which won the 2016 National Outdoor Book Award and is available at the Eastern National bookstore in the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, Sherman’s Books and Stationery on Main Street in Bar Harbor, and on Amazon.com. (NOTE: See sidebar about Amazon.com links on this site.)

Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park

Early morning is the best time to hike the Beehive Trail if you want to avoid the crowds in summer. It’s a most difficult trail, so hike it only if you are well-prepared, not afraid of heights and comfortable climbing a nearly vertical trail featuring iron rungs.

4) Hike the most popular trails and visit the most popular sites early or late. Not only will you have a stress-free visit to Acadia that way, you also increase the chance of seeing wildlife. For instance, coming down from the Beehive one early morning, we came face to face with a barred owl. And if you’re driving to the top of Cadillac, do so either before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m., to avoid peak crowds (although the Cadillac sunrise can attract so many people in the summer, the park has had to close the summit road at times).

5) Do a little research in advance, to avoid getting in line to ask basic questions about things to see and do while visiting Acadia National Park. Like to hike? Aside from buying a hiking guide, whether one of ours or someone else’s, or bookmarking this blog, you can check out the park’s list of suggested hikes. There’s also a free app by Chimani for Acadia, with lots of hiking information. Looking for ranger-led activities? There’s a handy online calendar for that. Want a park map? Looking for places to stay or eat? You may also find a series of blog posts we’ve done of the top 5 things to see and do for first-time and long-time visitors to Acadia National Park to be helpful. The more time you invest up front, the less time you need to spend in line getting basic information, another secret to a stress-free visit to Acadia. Plus planning the trip is half the fun!

6) Walk from downtown Bar Harbor into the park, via the Great Meadow Loop to Sieur de Monts Spring, where the Wild Gardens of Acadia and Nature Center are located, and where you can link to a network of trails up Dorr Mountain or Huguenot Head; and along ME Route 3 to Compass Harbor, where you can connect to Schooner Head Path to Schooner Head Overlook, and continue on to Great Head Trail and Sand Beach. These village connector trails are another secret to a stress-free visit to Acadia.

bar harbor construction

The May 2017 map of detours during the Bar Harbor Route 3 project. Check for updated detours for a less stressful ride to Acadia. (Maine DOT image)

7) Check park and traffic alerts, to minimize getting stuck in traffic jams and being turned away by trail closures. If you’re planning on hiking the Precipice, Jordan Cliffs or Valley Cove Trails this summer, you should be aware that they’re usually closed until mid-August to protect nesting peregrine falcons. But sometimes, the park is able to open the trails early. You can find out by checking the park’s online alerts and news releases. A $17.9 million Bar Harbor Route 3 Project  began in late 2016, and is expected to last into spring 2019, going right through the busy seasons. Check the Maine Department of Transportation Web site for updates on the construction schedule during your planned visit.

Whether it’s your first time, or your umpteenth, whether you’re coming Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day or Columbus Day weekends, or during the park’s busiest month of August, these 7 ways for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park will make your vacation more relaxing.

Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at acadiaonmymind.com. They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores is a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe. Dan is a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass. They are married and live outside Boston.