Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Sights To See

Acadia boasts varied and dramatic scenery including a coastline of chiseled granite, the ocean dotted with islands, 17 mountain peaks (that together constitute the highest headlands along the eastern seaboard), close to a dozen glacial lakes and ponds, and Somes Sound, the only fjord (a glacially carved, u-shaped valley bordered by steep cliffs) in the contiguous 48 states.

In shape, Mount Desert Island resembles a lobster claw. Many of Acadia’s best-known attractions are on the eastern side of the “claw,” which is separated from the western side by Somes Sound. The park’s western half features five mountains, numerous salt marshes and nature trails, and some of the best birdwatching in New England. The remainder of Acadia National Park consists of the dazzling Schoodic Peninsula and several offshore islands, including Baker Island and remote Isle au Haut.

Park Loop Road

Many of the following natural attractions are found along Park Loop Road, a 20-mile, two-lane thoroughfare that winds through the eastern half of Mount Desert Island. It is accessible from Hulls Cove, Cadillac Mountain, Sieur de Monts and Stanley Brook entrances. While you can drive the loop in under an hour, most visitors find that it takes at least half a day to take in all that this scenic route has to offer. Please remember: while the park is open year round, Park Loop Road is mostly closed between December 1 and April 15.

The shoreline section of Park Loop Road is the most heavily traveled in Acadia, and for good reason. The road offers marvelous views of Frenchman Bay, as well as front-row seats to the pitched battle between land and sea. Most of the road’s scenic highlights can be seen by car. To experience them, however, get out and walk the rolling footpath that winds alongside Park Loop Road. 

In this otherwise rock-bound park, Sand Beach is a graceful anomaly. Located at Newport Cove, 10 miles from the visitor center, this is the park’s only sand beach on the ocean. Swimming at Sand Beach is not for the faint of heart. Ocean temperatures seldom climb above 55ºF. Warmer waters for swimming can be found on the western side of the island at Echo Lake, Acadia’s other beach site.

A short hike inland from Sand Beach is The Beehive, a 520-foot-high mountain with a honeycombed eastern face sculpted by glaciers. The Beehive can be glimpsed from Park Loop Road.

Another feature you can see along Park Loop Road is Thunder Hole, located midway between Great Head and Otter Cliffs. Timing is everything here. As wind-driven tides sweep into this narrow granite channel, air becomes trapped, escaping with a thunderous report. At low tide on a calm day, Thunder Hole is stubbornly silent. Just south of Thunder Hole are Otter Cliffs, 100-foot pink granite buttresses rising straight out of the water.

Marked only by a simple set of wooden stairs leading down to the water, Little Hunters Beach is often overlooked by motorists in search of grander vistas. But this is one of Acadia’s most peaceful and sheltered spots, a steeply pitched cove lined entirely with cobblestones. These small, egg-shaped rocks were polished by the pounding surf (collecting is prohibited).

Jordan Pond and The Bubbles

In a park dotted with glacier-carved ponds and lakes, Jordan Pond is perhaps the loveliest. Located on the western side of Park Loop Road, its waters are clear and cool. Its shores are flanked by Penobscot Mountain to the west and Pemetic Mountain to the east, both accessible by hiking trails. The view that sets Jordan Pond apart lies to the north, and rising from the shore are a pair of rounded mountains, aptly named, The Bubbles.

Cadillac Mountain

Whether driving from Park Loop Road to the top of its 1,530-foot summit or hiking up one of the trails, most visitors consider Cadillac Mountain the high point—both literally and figuratively—of their trip to Acadia. Not only is Cadillac the park’s highest peak, but it is also the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast north of Brazil. On a clear day (visibility is best during fall and winter), the panoramic views Cadillac commands are unparalleled. Spread out below are island-dappled Frenchman and Blue Hill bays, the whole of the park, and beyond that, much of Maine itself. Some visitors arrive at Cadillac at dawn to see the sun rise in one of the first places in the United States. Others prefer the mountain’s equally dazzling sunsets. Whenever they come, most visitors spend hours clambering over the bald granite dome.

Somes Sound

Neatly bisecting the eastern and western halves of Mount Desert Island, Somes (rhymes with “homes”) Sound is the only fjord in the contiguous 48 states. A more poetic meeting of land and sea is hard to imagine. Steep mountains line both sides of the sound, a narrow, 168-foot-deep gorge carved by glaciers. The best views of Somes Sound, other than from a sailboat or Acadia Mountain, are from the southbound side of Sargeant Drive (off Route 198), which closely hugs the sound’s eastern shore.

Seawall

The western side of Mount Desert Island includes the more tranquil part of the park. Less visited and congested, it also affords visitors wonderful views of Somes Sound and the mountainous eastern portion of the park. Located on a narrow stretch of Route 102A, between a small pond and a broad expanse of bay, Seawall faces the Duck Islands and the Atlantic Ocean. This is an ideal spot for watching many seabirds.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Head Light, which rises from the rocky, southernmost tip of Mount Desert Island, is one of the most photographed lighthouses on the East Coast. The light, which was built in 1858, marks the entrance to Bass Harbor and, beyond it, Blue Hill Bay. Now fully automated and managed by the U.S. Coast Guard, it is the only park lighthouse accessible by car. The lighthouse is located on the western side of the island, on Route 102A. Note: RVs and buses are not allowed on the road to the lighthouse. 

Isle au Haut

Fifteen miles southwest of Mount Desert by boat, at the mouth of Penobscot Bay, lies Isle au Haut, the most remote section of the park. Accessible by a 45-minute mail boat ride from the village of Stonington (no car ferries are available), Isle au Haut rewards those who make the trip with hiking trails, spruce forests, cobblestone beaches and unobstructed views of the Atlantic.

Schoodic Peninsula

By comparison, Schoodic Peninsula is a model of accessibility, located just one hour by car from Bar Harbor, off Route 186. Still, this 2,000-acre peninsula (Acadia’s only wedge of the mainland) does not attract the large numbers of visitors who visit Mount Desert Island. Thus, visitors to Schoodic can freely explore the six-mile park road, a 440-foot headland, various hiking trails and the area’s cobblestone beaches. If a crowd collects anywhere, it is usually at high tide at the rock ledge called Schoodic Point. The point, which confronts the sea head-on, unprotected by any offshore islands, fully merits the word spectacular. Full of sound and fury, wave after relentless wave hurls itself at the shore, sending plumes of ocean spray into the air—surely one of Acadia’s most spellbinding sights.

In 2002, the U.S. Naval Base on Schoodic closed and those 100 acres were returned to the National Park Service, the original owner. The Schoodic Education and Research Center has been established there, the purpose of which is to promote and facilitate education and research that is consistent with the mission of the NPS. One of the programs taking place there is the Schoodic Education Adventure, a three-day residential program for fifth through seventh graders.