How to Spend Three Days in Acadia National Park, Maine


Acadia National Park Viewpoint

If your summer plans include feeling like a model in an L.L. Bean catalog, then Acadia National Park is the place to be! At about as far northeast as you can go in the continental US, Acadia National Park promises you the quintessential northeastern experience. 

One of the least populous US states, Maine holds a park that truly belies its size (although Maine actually has a larger land mass than South Carolina and West Virginia)!

Acadia is partially open year-round, however paved roads are only open from mid-April to the beginning of December. Here’s a look at the full list of what will and won’t be open so you can time your visit optimally!

Acadia’s peak season runs generally from June to September. Expect parking to be tough to find (though not as tough as Zion) during these months, though not impossible. Getting into the park before 8:00am gives you the best chance to get parking at popular trailheads, but please always park legally and in ways that don’t negatively impact the land you’re visiting.

Acadia National Park Viewpoint

Before Entering the Park

Summertime in Acadia National Park is incredibly pleasant, and you can expect highs in the upper 60’s to mid 70’s: perfect hiking weather! Bring layers when you visit as the lows can range from the upper 40’s to mid 50’s. As this is the northeast, bring a rain jacket! On average, Acadia gets 7 days of rain per month during its peak season. 

If you don’t want to worry about parking during peak season, consider taking the Island Explorer Shuttle into the park. Please note that the shuttle is running in limited capacity during the 2021 season with hopes to be fully operational by peak season of 2022. The shuttle is an enjoyable way to get around not only the park but its surrounding areas, so do try to ride it at least once!

If visiting outside of peak season, mid-October tends to have the best colors in foliage throughout the park. Expect the first few weeks of October to still be busy, but not as crowded as mid-summer.

Day 1

While there are four main sections of Acadia National Park, if you only have three days, you’ll be better served just visiting the middle two and leaving the western and easternmost for another time. 

The best place to enter the park is via Trenton. After crossing over the bridge on State Route, aka Bar Harbor Road, you’ll continue to follow SR-3. SR-3 will eventually become Eden St and you’ll follow that until turning right onto Visitor Center Road. Make a left onto Paradise Hill Road and follow that until you see it become Park Loop Road, which you’ll turn right onto. From there, look for Cadillac Summit Road on the left.

Stop 1: Cadillac North Ridge Trail

Length: 0.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 236 feet
Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time to Complete: 30 minutes

The first stop on your tour of Acadia is one of its crown jewels. While you do need a permit to drive the Cadillac Summit Road, it is entirely worth the extra $6 or so to get a reservation. Take your time and enjoy this drive. Since it’s an out and back, you’ll get a second chance to see anything you may have missed on the way up!

Take a break at the peak and stretch your legs on the mile-long Cadillac North Ridge Trail. An easy trail, this is enjoyable for all ages and skill levels! There is a bit of a downhill at the turnaround point (followed by an uphill on the way back), but the rest is mild and gradual.

This tends to be a crowded area due to Cadillac Summit’s popularity, but you may be able to sneak away from some of the crowds on this trail.

Stop 2: Kebo Mountain and Dorr North Ridge Trails

Length: 3.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,489 feet
Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 2.5 hours

Once you’ve reached the bottom of Cadillac Summit Road, turn right onto the Park Loop Trail. You’ll be following that to see get to the day’s hikes! Look for a parking lot on the right side of the road just a bit before the trailhead, near where the Gorge Path crosses the road. If you miss this, you may be able to park at the trailhead, but parking is limited, and you’ll have to make the loop again.

If you’re looking to ascend to new heights in the forests of Maine, this trail is for you! You’ll get your money’s worth of elevation in just about three and a half miles of hiking. Miles 1 to 1.6 make up most of the ascent as well as the descent on the return trip. Not the easiest of trails, but accessible to most anyone if you take your time!

Stop 3: Jesup and Hemlock Loop

Length: 1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,42 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time to Complete: 45 minutes

Back onto the Park Loop Road! Continue until you see Sieur de Monts Road. If you pass SR-3/Main Street, you’ve gone too far. From Sieur de Monts, turn onto Sweet Water Circle and look for parking near the trailhead.

The Jesup and Hemlock Loop is an easy trail that follows a boardwalk through the trees. If you’re feeling a little tired from the Kebo Mountain and Dorr North Ridge Trails, this will be a much more restful stroll! 

If the Kebo Mountain and Dorr North Ridge Trails sounded a little intense for you, feel free to skip that and add in the Homans and Emery Path Loop. Located in the same trailhead area, this still has some elevation gain at 337 feet but is just under a mile long. There is a good climb about .2 miles into the trail, but this is a more approachable option than Kebo Mountain and Dorr North Ridge. Expect to set aside half an hour to hike this trail. If you have time to do both the Jesup and Hemlock as well as the Homans and Emery Loops, you absolutely should!

Stop 4: Champlain North Ridge Trail

Length: 1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 833 feet
Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 1 hour and 20 minutes

You might’ve caught on by now; Acadia has some elevation to it. While it doesn’t offer the flattest hikes available, it does promise great views for your effort. Champlain North Ridge is no exception, and it gets the traffic it does for a reason. If you’re lucky, you may only run into a modest number of hikers though. 

If you’re looking to camp in the park itself, the only option near you is the Blackwoods Campground. The only drawback is that the campground is in the one-way section of the Park Loop Road (which is the majority of the 27 mile long road). You’ll have to re-start the loop in the morning for day 2. If you aren’t interested in that, your only camping options are near the park’s entrance between Trenton and Red Rock Corner/Salsbury Cove. There are, of course, a number of traditional lodging options in the nearby towns.

Day 2

Day 2 starts back on the Park Loop Road! You’ll cover the remaining highlights on the western half of the road today as you make your way toward the other main section of the park.

Stop 1: Ocean Path and Gorham Mountain Loop Trail

Length: 3.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 580 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 1 hour and 40 minutes

This is your first stop as you continue making your way down the Park Loop Road. While you can expect some crowds, the most crowded section is going to be the first mile or so as you hike along the water. Once you make the turn into the woods, the crowds will die down a bit. 

If you got a late start or are looking for a shorter, warmup hike, you can take the Gorham Mountain Out and Back. At just over a mile and a half, this is a shorter trail with somewhat lighter traffic. Still, expect some crowds. The difficulty and elevation gain are comparable at a moderate 429 feet. You’ll save about 40 minutes opting for this hike over the Ocean Path.

Stop 2: Great Head Trail (Short Option)

Length: 1.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 301 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 50 minutes

The designation of “short option” is a bit of a misnomer here. This option only cuts off about 0.2 miles and actually has a slightly greater elevation gain than the “full version.” This trail has some of Acadia’s classic climbs and drops but isn’t one of the more extreme versions of it. Miles 0.2 to 0.3 hold most of the elevation. Since you’re almost exactly at sea level, the elevation gained is doable for most any hiker. 

Stop 3: Penobscot Mountain Trail

Length: 2.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 974 feet
Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 1 hour and 50 minutes

While this is one of the tougher hikes on this itinerary, the payoff is more than worth it. The wildflowers along the way will motivate your every step and the view from Penobscot Mountain will remind you why the elevation gain was worth it! While there is decent elevation gained, the gain and descent are both spread out gradually over a mile and a half.

Stop 4: Jordan Pond Full Loop Trail

Length: 3.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 42 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 50 minutes

This is one of Acadia’s most popular hikes and for good reason! This hike, like the name suggests, takes you on a tour of the picturesque Jordan Pond. If you can plan this for the end of your day as the sun is starting to set, you’ll be assured of one of the most peaceful experiences Acadia National Park has to offer! After Penobscot Mountain, this entirely flat trail will be a treat!

Day 3

Your last day in Acadia is going to be spent exploring the western half of the two main islands. If you have more time, you should absolutely check out Acadia’s other two sections! This time you’ll take SR-3 to SR-102/Main Street instead of staying on SR-3. 

Follow SR-102/Main Street until it becomes Bass Harbor Road. Bass Harbor Road will eventually become SR-102A/Harbor Drive. You’ll be driving to the southern tip of this section of Acadia National Park, so plan your drive time accordingly.

Stop 1: Ship Harbor Trail

Length: 1.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 65 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time to Complete: 30 minutes

Follow Harbor Drive towards the trailhead and look for parking on the right side, just as Harbor Drive becomes Seawall Road. This gives you an enjoyable walk around the east side of Ship Harbor to start your morning. While this is a popular stop, starting first thing in the morning should help you avoid most of the crowds.

Stop 2: Wonderland Trail

Length: 1.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 78 feet
Type: Out and Back

Difficulty: Easy

Estimated Time to Complete: 40 minutes

This hike is just up the road from the Ship Harbor Trail and provides an enjoyable hiking experience for all ages and skill levels. Kids will especially enjoy this simple trail. Look out for tide pools and see what you can find!

If you’re short on time, you’re probably better off skipping this and only hiking the Ship Harbor Trail. If you have extra time though, they’re both unique and engaging! 

Stop 3: Long Pond and Great Notch Trails

Length: 4.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 616 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 2 hours and 20 minutes

Follow SR-102A/Seawall Road until you can turn right onto Main St. From there, look for the turn onto Seal Cove Road. Take Seal Cove Road onto Long Pond Road and drive until you see the trailhead parking area.

Expect fewer hikers to be on this trail when you get there. Most of the incline is between mile two and mile three, with a descent after that. If you want, you can hike the trail in reverse and go left from the trailhead instead of right. This will allow you to hike the steepest section of the trail first and ultimately lessen the elevation gain.

Stop 4: Acadia Mountain and Man O’ War Trail

Length: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 682 feet
Type: Loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Estimated Time to Complete: 1.5 hours

After reversing course and taking Long Pond Road to Seal Cove Road, you’ll turn left and head for SR-102/Main Street and make a left. Continue all the way to the Acadia Mountain Trailhead and look for a pull-off parking area on your left.

There’s no place more fitting to end your time in Acadia than the Acadia Mountain itself. Budget some time to enjoy this one if you can. You can enjoy Echo Lake just across the road if you have any extra time after you finish this last hike! Almost all the elevation is gained in the first 0.7 miles or so, so the rest of the hike is either downhill or flat. 

If you have a short day, you can edit this itinerary to suit your needs. You’ll definitely want to keep Ship Harbor and Acadia Mountain at minimum though! If you want to check out any of the trails more in depth or download trail maps ahead of time, you can look at this list.

Hopefully this itinerary has helped inspire your next trip to the Northeast! If you have some extra time and want to explore Maine, there’s more to do than you might think! 

While one of the smallest states, main makes up for its size in its eclectic people and experiences. Consider a stop in Maine’s largest city and center of entertainment, Portland. Outdoor enthusiasts may be tempted by the L.L. Bean headquarters in Freemont. History and country music enthusiasts will recognize Bangor, Maine as a logging hub and cultural touchpoint in songs sung by Johnny Cash, George Strait, and Roger Miller, among others.

Whatever adventure you choose, we can’t wait to hear all about it!

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