A few people have come to us asking about travel tips for Acadia National Park. With many requests and many responses we decided to throw them up here!
Adam and I worked at an Acadia National Park concession business several years ago (currently, no longer operating in the park). We worked there from the middle of May to the middle of August. We lived, slept, worked, ate, and hiked there. I worked as a sales associate at the busiest retail store in the park, Jordan Pond Gift Shop. My husband worked in the employee dorms. Through those 3 months we have learned some very beneficial tourist/traveling advice which we have chosen to live by when visiting and offering travel advice.
Best Time to Visit
This is all dependent on what your needs are, time frame, weather, etc. The best time to visit weather wise is obviously later on in the summer, July & August. Weather is gorgeous, it’s warm enough to wear tank tops and shorts, and the fog/rain isn’t as much as the previous months (May & June). While I do love to go travel when it is warmer weather, I also like to travel when there are less crowds so we can do more than what we would be able to during peak months. So once again, this depends on what you really want.
Best Times to Visit to AVOID Crowds
Obviously, with warmer weather and school being out means more people visit during the last months of the summer, but with that comes price hikes on hotels and all things tourist related. The typical tourists who come year after year during July & August also tend to be a little ruder than those of other months.
May & June are slower (albeit colder, more temperamental) months to visit.
September & October (We left prior to this, but from what I was told from my manager at the time), are slower, like May & June. Any busyness they have is cruise lines coming in and taking stops about 15 minutes at a time and then they leave.
Here’s something we learned through looking at sales. Our shop, during peak months (July & August) would average 1,000 sales a day. ONE THOUSAND, granted some were bottles of water, but that means over 1,000 people frequented the store (think about it, on vacation do you walk around gift shops alone? No, you bring your family or friends in there with you). Through those sales, we noticed a trend. Weekends were slow and Tuesdays-Thursdays were much busier days. We came to the conclusion that on the weekend everyone was unpacking/packing, getting settled in, & hanging around Bar Harbor. This made the other days (Friday-Monday) slower days, which makes it obviously better days to come into the park (at least the Jordan Pond area) and avoid the crowds. So overall the best time to visit the park is Fridays-Mondays, May-June, Sept-October.
As far as Bar Harbor goes, July & August are absolutely crazy busy months. I can’t even emphasis. Good luck driving or finding parking in Bar Harbor though. 😉 Your best bet is to park your car and walk around the streets because on car you barely move. This will make it much easier since driving will take you 10 minutes to drive sometimes even one block.
Pedestrians might anger you because they just run in front of the car without caring. Jaywalking is very common in the peak of the season. Tourists are just in vacation mode and are somewhat oblivious to what is going on around them. This makes it terrible to drive through. Trust me find a parking spot even if it seems far away, PARK YOUR CAR, and walk.
Moose? Puffins? Whales?
While I was there I hadn’t seen a moose on the island. There might (leaning more towards a not really) be a few moose in the area, but chances of seeing them are very slim. You have to be super lucky in order to catch a glimpse of any possible moose. I was told that if you do see any they will be near Aunt Betty’s Pond. I went one day and saw none. If you want to see moose, venture to Baxter State Park. I was told there are plenty there.
In order to see the puffins you have to be there at the right time. Puffins are only at land to lay their eggs, nest, and once the puffin babies are big enough to fend for themselves they leave land. They nest and incubate the eggs in May and June-July. They fly back and forth from water to the nest to feed the babies (which is actually prime time to see them I’ve been told since they are constantly bringing back fish to their young).
You might be able to see Puffins from a Bar Harbor tour.
You can find out more about that here. However, you are not guaranteed to see puffins here.
We chose to go to Machias Seal Island. This is an actual reserve where puffins come every year like clockwork to lay their eggs and raise their young. It’s a little expensive to actually go see them. I think it was like $100++ each person. We really wanted to do it, so to us it didn’t matter. The experience at this facility is great and probably the best you will get in the states.
You are brought in by boat onto the island. There are soooo many puffins and seabirds in the water around you just floating. You will see a bunch of puffins flying on and off the island. When you get there you get a little lecture about watching where you step because the birds lay their eggs anywhere and they are small making it difficult to see. You then get directed into “blinds” where you can stand there and watch the birds around you. Most get a few feet away and you get to observe them, take pictures, etc.
Here are some of our pictures of our excursion to Machias Seal Island to see the puffins:
You’d see more where we went than Bar Harbor because most don’t go there. The company I went to shut down, but you can Google “Machias Seal Island Puffin Tours” because other boat tours do run to that island, but not from Bar Harbor. I’d call up a few and see if they have an opening. If they do, take Dramamine beforehand, because we got soooo sea sick during the 3-hour round trip boat ride, but I’ll admit that it was worth it.
Note: If you are looking for the money shot of the puffins with fish in their beaks, you will have to come in July once their eggs have hatched and they are feeding their young.
Whales are wonderful to see here. I have heard some tourists complain they did not see any whales on days they went, but when I went there were a few. The hotter months (July & August) are the best time for seeing whales since they head over here from Hawaii during the summer month and leave when it starts to get colder out. I have been told that if you do not see any whales they give you a voucher to return to next day to see some whales. Once again, I had no problem with seeing any. I found it to be worth the trip honestly. It was worth it.
On our days off we chose to hike all of the mountains in the national park that had trails leading up to it. Some of those days we had the terrible luck of having endless amounts of fog. We hiked it, but could barely see 5 feet in front of us.
I’ll give you a quick roundup of what mountains to peak and not to peak based on THE VIEW, since everyone’s difficulty level is different.
Flying Mtn./Valley Pk.:
Skip It (opinions based on hike to views or view in general):
The Triad & South Bubble (unless your goal is to see Bubble Rock, otherwise North Bubble has better views):
St. Sauveur Mtn. (no pictures)
Too Foggy/Dark to Tell When We Hiked It: Sargent Mtn. & Penobscot Mtn., Day Mtn., Cadillac Mtn. & Dorr Mtn., Bald Pk., Parkman Mtn., Gilmore, Cedar Swamp Mtn.,
This is not a mountain, but the Great Head Trail is a gorgeous hike. Even if you only do a little bit and turn back around because the first half, we believe has the best views. It has really nice views of the Beehive & Sand Beach. The Jordan Pond Loop is a 5 miles “hike”. You could do a little bit and turn back around. Looks are very deceiving. Do to the shape of the pond it looks like you are nearly done, but it’s much longer than you think. So I would do a little bit or even just walk down to see it.
Things to do in the park
Definitely go to the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise. It’s GORGEOUS! I’ve never seen a sunrise as pretty. Look online for sunrise hours to get there like 30 minutes in advance for the golden hour. It will be a little breezy so bring some blankets and hot chocolate and wait it out. It’s gorgeous. During some months Cadillac Mountain sees the first sunrise in the United States.
Go to Cadillac Mountain in general. It’s the highest point in the park and there’s a good view of the ocean and the porcupine islands.
Hunter’s Beach is pretty nice, but not swimmable. It’s nice to get out for a quick hike and see it. There are huge slabs of granite and whenever I had gone there was no one there.
People like to see the Bass Harbor Lighthouse when they visit. We did it. You cannot go inside, but you can go down to the bottom via wooden stairs and get really nice pictures of the sun, waves, and lighthouse.
Southwest Harbor is a VERY CUTE town. Not as busy as Bar Harbor or as popular, but it’s very quaint. It’s very enjoyable and gives you that small town vibe.
A nice drive also is along Somes Sound on Sargent Drive. My manager would always recommend this drive to because it has such gorgeous views.
People also tend to like the Wonderland Trail for some reason. I wasn’t that blown away or amazed, but it’s all personal preference.
If you like gardens the Asticou Azalea Garden was reallly nice earlier in the summer.
You can also get rock climbing lessons in Bar Harbor. We never did that, but wanted to.
They also do have rentals where you can canoe in Long Pond or Jordan Pond. We canoed in Jordan Pond with a bunch of summer employees and it was a bunch of fun. Especially seeing the beavers.
Seal Cove has a really awesome Auto Museum. I’m not a car enthusiast and I loved it.
The truth about Thunder Hole: It’s a really a gimmick. It never thunders big or loud like it does in pictures. People (myself included) went there frequently near storms, high tide, full moon…nothing big happened. That usually only happens in the fall with all of the storms off of the coast.
Jordan Pond House is a restaurant in the park that has 11am tea and popovers on the front lawn. It’s a great view and something that everyone looks forward to when they come. For the 11am popovers you use line up outside of it for it to open and its first come first serve but they have lots of seating. For lunch and dinner reservations are required. Coming from Pennsylvania we were never exposed to popovers, so if you are like us the waitress/waiter will be able to tell you how to work them. They are delicious and very addictive. This restaurant is more known for its popovers and tea rather than it’s dinner however.
I’m not a seafood lover (shocking), but we did end up loving Geddy’s in Bar Harbor. They had good pizza. I stuck to this restaurant because my employee dining room liked to serve the same food daily and I like variety.
We also used to eat at this cute restaurant called Dink’s Route 66 Taxi. Everything in there is 1950’s themed. Eating there kinda takes you back in time. There is so much to look at while you are in there.
Those should be enough tips to keep many tourists busy 😉