Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor 4-Day Itinerary

Last week, I returned from a girl's trip to Acadia National Park, one of the Top 10 most-visited National Parks in the U.S. with over 3 million visitors a year and the only national park in the Northeast.


Acadia is known for its rugged but photogenic coastline, pink granite cliffs, and carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the early 1900s. It is also a perfect place for leaf peepers to enjoy the changing foliage colors in the fall.


You could easily spend a week here, but 4 days is a nice timeline to get a mix of what Acadia and Bar Harbor have to offer.


Table of Contents:

Getting Oriented to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

Acadia Itinerary, Day 1: Park Loop Road

Acadia Itinerary, Day 2: Bar Harbor Things to Do

Acadia Itinerary, Day 3: Jordan Pond and the Carriage Roads

Acadia Itinerary, Day 4: Schoodic Peninsula

Other Travel Notes



Getting Oriented to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

Both Bar Harbor and most of Acadia National Park are on Mount Desert Island. There are also several islands and the Schoodic Peninsula (on the mainland) that are also part of Acadia, and are less visited.


Bar Harbor is an adorable town full of shops, restaurants and bars. You'll want to spend some time there just relaxing.


Bar Harbor to Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor and Acadia are neighbors. From Bar Harbor, it's just 1.3 miles to get to the National Park sign at the Cadillac Mountain entrance. Note: distances are not far, but the roads are windy and populated, so you need to pad your schedule to account for a slower pace.



The author and two friends stand in front of a red building that is blurred, with lobster buoys adorning the walls.
Me and my buds in front of the lobster buoys


Acadia Itinerary, Day 1: Park Loop Road

The Park Loop Road is a 27-mile road that goes around the perimeter of Acadia on Mount Desert Island. It takes about 3 hours to do it justice, but you will likely find enough stops along the way to fill your day.


This path will take you through the woods, along the coastline, and by Jordan Pond House.


Here are some of the highlights:


Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the North Atlantic Seaboard and the first place to see the sunrise in the U.S. From May – mid-October (dates vary). Reservations are required to go up Cadillac Mountain Road. It’s not too hard to get a pass (at least it wasn't in mid-October), but it is very difficult to get one for sunrise. If seeing the sunrise from this vantage point is important to you, plan ahead.


If you can’t get a pass for sunrise, consider Otter Point or Seal Harbor as other great vantage points.


Sand Beach

From this parking lot, you have access to a small beach with crashing waves. In the summer, there is a lifeguard on duty. The water is cold and most people only dip their toe in the sand although you will see plenty of people taking their chances in the water as well.


From the same lot, you walk just beyond it to the trailhead of several of the most famous hikes in the park: Beehive, Gorman and Precipice Trail.


Hiking the Beehive

The Beehive Loop Trail is a 1.5 mile trip. 0.9 straight up (seriously!) 450 feet and the rest down a rocky path in the woods. There are rungs and hand bars as you ascend the trail. If you do not have a fear of heights, it is great. I found it exhilarating, but there were 4 of us on this hike and half of our party were not happy campers. If you make it most of the way up to the top, don’t turn back. It’s worth it. Plus, descending from that side is way worse than just completing the hike.


It is said to be a strenuous hike and it is in places and certainly because of the height.



A view from the top of hikers just down below with Sand Bar in the distance.
The Bee Hive Trail - yup, it's high

From the Sand Beach lot, walk towards the road and to the right to get to the trailhead. When you see the trail head sign, look up. You’ll see the people that are up at the top of the mountain. You also can really appreciate why it’s called Bee Hive.


Even if your kid under 12 is a good hiker and adventurous, I wouldn’t bring my kid on this one. We did see a boy of 10 that did it just fine and didn’t seem nervous, but this isn’t the type of trail that you want to get in the middle of and turn back.


Also, take what I say with consideration and then do it anyway. It’s a great hike. Seriously.





Thunderhole

I'm not gonna lie...the name itself got many chuckles between me and my girlfriends. I knew it would, and I actually put an asterisk next to it on my itinerary with the footnote of a certain friend not to make fun of it. She missed the asterisk and was 10 jokes in before I show her my itinerary footnote. There's always one in the crowd...


This was underwhelming for all of us because we were not there when the tide was too high. You could hear the sound for which is is named, but I believed a woman near us who said that it was much more impressive the day before after a rainstorm and higher tide.


Otter Point

We were on borrowed time by the time that we got to Otter Point. We had stopped along the way and we had a reservation for Jordan Pond House. In retrospect, I would plan on a to-go order from Jordan House and spend more time at Otter Point and later, on the green between Jordan Pond House and the pond.


I found Otter Point to be less busy over Thunderhole, and ample space to spread out and enjoy the craggy coastline.



Acadia Itinerary, Day 2: Bar Harbor Things to Do


Bar Harbor is a very quaint New England town. It has a lot of souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. There are many historic buildings and it is a fun base to take a day and relax.


For this itinerary, I recommend you spend the morning on the Lulu Lobster Boat Tour and then spend the rest of the afternoon shopping, wining and dining.



A rainy night on Main Street of Bar Harbor. Shops and restaurants are lit up.
Bar Harbor Main Street


Lulu Lobster Boat

If you do your research, you'll find that this tour is a fan favorite and overwhelmingly stands out. Don't think twice, book it. Gaelin (the tour guide) and Tony (the captain) were awesome. Our group immediately felt comfortable and safe.


We just took the tour (mid-October) and the winter sea had arrived. It was a bumpy ride near the lobster traps. If you could get seasick, you'll get seasick on this so get your Dramamine, your alcohol strips to breathe and say a Hail Mary or two. We had a few nauseous folks on the boat but I'm happy to report that no one puked. We did have a self-reported drunk guy sing opera though. Here's the thing...he was good. So there's that.


All sides of the boat are good for viewing. You'll see lobsters, you'll hold them, you'll rubberband their claws, you'll learn about their privates. You'll also sing songs and hear some good jokes. Gaelin - our group would love to sit with you and your wife at a bar. I can imagine the stories.


He even offered us a picture opportunity: his scary face or Blue Steel. Of course, I went with the latter.



Even our friend that felt sick said it was totally worth it.


Shopping

Many of the shops are souvenir shops. These all had a lot of different clothing options, ornaments, magnets, etc. All the stuff that you would expect to find. There were a few shops, however, that I really enjoyed:


Sherman's Maine Coast Book Shop

This is Maine's oldest bookstore. It was a well-curated store with lots of fun areas to explore. Julie and I were particularly excited to find a revolving rack with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. We both loaded up on these for our kids.


As you walk up Main street from the harbor, you will see it on your left, just beyond the park.


In the Woods Woodworking Store

What a fun find! All the wood caught my eye and my husband loves woodworking, so I wanted to take a quick peek. I've never seen a store quite like it - there were handcrafted toys, ornaments, kitchen wares. I bought several small gifts at this store.



A view from the top of the great woodworking finds at the Into the Woods store on Main Street in Bar Harbor.
A glimpse from the top level of Into the Woods


Hiking in Bar Harbor

You will probably do most of your hiking in Acadia, but there are a few noteworthy hikes from the town. I enjoyed all three of these hikes:

Shore Path

This is a lovely walk from downtown behind the Bar Harbor Inn. The path goes along the shoreline for less than a mile and there are benches along the way. I enjoyed seeing a glacial rock that had been deposited during the last Ice Age and clearly stood out from the surrounding geology. I also really enjoyed looking at the tide pools along the way.



Sea weed and large granite rocks are seen near low tide on the Coast Trail.
An early morning walk along the Coast Trail


Bar Island Walk

This walk takes you from the marina at Bar Harbor across a sand bar at low tide to Bar Harbor Island. You have 1.5 hours before low tide and 1.5 hours after low tide to make the trip over to the island so make sure that you check the tide table.


It only takes 15-20 minutes at a leisurely pace to get across the sand bar and there is a short hike to the top vantage point once on the island.

Historic Walk

This is a walk around the downtown area, showcasing the town’s history. Start at the Village Green for directions on this hike around beautiful homes and town buildings.


Acadia Itinerary, Day 3: Jordan Pond and the Carriage Roads


Jordan Pond House

For over 100 years, visitors have been enjoying tea and popover from the Jordan Pond House. I love the idea of the tradition and I loved the images that I saw before we arrived of a circular patch of land, small tables with yellow umbrellas looking out on the beautiful lake.


Unfortunately, that was not the case in mid-October when we arrived despite the lovely weather.


It is recommended that you make reservations before you arrive although I’m not really sure that it makes a difference. We were 45 minutes before our reservation and were not seated until about an hour AFTER our original reservation time despite being told that there were only a few people in front of us. I think people show up late to their reservations because (1) the drive around the park loop road is not a long distance, but it does move slow and (2) people have trouble parking in one of the two lots nearby.


The notion that there were just a few people in front of us is what kept us waiting despite the inclination just to take a popover to go. We finally got seated and were taken to the 2nd level which seemed like an afterthought to the building.


We ordered popovers and prosecco which were promptly delivered. I have had popovers with more enticing ingredients inside over strawberry jam and butter, but when in Rome…


This is an overhyped activity, in my opinion. IF it’s summer and IF the tables are set up outside and IF you could wait and be guaranteed a seat there and not inside, I would definitely do it. But otherwise, I would recommend skipping the whole activity and bringing your own picnic to the pond or going upstairs and making a to-go order.


The Carriage Roads

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. knew cars on Mount Desert Island were inevitable, but he wanted to preserve the legacy of a quieter time without them. He started on his own property and then was given permission to continue building his carriage roads on property that others had bought for the park.


For a couple of decades in the 1960s through 1980s, these roads fell into disrepair. Years later, they were restored back to their original grandeur and are now enjoyed by hike, bike or carriage ride.


I bought this book at a local store and found it indispensable when planning our carriage road hike. It's a quick read that gives you the history, maps for all of the trails and even connects the sign numbers in the park to the map with step-by-step directions. You'll definitely want this if you are exploring the carriage roads.




Renting Electric Bikes or Cruisers

You'll want to plan in advance if you want to rent a bike and cruise Acadia. There is limited availability and hours can also be hard to pin down during the off-peak months. Here are some options:

Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop
Pedego Electric Bikes
Acadia Bike Rentals

Taking a Horse and Carriage Ride on the Acadia Carriage Roads

I can't think of anything more quaint and romantic than to take a ride through the woods along the carriage trails. How often do you get to live like a Rockefeller?

Wildwood Stables

Carriages of Acadia



Acadia Itinerary, Day 4: Walk to Bar Harbor Island and Schoodic Peninsula

It's just under a 1.5 hour drive to get to the Schoodic Peninsula from Bar Harbor. The area was added to what would become Acadia NP in the 1920s to protect the area from getting developed. Interestingly, it was the original owner's family who decided not to carry out the patriarch's plans for a resort, shops and restaurants on the land after he died.


At Schoodic Point, you can walk out onto the gigantic pink granite cliffs and find a quiet place to sit. Thundering waves crash over the cliffs at the bottom. This is a great place to enjoy the park and avoid the crowds.



The author's friends pose atop the pink granite rock at Schoodic Point
Friends atop Schoodic Point


What to Eat and Where to Eat It

Lobster rolls, clam chowder and blueberry pastries are on all on the menu – eat as much of each as you can! It is common to see all 3 on the menu as a combined meal and it is often a cost-effective way to sample each.


You can also get blueberry ale from Sea Dog Brewing which was surprisingly nice. I’m an IPA girl and usually don’t go for seasonals, but this was a nice exception.


Hull's Cove General Store at the Sunoco Station, 3 Breakneck Rd, Bar Harbor

Yep, you read that right. This was an accidental find, but one that we all treasured. Our friend, Katherine, has to have food at the very moment she decides that she needs it. We were just about to head into the park and she insisted she needed food. This was an emergency stop where we were expecting gas station snacks. Yes, but wait - there's more;)


They have a full bakery inside where they make lots of things including danish and my personal favorite, their blueberry pie. They also serve a limited hot lunch.


The staff is exceptional and rightfully proud of their goods. Stop here. It's worth it.


The Reading Room Restaurant at The Bar Harbor Inn

This is a must-do. Compared to the rest of the island, this is the best deal to be had. I was generally surprised at the high lobster prices on the island – I thought it would be more reasonable at the source. That didn’t stop me from buying, but I felt the prices in my pocketbook each time.


Still, we booked a dinner reservation for the Reading Room, and I expected to cry a little at the price. Folks, I got steak, lobster and several drinks for around $100. That may sound high depending on your frame of reference, but this was a great deal and worth the price. I loved every bit of everything on my plate.


Two snaps in a circle for this place! If you don’t believe me, ask a local. Our lobster boat captain recommended this place to us.


Havana

"American Fine Dining with Latin Flair" is how it the cuisine is described on Havana's website. Looking through Yelp and Open Table, Havana clearly was a fan favorite so we booked a table for our group of 4. We say in the back room which was pleasantly decorated with white table clothes and a wine cellar.


Start with a mojito. you won't regret it.


No one wanted to commit to just one thing so we instead opted to share 2 plates and 2 appetizers family style. The paella was very good, but we all agreed that the Lobster Moqueca and its savory coconut cream sauce was the crowd favorite.


The wine list is huge and excellent. It had a lot of options that were new to me plus all of my favorites. My only complaint was that the sommelier delivered the wine, but was no where to be found when we ordered. To be fair, we didn't ask, but that would have been a more useful time.


The Happy Clam

You can get lobster everywhere. I have to agree with the guy at Hull's Cove General Store: lobster is always good, but the prices matter. That's true. And as you would expect, Bar Harbor is expensive.


Several locals that we asked recommended The Happy Clam. I have to admit, I was very disappointed because it was never open when we were there (off-season and the hours vary). So while I haven't personally tried it, I can confirm that the locals love it.


Bar Harbor Cheesecake Company (Open May through October)

This is a great find on Main Street if you are looking for dessert. The setting is a 2-story house. When you walk in, you first come to the room with cheesecakes followed by a truffle display.


You can order your dessert to-go or you can stay and have a glass of wine while you enjoy your treat. The second floor makes a cozy place to watch folks go by on Main Street while you relax.


How many days do you need in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park?


You could compress your timeline to less, but I think 4 days is optimal. If you are limited on time, I would do the following:

1 Day

Park Road Loop and Bar Harbor Dinner, walk around

2 Days

Carriage Roads and Jordan Pond House/picnic near lake and hike

3 Days

Day in Bar Harbor

4 Days

Follow the itinerary outlined in the main article


Getting to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

There are several airports that are in close proximity to Bar Harbor. Bangor is probably your best bet in terms of price, availability and drive (it's only an hour away). Other options include Bar Harbor (small general aviation airport), Portland, Maine (3 hours away) or Boston Logan Airport (4.5 hours away).


Is it easy to get around without a rental car?

That depends. It's doable - there are buses from the airport to Bar Harbor and there is the shuttle around the island although there is a reduced schedule in the shoulder seasons.


From mid-June to mid-October, the Island Explorer will pick you up from a surrounding community and take you to popular spots throughout the park.


But if you are visiting at a different time or have different places that you want to go along the coast, do not plan on relying on Uber or Lyft. They are few and far between.


One other option would be to hire a driver. There are several that will drive you around for the day and give you a private, guided tour. We saw many of these guides along the Park Loop.


What reservations do I need to plan in advance?

As of this publishing, you do not need a reservation to enter the park. Do check on the Acadia National Park Service page because circumstances can change.


You DO need a reservation to visit Cadillac Mountain during the busy summer and early-mid October. Plan ahead if you want to get the sunrise slot; it sells out fast.


You can get reservations in advance for Jordan Pond House (see my comments above).


Recommended Acadia and Bar Harbor Guidebooks

This compact book is inexpensive and indispensable if you want to walk the carriage roads. It gives you the history of the roads, has great maps and written out directions for each turn and it even labels each turn with the number that corresponds to the signs within the park. I highly, highly recommend this.


Note: I do get a small commission on any purchase made at no additional cost to you. Thanks in advance for your support of my small business.





For detailed information about the hiking trails (note: yes, you can hike the carriage roads, but there are also a lot of other hikes in the park - like Beehive - that you may be interested in.




For More Information visit the Bar Harbor Visitor Center.


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Happy Travels,

Chrissy