How to Plan A Trip To Acadia National Park: Complete Guide

So, you are going to visit Acadia National Park, Maine? You are going to have an awesome time. But now that you’ve made that decision, it’s time to start planning your trip.

It does take a little time and effort to plan your Acadia trip.  That’s where this Acadia vacation planner comes in. 

You will learn how to travel to Acadia National Park and the best way to get to Acadia National Park; discover the most convenient airports near Acadia National Park; plan out your Acadia itinerary; determine the places to stay in Acadia National Park; and decide what to do there.  

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Before we get into the planning process, one essential question to know before visiting Acadia National Park:

Where is Acadia National Park?

Acadia National Park is in the state of Maine, in the far northeastern corner of the United States.  Acadia National Park is spread over three main areas.  Most of it is on Mount Desert Island, though not all of Mount Desert Island is the national park.  

Most of the park’s attractions are on Mount Desert Island. These include Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Cadillac Summit Road, Jordan Pond House, the scenic Park Loop Road, Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, hiking trails such as The Beehive and the Precipice Trail, and the historic carriage roads. 

You can drive to Mount Desert Island, as it is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel only.  The main town there is Bar Harbor, and this is the main service town to the national park.  There are a lot of accommodation options, restaurants and stores.

The other two areas that contain some of Acadia National Park are the Schoodic Peninsula, slightly northeast of Mount Desert Island, and the small Isle au Haut southeast of Mount Desert Island.  These two areas are much less visited (but no less beautiful).

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Guide to Planning a Trip to Acadia National Park

OK. Now let’s start planning:

1. Choose when to visit Acadia National Park

When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?

The best season to visit Acadia is fairly small. 

While the weather in summer (June-August) is lovely, this is also when the park is most crowded.

To avoid the crowds, September and early October are probably the best time to visit Acadia National Park.  Early September is also when the annual Night Sky Festival is held.  Acadia has almost no light pollution, so is great for star gazing.  In mid-October, the park is ablaze with fabulous fall foliage, and this is also a great time for hiking. 

Spring (April-May) can be rainy and foggy.

Check out my guide to the Best Time to Visit Acadia National Park for more details.

2. Decide how long to visit Acadia National Park

How many days do you need in Acadia National Park?

How many days to spend in Acadia National Park depends on what time you have available and what you like to do. If you only have a weekend, then you will still have an amazing time, focusing on the highlights. However, assuming you have some time available, I would recommend at least four days for your Acadia trip.

Check out my guide to the How Many Days to Spend in Acadia National Park for more details on what you can realistically expect to see and do in one, two, three, four, and five days.
Discover more things to do in and around Acadia National Park to help you decide.
Acadia National Park

3. Decide how to get to Acadia National Park/ How to get to Bar Harbor (and book)

The most convenient airport near Acadia National Park is Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB), which is just 13 miles/ 21 km from Bar Harbor, but it is a small regional airport with limited domestic flights.  The closest main Acadia National Park airport is Bangor International Airport (BGR). From Bangor Maine to Acadia National Park (Bar Harbor) is 51 miles/ 82km.

Check prices on flights to Bar Harbor here.

Check out my guide to the Best Airports For Acadia National Park for more details on these and other possible airports to decide what works best for you.

The easiest way to get Acadia National Park is to drive.  There is no car rental from Bar Harbor Airport, which is tiny, but there is from the larger Bangor Airport.  Rent a car at the Bangor, Maine Airport here. Check out my guide to saving money on rental cars before you book.

You can also take a bus from Bangor to Bar Harbor.  There are a couple of bus companies that offer services from Bangor Airport to Bar Harbor: Down East Transportation and the Bar Harbor Shuttle.

Read my guide to How to Get to Acadia National Park for more details on these and other ways to get to Bar Harbor and the national park.

4. Learn how to get around Acadia National Park (and make/ schedule Cadillac Mountain Reservations)

If you wondering how to visit Acadia National Park, well you can drive around the park.

To get up the top of Cadillac Mountain (well worth it), you need to make a reservation in the busy season.  Reach my guide to Cadillac Mountain reservations for the full low down. Note the dates that reservations become available and book them the second (yes, second!) that you can.

For most of the park, there are free shuttles from Bar Harbor and neighboring villages into Acadia National Park, and for most places on Mount Desert Island, this is the easiest option for exploring Acadia National Park.

Free shuttles around Acadia National Park

Island Explorer offers a free shuttle service from multiple locations including Bar Harbor to Acadia National Park and around the park.  It’s not actually run by the national park service, but it is a really great way to get around and not have to worry about parking.

They have nine different routes connecting Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, and other neighboring villages.  Some of them have bike racks on the front, which is great because there are dozens of cycle trails around the park.

Even better?  The buses stop anywhere (safe) along the route; not just as official bus stops, so wherever you finish a hike, you can flag one down.

The Island Explorer runs seven days a week from late June to Columbus Day (the second Monday in October).  There is a reduced service from late August onward.  Check their website for schedules.

Map of Acadia Island Explorer shuttle routes

5. Plan your Acadia itinerary 

You’ve already done some rough planning in order to determine how many days to go for, and you may have done this more detailed planning already, but if you haven’t, now is the time to plan a day-by-day outline of what you’ll do. 

Of course, your plans may change with the weather and other unexpected things, but because Acadia can be busy and there is so much to do, I recommend planning out your days and then swapping things around if you need to.

You can make your Acadia National Park trip planning easy and stress free with a detailed itinerary for Acadia National Park. I have 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-day itineraries for Acadia that include all the park highlights, give you choices based on your preferred activity level, and take all the stress out of planning your trip.

Check out the four Acadia National Park itinerary options 

Additional Reading: Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park and Best Hikes in Acadia National Park.

6. Decide where to stay

Acadia National Park has plenty of convenient accommodations nearby. There are several towns on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula, but the main gateway town is Bar Harbor.

Where to stay: Bar Harbor

Because Bar Harbor is just outside the park and there is a free shuttle with multiple routes, this is a very comfortable and easy place to stay. 

If you are looking for a vacation rental, I have two detailed guides:

Several other highly-rated options include:

Grand Hotel:  This classic hotel has a rating of 9.4.  It has a heated outdoor pool and hot tub and the price includes breakfast.  Book the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel here.

Yellow House Bed and Breakfast:  There are plenty of bed and breakfasts in Bar Harbor to choose from.  The Yellow House has a rating of 9.5 on and has a lovely porch with rocking chairs.  The rooms have private bathrooms and there is a hot breakfast.  Check availability for the Yellow House Bed & Breakfast here.

Mosely Cottage Inn & Town Motel: A combination inn and motel, this has a great location only 650 feet/ 200 m from the Village Green, which is the center of town. It also has free parking.  Check prices for Moseley Cottage Inn and The Town Motel here.

For more options, look at other hotels in Bar Harbor here.

Acadia Camping

There are several campgrounds inside the national park, as well as many private campgrounds nearby.

Read my Guide to Acadia Camping for more details.

7. Book Travel Insurance

You should, of course, always have travel insurance, but especially when doing things like hiking.  You just never know.  Travel insurance also covers things like lost or stolen property, trip cancellation, and emergency repatriation. If you want to learn more about all this, check out my Guide to Buying Travel Insurance (on my other website) before getting your insurance.

A great insurance option for your vacation to Acadia National Park is Travelex.  It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can compare Travel Insurance plans here or get a quote right now:

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8. Decide what to pack for Acadia National Park

What to take to Acadia National Park will depend somewhat on when you go.

However, one of the essential things to bring to Acadia National Park include a guidebook. Buy The Complete Guide: Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island here and buy the Acadia National Park Moon guide here.  I used both of these to help plan my trip (though I recommend making life easier and get one of my detailed itineraries instead.

For a more detailed Acadia packing list, check out my Essential Packing List.

If you are camping, your packing list for Acadia National Park should include everything on my Tent Camping Packing List and this eco-friendly camping gear packing list.

If you’ll be staying in a cabin, check my Complete Cabin Packing List.

For the hikes, make sure you have everything on my Day Hike Packing List and my Essential Hiking Gear list.

9. Get your Acadia National Park Entrance Pass

Is Acadia National Park free?

No. Acadia National Park tickets are needed for the Cadillac Mountain Summit (late May to late September) and also to enter the park at any time of the year.  Check the NPS website for the current fee.

You can pay the entrance fee/ purchase the regular entrance pass online, at the visitor centers and campgrounds, entrance stations, are several local organizations and businesses:

  • Jordan Pond Gift Shop
  • Acadia Regional Chamber of Commerce at Thompson Island
  • Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Cottage Street
  • Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce
  • Mount Desert Chamber of Commerce
  • Southwest Harbor/Tremont Chamber of Commerce

If you’re going to visit more than just Acadia, it can be great value to purchase an America The Beautiful pass.    It covers unlimited entrance for a driver and all passengers at sites managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers

Buy the America the Beautiful Pass here

How to Plan a Trip to Acadia National Park: Step-by-Step Summary

Here is a simple summary of the steps to plan your trip to Acadia National Park. You’re welcome to share this image on your site using this code and attribution:

Subscribe to monthly updates with tips for planning, travel inspiration and trip ideas and get instant access to the free PDF of this
Guide to Planning a Trip to Acadia National Park

Enjoy your trip to Acadia! Do you have any other tips for visiting Acadia National Park? I’d love to hear them. Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.

If you are planning to visit Acadia National Park, make your planning easy and stress free with a detailed itinerary. I have 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-day itineraries for Acadia that include all the park highlights, give you choices based on your preferred activity level, and take all the stress out of planning your trip. 

Check out the four Acadia National Park itinerary options 


Are you just starting to think about taking a national parks trip? Get Inspiration
Are you starting to plan a trip to Acadia National Park? Read my Guide to Acadia National Park
Are you looking for a place to stay near Acadia National Park? Find a vacation rental near Acadia National Park or Find a place to stay in Bar Harbor
Are you ready to book your trip? Use these Planning and Booking Resources
Do you want to read a book about Acadia National Park? Check out my Recommended Reading List for Acadia National Park

If you liked this post, please share the love and Pin It to your Acadia National Park board!  

About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and most of the national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including USA Today, Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

Read more…

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