Itineraries,  National Park Travel

How to Make the Most of 1 Day in Acadia National Park

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Wind whips off the Atlantic Ocean and the sea mist sprays my face as the wave rolls into the rocky coastline. Jagged formations stretch like stony fingers reaching out into the water. It’s clear that this is a unique place where land and sea meet. This is Acadia National Park, Maine’s only national park.

Acadia - Valerie on the Coast

Sometimes trip logistics mean you only have a short time to explore a really great place like Acadia. I took a trip to Maine in the spring of 2019 and squished a whole bunch of adventure and exploration into the three-day trip. I only had one day to spend in Acadia National Park, and I was determined to make the most of it.

If you’re short on time too – New England Road Trip, anyone? – here’s how to make the most of 1 day in Acadia National Park.

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Abenaki / Abénaquis, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Wabanaki peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in June 2019, and updated in July 2021 to provide the most up-to-date information on visiting the national parks this year.

Planning Your Visit to Acadia National Park

Like all national parks, it’s important to plan ahead so that you can really enjoy your time and have a minimal impact on the natural beauty you’re visiting. Before we launch into what to do with your day in Acadia, there are important logistics to consider.

Driving & Parking in Acadia National Park 

Acadia National Park has several different areas, but the largest part of the park is located on Mount Desert Island. There are a few roads that you can take in the park and the main one is the Park Loop Road. This 27-mile loop is a perfect way to tour the park, and passes most of the main ‘sights’ in the park.

You can also make a loop of Maine State Route 3 and Maine State Route 233. This will take you to more westerly parts of the park on Mount Desert Island. Maine State Route 102 also makes a loop in the far western part of the park.

Throughout Acadia, there are a number of designated parking areas. From these, you can stop to see different vistas and geologic features, and to access specific trailheads.

New for 2021: This summer, you will need a reservation to drive Cadillac Summit Road. There are two options: a two-hour sunrise entry reservation, or a 30-minute daytime entry reservation. Both can be reserved up to 90 days in advance using and cost $6 per reservation. Learn more on the Acadia NPS site.

During the summer months, parking can be hard to find in other parts of the park too. Additionally, you may need to drive to the next nearest lot and walk back along pedestrian trails. The best way to beat the crowds is to visit during the shoulder season instead (mid-April to early May and September to early October) or get up very early on the day you’re visiting.

Another great option is to take the Island Explorer, a free bus service that drives the Park Loop Road and helps cut down on congestion.

Acadia National Park Entrance Fees 

Acadia - Entry Sign

As part of the National Park system, Acadia operates under the same rules as other parks. You’ll either need to pay an entrance fee or use a National Parks Pass to enter.

Here are your options:

You can read more about the fees – and check that the above is accurate – on the Acadia NPS website.

Accommodations at Acadia National Park

Acadia - Bar Harbor Inn

The only other important detail you need to figure out as you plan your trip is where to stay. Here are my tips:

  • If you’re an outdoorsy type (not me!), you can camp at several campgrounds in Acadia. Each park has different rules and site options, so be sure to check the National Park site for all the details. You’ll also definitely need a reservation during the summer months.
  • If you prefer a hotel, there are loads of hotels in nearby Bar Harbor. During my trip, I stayed at the Bar Harbor Inn. This waterfront historic hotel has deep roots in Bar Harbor and is a great base for exploring the park and the town.

What to Do in Acadia National Park (When You Only Have One Day!)

You drove (or flew) all this way to reach Acadia National Park – so it’s time to figure out how to jam-pack your day. Below you’ll find a list of the best things to do in Acadia (according to me) to help you start sketching out your plan.

Drive the Park Loop Road

Acadia National Park - Park Loop Road

If you’re short on time, just driving the 27-mile Park Loop Road is the most effective way to see as much of Acadia National Park as you can. You can stop off at sites like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Jordan Pond House to stretch your legs and take a few pictures.

Driving the Park Loop Road will take between 1.5-2 hours at its quickest, depending on how many stops you make.

Take a Hike (or Several)

Acadia - Thunder Hole

Hiking is one of the best things you can do in Acadia National Park because it allows you to get up close and personal with the unique landscape in the park.

From coastal trails like the Ocean Path (perfect for sunrise) to the wide variety of lakeside and forest trails around Jordan Pond to summit trails like the Beehive Loop and Cadillac Mountain South Ridge, there’s no shortage of trail options for hikers of all ability. The trails that caught my eye were the Precipice Loop (3.2 miles, too advanced for me!) and the North Bubble Loop (2.6 miles, reasonable elevation changes for moderate hikers), and I spent time hiking a bit on Cadillac Mountain during my visit.

Be aware that there are occasionally trail closures, and the NPS always lists these on the main Acadia page.

Watch for Wildlife

Wildlife watching is one of those special treats you might experience while spending a day at Acadia. From otters and whales out in the water to land animals and birds (I saw a beautiful Barred Owl in the woods from my car, pictured above), keep your eyes peeled when driving the Park Loop Road or hiking in the park – there are plenty of other living creatures in the area besides humans

Go Tidepooling

Acadia - Bar Island Sand Bar

If you have young travelers with you or just love the weird little critters that live along the coastline, tidepooling is a great way to spend an hour. Some good tidepooling spots include Bar Island Sand Bar (near Bar Harbor), Ship Harbor, and Wonderland. Rangers also lead tidepooling programs at Ship Harbor and Sand Beach during certain times of the year.

Go Boating & Kayaking

There are several options for boating and kayaking in Acadia. During the summer months, many of the lakes and ponds in the park are open for boating; you’ll need to bring your own boat and be sure to check the regulations on motors and horsepower if you plan to do this.

To be honest, exploring the rugged coastline of Acadia by kayak is more my style. A handful of tour operators and kayak rental companies will outfit and/or guide you for a day of adventure on the water. Coastal Kayaking Tours is a good option and they’re based out of Bar Harbor.

Go Stargazing

Acadia - Stargazing

Acadia National Park is one of the best and largest dark sky destinations east of the Mississippi River. There are several good stargazing spots in Acadia, including atop Cadillac Mountain and on Sand Beach. Read my guide to stargazing in Acadia National Park on Space Tourism Guide.

One Perfect Day in Acadia

Acadia National Park

Okay, with all those cool things to do in Acadia National Park, how do you fit them all into one day? Here’s how I recommend doing it (this is a slight modification of what I did myself):

Early Morning – Start by driving to the entry booth near Schooner Head Overlook.

Acadia - Sand Beach
Looking across Sand Beach

Mid-Morning – Explore the southeast part of the Park Loop Road. Stop at Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Point. If you’re feeling ambitious, go for a hike like The Beehive (trailhead located near Sand Beach).

Lunch – Head up to Jordan Pond House for lunch, followed by an easy walk along the Jordan Pond Path or burn off those calories on the North Bubble Loop.

Acadia - The Bubbles
The Bubbles over Jordan Pond

(Optional) Afternoon – If you don’t go hiking near Jordan Pond, journey toward the west part of the park by passing through the towns of Seal Harbor and Asticou by way of Maine SR 3. You’ll connect to Maine SR 102 and can head down to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse one of the most picturesque spots in the park.

Dinner – If you’re over on Maine SR 102, stop for dinner in Southwest Harbor. If you’re exploring along Park Loop Road, it’s easiest to scoot back to Bar Harbor for dinner.

Acadia - View from Cadillac
The view from Cadillac

Evening – Watch the sunset from Cadillac Mountain, then stay to see the stars come out!

If you have other questions about visiting Acadia National Park, let me know in the comments!

Special thanks to the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa for hosting me during my visit to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. This post was written in partnership with them, but all suggestions and inclusions are at my own discretion.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


  • Juliano Trein

    Hello, this is a great post!!!! thank you very much!! I´m from Brazil, anda I´m planning to visit Acadia next May

  • Lori

    Thank you for sharing all your tips and information! Going to do exactly what you recommended for the one day trip to Acadia!!

  • Kenny

    Thanks for the post. We plan to try this out in July. Any advice during COVID? Are they limiting entry into the park?

  • Randy Fortwengler

    I really enjoyed reading your article on Acadia National Park, I have put a visit to return there on my Bucket List. I was there in 1970 as a teenager on a Boy Scout trip we camped at one of the campgrounds in the park and we went to the Summit of Cadillac Mountain for the sunrise, which is a unique experience to be able to say you were one of the first people in the USA to see the sunrise that day.

  • Vivian

    This is such a great guide! Can’t wait to use it for my upcoming trip to Maine. Glad to see the Park Loop Road will take us through a big chunk of the park.

    • Valerie

      Try taking a look at the Acadia National Park website, Wayne – it will give you a sense of the whole park and the entrances so you can plan your time there. I’ve linked to it several times in this post.

  • Robert

    Thank you Valerie! You were spot on in your advice on what to see in Acadia Nat. Park. Awesome time we had. Bar harbor town was really nice, food was delicious! Our favorites- Cadillac Mtn, Jordon pond hike, and thunder hole simply all too beautiful for words. Thanks again, Robert & family

  • Laure Duckett

    Grreat itinerary. We heard it can be difficult to park on Mount Desert Island so we were thinking of taking the Island Explorer bus. Do you have any suggestions of where we could park for a full day? Do you think we could follow your itinerary whilst using that bus? would there be enough time in one day?

    • Valerie

      Great question, Laure. I actually haven’t heard of that bus – it’s been a few years since I visited Acadia though. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

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