There are many ways to enjoy Acadia National Park: hire bikes for a spin on the carriage roads, take a scenic drive, or spend the day relaxing on the shores of Sand Beach or Echo Lake. There's also fabulous hiking here, offering easy shoreline rambles, strenuous mountain climbs, and exhilarating via ferrata–style sheer ascents on several trails.

Carriage Roads

John D Rockefeller Jr, a lover of old-fashioned horse carriages, gifted Acadia with some 45 miles of crisscrossing carriage roads. Made from crushed stone, the roads are free from cars and are popular with cyclists, hikers and equestrians. Several of them fan out from Jordan Pond House.

If the Jordan Pond House parking lot is too crowded, continue north to the parking area at Eagle Lake on US 233 to link to the carriage-road network.

If you're planning to explore by bike, the Bicycle Express Shuttle runs to Eagle Lake from the Bar Harbor Village Green from late June through September. Pick up a Carriage Road User's Map at the visitor center.

Scenic Drive: Park Loop Road

  • Start Hulls Cove Visitor Center
  • End Cadillac Mountain
  • Duration 3–6 hrs
  • Distance 27 miles

Looping around the eastern half of Mount Desert Island, this 27-mile road provides a fine overview of Acadia's many natural highlights. In summer, it gets quite crowded. Go early (strike at sunrise!) or consider doing the route by bus. The free Island Explorer shuttle (route 4; www.exploreacadia.com) makes the whole loop during the summer.

Start off at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, located around 3.5 miles northwest of Bar Harbor. Pick up a map, learn about any trail closures and hit the road. From the visitor center it's about 4 miles southeast to the start of the Park Loop Rd. Once you turn onto this road (one-way until just before Jordan Pond House), slow down and enjoy the view.

After about 2.5 miles, you'll turn off onto the Wild Gardens of Acadia. Here you'll see some 400 different plant species representing all of Acadia's unique biospheres. Afterwards, visit the nearby Abbe Museum at Sieur de Monts Spring (summer-only), with exhibits on the island's original inhabitants. Continuing south you'll pass a few trailheads, including the start of the challenging Precipice Trail.

A little further along, make the turnoff to Sand Beach. This lovely stretch of sandy shoreline is one of Acadia's unique finds. But the water is freezing! Down the road is the Thunder Hole, worth a stop to see the surf crashing into a cleft in the granite. The effect is most dramatic with a strong incoming tide.

Otter Cliff, not far south of Thunder Hole, is a wall of pink granite rising from the sea. This area is popular with rock climbers. From here, follow the twists and turns for another 5 or so miles to the Jordan Pond House. Take a break for tea and the restaurant's famous popovers (buttery, hollow muffins)m served with jam. Afterwards, you can stroll around the lake, which intersects with several trails in the north and south. Another 4 miles along, you'll pass the turnoff to Cadillac Mountain. Drive up to the top for sublime island views.

Hiking

Acadia has more than 125 miles of trails. Some are easy enough to stroll along with a small child, while others require sturdy boots, full water bottles and plenty of lung power. For an easy choice, drive up Cadillac Mountain and walk the paved half-mile Cadillac Mountain Summit Loop for panoramic views of Frenchman Bay. It's popular with early birds at sunrise, though we think it's just as nice at the more-civilized sunset hour. A good moderate pick is the forested 2.2-mile trail to the summit of Champlain Mountain. The Beehive Loop, at less than a mile, involves clinging to iron rings bolted to the cliff face and is for the fit.

Beehive Loop

  • Start Bowl Trailhead
  • End Bowl Trailhead
  • Duration two hours
  • Distance 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty Hard

Acadia has a handful of hikes that a feel a bit like a European via ferrata, where you'll be ascending stretches of the trail with the help of iron, ladder-like rungs. Those with a fear of heights may want to skip this one.

Though it's not particularly long, the Beehive offers plenty of challenge. It's also quite popular, so set out early to avoid trail crowding. Start at the Bowl Trailhead, which is just north of Sand Beach (and about 4 miles south of Bar Harbor). After a third of a mile, the Bowl continues off to the left, and the Beehive Trail begins. You'll know you're on the right trail by the yellow warning sign describing the dangers of this hike. Shortly after starting, you'll see the granite cliff rising up ahead. The trail goes right up the face of the mountain, and you'll soon find yourself climbing up steep sections along narrow exposed cliffs. At times, you'll have to scramble up iron-rung ladders along the mountain. Don't rush, just take it slow – you'll likely have to stop often to wait for those climbing up ahead of you. After a few tough sections, you'll finally reach the summit. The views at the top are outstanding, with a sweeping panorama overlooking Frenchman Bay, Great Head and Sand Beach. This is a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch.

If you're game for more hiking, the Beehive connects with several other trails in the park, including Gorham Mountain Trail (heading south) and the Champlain South Ridge Trail (heading north).

Avoid making this hike after or during a rainstorm. The paths (and ladders) get slippery and can be quite hazardous. Ice can be a possibility from October to early May.

After the hike, head down to cool off in the chilly waters off Sand Beach.

If you enjoyed the thrill of the Beehive, take it to the next level and try the Precipice Trail, which is even longer, with equally challenging via ferrata–style stretches.

Swimming

Swimmers can brave the icy, 55°F/12.7°C (even in midsummer!) waters of Sand Beach or take a dip in the marginally warmer Echo Lake, west of Somes Sound. Both areas have lifeguard patrols in summer.

Ranger Programs

Check the park's website for a rich calendar of summertime ranger programs and events, from guided hikes and children's story times to the very popular nighttime stargazing sessions on Sand Beach.