by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
Some places you visit only once in a lifetime. Others keep calling you back. For outdoor enthusiasts in the Northeast, Acadia National Park, with its gateway town of Bar Harbor, can easily become a family go-to or an outdoor escape in Northeastern United States.
Last time I visited Acadia was pre-COVID 2018. This part of Maine had already become known as a big tourist area rather than a hidden gem. Advisories warned that parking is limited so getting into the park early was, and remains, a key factor to beat the crowds.
This time (August 2022) had a few new twists, one being the required $6 car reservation to drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain. The view is spectacular – unless you arrive on a foggy morning when you may only be able to see for 10 feet in front of your nose. Cadillac Mountain marks the most eastern point in the US - so this is the first place in the country to experience sunrise.
Another beautiful aspect of visiting Acadia is the change between seasons, so the experience is different depending on when you visit. Autumn colors are gorgeous with cooling temperatures during the day and nights that invite you to buy a warm fluffy hoodie from one of the shops in town.
The best new addition to Acadia National Park is getting around by e-bike. While the area still attracts plenty of avid cyclists pedaling the paved roads and the ascent to the top of Cadillac Mountain, e-bikes make it easier for the rest of us. Especially nice is being able to take the e-bikes on the park's 45-miles of car-free walking and cycling trails, originally built for horse-drawn carriages. Today, horse-drawn carriage tours are offered by reservation.
E-bikes are available from Acadia Bike in town or reserve one on Viator and pick it up at Acadia's Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
People who prefer water over wheels or walking have multiple choices for exploring Acadia by kayak or sightseeing boat, increasing the chance of seeing bald eagles, puffins and seals among other wildlife.
The only national park on the Northeast coast, Acadia's "carry-in carry-out" policy requires you to bring your own beverages and snacks. The Jordan Pond House Restaurant is the only location in the park for purchasing food and beverages. It's a lovely spot, especially sitting outside overlooking the pond. Walking around Jordan Pond is a popular activity. This gentle trail is well suited for families. The restaurant gets quite crowded, especially because bus tours often stop there, so it's best to go during an off-peak time, or wait and enjoy one of the many restaurants outside the park.
First-time visitors to the area quickly learn that the park is Acadia; the town just outside the park is Bar Harbor. During visiting season, free shuttles run constantly throughout the day and evening between Bar Harbor's Village Green and several popular hotels closer to the park, making it very easy to drop into town for dinner. There are lots of choices and, for the most part, dinner reservations have become essential if you want to be seated before 8 pm. There are also free shuttles that stop at campsites and top tourist sites inside the park.
Bar Harbor has a variety of accommodations. Many comfy B&Bs are within walking distance of the Village Green. These are ideal for couples because most have one large bed without the ability to accommodate more than two guests per room. For families and small groups of friends, the hotels along Eden Street have more options for room types, and several lower-priced motels are available in the nearby town of Ellsworth.
The Bar Harbor Regency (also known as the Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor) is one of the few hotels in the area boasting waterfront accommodations with balconies, a heated outdoor pool, a large hot tub (especially inviting on chilly nights), along with two restaurants (one waterfront, one water-view) and a pool bar. It's also a shuttle stop, making getting into town super-easy. The CAT high-speed ferry to Nova Scotia docks next door.
Gone are the days of heading to Maine for a great bargain on lobster rolls. With tourists in the mix, and restaurants making the most of their short tourist season before winter creeps in, 2022 lobster prices in Bar Harbor are higher than ever. ($36 for a lobster roll and fries!)
Getting into the park requires a parking fee of $20 per carload. The pass gets you in for a week-long visit so you can come and go on your schedule. A National Park Pass is a good value for families that visit multiple parks each year. For people age 62 and older, the lifetime Senior Pass is a fantastic value for a one-time $80 fee, and provides access to every National Park throughout the US.
Marcia Simon is a writer, a traveler, and a travel advisor ready to help you plan your next trip. Connect on Instagram @friendlygrouptravel, Facebook @friendlygrouptravel, Twitter @friendsgotravel, or drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, has been exploring new places since she was 17 years old and traveled around Europe on a Eurailpass with her best friend. Decades later, she still considers travel the best investment of time and money she's ever made for herself and her family.