First-time visitor to Acadia? Ask Acadia on My Mind!

Bubble Rock in Acadia National Park helped prove the Ice Age
Ask Acadia on My Mind!

With this blog post, we’re launching a new feature answering questions, whether from a first-time visitor to Acadia National Park or a seasoned veteran. If you have a question about Acadia on your mind, leave a comment below, or contact us through the About us page. We may not be able to answer every question, or respond right away, but we’ll do our best. Thanks to Ryan for reaching out to us with this first question, about park campgrounds, for “Ask Acadia on My Mind!” Whether you’re a first-timer or a regular visitor, feel free to ask us a question about our favorite national park! See our new page linking in one place all the Q&As in this series.

Hello, I am planning a 3-day visit and either staying at Blackwoods or Seawall campgrounds. I am mostly a backwoods primitive tent camper and never gone RV camping so the campground thing and Acadia [are] foreign to me. Seawall looks nice and secluded but is nowhere near some of the attractions….. I guess my question revolves about getting around once I am there. Once in the park to reach the trailheads I am guessing I will have to drive and park at these. Coming from Seawall it seems like a good distance for some of the trails. Would parking be a problem at the various trailheads? Is it easy to go from one of these campgrounds to Bar Harbor or another of those small towns to grab something to eat and come back? Do I have to reenter the park? And if so, do you have to wait in line to reenter? I read that you need to purchase a 7-day park entrance pass. Where do you purchase that? Even if I make reservations to the campground, should I still be trying to arrive very early to enter the park?

Dear Ryan,

Thanks for being the reason we launched this new “Ask Acadia on My Mind” feature!

Blackwoods campground

Blackwoods has 275 tent and RV sites (NPS photo)

Most of our camping has been backwoods tenting as well, but because Acadia doesn’t allow backpacking, public or private campgrounds are the only way to go for tenting out.

If this is your first-time visit to Acadia and you want to hike the best-known trails on Mount Desert Island, the closest park campground would be Blackwoods. Even though it is not as secluded as Seawall, and the sites aren’t as spread out as in the drive-up Loop B section of Seawall you’ve been looking at, there are some advantages to Blackwoods, especially if you’ve only got 3 days and don’t want to do a lot of driving around.

Blackwoods lets you hike outside your tent to Cadillac or Gorham

For example, you can hike to Cadillac from Blackwoods, via a campground connector trail to the Cadillac South Ridge Trail. Since you’re used to backwoods camping, it seems you would be up to the challenge of one of the longest hikes in the park, 7 miles round-trip, not counting the connector from the campground. The trail offers a side loop to Eagles Crag, and the chance to sit on a bench by a secluded mountain pond known as the Featherbed, one of our favorite places in the park. Just be prepared for cars and crowds at the top of Cadillac if you’re hiking during a busy time.

Quarry Trail in Acadia National Park

Quarry Trail goes from Blackwoods to Otter Cove.

Another advantage to Blackwoods: Two new trails, the Quarry and Otter Cove Trails, connect the campground to the Gorham Mountain Trail, and also Ocean Path, which takes you to Thunder Hole and Sand Beach. These trails, inaugurated just last year on National Trails Day, are a new addition to the 3rd edition of our “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” that just came out April 1. The park has plans to upgrade an historic connector trail to the village of Otter Creek, which would allow campers to walk over to the Otter Creek Inn and Market to restock, or to the nearby coin showers.

In other words, what you might give up by way of seclusion by staying in Blackwoods vs. Seawall, you make up for with the ability to hike right outside your tent.

Island Explorer bus connects Seawall to trailheads and villages

If you camp at Seawall, it’s still possible to get to the trailheads on the east side of Mount Desert Island without having to drive, if you visit Acadia between late June and Columbus Day, when the fare-free Island Explorer bus is running. Paid for by park entrance fees, L.L. Bean, Friends of Acadia and other sources, the bus is run by Downeast Transportation.

The Island Explorer’s Southwest Harbor line goes by Seawall about once an hour from late June through the end of August (less frequently in September and October), and takes about an hour to get to Bar Harbor’s Village Green, where you would need to transfer to the Sand Beach & Blackwoods line to reach trailheads for the Beehive or Gorham Mountain, or to the Jordan Pond line to reach trailheads for Bubble Rock, Penobscot or Sargent Mountains.

Island Explorer bus in Acadia National Park

While the Island Explorer bus is fare-free, be sure to get an Acadia National Park visitor pass to help support that and other park services. (NPS photo)

Or you can just do the hikes on the west side of Mount Desert, such as Ship Harbor, Wonderland or Acadia Mountain Trails, all accessible on the Island Explorer Southwest Harbor line – just ask the bus driver to drop you off, if there’s no official stop at the trailhead.

If you prefer to drive to the trailheads, whether you’re staying in Blackwoods or Seawall, just be aware that some of the trailhead parking can fill up. Best to get an early start, before 11 a.m., but the earlier the better.

It’s a good idea to have a copy of the Island Explorer schedule with you even if you drive to the trailhead from Seawall, or hike outside your tent from Blackwoods. If you get tired after a long day hike, it’s nice to know you can catch the next Island Explorer back to the start, or wherever your next destination may be.

And in terms of grabbing a bite to eat, it’s a short drive, or about a 20- to 30-minute Island Explorer ride, to go from Seawall to Southwest Harbor, or Blackwoods to Bar Harbor.

As to your other questions about the basics of visiting Acadia: You can buy your 7-day pass at the campground, as well as at other sites in the area. And because Acadia has multiple ways in and out, only one of which is gated (on the one-way Park Loop Road just north of Sand Beach), and because the campground entrances are off public routes, you don’t have to get in a long line to enter the park or campground for the first time, or to reenter.

Acadia National Park visitor center

Hull’s Cove Visitor Center in Acadia National Park isn’t the only place to buy an entrance pass.

While it’s always a good idea for first-time visitors to stop in at the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center to see the exhibits and the video, you don’t have to get behind people buying their 7-day pass or asking basic questions, if you do your homework in advance. There are lots of resources on the park’s Web site, including a copy of the park map, and elsewhere on the Internet. Plus this blog and either of our hiking guides, “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” or the larger volume, “Hiking Acadia National Park,” featuring nearly all 125+ miles of trails and color photos, can be a useful resource.

Off-the-beaten path camping on Isle au Haut and Schoodic Peninsula

Finally, Ryan, a couple of other secluded camping suggestions for you, if not for this trip to Acadia, then perhaps for another:

Eben's Head is a spectacular rocky promontory on Isle au Haut

Eben’s Head, a rocky promontory, is great for watching a sunset if you’re staying at the Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut.

  • Isle au Haut – The closest thing to backcountry camping that Acadia offers is on this remote outpost, at Duck Harbor Campground. Only 5 primitive sites are available, from May 15 through October 15, by advance reservation directly through Acadia, and not through recreation.gov as with Blackwoods and Seawall. Isle au Haut is reached by mail boat from Stonington, which is about a 1-1/2 hour drive from Bar Harbor. If you go early or late in the season, when the mail boat only goes to Town Landing, and not yet to Duck Harbor, you would need to backpack about 4 miles to reach the lean-tos. There are 18 miles of hiking trails on Isle au Haut, the most remote part of Acadia.
  • Schoodic Woods – Newly opening this year, but late in the season because of the record snows, perhaps as late as September 1, this campground on Schoodic Peninsula will be available on a first-come, first-served basis this year, and then via recreation.gov in subsequent years. Featuring 9 remote hike-in sites, 50 drive-in sites, 33 RV sites and 2 group camping areas, Schoodic Woods offers biking and hiking access to the park’s only mainland section. While on privately owned land next to the park’s Schoodic section, the park service is running the campground. During the peak season, the Island Explorer bus provides connections to the nearby hamlet of Winter Harbor and the Schoodic section of the park, as well as to the Winter-Harbor-to-Bar-Harbor ferry.

17 thoughts on “First-time visitor to Acadia? Ask Acadia on My Mind!

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  2. Lyndsey Mimnagh

    We are planning a trip for the Fall and would love to have the best of both worlds: camping in manageable weather and the ability to see the foliage. We we’re considering the first week of October. Will it be too cold for camping and will there be enough leaves to see? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Lyndsey, yes, wouldn’t it be great to have the best of both worlds?

      Because Acadia is on the coast, early October shouldn’t be too chilly for camping, but be sure to have extra fleece for the evenings. Generally, foliage peaks around mid-October, but there should be enough turning leaves the first week of October.

      One caution, and it’s hard to know if this will happen, and when: In 2013, the federal government shut down for 16 days beginning Oct. 1 because it could not agree on raising the debt ceiling, and Acadia did not let visitors in. This year, earlier threats of federal shutdown were pushed off by a temporary government funding deal, pushing off the day of reckoning to September. The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

      In the best of all worlds, Washington would address the budget in a reasonable fashion, in advance of September and October. But this is the Washington of 2017, so it is hard to know how things will develop.

      If you’re concerned you wouldn’t be able to get into Acadia if there is a government shutdown, you can plan on camping in a private campground, and seeing all that Mount Desert Island has to offer independent of the park. Don’t know what Acadia’s campground refund policy was during the 2013 shutdown. Maybe there were refunds, or a credit available.

      Good luck planning your trip!

      Reply
  3. Katja

    I am planning a trip the second week in April and am wondering if there will be anything to see or do? Would I be able to hike a few trails? Should I take the time to see Acadia or wait till summer? I am bringing my kids and would really like to get the best experience I can. It’s spring break and this might be the only time for us to see Acadia. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Katja, thanks for your question. The main part of the Park Loop Road and the road to Cadillac don’t officially open until April 15 (could be later if there is still a lot of snow and ice), so there isn’t as much to do as during the summer. But there are still hikes, and sections of the Loop Road, that are accessible, even off season.

      Depends upon how easily entertained your kids are, and how old they are. Some families might like some of the ranger-led activities, but those don’t begin until late May or early June. We’ve taken our nieces to visit in March, in a low-snow year, and they enjoyed hiking Ship Harbor, Wonderland and Great Head Trail. They were about 12 and 15 at the time. But we’ve also taken them during the summer, when they could swim in the outdoor pool at the motel we stayed at, and when they could attend the “Stars over Sand Beach” program.

      You can ask about up-to-date hiking conditions on a Facebook page we run, called “Acadia National Park Hiking.” And here’s a link to some comments from someone else on that page who’s planning on visiting this April: https://www.facebook.com/groups/acadianationalpark/search/?query=april You can also search this blog for the word “springtime” to find a couple of posts about things to do before the season starts up.

      If you decide to wait until the summer, it’ll be more crowded, and more expensive. But that’s when most of the activities are going on.

      Good luck whatever you decide!

      Reply
  4. Anna

    Hi, We were just wondering if it is possible to stay on a non-electric RV site in a tent only?

    Thanks!

    Anna

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Anna, thanks for the question. We’ll be including that in our next Ask Acadia on My Mind! segment, and will let you know when it’s up.

      Reply
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  8. EVELYN SULLIVAN

    This was so very informative. Thank you so much.

    We will be visiting Acadia for the very first time in August and would like to use the car as little as possible. The kids would prefer to stay within walking distance to the trails and park. While we don’t want to be too far from town, I don’t want to sacrifice privacy. We were thinking of renting a home in Otter Creek. Would this be the best area to satisfy walking distance to hiking trails and access to town via explorer? Would appreciate any insight you can provide.

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Evelyn, thanks for your question! We’ll answer it as a separate blog post, as part of the “Ask Acadia on My Mind” series.

      Reply
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    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Jeanette, thanks! It’s amazing how much there is to learn about Acadia, whether for first-time visitors like Ryan who asked this question about camping, or those who’ve been long-time campers at Blackwoods. Imagine being able to hike outside your tent to Gorham Mountain or Sand Beach, with the newly opened Quarry and Otter Cove Trails!

      Reply

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