7 ways for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park

in 2019, Acadia National Park counted so many visits – nearly 3.5 million – that the road to Cadillac Mountain had to be closed 58 times, and the Park Loop Road to Sand Beach, three times, because of traffic congestion.

acadia traffic

Hopefully new parking attendants on top of Cadillac in 2017 will make for a stress-free visit to Acadia. (NPS photo)

The crowds should become more manageable if the National Park Service follows through with plans for a vehicle reservation system in 2021 on Cadillac Summit, the north lot of Jordan Pond and Ocean Drive to Sand Beach.

In 2020,  one of the park’s more unusual years because of the coronavirus, the Hulls Cove Visitor is tentatively set to open June 1 and the Sieur de Monts Visitor Center and campgrounds tentatively on June 15. Hiking trails have stayed open during the public health crisis, but the Park Loop Road, which normally opens April 15, has been closed to vehicular traffic and though no tentative date has been announced, it normally opens the same time as the Hulls Cove Visitors Center.

In any event, when Memorial Day weekend arrives to mark the unofficial start of the busy summer season, it’ll surely help to know these 7 ways for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park.

1) Buy your Acadia National Park pass online, go early or late to the main Hulls Cove Visitor Center, or get the pass at one of the other local sites. New this peak season: Do not go to the park headquarters on ME 233 to buy your pass, since you’ll just be directed to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. The surest way to start off a stress-free visit to Acadia: Don’t get in a long line to get a park pass. Online, you can buy the usual 7-day Acadia pass or even the annual park pass. If you’re age 62 or older, you can buy the lifetime Senior Pass for $10 in advance at a participating federal recreation site near home, or via mail, before the price is slated to go up to $80 on Oct. 1. Hulls Cove is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in May and June, and after Labor Day through October, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. July through Labor Day. And there are plenty of other local sites you can buy a pass at, as listed on the park’s Web site:


The online pass was developed by NIC Inc. and the National Park Service. Or you can buy a pass in the park or at area locations. (Image courtesy of NIC Inc.)

  • Bar Harbor Village Green Information Center – late May to Columbus Day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Thompson Island Information Center – early May to mid-October, hours vary
  • Sand Beach Entrance Station
  • Blackwoods Campground
  • Schoodic Woods Campground
  • Schoodic Institute, Rockefeller Hall
  • Seawall Campground
  • Cadillac Mountain Gift Shop
  • Jordan Pond Gift Shop
  • Mount Desert Town Office
  • Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce
  • Southwest Harbor / Tremont Chamber of Commerce
  • L. L. Bean in Freeport, ME

How to have a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park

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)

2) Take the fare-free Island Explorer bus if you’re visiting Acadia National Park between late June and Columbus Day, to avoid the frustration of trying to find parking at some of the more popular trailheads and sites. A direct bus route goes from Hulls Cove Visitor Center to the Jordan Pond House, making it that much easier to have tea and popovers or get to the trails near the pond. Bus stops were recently added at Acadia Mountain, Bubble Rock, Parkman Mountain and the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. Some stops may not be marked on the bus map available for free at local businesses or online, but you can ask the bus driver to let you off, even if it’s not an official stop (as long as it’s safe). There is limited space to take your bicycle on the Island Explorer to the carriage roads. It’s important to understand that a bicycle express bus to the Eagle Lake network was set to be suspended for at least 2020. And dogs on leash are welcome on board too. Be sure to buy a park pass at the Bar Harbor Village Green Information Center across from the Island Explorer hub. The Island Explorer is definitely one secret to a stress-free visit to Acadia.

3) Head to less-traveled park trails, whether on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island west of Somes Sound, the quieter side of Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland, or the quietest side of Isle au Haut, accessible only by mail boat. West of Somes Sound, try out St. Sauveur Mountain, Beech Cliff Loop or Bernard Mountain Loop. Or try out the new hiking trails over on Schoodic, about 1 hour’s drive from Bar Harbor (or a 1 hour ferry and Island Explorer ride from Bar Harbor during the peak season). All these trails, and more, are included in the 3rd edition of our Hiking Acadia National Park, which won the 2016 National Outdoor Book Award and is available at the Eastern National bookstore in the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, Sherman’s Books and Stationery on Main Street in Bar Harbor, and on Amazon.com. (NOTE: See sidebar about Amazon.com links on this site.)

Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park

Early morning is the best time to hike the Beehive Trail if you want to avoid the crowds in summer. It’s a most difficult trail, so hike it only if you are well-prepared, not afraid of heights and comfortable climbing a nearly vertical trail featuring iron rungs.

4) Hike the most popular trails and visit the most popular sites early or late. Not only will you have a stress-free visit to Acadia that way, you also increase the chance of seeing wildlife. For instance, coming down from the Beehive one early morning, we came face to face with a barred owl. And if you’re driving to the top of Cadillac, do so either before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m., to avoid peak crowds (although the Cadillac sunrise can attract so many people in the summer, the park has had to close the summit road at times).

5) Do a little research in advance, to avoid getting in line to ask basic questions about things to see and do while visiting Acadia National Park. Like to hike? Aside from buying a hiking guide, whether one of ours or someone else’s, or bookmarking this blog, you can check out the park’s list of suggested hikes. There’s also a free app by Chimani for Acadia, with lots of hiking information. Looking for ranger-led activities? There’s a handy online calendar for that. Want a park map? Looking for places to stay or eat? You may also find a series of blog posts we’ve done of the top 5 things to see and do for first-time and long-time visitors to Acadia National Park to be helpful. The more time you invest up front, the less time you need to spend in line getting basic information, another secret to a stress-free visit to Acadia. Plus planning the trip is half the fun!

6) Walk from downtown Bar Harbor into the park, via the Great Meadow Loop to Sieur de Monts Spring, where the Wild Gardens of Acadia and Nature Center are located, and where you can link to a network of trails up Dorr Mountain or Huguenot Head; and along ME Route 3 to Compass Harbor, where you can connect to Schooner Head Path to Schooner Head Overlook, and continue on to Great Head Trail and Sand Beach. These village connector trails are another secret to a stress-free visit to Acadia.

bar harbor construction

The May 2017 map of detours during the Bar Harbor Route 3 project. Check for updated detours for a less stressful ride to Acadia. (Maine DOT image)

7) Check park and traffic alerts, to minimize getting stuck in traffic jams and being turned away by trail closures. If you’re planning on hiking the Precipice, Jordan Cliffs or Valley Cove Trails this summer, you should be aware that they’re usually closed until mid-August to protect nesting peregrine falcons. But sometimes, the park is able to open the trails early. You can find out by checking the park’s online alerts and news releases. A $17.9 million Bar Harbor Route 3 Project  began in late 2016, and was completed in the spring 2019, relieving a lot of traffic anxiety. Check the Maine Department of Transportation Web site for updates on the construction schedule during your planned visit.

Whether it’s your first time, or your umpteenth, whether you’re coming Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day or Columbus Day weekends, or during the park’s busiest month of August, these 7 ways for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park will make your vacation more relaxing.


12 thoughts on “7 ways for a stress-free visit to Acadia National Park

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    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Feel free to suggest other stress-free ways to enjoy the park, Jeanette!

  6. Jim Linnane

    You guys are wonderful.

    Note that the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce sells weekly passes but not the senior pass.

    Taking the Great Meadow Loop and the Jesup Path to Sieur de Mont is a great adventure. The Jesup Path includes a boardwalk through a seasonal wetland forest that is popular with birders. At SDM the Wild Gardens of Acadia, founded by the Bar Harbor Garden Club and maintained by FOA, exhibit flora from every habitat on MDI. Nearby, Acadia National Park’s Nature Center has exhibits of fauna commonly seen on MDI. SDM also features the original building of the Abbe Museum exhibiting native culture and a scenic monument constructed by George B Dorr.

    SDM and the nearby south end of the Tarn boast the beginnings of 4 interesting trails up Dorr Mountain which meet halfway up for climbing the rest of the way to the top on the Schiff Path. These trails feature a variety of beautiful examples of trail construction, including ladders, long series of stone steps, and even a natural bridge. Not to be outdone by Dorr, Champlain Mountain, across route 3 from the Tarn parking lot can be climbedd via the Beechcroft Path, a long series of stone steps and switchbacks overlooking route 3. The steps end in a high altitude copes and then the trail continues up slick rock to Champlain’s summit for unobstructed views of the Gulf of Maine.

    Sieur de Mont was the seed out of which Acadia National Park grew and it still contains more interesting things, cultural and scenic, than any other place in the park.

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Thanks for the revealing and articulate comment, Jim. The description of Sieur de Monts is helpful for people looking for some tips on hiking trails. We can only second your recommendations of the Jesup Path, the Great Meadow Loop, the Tarn and Champlain Mtn. What is also interesting is that an Acadia climate change exhibit opened at the Sieur de Monts Nature Center as part of Centennial celebration last year, and the exhibit continues to be showcased at the center. It adds a lot to the center, with some excellent audio and video options.

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  8. Michael J. Good, MS

    Another Stress Free adventure on MDI is a Birdwatching tour with Michael Good. Since 1993, we have been leading bird-watching tours to hidden gems around Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. By visiting off-the-beaten-track hotspots people have an opportunity to experience the many natural wonders of the largest Island in the Gulf of Maine. http://WWW.DownEastNatureTours.com

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Mike, yes, would agree a birdwatching tour with you would be a stress-free way to see Acadia! You’d know where the less-crowded places to see birds are. And we would bet it would be an early morning tour for the best birdwatching. And getting out on the trails early would be one way for a stress-free visit.

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