Acadia National Park protects areas of coastal Maine, including 19 of its outlying islands and the highest rocky headlines of the Atlantic Coastline. The majority of the most popular spots are on Mount Desert Island which at 108 square miles is the largest off the coast of Maine. The best hikes in Acadia National Park take you from salty sea to soaring summit with 158 miles of extraordinarily scenic hiking trails making it one of Advnture’s picks for best National Parks for hiking plus rock climbing and historic motor roads and carriage roads for those who prefer to explore on bicycle or horseback.
Southwest of Bar Harbor, the Park boasts rugged beaches as well as lush forests and the highest mountain on the East Coast, Cadillac Mountain. It is one of the most-visited National Parks in the country and deservedly so. Early fall is the best time to visit Acadia and experience comfortable temperatures, however, if you love winter sports you might enjoy it in the cold months too. If you’re planning on doing some stargazing, July and August are the best times to see the Milky Way here. Sea Wall, Jordan Pond, Ocean Path and Sand Beach are all top spots for dark skies.
The best hikes in Acadia National Park offer true diversity – you can choose from coastal walks, woodland strolls and standing on summits – while some trails cover all three areas. It’s a great National Park for families and though the mountains in the park may not seem high, don’t underestimate the climbing involved when your trail begins at sea level. Pack a sturdy pair of hiking boots and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings – here you can spot moose, bear and even whales if you’re lucky.
Best hikes in Acadia National Park
The Beehive Trail
Distance: 1.4 miles
The Beehive is the dome-shaped peak that rises out of Sand Beach. The hike up to the summit takes the north face and requires steep scrambling with iron rung ladders and handrails to help you navigate the exposed cliffs, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Sand Beach and Great Head if you dare. Start on the Bowl Trail which begins across from the beach at the Bowl Trailhead and hike through the forest before joining the Beehive Trail. You’ll be able to see the summit and begin to ascend steeply up the granite steps. After lunch, descend down the west side and enjoy views of Enoch Mountain and Champlain Mountain on your way to the bowl, which is a beautiful lake. Return view the bowl trail to complete this lollipop loop.
Distance: 4.5 miles
As the name suggests, Ocean Path follows the coast from Sand Beach to Otter Head and back, delivering some dramatic coastline with jagged rock formations. This family-friendly walk takes in several popular landmarks in the Park such as Thunder Hole where you can watch the waves crashing through, Monument Cove and the rocky Boulder Beach. From Sand Beach, head up the steps and follow the trail to the right for a leisurely stroll. At Otter Point, you can enjoy lunch and watch the climbers on the rock before turning back the same way you came.
Distance: 2.1 miles
For some of the best views in the Acadia, serious guts are required as this exhilarating trail involves climbing up open cliff faces on iron rung ladders to get to the summit of Champlain Mountain. This hair-raising hike gains over 1,000ft in the first mile and due to falcon nesting in the spring and snow and ice in the winter is usually only passable in the fall and due to its treacherous nature is not suitable for children. If you’re feeling adventurous though, this beautiful, exposed loop begins on Park Road and navigates stunning rock shelves, narrow ledges and striped bands of vertical granite cliffs to deliver breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Dorr Mountain to the west.
Great Head Trail
Distance: 1.4 miles
For ocean views, salty air and the sound of waves crashing against the rocky headlands, look no further than the Great Head Trail. From the far end of Sand Beach, the granite steps up and turn right at the top to begin walking along the ledge. Straight away, you’ll enjoy views of the beach and the Beehive. Shortly, the trail heads away from the coast and into the forest where you’ll reach a junction. If you’re looking for a shorter loop, take the trail to the left and head back via the beach. For a longer walk, go straight and take a left at the next junction to return to the beach.
Distance: 1.6 miles
The Bubbles are two mountains, North and South Bubble, that are an iconic image often photographed perfectly reflected in the still waters of Jordan Pond. Both mountains can be reached via friendly trails and are best done in conjunction with a visit to the Pond where you can relax and enjoy lunch. Park at the Bubbles parking lot and begin heading up the valley between the two mountains. To hike both mountains, you can simply take one, then return to the junction and take the other. If you’re choosing only one, South Bubble is home to the famous Bubble Rock, a precariously balanced large boulder just beyond the summit that’s a worthy sight to see. Both mountains offer spectacular views of the idyllic pond.
Jordan Pond Loop
Distance: 3.1 miles
For a more tranquil and family friendly experience of the Bubble Mountains area, you can skip the climbing and walk around Jordan Pond. This relatively flat trail is popular with trail runners, and its dense forest also provides great opportunities for bird watching. This scenic stroll truly offers the best view of the Bubbles from the south side, where there also happens to be a good restaurant that makes a perfect pit stop for lunch. Save this one for a more leisurely day, perhaps when your legs are tired from the previous day’s hike. Park at the North parking lot and hike counterclockwise through the woods.
Cadillac Mountain North Ridge and Gorge Path Loop
Distance: 4.8 miles
Cadillac Mountain holds the distinction of being the highest point along the North Atlantic Seaboard at 1,530ft and like many surrounding peaks was pushed up through the earth by volcanic forces millions of years ago and then sheared by glaciers. There is a road to the top which means it gets crowded, but on a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. There are several routes to the summit with the North Ridge being the quickest and therefore busiest, however we recommend ascending via the gorge between Cadillac and Dorr which parallels the North Route but offers plenty of quiet in the cool shade of the narrow chasm between cliffs and trees. Begin at the Gorge Path parking area and hike until you reach the saddle between Cadillac and Dorr. Turn right to head straight up to the summit, then return via the North Ridge.
Acadia Mountain via the Man o’ War Loop
Distance: 2.6 miles
While most of the Park’s popular hikes are on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island, Acadia Mountain is a great alternative over on the slightly quieter western side. The view from the summit of this short hike looks down into lovely Somes Sound, a fjord leading to the Atlantic. Park on Route 102 across from Echo Lake and cross the road where you’ll find two well-marked trails. You can go left to take the St Sauveur Mountain trail or take the Man o’ War dirt road to the Acadia Mountain Trail which takes you up a steep forested trail with a little scrambling involved before leveling out near the top as you pass beautiful granite rock formations. On the descent, you’ll cross the Man o’ War brook and we recommend following the spur trail to see where it flows into the ocean. Take the Man o’ War dirt road back to the parking area.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.