Domestic Travel

The 1-Day Acadia National Park Itinerary You’ll Want to Steal

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Maine’s Acadia National Park is often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” and it definitely lives up to its title.

Although the average park visit is three to four days, you can absolutely enjoy this spectacular setting in a well-planned day trip.

Fortunately, I’ve taken the stress out of planning your visit with this 1-day Acadia National Park itinerary.

In it, you’ll uncover spectacular sunrise vantage points, where to unwind at day’s end, and all of the adventures in between.

So if you’re looking to maximize your time at one of the most popular parks in the United States, look no further!

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Acadia National Park

Important Park Information

Acadia National Park is located southwest of Bar Harbor, Maine on Mount Desert Island. It’s a favorite amongst nature enthusiasts and admired for its stunning landscapes, dramatic granite peaks, and rugged coastline.

Before we dive into the official Acadia National Park itinerary, here are a couple of points to note when planning your visit:

  • All visitors are required to have a park entrance pass. If you’re on a road trip, the pass must be prominently displayed in your vehicle and visible through the windshield. The park now encourages all visitors to print their passes online, given the current climate. You can purchase and print your pass here. All (non-annual) passes are valid for seven days.
  • Finding parking can be a challenge from late morning until afternoon. Head here for more information on available lots and parking spaces. You can also find information pertaining specifically to RVs here.
  • Camping is only permitted in designated areas. You can learn more about these guidelines on the park’s camping page.
  • While the park makes a beautiful setting for photographs, the use of drones is prohibited.

The Perfect 1-Day Acadia National Park Itinerary

Capture Nature’s Beauty on a Sunrise Mission

Acadia National Park is always beautiful, but especially at sunrise and sunset.

Since we wanted to capture a bevy of Maine lighthouses, we did our sunrise mission at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Unfortunately, we had a rainy/overcast morning, so we weren’t able to capture the sun flare I was hoping for.

That said, it was still amazing to experience and photograph this beautiful lighthouse in the early morning light without crowds. In fact, we were the only ones here throughout the entire shoot!

FUN FACT: Originally, the U.S. Coast Guard owned Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. However, as of July 2020, it’s now under the direct ownership of Acadia National Park.

What to Know Before You Go:

There’s a lot of misleading information circulating online about visiting this lighthouse at sunrise. Therefore, I’m going to cut through the clutter and give you the straightforward details from my personal experience.

First off, I put a lot of research into accessing this lighthouse before we visited. After reading that the parking lot opens at 9 AM, I was confused as to how people were entering for sunrise photos.

Although I scoured the web and watched multiple YouTube videos, I still couldn’t find a straightforward answer. Therefore, I called the lighthouse directly.

First, I spoke to a kind woman who was filling in for someone when I called. Unfortunately, she didn’t have an answer to my question.

Next, I called the park directly. After a bit of digging around, the man I spoke with confirmed that the lighthouse’s adjacent parking lot was, in fact, closed until 9 AM. However, he said that we’d be able to park along the street leading up to the lighthouse.

I specifically asked for the address of this street, which was 116 Lighthouse Road, Bar Harbor. I was also informed that there’d be a half-mile walk to the lighthouse from there.

Oddly enough, when we arrived at this address, there were multiple signs stating that street parking wasn’t permitted.

So, we decided to drive closer to the lighthouse, and, much to our surprise, the lot was open at 5:15 AM when we arrived!

Essentially, what we found was the exact opposite of what I was directly told by a staff member…

Pretty strange, right?

In any case, this was my personal experience. Do keep in mind that the parking situation may evolve over time, particularly given the ever-changing nature of travel right now.

Here Are a Few Pointers for Your Visit:

  • You can access a staircase leading down to the rocks to the left of the lighthouse to get to the prime photo spot. Be advised that the stairs can be quite slippery, so walk slowly and wear shoes with good traction.
  • Wear bug spray! The mosquitoes by the rocks are no joke. My husband and I both got bit while shooting. (I was actually bit directly on my forehead!)

PHOTO TIP: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse – although beautiful – was the hardest location my husband and I have ever photographed. (And we’ve created content both domestically and internationally for over two years.)

The difficulty was mainly due to the rocky (and slippery) terrain and the positioning of the lighthouse. These elements made the shot very challenging to compose with me in the frame.

In addition, there are a number of other challenges you’ll need to reckon with here. For example, there are pine trees that obstruct the lighthouse from certain angles and those pesky mosquitoes that are out for blood.

However, creating a beautiful shot here is still totally possible with some creativity and patience.

Here are my best tips for nailing the shot:

  • Arrive about 15 minutes earlier than you think you need to. While I always suggest arriving early to set up a morning shot, you’ll want extra time to manage the challenges.
  • You’ll need to experiment a bit with the angle so that the pine trees don’t obstruct the view of the lighthouse. First, figure out where your photographer needs to stand and then insert yourself into the frame accordingly. Do a bunch of test shots to ensure you like the angle because it tends to get wonky here!

How to Get Here:

Here are the GPS coordinates for the lighthouse: Latitude 44.221991; Longitude -68.337198. The lot where we parked is located directly behind the lighthouse.

Although the lighthouse isn’t directly in Acadia itself, it’s only a 12-minute drive from the rest of the park.

Fuel Up at Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast

I don’t know about you, but after rising for an early shoot, I like to treat myself to a hearty breakfast.

(Or, if you could use some extra shut eye, skip the photoshoot and go straight for the grub. No judgement here.)

In any case, when I initially mapped out our Acadia National Park itinerary, I searched Google for a convenient breakfast spot near the park. At most, I expected to find a coffee shop or perhaps a random diner.

Little did I know that one of the first search results would be the hotspot for Acadia visitors!

That’s right, Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast opens every day (except Tuesday) at 6 AM and is accustomed to serving photographers after their sunrise missions! How cool is that?!

This popular breakfast spot is located just minutes away from the park in charming downtown Bar Harbor. Plus, the breakfast is everything the reviews say it is and then some!

I had the “Bayside Lox Sliders” consisting of two grilled herb biscuits filled with fresh spinach, tomato, smoked salmon, and cilantro garlic cream cheese. It came with two eggs (cooked any style) and golden home fries and it was heavenly.

Jeannie's Great Maine Breakfast

My husband had something similar, but with fried green tomatoes.

They’re also generous with the coffee refills here and all of the staff members were a complete delight. 10/10 would recommend!

What to Know Before You Go:

As this restaurant is quite popular, it tends to be pretty busy. Although we had to wait about 40 minutes for a table, it was completely worth the wait!

How to Get Here:

Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast is located at 15 Cottage Street in Bar Harbor. Metered on-street parking is available.

Go for a Bike Ride Along the Carriage Roads

After filling your belly and digesting a bit, it’s time to head to the park for an adventure-packed day!

I recommend bringing a bike so that you can cover more ground and explore the beautiful park views on two wheels.

Acadia has a number of carriage roads that make for an enjoyable ride.

biking carriage roads at Acadia National Park

FUN FACT: These roads were financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to make travel by horse and carriage on Mount Desert Island feasible sans cars.

You can find the full map of carriage trails here to help you plan your trip.

You’ll also want to build in some time to stop, have some water, and take in the beautiful views!

biking at Acadia National Park

While many of the paths are relatively flat, some are quite steep and will require more climbing. To give you an idea, we rode for about 10 miles before stopping to hike.

Stop for a Snack at Jordan Pond House Restaurant

After riding, you’ll probably want to take a breather and possibly stop for a quick snack.

Fortunately, you can grab a bite right in the park at Jordan Pond House.

This is the one and only eatery in the park offering stews, chowders, sandwiches, popovers, and beautiful views!

The Bubbles at Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond House, Acadia National Park

Since my husband and I were still full from breakfast, we didn’t eat here ourselves, but I’ve heard that their popovers are delicious!

What to Know Before You Go:

Jordan Pond House Restaurant is currently open for counter service from 11 AM to 4 PM daily.

After eating, be sure to stop over at “The Bubbles.” The North and South Bubbles are the booty-shaped mountain ridges behind the Jordan Pond House.

You can reach them via the Park Loop Road.

Jordan Pond

Hike & Discover the Park’s Best Views

I highly recommend hiking the park to uncover its most amazing views, if you have the time.

Refer to this helpful resource for the full scope of hikes by terrain, route, and location. 

Here Are My Top Suggestions for Can’t-Miss Views:

1. Cadillac Mountain

If you’re going to see one thing at Acadia National Park, make it Cadillac Mountain. This incredible mountain is actually the highest point along the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.

While I’d seen some pictures of the view online before our visit, the photos do not do this place justice.

We’ve done our best to capture the beauty, but this mountain top is truly something that needs to be experienced in person.

Cadillac Mountain

In fact, Cadillac Mountain is such a popular spot that many people come to photograph it at sunrise.

Although we considered taking early morning shots here, I read that it can get quite crowded (and saw pictures of the typical mobs).

For this reason, we opted to do our sunrise mission at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, as I mentioned earlier.

Instead, we drove up to the top of Cadillac Mountain in mid-afternoon. Although the light was harsh, it was still absolutely breathtaking.

Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park

How to Get Here:

You can access Cadillac Mountain on foot, by car, or by bike through Summit Road. Here are the GPS coordinates for the entrance: Latitude 44.368891; Longitude -68.238506.

2. Thunder Hole

Another can’t-miss spot for your Acadia National Park itinerary is Thunder Hole.

If you’re lucky enough to experience it during high-tide, you can actually witness crashing waves funneling up through the center of the rocks!

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

Unfortunately, it was low tide when we were here, but it was still a very cool sight to see.

While there are plenty of other viewpoints in the park besides these two, we had to be a bit selective, as we had limited time.

You can view the full park map here to better plan your trip.

How to Get Here:

Here are the GPS coordinates for the Thunder Hole parking entrance: Latitude 44.321011; Longitude -68.189330.

Unwind at Sand Beach

Finally, you’ll most likely want to relax at the end of a full, adventure-filled day. Therefore, I recommend capping the day off with a visit to Sand Beach.

Sand Beach at Acadia National Park

This is the perfect place to unwind and even enjoy the sunset.

While the water temperature never gets above the fifties, a quick dip can actually be quite refreshing! Or, you can simply claim your spot on the sand and take in the pretty views.

Sand Beach

How to Get Here:

Here are the GPS coordinates for the Sand Beach parking entrance: Latitude 44.330198; Longitude -68.183998.

As you can see, this popular national park has so much to offer the nature enthusiast.

Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, an inspiring photo backdrop, a relaxing nature retreat, or anything in between, you’ll find it here. 

I sincerely hope this single-day Acadia National Park itinerary helps you better plan your trip.

While there’s more to experience given the luxury of time, you can absolutely enjoy an adventure-packed single day with advance planning!

Have you ever visited Acadia National Park? What were some of your favorite activities?

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Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park itinerary
Acadia National Park

7 thoughts on “The 1-Day Acadia National Park Itinerary You’ll Want to Steal

  1. Wow! Acadia looks absolutely breathtaking! I wanted to go when I visited Portland a few years ago, but unfortunately didn’t make it up there. It gives me a reason to go back to Maine though! Your photos are absolutely beautiful and the bike ride looked like so much fun. Great article Elena! 🙂

  2. These pictures are gorgeous! I love the idea that Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast serves photographers! The biking sounds so nice too! Do places near their rent bikes if you don’t bring your own?

  3. Your description of photographing the lighthouse sounds so dramatic, but ultimately worth it! I’ve somehow yet to get out to Maine, and posts like this really only fuel the wanderlust to get out there. Beautiful photos, especially off of Cadillac Mountain!

  4. Your photos are beautiful, and I love your photography tips! We visited Acadia National Park a few years ago and loved our time there. It’s a long drive to get there but well worth it for the views. This is the perfect 1-day itinerary, and I will definitely use this when we visit again (hopefully this year)!

  5. Such beautiful photos as always! I would really love to visit Acadia NP 🙂 I need to explore more of the East Coast and this is definitely on my list! Great guide

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