Acadia National Park Hiking – 5 Best Trails - Mountain IQ

Acadia National Park Hiking – 5 Best Trails

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Acadia National Park

Our pick of the top hikes in Acadia National Park!

Looking for the best hikes to go on in Acadia National Park?

Acadia National Park is located midway along Maine’s coast, on Mount Desert Island and is roughly 264 miles from Boston.

If you are looking for the best hikes in this area, we have put together the Top 5 Acadia hikes.

Acadia has over 120 miles of hiking paths that wind through the park. The hikes cater to anyone as they vary from very easy beach side strolls to strenuous mountaineering adventures.

See Best hikes in America for a complete list of hiking trails in the USA or read our writer's overview of her summit experience on the Mount Katahdin and her treks along the Cutler Coast.

Acadia National Park Hiking

Acadia Quick Facts

  • The park is one of the best places on the east coast to view the Milky Way galaxy at night.
  • Between 7 October to 6 March, the Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the US where the sunrise can be seen.
  • The region around Acadia National Park receives about 46 inches of rain each year.
  • Snowfall averages at about 60 inches a year.
  • Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the US Atlantic coast.
  • Over 20% of the park is classified as wetland.
  • Mount Desert Island is home to 26 lakes and ponds, the deepest of which is 150 feet.
  • In 2016, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Acadia Park.
  • The area of Acadia was originally inhabited by the Wabanaki people.
  • Bass Harbour Head Light is the only lighthouse in Acadia.
  • There are over 338 species of birds.

Overview

Acadia National Park is one of America’s oldest national parks and attracts over 3.3 million visitors each year. 

The park is reserves most of Mount Desert Island, some of the smaller islands along the coast of Marine and a section of the Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland.

With over 45 miles of roads and 130 miles of hiking trails to explore, hiking and cycling are two of the park's most popular activities.

Natural Features and Topography

The park encompasses a diverse variety of landscapes, including woodlands, mountains, coastline and lakes.

There are 26 peaks in the park, the tallest being the Cadillac Mountain which is also the highest point on the US Atlantic coast. The park's landscape is a result of massive geological forces slowly and persistently forming what can be seen today. 

The granite domes in Acadia are estimated to be approximately 420 million years old, and mountains, such as the Cadillac, bare testament to this. Many of these mountains form part of the many miles of hiking trails that the park offers.

Wildlife and Plants

Due to its diverse landscape and topography, the park is home to a variety of wildlife and plants. There are over 1,500 species of plants, birds and animals; and the park has nature centres where you can learn more about the resident wildlife. 

The park is especially well known for its birds, with a record of 338 species recorded. Each year, some of the parks trails are closed to accommodate nesting Peregrine Falcons.

Hiking

Acadia has something for everyone as the trails vary in difficulty - from very easy family strolls along the coast line, to strenuous climbs up the many peaks in the park.  

Meaning that the majority of the park is explorable via trail. Due to the vast number of visitors received each year, the park authorities are quite firm about their ‘leave no trace’ ethic.

Acadia is one of the few parks that allows dogs on trails, however, they have to be kept on a leash at all times and are not permitted on ladder trails.

Please Note

You won't require hiking permits for any of the listed hikes, these will be covered by your park entrance fees. But have a look at the National Park Service's website for more information on specific activity permits.

Regional Map

There are many free maps available on the area. The park can be divided into three areas: Schoodic Peninsula, The Isle of Au Haut and the Mount Desert Island.

But if you need to prep your route in advance and have a trusty physical copy with you while you are on the trails, we suggest getting Acadia National Park Waterproof Trail Map, Maine by Jill Keefe, which is waterproof and very handy en route.

5 Best Acadia Hikes


1. Precipice Trail

Precipice-Trail-in-Acadia

Photo by FeedPuppy

  • Area: Acadia National Park: Along Park Loop road, near Schooner Head entrance.
  • Permit: Entrance fee to gain access to the park
  • Difficulty: Strenuous / Advanced (The most challenging of Acadia Hikes)
  • Distance: 2,6 miles for complete loop.
  • Elevation: 850-ft elevation gain
  • Hiking Time: 3 - 5 hours for complete hike loop.
  • Best Time to Hike: mid -August to November
Route Description

The Precipice Trail heads up the Champlain Mountain. The trail is known as the most challenging in the park due to its 1,000 foot climb. Although the trail starts in a friendly manner, it quickly gets rugged as it heads west to the slopes under the Champlain Mountain.

While on the Precipice Trail, wooden bridges and iron handrails allow hikers to traverse narrow, exposed ledges, making it easier to scramble over boulders and other natural obstacles.

As you hike straight up the cliff face, the iron handrails and ladders will become more frequent. Upon reaching the summit of Mount Champlain you will be rewarded with impressive views of the ocean and Dorr Mountain.

The trail can be dangerous, so it's better t avoid descending the Precipice Trail and rather return on the Champlain North Ridge Trail. The return trip to trail parking lot is a breeze in comparison to the hike up.

Accommodation

Cromwell Harbour Motel, Otter Creek Inn.

Precipice Trail Pro Tips
  • This route is the most strenuous in the park and needs to be taken seriously. Keep in mind the weather, time of day and your own abilities and level of physical fitness.
  •  As you often use your hands when traversing up ladders, it is better not to use hiking poles.
  • The surface is all rocks and ledge, so make sure you are kitted out in the right shoes.
  • The trail is closed between March and August due to nesting and returning endangered peregrine falcons.
  • No pets are allowed on this hike.

Watch the Bazzle family’s video to get a good idea of the vertical climb and incredible views that the Precipice Trail offers.


2. Wonderland Trail

  • Area: Acadia National Park, South West Harbour
  • Permit: Entrance fee to gain access to the park
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1,5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: Predominately level
  • Hiking Time: About 1 hour
  • Best Time to Hike: March to November

Route Description

Wonderland Trail runs at the Southern Tip of Mount Desert Island. Leading to the ocean via an old road, the trail is very flat and easy to follow. When the road reaches the ocean you might want to venture off the trek and explore the rocky shore line instead.

With its magnificent woodlands and rocky beaches, Wonderland Trail is great for birdwatching enthusiasts and families in particular. 

Accommodation

Bass Harbour Inn, Seawall Motel, Spruce Cottage and The Lodge-ings at Southwest Harbour.

Wonderland Trail Pro Tips

  • There can be lots of people on this trail, so going earlier in the day is advised if you would like to avoid lots of people in the background of your hiking pictures.
  • Running on an old gravel road, the trail is predominately wheelchair-friendly.
  • If you'd like to explore the tidal pools, it is a good idea to plan your trek with the outgoing tide. Check this on this website
  • This route is pet friendly. 

Video Overview

This brief video by National Park Adventures takes you along the scenic Wonderland Trail.


3. Beehive Trail

  • Area: Acadia National Park, Sand Beach area
  • Permit: Entrance fee to gain access to the park
  • Difficulty: Advanced 
  • Distance: 1,9 miles
  • Elevation: 450 ft elevation gain
  • Hiking Time: 2 - 4 hours
  • Best Time to Hike: March to November

Route Description

The Beehive Trail begins on the Bowl Trail, however, the path splits and the Beehive continues to the base of the Beehive Mountain. Here the trail works its way up breaks and faults in the granite. The exhilarating first section of the trail has iron rungs to help you ascend the steep cliff face. There is a fair amount of scrambling involved, but the incredible view at the top makes it worth it.

The descent climb is much easier, and you have the choice of returning through a deciduous forest to the Bowl Trail, or via the longer Gorham Mountain Trails and Ocean Path back to Sand Beach. Descending the Beehive is dangerous and not recommended.

Accommodation

Otter Creek Inn is the closest accommodation, followed by Blackwoods Campground.

Beehive Trail Pro Tips

  • Due to sheer drop ledges on the Beehive Trail, you might wish to skip it, if you have a fear of heights or are unsteady on your feet.
  • The lake nestled between two peaks on the decent hike is a popular place for a swim, just be warned - there are leeches.
  • This trail is quite popular, so there may be many people en-route.
  • Pets are not allowed on this trail due to the iron rungs and steep nature.

Video Overview

To get a better feel of this  hike, check out the BustedKnuckleVideo

It gives you a good idea of the incredible views and steep mountain side path.


4. Ocean Path

Ocean-Path-in-Acadia

Photo by Jim Lukach

  • Area: Acadia National Park, Bar Harbour
  • Permit: Entrance fee to gain access to the park
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3 miles one way
  • Elevation: Predominately level
  • Hiking Time: 2 - 3 hours
  • Best Time to Hike: March to November

Route Description

The Ocean Path begins near Sand Beach and is less than half a mile from the park’s entrance. The hike is a leisurely stroll along the path hugging the coast line.

Several trails lead off the main trail, so if you are feeling adventurous you could stray off the path and explore the surrounding granite formations.

The trail is home to many beautiful landmarks, and it's worth spending some time viewing these. Thunder Hole, Momentum Cave and Boulder Beach are all popular tourist stopping points.

Accommodation

Blackwood’s Campground, Otter Creek and Bar Harbour. Closest accommodation is Otter Creek Inn.

Ocean Path Pro Tips

  • During the summer months the trail is hugely popular, so parking at the Sand Beach parking lot may be scarce.
  • To avoid the crowds in the summer months, plan to walk either early or late.
  • Poison Ivy grows along the path in some sections, so be aware of this if you have pets or small children with you.
  • If you plan to explore the surrounding granite rocks remember to wear the right hiking gear.

Video Overview

Watch this video by David Kuklinski to get a better idea of the beautiful ocean front hike that that can be expected.


5. Ship Harbor Trail

Ship-Harbour-Trail-in-Acadia

Photo by Misty Garrick

  • Area: Acadia National Park, South West Harbour.
  • Permit: Entrance fee to gain access to the park
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1,3 miles
  • Elevation: Predominately level
  • Hiking Time: Roughly 1 hour
  • Best Time to Hike: March to November, spring to fall.

Route Description

The Ship Harbour is a family friendly, figure 8 loop trail which allows exploration of both a beautiful forest section and the shoreline. The route is popular with bird watchers, as both the forest and the coast, are home to a variety of bird life.

If you would like to extend your hike it is possible to continue along the shore line towards the Wonderland Trail.

Accommodation

Seawall campground.

Ship Harbor Trail Pro Tips

  • The trail has a small parking lot with no bus parking.
  • The first half of the trail is wheelchair accessible.
  • If you want to explore the tidal pools, keep the tide in mind when planning your trip.

Video Overview

This peaceful video by Bar Harbour Acadia gives you a good overview of the Ship Harbour Trail.

Recommended Guidebook

For an awesome book of general things to do in Acadia National Park (and Mount Desert Island), hiking tails, backpacking trails and more, we recommend Acadia: The Complete Guide: Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island (Color Travel Guide) by Kristen James.

Travel Insurance

Hiking insurance is not a mandatory requirement for hikes in Acadia National Park, but in general we recommend having insurance.

Check out the World Nomads calculator for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip to the States.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a reservation to go on an Acadia hike?

How much are Acadia entrance fees?

When is the best time to visit Acadia?

Is altitude sickness a risk?

Are Acadia hikes difficult?

What gear do I need?

What wildlife can I see in Acadia?

Do you need a car when visiting the park?

What is the travel distance to the park from Boston or Bangor?

Where can I eat out in the park?

What are the opening hours of the park?

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