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Sunrise over the water in Stonington Maine

We had our last attempt to see the sunrise in Stonington, ME this morning. We were off to our next destination. to spend the day in Bar Harbor at Acadia National Park. We said our goodbyes and headed out early. There was a lot of stuff on the list to get to today.

When to visit Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle from May through October. If you are going to be visiting multiple national parks, purchasing a national park pass may be a better choice. It appears that admission to the park is free if you are visiting between November and May, but I’m not entirely sure. Brandee and I planned our visit for Veterans Day, November 11th. There are 5 days that you can visit any of the national parks for free. Here are the days:

    • Martin Luther King , Jr. Day
    • First day of National Park Week
    • National Park Service Anniversary
    • National Park Public Lands Day
    • Veterans Day

In case there was a fee for November, we planned our visit on one of the free days. Planning this way, helped us in staying on budget for the trip. It’s all about the planning.

How to get to Acadia National Park

The easiest way to access the park is in Bar Harbor. There’s an airport in Bar Harbor so you can book a flight there. The other major airport in Maine is in Portland and about 3 hours south of Bar Harbor. Starting in Portland allows you an opportunity to drive the beautiful scenic route along the ocean. Either way, you can’t go wrong if you’re looking to escape the demands of the day to day hustle and bustle.

There is also access to Acadia National Park from Stonington Maine on Deer Isle. This is a lesser known area of the park and is only accessible via mail carrier. There are facilities on the island but only at the port.

Once you venture into the park you’re on your own. This part of the park gets less than 10,000 visitors per year. About 3.5 million make their way through the main part of the park annually. If you think this may be an area of the park you’d like to see, I’d suggest doing some research first to make sure that you know what you’re getting in to.

Once you are in Bar Harbor it’s a short 10 minute drive to Park Loop Road. Park Loop Road is a 27 mile road that loops around Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a casual walker, or a ride in the car and observe from the climate controlled comfort kind of person, Park Look Road is an excellent choice.

Park Loop Road

Upon entering the Park and making our way along Park Loop Road we noticed a lack of people. This was due to the time of year we decided to visit. November is not the peak season to be visiting Acadia National Park but that has its advantages.

Lucky for us, there was no snow on the ground for today’s excursion. This was us having luck on our side. On November 13th, the roads closed for the season due to the snow and ice. On November 11th, when we were there, we were still able to get to all the parts of the park that were on our must see list.

The facilities were closed for the season so had to leave the park once to find a restroom. We took this opportunity to stop at the souvenir shop to pick up our postcards for the park, and for Maine in general. Other than this detour, we spent the entire day exploring the sights along Park Loop Road.

All the stops we made were easy to find and were accessible from Park Loop Road. If you make your way to Park Loop Road and get on it, you will find signs for everything else and won’t need any other navigation to enjoy and explore the park. Unless you decide to do some hiking…. but I’m not covering that in this post.

There are many great hiking trails to explore and enjoy along the way. Brandee and I did not do any trail hiking in the park for a couple of reasons. The main reason was because we didn’t allow the extra time in our schedule for this. We would have needed another day in the park to make this happen. Our detour to Deer Isle, which you can read about here, cut in to the time we had planned to spend in Acadia.

On the bright side, there is tons to see and do even if you decide to skip the hiking, stick to flatter ground, and focus on what you can see and do from the car. Not to mention that there’s something to be said for temperature controlled comfort.

Brandee in the ocean at Acadia National Park

Sand Beach

First Up…Sand Beach. Our visit was in November. It was a balmy 32 degrees outside. Brandee didn’t care. It was her first ever access to the ocean with crashing waves. She couldn’t resist the call of the ocean and the opportunity to put her toes in. We could to see the ocean from Belfast Harbor and from the harbor on Deer Isle, but that is different than the crashing waves of the open water. You couldn’t pay me to put my toes in the cold ocean water when it’s cold enough to turn water into ice outside, but I admire her courage.

Insider tip: If you’re going to go stand in the water when it’s freezing outside, be sure you have a towel to dry your feet! It’s a lot easier to put your socks and shoes back on after the experience

In the summer months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the beach is open for swimming with a lifeguard present. There are bathrooms and changing rooms nearby so you can change into and out of your swimwear. This is Maine, and it is the northern Atlantic Ocean. Swimming is an option but the water doesn’t really get warm. Be prepared to be swimming in chilly water if you decide to take a dip. If you’re like me, I’ll find my way into the water on a nice day anyway because well, it’s the ocean.

All parts of Acadia are protected lands. It’s illegal to remove natural items from the park. This includes sea glass, shells and any other odds and ends from the ocean that may wash up on shore. While it’s not permissible to remove these items, they are picture worthy so be sure to bring your camera.

Thunder Hole Platform in Acadia National Park

Thunder Hole

The next stop after you’re done digging your toes in the sand is Thunder Hole.
Thunder Hole gets its name from the sound that sometimes happens when the water is rough and the tide comes in. It’s a popular spot for visitors anxious to hear the thunderous noise that this spot can produce. We didn’t get to hear the “thunder” that can sometimes happen, but it was a nice spot to stop with some neat scenery anyway.

Jordan Pond

Following the road, the next stop is Jordan’s Pond. Due to time constraints we decided to skip this stop, but I regret it. Don’t make the same mistake that we did. I’ve heard over and over again from tourists and locals alike that this is a must see stop. One of the best stops on Park Loop Road. 

If you’re visit is before the end of October there is a restaurant called Jordan Pond House at this stop. The restaurant offers some idyllic views overlooking Jordan Pond.

View from the top of Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

The last must see stop on the journey is heading to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Or maybe it should be the first stop if you can make it in time to see the sunrise. We didn’t make it for the sunrise so we opted to see the sunset from the peak.

There are a few different trails that you can take if you care to hike to the top of the mountain. The peak is around 1,530 feet above sea level and once at the top you will be rewarded with some breathtaking views. You would be facing a 10 mile round trip hike, if this is your plan. At a minimum you’d want to plan for a 2 hour hike each way, but if I were the one hiking it, I’d need more time.

If you’re not a hiker, never fear. Most people prefer to drive to the top of the mountain using the 3.5 mile long service road. This is the option that we took. The drive was very pretty and because we were in the (very) off season, there was plenty of parking available. 

This can be a scary drive but it’s worth it. Don’t let the fear stop you from taking the drive because the views going up and coming down are amazing. The view from the top will speak for itself and there’s plenty of vantage points to look out over the park and ocean.

Selfie on top of Cadillac Mountain

Other stops on Park Loop Road

There are plenty of other stops along Park Loop Road that you may want to explore. Egg Island Lighthouse is a popular stop. You can’t have a proper visit to Maine without stopping to see a lighthouse or 2. This is the perfect opportunity.

There’s also Schoodic Peninsula, the Percipice, The Beehive and Otter Cliff to name a few. 

Our 2-day impromptu stop in Stonington was delightful, but it did cut in to our time here. We spent one day exploring Acadia and not even a full day due to travel time in the morning. I would say that we needed at least one more day to take in all the sights and do the exploring that we wanted to do.

We didn’t do any hiking during our visit. If that’s something that you are planning, you may need even more time to relax and enjoy Acadia National Park.

Looking for more tips, tricks, and resources for cheap and budget travel? Be sure to get your copy the Ultimate Road Trip Planning Guide here.

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