Fun Things to Do While Visiting Acadia National Park

You don’t need to spend big in order to enjoy a big adventure.

biking on the road in Acadia National Park
Photo by Chris Shane
By Nora Saks
From our June 2024 issue

A great vacation in Acadia certainly doesn’t require any organized activities or excursions. There’s always more to explore solo. But organized activities can round out the experience, whether showing off the park from a different angle or giving you a deeper appreciation for the environment. And while some big-ticket activities might require shelling out, others range from relatively inexpensive to entirely free. 

Acadia is, for instance, especially dramatic to view from the water, and there are several options for boat tours that skirt seaside cliffs and duck in and out of quiet coves. One classic option is an outing with Downeast Windjammer Cruises, aboard the four-masted schooner Margaret Todd, with folk musicians providing live onboard entertainment, for $52 per person (1 Newport Dr., Bar Harbor; 207-288-4585). Another option, also a classic of sorts, is to simply hop aboard the state ferry at the Bass Harbor terminal for the pleasant ride out to Swan’s Island or Frenchboro (45 Granville Rd., Bass Harbor; 207-244-3254). Make it an immediate round-trip, soaking in Acadia views from the deck along the way, or first spend some time exploring those remote islands (in the case of Swan’s, bring a bike). An adult ticket that covers getting there and back is just $17.50 in peak season. Alternatively, you could do some paddle-powered exploring of your own, free, of course, if you have your own sea kayak. The Maine Island Trail Association makes for a good resource for route planning.

Photos courtesy of Michael D. Wilson

Back on dry land, there’s the 45-mile system of crushed-rock carriage roads devised by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who wanted to provide a nonmotorized way to traverse the heart of the national park. Today, the freebie method of exploring is to bring your own bike (be prepared for lots of climbing), and Mount Desert Island is home to a number of rental shops. Alternatively, you could skip the leg workout altogether and let a team of draft horses do the hard stuff for you, with a carriage ride from Wildwood Stables with Acadia by Carriage (49 Dane Farm Rd., Mount Desert; 207-600-7204). Clip-clopping up Day Mountain or under Rockefeller’s stone bridges costs between $38 and $72 per adult, depending on the itinerary, not such a steep price to pay for taking in the carriage roads the way Rockefeller intended.

Biking, boating, hiking, horseback riding, ranger talks — there’s never a shortage of activities to pack into an Acadia vacation.  Photos courtesy of Chris Shane (hikers); Tara Rice (horses), and Cait Bourgault (ranger, ranger talk)

For visitors who want to develop a more complete understanding of the park’s environment, ranger-guided programs offered throughout the summer include night-sky viewings, campfire talks, bird-watching outings, naturalist walks, and more. Most are free (with a park pass), and schedules can be found in the planning section of the park website. For a more personalized tour, naturalists with the private, family-run Natural History Center (207-266-9461) will take you on guided bird-watching, tidepooling, and other excursions. Half-day activities are $295 for a group of up to six. And for a glimpse into the waters surrounding the park, Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater is a long-running favorite, offering a way to “journey to the bottom of the sea without getting wet” (departs from College of the Atlantic pier; 207-288-3483). The boat-based adventure is $60 per adult and includes a short cruise to a dive location, where diver Eddie Monat heads underwater as passengers watch his progress via a screen on board, until he surfaces with an assortment of sea creatures to show off. Excursions like that might not be necessary on an Acadia vacation, but they sure do leave an impression.

Acadia National Park is Maine’s crown jewel and, like so many rare and wonderful things, it can come with a hefty price tag. But you still don’t need to spend big in order to enjoy a big adventure. From lodging to restaurants to activities to timing, order our June 2024 issue to learn how to have a gem of an experience on any budget.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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