A Guide to Acadia National Park: Camping, Running, and Exploring

A Guide to Acadia National Park: Camping, Running, and Exploring

Last week we talked about all the great things to do along Acadia’s Park Loop Road. But there’s so much more to Acadia than just that loop. Today we’re diving into all the wonderful things to do off of Park Loop Road, as well as the best places to run (spoiler alert: everywhere) and camp. Because running and camping are sometimes our favorite parts of a trip. Sitting around a campfire eating a s’more? Phenomenal. We camped for 9 nights on our Maine trip, and we’re pretty sure we had a s’more (errr…..2 or 3) every dang night. Luckily we also ran most days, so that totally adds up to being a fully  healthy day, right? We’re going with it, so don’t bother telling us otherwise.


Best Places in Acadia National Park NOT along Park Loop Road

Bar Harbor

The main town on the island, this is your go-to place for restaurants (lobster abounds, of course!), stocking up on groceries, shopping, and ice cream. CJ’s Big Dipper is literally the best ice cream we’ve ever had. EVER. The cookie dough ice cream had golf ball sized chunks of dough, and every flavor had an ice cream to fillings ratio of 1:1. Plus, multiple blueberry flavored options, including blueberry soft serve. Please go. We sure did — we ended up eating there twice during our 3 day in Acadia (and in addition to our nightly s’mores fest). No shame! Also bring cash, because they don’t take credit cards.

Land Bridge to Bar Island

The tides along the north coast are intense, moving as much as 20 or more feet every day. Depending on the time of day you show up to a certain spot, it may be dry as a desert or completely covered in several feet of water. Bar Island is a small island just off the coast and is accessible by a rocky path that is under water for half the day. But time things correctly and you can actually walk to the island from the mainland. Once there you can take a short (about 20 minute) hike to a short peak that overlooks Bar Harbor and the rest of the coast. Just make sure to leave yourself time to get back to the mainland before the tide comes back — unless you want to get stuck on the island for several hours.

Bar Harbor from Bar Island outside of Acadia National Park, Maine

During high tide this path to Bar Island is completely covered in water
During high tide this path to Bar Island is completely covered in water

Long Pond

This large pond is big enough that several home owners have motor boats docked up on it. We chose to rent kayaks from a little shack at the north end of the pond for the afternoon. This was probably a highlight for me (Beth), especially because I was temporarily faster than Kyle on my kayak. It’s not very often that I’m the speedy one (except for when it comes to eating, sadly enough), so I live it up when it happens.

Kayaking on Long Pond in Maine's Acadia National Park

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

This lighthouse is on the tip of the western part of the park, about a 30 minute drive from Bar Harbor. From the parking lot there are two (extremely short) trails that take you to the lighthouse. To the right, you walk about 100 m and end up in the front yard of the lighthouse. A light-keeper actually lives in and maintains the lighthouse, so you can’t go in. The better view of the lighthouse is from the trail on the left side of the parking lot. Walk about a quarter mile, and you encounter rocky shoreline with great views of the ocean and the lighthouse — perfect for a picnic lunch.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory and Fort Knox

This doesn’t really belong in the category of things to do in Acadia, because it’s actually about 50 minutes outside of the park. You’ll probably pass by it on your drive to the park, so we’re including it here. The bridge has an observation deck at the top of the tower with fantastic views. Right next to the bridge is Fort Knox, an impressive old fort and battery of cannons you can walk around.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Maine

Penobscot Narrows Observatory outside of Acadia National Park in Maine

Fort Knox from the Penobscob Observatory in Maine
Fort Knox from the Observatory

Best Places to Run in Acadia National Park

The Carriage Roads! Rockefeller Jr actually built these roads about 100 years ago, and they snake throughout the park. They’re all soft surface trails that are accessible only by foot, bike, horse, or ski (during the winter), so they’re absolutely perfect for running. We are adamantly refusing to tell you which specific carriage roads to run, because every road we ran boasted excellent terrain with fantastic views. Pick one and go for it!

Camping in Acadia

There are 3 campgrounds within Acadia and several more on the island but not technically inside Acadia. We chose to camp in Acadia’s Blackwoods Campground because it was close to Bar Harbor and Park Loop Road. The campground has clean bathrooms with running water, but no showers. The lack of showers isn’t an issue because someone runs a well maintained shower house right outside the campground.

First and foremost, make reservations for Blackwoods Campground ahead of time. As we talked to the guy when we checked in, we were told that without a reservation you have to get in line far before the campground opens (at 8:00, I believe) to get a campsite for the day — and there is typically a long line with little guarantee that you’ll get a site. That sounds like no fun to me, especially since you can easily make a reservation online.

Acadia National Park is busy and popular, so it’s campgrounds are packed full with probably about 200 campsites total. Each site has some trees, but not enough to make any privacy between you and your neighbors — and your neighbors are close! The campground was clean and quiet so we weren’t too upset, but this was our least favorite camping spot of our Maine trip. It had nothing on our stops in Ogunquit and Portland, which honestly surprised us.

If we could do it again, we’d probably opt for a campground that is not inside the park. Acadia takes up most, but not all, of Mt Desert Island, so there are many campgrounds outside the park that still have easy access to Acadia. Blackwoods Campground just felt a bit too commercial to us, and we’d have to imagine there are better options. If you have any suggestions for better campgrounds around Acadia, let us know in the comments!

Acadia National Park in Maine


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