We made a plan to see the first sunrise in the country at Acadia National Park, the easternmost part of the east coast, on Black Friday. (Technically the Quoddy Head Lighthouse is the most easternmost part of land, but the height of Cadillac Mountain makes it arguably the first for sunlight to hit. There’s a lot of heated debate about who has staked their claim to the first sunrise, so for adventure’s sake keep an open mind.) Our family pledged to spend Black Friday outside enjoying nature to its fullest extent instead of engaging in the riotous act of shopping.
It has been an important evolution of lifestyle for us to get out and experience the world around us and spend less time and energy on material things. Our nation’s National Parks have been instrumental in seeing the variety of climates and terrain in our vast country. As an added bonus, they each have spectacular views, original experiences and their own claims to fame (ie; North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest!). We would love to see the entire world, but with so many spectacular things to see in the states, I don’t know when we will find the time.
Our sunrise was met with low lying clouds hovering over the harbor. It was so cold that every time we took our iPhones out to take a picture, they instantly shut down to protect the software. Despite the freezing temperatures we were not alone. We were amid families, tourists from Japan, and romantic couples all waiting for the epic first sunrise. The bleak winter landscape was greeted with a momentary blaze of color before the sky lightened for daybreak.
Cadillac Mountain sits at 1,530 feet and is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. It is only one of the twenty islands on Mount Desert Island, created millions of years ago by the shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes and later, a shearing by the glacier’s pass. The beautiful views of the Porcupine Islands and village of Bar Harbor make you feel on top of the world. On a clear day you can capture gorgeous panoramic photos of the surrounding high points- Schoodic Peninsula, Eagle Lake, Blue Hill Mountain, the Porcupine Islands, and the harbors. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular destination for the nation’s first sunrise from October to March.
A National Treasure
“Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States, an abundance of habitats with high biodiversity, clean air and water, and a rich cultural heritage. Each year, more than 3.3 million people explore seven peaks above 1,000 feet, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads with 16 stone bridges.”-nps.gov
“There are many miles of shoreline to explore, 125 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads. Two beaches offer salt water or fresh water in which to swim.”
In 1919 Acadia was the first National Park established east of the Mississippi.
The park’s network of carriage roads, paths, 13 bridges, and two gate house complexes are on the National Register of Historic Places .
Acadia National Park is absolutely stunning. We visited off-season without the amenities warmer weather offers. We weren’t able to see any otters at Otter Point or enjoy swimming in the waters, yet we still found this park amazing. The natural landscape defies your preconceived expectations. You will find beach, rocky shoreline, mountains, islands, evergreens, wildlife, historic architecture and more.
We are in love with Acadia National park and can not wait to plan another trip to explore more of what it has to offer. This is an adventure you can experience over and over again without repeating the same experiences, but you will certainly develop favorites.
Climbing is strongly encouraged whether it’s up, down, over or under. There are chances to enjoy high level rock climbing, but for the playful novices that we are, climbing the pathways to the spectacular water views were enough. These are the rocks that dreams are made of.
During our weekend visit we were able to explore Bar Harbor, the Cadillac Mountain Summit, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Ocean Path, and some hidden noteworthy areas. All of these items are in the same small fraction of the park traveling along Park Loop Road.
We will definitely be returning at a different season to catch views of the Otters and explore more of the park through their trail network. The area’s lighthouses are also high on our list. There are so many interesting things to discover here! We will definitely update this post after our next visit.
Planning Your Visit
- The park is open year round- 365 days
- Some roads, facilities, and offices close during the winter. Check out their Operating Hours & Seasons when you plan your trip.
- Note: Park Loop Road closes Dec. 1st or earlier if snow conditions worsen
- Island Explorer offers a shuttle bus to aid in conservation efforts from the last week of June to early Oct. During Peak Season the park gets busy and many parking areas fill up fast.
- Resources are easy to find on this park. It is so stunningly beautiful and versatile it is a favorite among photographers, adventurists, and nature enthusiasts. The government site will give you basic information, nps.gov. This private site gives great detail, acadiamagic.com. And you will find great maps and brochures once you arrive at the Visitor’s Center in the park.
- Bird Watching
- Earth Cache Program
- Horseback Riding
- Ranger Programs
- Kids Programs
- Pet-friendly areas and restricted areas
- Park trails closed to pets and ones that are not recommended for pets
- learn how to be an Acadia BARK Ranger
We enjoy camping, but it was too cold to motivate us to sleep in a tent when we went Thanksgiving weekend. We will definitively check out the campgrounds for our next visit. The campgrounds are very limited so advance reservations are probably the best bet in securing a date.
This area is clearly very popular during the summer months. In the winter we had no problem finding nice accommodations near town, but given the high number of hotels/motels in the area, I would bet you need to make advance reservations for the summer. (We found fifteen in just one Google search!)
We really enjoyed staying in Bar Harbor and we thoroughly enjoyed the town’s Amenities. We spent Thanksgiving at Galyn’s, a renowned restaurant, and enjoyed great lunches at Geddy’s. We even watched the premiere of a movie at the town’s old-fashioned cinema, the Criterion. And, of course, we purchased some ornaments and gifts for the holidays at the quaint shops in town.
Acadia National Park Entrance Fees (valid for 7 days)
All park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May–October.
- Private Vehicle $30
- Non-commercial- Organized Groups, Private Vehicle (15 passengers or less) $25 (includes passengers)
- Motorcycle $25 (includes 1-2 passengers)
- Per Person (walk-in, bicycle, etc.) $15 ea. (15 yrs. and under are free)
- Annual Pass $55 (Arcadia only, valid for 1 year from date of purchase)
Fee Free Days in 2020
Combine great scenery and history with great savings and visit a national park for free:
- Monday, January 20 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- Saturday, April 18 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
- Saturday, June 20 — Neighbor Appreciation Day
- Tuesday, August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
- Saturday, September 26 – National Public Lands Day
- Wednesday, November 11 – Veterans Day
Free Passes Available
- for active duty U.S. military personnel and their dependents, with valid documentation (CAC Card or DD Form 1173)
- volunteers acquiring 250 service hours on a cumulative basis. Learn about volunteer opportunities at Acadia.
- lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
- free pass for U.S. 4th grade students. Please visit www.everykidinapark.gov for instructions on how to obtain the voucher required to exchange for the pass.
Family Rating ❤️❤️❤️❤️
Cost– National Parks are inexpensive ways to have terrific adventures, but only if you live close enough for a day trip. If you compare National Parks to a theme park level vacation, then you are definitely going to be spending way less money even with top notch overnight accommodations. Our weekend getaway cost under $400 which included the hotel for two nights, meals, theater tickets and park entry for a family of three. We splurged on the food by eating out at dinner time, especially on Thanksgiving night. The hotel provided breakfast and we brought our own mid day trail food since we knew we’d be in the park.
Parking & Transportation– Going off season was probably the best first experience for us to the area. There was plenty of parking and no wait time anywhere. I have read other reviews that complain about a shortage of parking and long lines of cars waiting for a spot. As we drove around Acadia we noticed numerous parking areas, but they were small lots. I can see how this masterpiece of a park could produce a lot of traffic on peak summer weekends. Plan your trip accordingly. You can also check out, Island Explorer.
Location– This pristine park is a creation of its location (as a National Park is). This island of rock and evergreen is located north-east enough for the wildlife to get a break from the human traffic during the colder months (which there are several). The views wouldn’t have the same appeal without the surrounding waters. It may be a “hike” for most to get to this location, but it is worth it. Convenience only creates destruction when it comes to nature.
Day Trip or Overnight– For most, this will have to be an overnight trip. The travel time to get up to the north-east part of the country and then over to the island deeply cuts into enjoying the amenities of the park.
Experience– This has been one of my favorite experiences with my children (yes, one’s an adult, but she’ll always be my “baby”). Every time we go to a National Park, we have the best family interactions and the most wonderful days. There’s something about being outside, disconnected from mainstream society, challenging yourself against Mother Nature while enjoying her beauty, that bonds you. There’s no fear about failure, being too silly, or looking ridiculous in all of your bulky winter clothes.
Combination- This area is spectacular and you could easily spend a week here. The park and the town of Bar Harbor are just the start. You can also enjoying exploring the area which is absolutely charming and spending some time in not-too-distant towns. We spent a half day in Freeport enjoying the LL Bean Flagship Store and a surprisingly upscale village of shops. Although it was cold, visiting Freeport close to the holidays was magical. LL Bean hosts a Northern Lights Celebration from mid November to December 31st- a must if you have kids!