The picturesque Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse on a rocky coastline during sunset

Visiting Acadia National Park in the Fall | A Complete Guide

Gorgeous fall foliage, rugged coastlines, and hikes in the crisp autumn air. Visiting Acadia National Park in the fall is a dream, and we've covered everything you need to know in this guide.

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Not to sound dramatic, but as soon as we crossed over the state border into Maine, we felt a sense of belonging. Whether it was just something in the air, or a change in the landscape, I don't know.

It felt good to be in Maine.

And that feeling hit an all time high during our visit to Acadia National Park.

We'd already spent several weeks chasing colors on a fall road trip through New England, but this leg of the trip ended up being the highlight.

Acadia has a little of everything you'd want this time of year. Accessible hikes and bike trails, adrenaline inducing climbs up rocky cliffsides, rugged coastlines to sit and lose your thoughts among the crashing waves, and a unique experience you can't get anywhere else: the first sunrise in the country from Cadillac Mountain.

Use our complete guide to visiting Acadia in the fall to plan your adventure. It's got tips on the best time to see autumn colors, stops you have to see in the park, how to prepare for the weather, where to stay and where to eat.

Looking up the rocky Maine coastline at crashing wavesA woman in a red jacket stands among large boulders on the rocky coastline of Acadia National Park

The Best Time to Visit Acadia for Fall Colors

An entire summer spent on the Maine coast holds a secure place near the top of our bucket list.

But fall is arguably the best time to visit Acadia, not only for seeing the fall foliage at its peak, but because it lies just outside the park's busy summer season.

Fewer people on the trails, less crowded parking lots, a sense of calm around the island, and those brilliant orange, reds, and yellows are all good reasons for planning your trip during the shoulder season.

October is the best month to see Acadia National Park in the fall. Colors tend to hit their peak during the first half of the month, most of the park's amenities are open for the season, and crowds are still limited.

We timed our recent visit for October, and we'll go into detail on all its advantages, but we'll also offer some tips for the other months of the season.

September

Summer vacation has ended, cooler temperatures have arrived and are continuing to drop.

September brings with it a calm atmosphere around Mount Desert Island, as the area takes a collective breath between summer and peak fall color season.

Trees will still be green and some unseasonably high temperatures are possible, but by the end of the month some changing leaves will begin to appear.

Acadia is known for its remarkably dark skies and September is the month to celebrate them. It's when the annual Night Sky Festival or Events are held.

October

You're coming for the color, aren't you? The brightest and most vibrant display typically happens right around the middle of the month.

Predicting when isn't exact science, but you can check peak foliage reports for the last five years and keep up with current conditions as your trip approaches.

Visiting Acadia National Park in October means you'll still enjoy the full experience without being overwhelmed by crowds and traffic. Campgrounds can be reserved through the first half of the month, the Hulls Cove visitor center is open until November, and the main routes through the park are still open.

If you aim for the end of October, you won't even need a vehicle reservation to drive up Cadillac Mountain. The NPS only requires them through October 27th.

November

Beginning on November 1st, the park's main visitor center closes for the season, but you can stop in at the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce to speak to a ranger.

Park Loop Road and Cadillac Summit Road typically close on December 1st, but it's possible for early winter weather to push that date forward.

Lodging and dining options in Bar Harbor become much more limited around the beginning of the month. Even in the second half of October we were surprised by how many businesses had already closed for the year or had limited hours.

One advantage to coming in November is that Veterans Day is a free entrance day at Acadia.

Best Hikes in Acadia

Now that you know when to go and what to expect, let's talk about how to best enjoy fall in Acadia, starting with the hiking trails.

This park is one of our favorite places for fall hiking in New England. There are over 150 miles of trail, ranging from casual strolls around a lake, to scrambling over rocks and scaling a cliff on iron rungs.

Beehive Loop Trail

Iron rungs, you say? Why yes. The two most popular trails in Acadia start with a modest uphill hike and then escalate to pulling yourself up and over the rocky landscape with iron rungs and ladders that are anchored into the cliffsides.

The Beehive Loop is the easier of the two, at 1.5 miles with an elevation gain of 508 feet.

While challenging, this route is do-able for those with some hiking experience who are moderately in shape. Don't attempt it if you're afraid of heights or not capable of pulling up your own body weight. A friendly reminder: taking on hikes you're not equipped for puts not only yourself, but others on the trail and rescue workers at risk.

The trailhead begins directly across from the Sand Beach parking lot. You'll start on the Bowl Trail. Be sure to turn right and do the Beehive Loop counter-clockwise so that you can climb the rungs, rather than trying to descend on them.

A woman walks along a narrow rocky ledge with views of the forested coastline below.

Precipice Loop Trail

The more challenging hike is the Precipice Loop. It's 2.1 miles with 1,059 feet of elevation.

This one needs to be hiked in the clockwise direction. Expect some steep drop offs with very little room for error in your footing.

We hiked Beehive Loop first to get a taste and, after feeling comfortable on that hike, we felt prepared to do Precipice. Again, if you're physically fit and don't have a fear of heights, you can do it. Just don't attempt it during or after rain, or if there's ice on the trail.

Your reward for making it to the top are views of Frenchman Bay. You can see the Porcupine Islands, named for the trees resembling quills on their backs, and will probably spot some large cruise ships coming or going from Bar Harbor.

A woman stepping onto a narrow rocky ledge with colorful fall foliage all around
A woman walking across a wooden bridge on a rocky trail in Acadia National ParkIron rungs leading up a vertical rocky face on the Precipice Trail in Acadia

Jesup Path

Take a flat and leisurely stroll through a white birch forest on the Jesup Path, a 2.2 mile out-and-back trail.

The views here are beautiful during the fall, especially on the wooden boardwalk through the trees.

Jordan Pond Path

This is a great way to take a closer look at Jordan Pond, the second largest lake in the park.

At 0.8 miles, it's a short walk, and especially popular for those stopping by the Jordan Pond House for a meal or treat.

Gorham Mountain Loop

Hikers who want the same views as Beehive or Precipice without the rock scrambling and drops should consider Gorham Mountain Loop.

It's longer, at 3.0 miles, and also takes you down the Ocean Path, but gradually climbs up Gorham Mountain for sweeping views of the bay.

The Bubbles

From the Bubbles Divide parking lot, along Park Loop Road, you can head up one or both of the Bubbles. Either one will bring you up 400+ feet for views of Jordan Pond below.

Be prepared for rock scrambling and large boulders on this trail.

Sargent Mountain

If you're really looking for some elevation, then head out to the western side of Mount Desert Island to Sargent Mountain.

With 4.2 miles and 1,466 feet under your belt, you'll burn off at least one lobster roll. You could even make a case for a second one.

The hike is difficult, but the panoramic views from the top are amazing and it's a much less crowded trail.

Seeing the First Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the eastern seaboard, at 1,530 feet.

From October 7th through March 6th it's the first place in the country to see the sunrise, making this a particularly special event during fall in Acadia.

Regardless of the time of year, however, it's a popular attraction. Vehicle reservations are required to drive up until October 27th and can be purchased online for $6.

Another consideration before heading up the mountain is vehicle length. Because the Cadillac Summit Road is narrow and winding, no RVs, trailers, or vehicles over 21 feet are allowed up.

Driving up in our extended length campervan wasn't an option, and there's also no bus service.

Instead, we booked a ride with Cadillac Mountain Shuttle, which was a convenient and easy way to get to the summit and come down without having to worry about the drive or parking.

Once on top of the mountain you're mostly free to move about as you soak in views of the sun rising behind Frenchman Bay. Certain areas are roped off to restore vegetation. Be sure to stay out of these areas and practice Leave No Trace principles here and throughout the park.

The rising sun lighting up a partly cloudy sky pink and orange with a rocky landscape in the foreground.

Driving Park Loop Road

The Park Loop Road is a scenic driving route through the eastern side of Mount Desert Island.

It allows you to see the diversity of Acadia, its lakes, forests, mountains, and shoreline, all within one afternoon.

Starting at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, and heading south on Paradise Hill Road is the best way to enjoy the drive. With stops at places like Sand Beach, Otter Point, and Jordan Pond, it can take about 2-4 hours to complete the loop.

Most of Park Loop Road (between Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond) is one-way traffic. Unless otherwise posted, parking is permitted in the right hand lane. Keep an eye out for pedestrians crossing or walking along the road, which is common.

Into mid-October you can also take the free Island Explorer service around the loop, with buses arriving every 30 minutes.

To gain a lot more insight on the park and what you'll be seeing along the drive, consider downloading a self-guided driving tour. You'll get detailed info on more than a dozen points of interest. It's more affordable than booking a private tour, you can go at your own pace, and the app is easy to use.

Here are the best places to see along the loop, in order from Hulls Cove:

Cadillac Mountain Summit | Technically you'll be backtracking a little to stop here first, but since it's a must-do for sunrise we're leaving it at the top.

Jesup Path | A beautiful forested walking trail.

Sieur de Monts | An historic area including a spring, gardens, and nature center.

Precipice Trail | An adventurous via ferrata-esque trail with breathtaking views.

Schooner Head Overlook | Views of Acadia's rugged and rocky coastline.

Sand Beach/Beehive Trail | The largest sandy beach in the park, with access to another adventurous hiking trail.

Thunder Hole | A small inlet where crashing waves can reach heights of 40 feet and produce a booming sound.

Otter Point | A scenic coastal viewpoint along the granite rocks.

Little Hunters Beach | A small cobblestone beach accessed by a stairway through the trees.

Jordan Pond and Jordan Pond House | The perfect stop to end your drive, with tasty popovers and views of the lake.

Biking the Carriage Roads

The crushed rock of Acadia's historic carriage roads and the crisp fall temperatures are perfect for biking around Mount Desert Island.

They were the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. in the early 1900s, who wanted to create a way to move about the island separate from motorized vehicles. Today they still provide passage for foot, bike, and horse traffic.

The only E-bikes allowed on the carriage roads are Class 1 (pedal assist only) and you can ride one for the day on this 4 hour guided tour.

Visiting Bar Harbor

Here's what an ideal October day in the town of Bar Harbor would look like for us, after spending the afternoon exploring the park.

Strolling down Main Street and checking out a few shops.

Stopping in at one of the restaurants with waterfront views for some fresh seafood. Paddy's or La Bella Vita are good options.

Followed by a drink at McKay's Public House or Project Social's heated patios.

A walk down The Shore Path from Grant Park to the John B. Ells Pier, to watch sunset.

A forested island and boats in a harbor during sunset.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

The most popular and scenic, we might add, stop in western Mount Desert Island is Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

It'll require a thirty minute drive from Bar Harbor, but it's definitely worth it.

If you're going out for sunset, plan ahead and arrive very early.

The parking lot here is tiny, with room for less than 30 vehicles. Traffic can back up significantly on Lighthouse Road in the evening, as people either wait for a space or attempt to turn around on the dead end road.

The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse sitting above a rocky coastline during sunset.A rocky coastline illuminated by the setting sun.

Navigating Acadia National Park

Getting around Acadia is fairly straightforward, with State Route 3 providing a loop around the eastern half of MDI, and Route 102 looping the western half of the island. Park Loop Road gives you convenient access to many of the popular sights within Acadia.

Most attractions are within a twenty minute drive of Bar Harbor, which is on the northeastern coast of the island.

The Island Explorer bus routes can transport you for free from hotels and campgrounds to destinations throughout Acadia and operates on a fall schedule until October 14th. You can check the timetables on their website.

Expect limited cell service within the park boundaries. It's a good idea to download offline maps ahead of time, as well as the official National Park Service app. You can save maps and all information about Acadia for offline use.

Fall Weather in Acadia

Chilly, cloudy and wet pretty much sums up Acadia's weather in the fall.

Rain is somewhat common in September, becoming increasingly common in October and November.

High temperatures average between 70F and 40F, dropping about 10 degrees per month. Lows range from about 55F to 35F.

Once again, the sweet spot is in late September through mid-October, when temps hang around the low to mid 60s during the day.

Where to Stay

Hotels

Highbrook Motel | A modest, but charming motel with mid-century vibes, just outside of downtown Bar Harbor.

The Elmhurst Inn | Elegant adults-only bed and breakfast near the center of town.

Hampton Inn Ellsworth | A more affordable hotel option that's 30 minutes outside of Bar Harbor.

Rental Properties

Comfy Studio in Acadia | This small studio space with a queen bed caters to visitors who simply need a place to rest at night after hitting up the park.

Cottage with a View | This beautiful rustic cottage is a renovated barn.

Campgrounds

Blackwoods Campground | is located right in the heart of Acadia and is open through October 20th. Sites can be reserved 2 months in advance for $30 per night and book up early.

Seawall Campground | is on the west side of Mount Desert Island and remains open through October 13th. Non-electric sites are $30. In 2024, Route 102A/Seawall Road was closed east of the campground due to storm damage. The alternate route to reach the campground is via Harbor Dr.

Schoodic Woods Campground | is open through October 13th. Electric sites are $30-40 per night. The campground is about an hour away from the main section of the park, on Schoodic Peninsula.

Where to Eat

No trip "down east" is complete without a lobster roll. Through mid-October, before they close for the season, you can take your pick from dozens of lobster pounds, which are no-frills dining spots serving fresh, locally caught seafood. Need a recommendation? The Travelin' Lobster is a favorite in the area, and Thurston's is right on the water.

Downtown Bar Harbor is filled with casual, tourist friendly dining. Geddy's, Thirsty Whale, Testa's or Galyn's are all good options.

If you're looking for a more upscale meal, visit Brasserie La Brun or Reading Room at the Bar Harbor Inn.

What to Bring

Fall on the coast of Maine typically means plenty of clouds, cooler temperatures, and rain. But it's possible to have some warm and sunny days. The key to planning your fall hiking outfits is to pack layers.

Bring some light baselayers, a warm packable jacket, and a waterproof outer shell.

You'll definitely need a pair of sturdy hiking boots, because the trails can get slippery and you may want to consider some trekking poles.

Don't forget your entry pass. For $80 you get a year of access to national parks and federal lands throughout the US with an America the Beautiful Pass.

Here's a simple packing list for your Acadia adventure:

America the Beautiful Pass

Down jacket

Warm hat & gloves

Rain jacket

Hiking boots

Trekking poles

Day pack

Reusable water bottle or reservoir

Going to Acadia in the fall? Pin it for later!

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse at sunset with text overlay that says 'A Complete Guide to Acadia National Park in the Fall'

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A woman stands in crystal clear ankle deep water on a beach.
A man sits in the sun on the rear of a sailboat.
A waterfall surrounded by large boulders and colorful fall foliage
A woman in a red coat walks down a boardwalk toward a picturesque red covered bridge during fall
Looking down a rocky river toward a pedestrian suspension bridge with fall foliage on either bank
A scenic lighthouse on a rocky coastline catches early morning sunlight while birds fly past
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