How to Spend 3 Days in Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor, a gateway to historic Acadia National Park, is a charming coastal town and an idyllic destination for immersing oneself in nature.

In this 3-Day Guide to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, you’ll learn how to spend an unforgettable visit featuring scenic strolls, coastal culture, and locavore eateries.

Of the many travels we’ve taken to the northeast, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park remains a favorite and one that we plan to return to one day.

Day One in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

Breakfast at Jordan’s Restaurant

Bar Harbor is a sought-after destination, so you’ll want to wake up early to avoid the inevitable crowds. Stop by Acadia Perk for a coffee and stroll around town, taking in the crisp morning air and quiet streets. 

Once you’re in need of another coffee, head to Jordan’s Restaurant, a local favorite for home-style breakfast.

You’ll want to order the locally-sourced wild blueberry pancakes – they’ve been known for them since 1976.

Precipice Loop Trail

Precipice Loop Trail
Precipice Loop Trail

Sufficiently carbed up, make your way to your first hike of the trip: Precipice Loop Trail.

Despite the trail being just 2.1 miles, it is considered a challenging hike. This is because you’re essentially hiking up a very steep rock face using iron rungs and ladders on exposed cliffs.

If you can handle the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views.

Afternoon in Bar Harbor

After Precipice, it’s mandatory that you reward yourself with a beer.

Make your way back to Bar Harbor, now bustling with afternoon visitors, and stop in to Atlantic Brewing’s midtown location for a flight. The beers are good – especially the blueberry ale, made with (of course) locally-sourced wild Maine blueberries.

After the brewery, stroll through town on your way to lunch at Side Street Cafe, stopping in locally owned shops, boutiques, the Village Green, and, of course, Sherman’s – Maine’s oldest bookstore!

Side Street Cafe is a local favorite – don’t miss out on the clam chowder and lobstah mac and cheese.

Evening in Bass Harbor

If you’re wanting to avoid the high prices of Bar Harbor, you may choose to stay in another near-by town.

We chose to stay in Southwest Harbor – more on accommodation suggestions at the end of the post – and so that put us in a great location to spend our evening in Bass Harbor.

Bass Harbor
Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor is on the southwest side of Mt. Desert Island, making it a great place to see the sunset.

Take a leisurely stroll along Ship Harbor Trail, a 1.4-mile loop that weaves between the woods and the coastline.

It is quiet and peaceful; we recommend you make several stops along the way to be still and enjoy the beauty. 

Bass Harbor
Bass Harbor

As the sun began to lower in the sky, make the short drive to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, built in 1858 and nestled on a sea cliff.

The parking lot is limited, so don’t plan to arrive too close to sunset or you may not find a spot.

While the sunset was beautiful, we might have preferred to visit this lighthouse at sunrise when it wasn’t so crowded. 

Beal’s Lobster Pier

You simply cannot visit Maine without having a seafood meal.

Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor has been around since 1932 and is located on a working pier where lobstermen unload fresh Maine lobster – it doesn’t get fresher than that!

Upon arrival, you order at the counter and are able to pick out your lobster. The food is really incredible, and you get to wear a bib – what’s not to love?

There are, of course, several places to get lobster in Bar Harbor, but if you’re willing to make the drive to Southwest Harbor, you’ll find that Beal’s is less expensive, even better, and has the same charming atmosphere. 

Day Two in in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain

The summit at Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak in the region, has the best views in Acadia National Park, and being there for sunrise totally makes the early morning alarm worth it. 

Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain

Being able to get there takes some planning, though.

The National Park Service limits the number of vehicles that can be there for sunrise, which is honestly good because the road to the summit provides limited parking. 

For details on what all you need to do, check out our guide for Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain.

Although the process takes some effort, it makes it all worth it. The quiet, serene nature of the early morning paired with the hues of sunrise truly make for a magical experience. 

Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain

Breakfast at Two Cats Cafe

After Cadillac Mountain, you’ll be in need of more coffee.

Make your way into Bar Harbor for breakfast at the quirky, eclectic Two Cats Cafe. The cafe is located in a lovely B&B, and features a varied menu that will leave you unsure of what to order because it all sounds delicious.

You won’t have any regrets with the smoked trout omelet, multigrain bagel with salmon lox, and homemade granola with fresh fruit. 

Acadia National Park

Carriage Roads

This day is entirely dedicated to time spent in the park.

Unique to Acadia National Park are the carriage roads. Angered by a decision to allow automobiles onto the island, John D. Rockefeller Jr. financed the construction of picturesque paths, including sixteen stunning stone bridges, between 1913 and 1940 that would be banned from automobiles.

The park service continues to invest in and maintain these paths, and bicycling on them is truly the best way to experience the park. 

You can rent bicycles, including e-bikes, from Acadia Bike. You’ll want to make a reservation in advance. The staff at the shop are super helpful and will advise you on which paths to take based on your skill level.

Jordan Pond House

Regardless of your route, you’ll likely end up by Jordan Pond House.

Guests to the park have been enjoying the hilltop view since 1893 when Nellie McIntire, the first proprietor, began baking popovers to serve alongside tea. To this day, the tradition remains, and you cannot visit the park without partaking in the history. You’ll need to make a reservation, at least a couple of weeks in advance.

They have a full lunch menu should you need it – the local blueberry crisp is delectable.

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park
Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond Path

If you need a break from biking, the Jordan Pond Path 3.1-mile loop is flat and provides lovely views of the pond and surrounding woods. 

Jordan Pond rocks
Jordan Pond

Bar Harbor Sunset Cruise

After an active day, allow yourself to be ferried around the harbor for incredible sunset views.

Book a trip with Acadian Boat Tours – it’s worth the $45 for two hours of cruising around the harbor where you’ll learn about the main features of the area as well as get to see coastal wildlife such as seals, porpoise, and seabirds.

You’ll want to wear layers – it gets chilly out on the water.

Dinner at Lompoc Cafe

Back in Bar Harbor, treat yourself to dinner at Lompoc Cafe.

Unpretentious, yet totally delicious – the cocktails and mussels in dijon cream sauce come highly recommended. 

Day Three in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

Morning Stroll Along Ocean Path Trail

We have one main philosophy that we apply to all our travels – wake up early to avoid crowds at the popular sights.

You’ll want to apply this for Ocean Path Trail, which is lovely, but the narrow pathway fills with fellow tourists later in the morning, taking away from the magic of the views.

Park at Sand Beach and stroll as long as you’d like – the views along the entire path are stunning and pair well with a coffee in hand.

Ocean Path Trail
Ocean Path Trail
Ocean Path Trail in Bar Harbor, Maine
Ocean Path Trail
Man standing on a rock on the Bar Harbor, Maine coastline
Ocean Path Trail

Brunch at Cafe This Way

Bar Harbor is not short on eclectic cafes, and Cafe This Way provides the quirkiness paired with great food.

It feels cozy with local art hung on the walls along with shelves of books. The eggs benedict is delish.

Hike Beehive Loop Trail

Beehive Loop Trail is not intimidating at all – as long as you don’t look down.

This 1.5 loop will have you traversing exposed walks and rung climbs. Honestly, it is not as bad as it seems – just keep your gaze ahead of you and don’t spend too much time thinking about the possibility of losing your grip.

It was foggy the morning we hiked, which made for an otherworldly experience where we felt like we were climbing up into the clouds.

It was also sprinkling, which made hanging onto the rungs as we made our way up a little nerve-wracking. 

You’ll be proud of yourself when you make it to the top – and the views are spectacular.

This travel guide follows our itinerary, but if we were to go back, we’d likely do this hike early in the morning. It does get crowded, which results in some areas where you will have to wait on fellow hikers.

We had an evening flight out of Portland, so our itinerary ended here. Of all the travels we have been on, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are among our most loved destinations. 

When to Visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

The ideal time to visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park is during autumn, specifically from September to early October, when the fall foliage is on display, summer crowds have thinned, and the air is refreshingly crisp.

Outside of autumn, many places are only open from mid-May through October. 

Getting to Bar Harbor

For us, the best route was to fly into Portland, Maine and then to Bar Harbor via rental car.

It is about a three hour drive – we planned three days for Bar Harbor and had added a day at the start and end, which allowed us to extend our trip into more of a Maine coastal visit and we stayed in smaller towns along the coast. 

If you are not able to take on the additional driving time, another option is the airport in Bangor, Maine, which is about an hour from Bar Harbor.

Staying in Bar Harbor

Peak autumn for coastal Maine occurs in late September and early October. This is a very popular time of the year to visit the area, so advanced bookings and reservations are recommended. 

When we travel, we like to stay at VRBO properties, and in quaint, historic Bar Harbor, there are several great options like this one (1BR, 1BA) and this one (4BR, 1BA). Bar Harbor is quite small and walkable!

If the accommodations in Bar Harbor are too pricey, another option – and what we opted to do – is to stay in one of the surrounding towns.

We stayed in Southwest Harbor, which was about a 22-minute drive from Bar Harbor. We did not mind the drive and felt that the Southwest Harbor area was still quaint and provided a lovely stay.

There are several charming VRBO options like this one (1BR, 1BA) and this one (2BR, 1 BA).

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