We recently returned from one of our favorite vacations – visiting Maine's National Park Sites! If you haven’t had a chance to check out the great state of Maine, I highly recommend adding it to your travel bucket list!
From the quaint little towns along the coast, lighthouses, waterfalls, mountains, lobster, and everything in between, there is something that you will be sure to love.
Like most of our travels, visiting the National Park Service sites was at the top of the list. Acadia is one of the most visited National Parks – no surprise there; there is just so much to see!
There are more than 125 miles of trails! We spent the better part of three days at the park and feel that we got a decent overview of what the park has to offer, but we for sure would like to plan a return trip (perhaps some fall to enjoy the colors).
Where to stay…
We stayed at the same hotel in Ellsworth for the entire trip. Ellsworth has a nice downtown with a few small restaurants – we especially liked the Airline Brewing Company (the quesadilla was awesome – raspberry cilantro salsa).
Ellsworth is located about 30 to 45 minutes north of Acadia National Park, depending on the traffic.
For other ideas of where to stay, check these quaint towns near Acadia.
Getting to Maine's National Park Sites is not difficult as there are many small airports in the Acadia region, but like many other small airports, there are not a ton of flight options, and they are usually a little more expensive.
We chose to fly into Boston since flights were only usually about $100 out of Detroit vs. $400 plus if we flew into Bangor, ME. Granted, we had about a 4-hour drive, but for a $600 savings, it was well worth it.
Driving from Boston, Mass. to Ellsworth, Maine
The roads in Massachusetts are not very smooth, and there are toll roads.
We opted to take the coastal route once we hit the Maine state line. We ended up wasting a little time by driving down Kittery Point in hopes of seeing a lighthouse.
We ended up at a place called Fort McClary State Historic Site. A parking fee is applied, and there is a cost to enter the park. Ultimately we decided not to go, but the site has some hiking trails and an old fort, but people mostly go to the beaches.
Also, three lighthouses can be viewed from the shore.
Continuing along Route 1A, we drove through the York area to Nubble Lighthouse. There was a lot of beach parking along the way and many little restaurants and shops.
Once at Sohier Park (across from the lighthouse), we had to wait a few minutes for a parking space. The park provided lovely views of the lighthouse and lots of great coastline views.
We continued to drive along the coast to Kennebunkport. Honestly, I was not that excited about the town, or maybe I was just hungry and tired from getting up at 3:30 a.m. There seemed to be a lot of stores to check out – if that’s your thing, you might enjoy it.
We had lunch at a place called Clayton’s in Yarmouth. Their claim to fame is the chicken salad sandwich. I tried it, and it was very good – the bread was terrific.
Augusta is the capital of Maine, and since it was on our way, we stopped to check it out. We visited the 26th state capitol (or state house as they are sometimes referred to).
The building was completed in 1832 and was built using Maine granite.
If you love to visit state capitols, check out this post.
Okay, enough small talk; let’s get to the exciting parts of the trip!
Visiting Maine's National Park Sites
Day 1: Visiting Maine's National Park Sites – Acadia
We made it to Acadia National Park! Let's jump right in to our day.
Parking at the Sand Beach lot offers many opportunities to explore, as well as having restrooms and water fountains. We connected a few trails – there are a lot of options.
Tip: If the parking lot is full you can park in the right lane of the road, as permitted.
A wooden sign near the trailhead right across the road from the parking lot shows the trails in the area.
Tip: Take a photo of the sign with your phone so you can decide what trails you would like to hike as you go.
8 am-11:30 am: Hiking near Sand Beach.
We hiked the following hikes all in one big loop:
Beehive Trail: The Beehive trail involved some rock scrambling, sheer drop-offs, and iron rung ladders, but overall, it was a very enjoyable hike. If you are scared of heights, you will probably want to skip this route.
It is about half a mile to the top of the Beehive (elev. 520). Luckily, you don’t have to go down the same way as you came up! On the return trip, there are no ladders, and the rock scrambling is limited.
Tip: If you want to make it to the top of the Beehive but don’t want to deal with ladders, take the Bowl Trail to the Beehive Trail – just be sure to come back down the same way you went up!
Bowl Trail: I think out of all our hikes at Acadia, the Bowl Trail was my favorite! The little lake was so pretty, and the temperate was a little cooler. The lake was so peaceful and relaxing. If I had time, I could probably spend hours here!
Gorham Mountain Trail: This trail was quite easy, but there was not a lot of tree cover, so it did get rather warm.
There was a short bisecting trail (Cadillac Cliffs Trail- has steep granite stairs and iron rungs) that we missed coming from the Beehive Trail. The trail was about 3.5 miles (round trip – we only hiked one way) and reached an elevation of 525.
There is also a parking lot for the Gorham Mountain Trail; just across the road, you can catch the Ocean Path Trail.
Ocean Path Trail (south direction): This is a super easy hike along the side of the road used by many people to get where they want to go once they reach full parking lots and cars parked in the right lane.
The trail connects Otter Point to the upper Sand Beach parking lot. Trail length: 4.4 miles round trip.
Otter Point Trail: The trail was a bit boring and honestly was not that great when the tide was low. We happened to drive by later in the day. The cove at the end of the trail was much prettier.
Ocean Path Trail: We returned to this trail to reach the Sand Beach parking lot. Along the way, we stopped at Thunder Hole.
Thunder Hole: Thunder Hole has a small gift shop with the NP passport stamp and bathrooms. Thunder Hole was crowded with visitors wanting to hear the thunderous boom of the waves rolling into a rock inlet.
Tide time is very important if you want to hear the booms. You will want to plan your visit about 2 hours before high tide for the biggest crashes.
Sand Beach: There are bathrooms, drinking fountains, changing rooms, and of course, the beach to check out.
Tip: There are a few bus stops along the places mentioned above, just remember in this area that the road is one way so plan accordingly if you are getting around via the buses.
12pm –1:30pm: Sieur de Monts Nature Center
We were fortunate to find a parking space (there were quite a few spaces when we left). The nature center was a bit small, but there was no line to talk to the staff. The staff recommended a few hikes that started in the parking lot. There is an NP stamp at this location.
One of the first things we noticed while in Acadia was that there were not a lot of large trees. We asked a park volunteer about this, and we were told that in 1947, a fire roared through a large part of Maine, taking out hundreds of homes along with the woods.
Jesup Path: This is a forested walk on a boardwalk path that took us right through the middle of the great meadow.
Hemlock Path: This path is an old fire road that provides a great return path that has a great meadow on one side of the road and hemlock trees on the other. The trail was an easy hike.
3:00 pm: Ice cream at a place called Mace’s Snack Bar & Grille, Aurora, ME. There were a lot of interesting flavor choices, and the portions are huge!
I love ice cream, but I couldn’t finish 2 scoops (it was out of the serving dish by probably about 5 inches)!!
4:30 pm-5:00 pm: St. Croix Island
The visitor center was very nice, and the park staff was very friendly. The staff provided us with a short (10-minute or so) talk about the history of the site.
Once done with the visitor center, we headed outside for the very short walk to Fundy Bay. There are six bronze statues along the way that represent history.
Once at the end of the trail, there is a small pavilion; from there, you can see St. Croix Island. Adjacent to the pavilion is a boat launch area.
Tip: If you type the name of the site into GPS, it will take you to the wrong location. Follow the signs, and you will eventually find it.
8:00 pm: We had dinner at Finn’s Irish Pub in Ellsworth. Trip Advisor indicated that it is the #1 restaurant in Ellsworth. Honestly,
I thought it was average in every way. We had Irish nachos, fish and chips, and a Reuben sandwich with lime sage potato salad.
Day 2: Visiting Maine's National Park Sites
8:00 am-8:15 am: Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain was calling our name, well, not really, but we drove to the top only to be enveloped in fog- we could see a little bit, but not the views we had hoped for. We headed back down and continued on our adventure.
Tip: Timed entry is required to drive up Cadillac Mountain.
Cadillac Mountain is supposedly one of the best places to see the sunrise in the park. We had high hopes of watching, but the 4:50 a.m. sunrise and the fog in the mornings did not work out for us.
The gift shop was open, and we got our NP passport stamp.
8:30 am-1:00 pm: Bubbles / Jordan Pond
We had hoped to park at the Bubbles parking lot, but it was full. A small lot just down the road had open parking, but at that point, we decided to park at the Jordan Pond Area.
There was a vault toilet near the trailhead and a map of the trails in the area. We hiked the following trails in a loop:
Jordan Pond Path: This was a lovely hike. The eastern side of the trail is packed with dirt and relatively flat until you reach the “bubbles” area.
We wanted to hike the bubbles, so we took the trail up the north bubble from the Jordan Pond Path – yikes – it was super tough, and we never did make it to the top.
The rocks go super narrow, and we couldn’t get up. We did get high enough to get some nice views of Jordan Pond. Once back down, we took the Jordan Pond Carry trail to the right, and it took us to the Bubbles Divide Trail.
South Bubble Loop: The loop was relatively easy (probably more so since we first tried the strenuous side). Near the summit, you can try to “push” the bubble rock (aka Balanced Rock) at the top over. Also, once at the top, you can get lovely views of Jordan Pond.
North Bubble Loop: This loop wasn’t quite as busy as the South Bubble Loop. The views weren’t quite as nice, but it was still nice. There is a trail called the Bubbles Divide that you can take back to either the parking lot or to the Jordan Pond Path.
Jordan Pond Path: The western side of the path had rocky boulders and wooden planks over marshy wetlands. The planks were not very wide, and passing was difficult without getting off the planks.
If you didn’t want to do a side hike off this trail, it would be a 3.3-mile round-trip walk.
Acadia Jordan Pond House: The restaurant with the park’s famous popovers! Unfortunately, there wasn’t a popover-to-go window, and an hour-plus wait to get a table. There was an NP passport stamp at the gift shop.
The parking lot was swarmed with visitors looking for parking spaces. It was to the point that we had problems being able to back out of our parking stall!
2:00 pm: Cadillac Mountain
The fog dissipated, so we returned to Cadillac Mountain for some views. Parking was a little tough, but finding a space didn’t take too long (we only had to make one extra loop around the parking lot).
It was quite warm out, so we did not do any of the available hiking.
2:45 pm: Hulls Cove Visitor Center
Unfortunately, the park video was not in operation. We got the NP stamp at the gift shop and talked to the park rangers at the information desk. The line was a little long, and ultimately, we were told we should buy the $5 hiking map.
At this point, we were nearly done with our visit, and since we had already made it as far as we did, we did not purchase the map. Research before the trip had the hikes we wanted all figured out for the most part.
The parking lot was large, making it a good place to park if you wanted to take advantage of the free buses that run throughout the park.
3:30 pm-4:00 pm: Bass Harbor Head Light
Again, another location that was tough to find parking. People didn’t tend to stay long – there is only one short hike, so wait a few minutes, and you will get a spot.
This is a popular sunset location, so chances are you will have to get there quite early to get a prime spot to get the sunset and lighthouse in the same shot. It was still a little foggy in this area during our visit.
You will want to take the hike to get the best photographs of the lighthouse.
4:15 pm-5:00 pm: Ship Harbor Trail
The Ship Harbor Trail is a 1.3-mile round-trip trail that is mostly flat (there are 2 loops with no need to double back on any particular portion). It provides some decent views. There is a vault toilet near the trailhead.
The parking area is decent size, and parking on the shoulder of the road appeared to be allowed. Nearby is the Wonderland Trail.
We had dinner at Airline Brewing Company, which was indicated as #8 on Trip Advisor for Ellsworth. The place was a British brew pub, and it was great!
Day 3: Visiting Maine's National Park Sites
8:00 am-9:00 am: Schoodic Woods Campground (visitor center) and Lower Harbor Trail
The Lower Harbor Trail is a 1.5-mile-one-way trail connecting the bike path back to the parking lot.
The parking lot is very large at this location – if you plan to take the free buses, this would probably be a good place to park. There is also an NP passport stamp.
Park staff suggested the Lower Harbor Trail and, directed us on how to find the trailhead, and told us the bike path loop would be a good return option if we didn’t want to walk the trail in reverse.
The easy trail is shaded and follows the coastline. The ground was rather interesting – very sponge-like soil conditions.
9:05am-9:15am: Frazer Point
This is the last location to stop before the roadway becomes one-way (you can keep traveling south). This location has a medium-sized parking lot, restrooms, a bus stop, and a fishing dock.
9:25am-9:55am: Schoodic Point
This location has a large parking lot, restrooms, and a bus stop. The fog made it hard to see much, but there were many rocks to climb around. There were also a lot of lobster pots in the water near the rocks.
10 am-11 am: Schoodic Education and Research Center (Schoodic Institute)
A guard shack type of building near the Schoodic Institute entrance has a nice bathroom, a park volunteer to answer questions and an NP passport stamp.
The Rockerfeller Hall has a few displays to view – the exterior of the building is so pretty!
Sundew Trail starts near the hall (the people inside of the Hall have maps of the institute and direct you where to park – or if they are closed, there is a parking lot near the water tower.
The trail will pop you out at the Pavilion, and you can just walk towards the water tower to get back to your car). The Sundew Trail is an easy 0.7-mile nature trail through dense forests near the coastline.
11:05 am-12 pm: East Trail
There is a small turnout at the side of the road at the trailhead. This trail takes you to the top of Schoodic Head (elev. 440 ft). The trail has some steep sections that have some rock scrambling. The trail is a 1-mile round trip.
3 pm-3:10 pm: Millinocket Chamber of Commerce
If you want to get more information about visiting one of the newer national park service sites, Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, this is the place to go.
They had a lot of different maps, and visitor guides that they would love to share with you.
4:30 pm-6:00 pm Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument
It will take you about 40 minutes to get to the start of the gravel logging road from the Chamber of Commerce. Once on the gravel road, getting to the park sign and campground will take 35 miles or so.
There is a really pretty pond view before you get to the split for the Katahdin Loop Road. Once to the loop road, take a left.
We drove to the Katahdin Woods viewpoint at about mile 6.5. it took us about 30 minutes. The viewpoint was quite amazing. There is also a vault toilet in the parking area.
Amazingly, there were more people at this remote park than we had expected.
The roads were in okay condition, but we decided to head back on the loop road the same way we came. The entire loop road is about 16 miles long. Not staying on the loop road, we missed scenic views at miles 7 and 10.
Final Thoughts: Maines National Park Sites
All in all, it was an amazing trip! If you haven’t been to Maine, I highly recommend that you check it out – it is well worth the trip! I am already planning my next Maine adventure!