Summer is prime season for National Park adventurers, for all the obvious reasons. But Acadia puts on her most spectacular show in the fall. Most savvy travelers agree: September and October are your best months for heading to the crown jewel of the North Atlantic coast.
With miles of craggy coastline set against a backdrop of mountains and thick forests, it really does resemble the perfect autumn postcard. For several weeks starting around mid-September, “leaf peeping” season is alive and well, transforming the landscape into fiery hues of reds, oranges and yellows. Plus, daytime temperatures are just right for a brisk hike along one of the many winding trails the park is praised for.
Most of Acadia sits on Mount Desert Island, just off Maine’s coast (also home to Bar Harbor). Deciding on an itinerary can be tough, but we’ve rounded up a list with a few main highlights to hit:
Cadillac Mountain is a must-do. It’s the highest elevation in the park with unbeatable views. You can hike up if you want a challenge (plan on 2 hours each way), but you’ll get the same reward at the top if you drive: stunning scenery. Most people make the journey at either sunrise or sunset, when the light glitters across the sea for a few golden moments.
Go for an easy 3 mile hike around Jordon Pond, where visitors marvel at the deep, crystal clear water. Carved out by a glacier, the pond also offers great views of the famous “Bubbles,” two rounded mountains on the north end. And don’t forget to stop into Jordon Pond House for afternoon tea and fluffy popovers with local fruit jam.
For a less touristy excursion, the Isle au Haut is far more remote than the busier Mount Desert Island. Mountain bikers and serious hikers can explore the dense woods, marshes, rocky cliffs, coves and wildlife that make up the island, accessed via ferry.
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you’ll be in paradise here. Think whales, puffins, otters, moose, bears, and the list keeps going. Birdwatching is a big attraction, and you can book guided tours (bring binoculars!) for bird-centric hikes and a chance to spot Peregrine falcons or bald eagles swooping between the cliffs.
Where to stay? Camping is a great option in the summer, but for the fall there’s nothing like the historic coastal charm of Bar Harbor. If you visit in September, you can catch the Acadia Night Sky Festival. The town is serious about keeping away light pollution; in fact, Bar Harbor has an ordinance to use “night sky friendly” lighting on all outdoor construction to preserve their majestically starry nights. Hotels, adorable bed-and-breakfasts, and Airbnb options abound, keeping you close to the endless opportunities of Acadia.
Photo: Steve Shpall