A weekend camping trip in Acadia
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
Acadia National Park in Maine is one of my favorite places in the world. I only went there once when I was growing up, but my husband and I have gone nearly every year since spring 2017 and plan to continue that tradition.
Most tourists head to Maine in the summer months from Memorial Day to Labor Day when the weather is warmer and the ocean is still cold, but not numbingly so. While it’s beautiful in Acadia at that time of year, we prefer the slightly off-season periods, typically in May or later September/early October, for a quieter trip. It’s easier to get a campsite during the off-season and the trails are a bit less crowded, but it’s warm enough to be comfortable with a sweatshirt or light jacket at the worst.
If you’re planning a weekend away in Acadia, I’ve put together a few recommendations from our spring 2021 trip, plus a few bonus recommendations if your drive takes you through Portland, Maine.
Ship Harbor Trail and Bass Harbor Lighthouse: The Ship Harbor Trail is lovely as an evening or morning walk. It’s short (1.3 miles) and mostly flat, weaving in and out of the woods along the coastline. You’ll get the beautiful rocky beaches that are emblematic of the area without much effort. The Bass Harbor Lighthouse is just a short drive from the trail, so definitely add a stop. You’ll want to walk down the path to the left of the lighthouse (when you’re facing the ocean), down the steps, and onto the rocks to get the best view.
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge trail: If you’re staying at the Blackwoods Campground, you can enter the trailhead for this hike directly from your campground, but it does add on about 1.5 miles to your overall trip, making the round trip about 10 miles long. The trail is dog friendly, though there was one spot we had to help Hans up and down because it had a ladder rung and a longer jump than he was comfortable with. The views are spectacular and it’s well worth the climb. (Side note, if you’d rather not hike up the mountain, you can also drive up, but they do charge a small admission fee to limit the number of cars on the narrow mountain roads at one time.)
Jordan Pond loop trail: The full loop around the pond is only about 3.4 miles long and mostly flat, so it makes for a nice leisurely walk after a day of hiking. For example, if you were sore after doing Cadillac Mountain, you could do Jordan Pond the next day. Just hypothetically speaking. The whole hike is lovely, but the coolest part is about 4/5th of the way around the pond when you cross a small inlet. On a windy day, it essentially creates a wind tunnel and you can barely hear over the roar. The waves are beautiful and you get a great view of the pond against the mountains.
Carriage Trail: If you want to do the loop, the trail is only 1.2 miles, but we just went out and back because it was just starting to rain when we were there. It’s a nice relaxing walk along Little Long Pond with lovely flowering trees and plants in the springtime. Plus, there’s a cute boathouse from which you can get a great view of the pond. Unfortunately, I just used my film camera on that walk, so the colors are a bit washed out.
Gorham Mountain to Ocean Walk loop trail: At only 3.1 miles, this loop is a great last-day hike. While some sites recommend starting with the Ocean Walk portion, it’s much more relaxing to end there. Start with the climb up Gorham Mountain and then relax with a nice walk by the sea and enjoy the breeze.
Since we camp in Acadia, typically we eat most of our meals either on the trail (big PB&J fan over here) or around a campfire. While we prefer this more rustic approach, there are a couple restaurants/cafes in Bar Harbor we like to frequent.
Side Street Café, Bar Harbor: Part of the draw of Side Street Cafe is that their deck is dog friendly, which is an important criterion as we always travel with Hans in tow. It’s a bit off the beaten path, so it tends to be a bit quieter and you shouldn’t have to wait long for a table. The food and cocktails are delicious. They can also make most things gluten-free or dairy-free upon request. This past trip I got their gluten-free mac & cheese and a raspberry gimlet and both were delicious.
Lompoc Café & Books, Bar Harbor: Lompoc is diagonally across the street from Side Street Cafe and I encourage you to step in to browse their book selection and pick up a snack or drink while you’re at it. It’s a small store, but the books are carefully curated and their fiction selection is excellent. They are also dog-friendly and have a lovely little patio where you can sit and read your new book.
Sherman’s Books: The oldest bookstore in Maine with locations in Bar Harbor, Portland, Damariscotta, Rockland, Freeport, and Boothbay Harbor. My favorite is the Portland location because it typically has a great staff pick section with detailed book descriptions, but the Bar Harbor location is also worth a visit if you’re in town.
Bonus Portland lightning round recs:
Since we live on the North Shore of Massachusetts, we have to drive right past Portland to get to and from Acadia. It’s about an hour and a half from home and about three hours from Acadia, so it’s a great way to break up the trip. We also just love the city, so we make special trips to Portland throughout the year as well.
Tandem Coffee: Excellent local coffee roaster with a killer bakery. Plus, the main cafe is in a vintage gas station building, so that’s fun.
Central Provisions: Local, seasonal small plates and great cocktails. One of our top restaurant stops.
Duckfat: Get the poutine. It will change your life. The restaurant space is on the smaller side, but they do takeout orders too. Definitely not for vegetarians.
Little Giant: Modern fare with a rotating menu based on the season. Everything’s fantastic and sitting on the covered patio is lovely in the summer. A bit more expensive, but perfect for a special night out.
Bissell Brothers: If you like beer, don’t miss a stop at Bissell. People stand in line for hours when they release a new beer in cans.
Après: If you’re not a beer person, head to Après. They make craft hard seltzers (think Spindrift, but alcoholic) and ciders, and the patio and tasting room are beautiful.
If you've been to Acadia or Portland before, let me know your recommendations in the comments! Do you have a repeat vacation spot you're crazy about?