Explore our favorite hiking trails at Acadia National Park

Maine’s fall colors dazzle visitors

 You can explore Maine’s Acadia National Park using a variety of strategies: by vehicle, foot, bicycle, snowshoe, cross-country skis, snowmobile and boat. My wife and I prefer to hike and, so far in retirement, our bodies are cooperating.

We timed our last visit to Acadia to coincide with autumn colors. If you plan the trip three to six months out, picking the right time is tricky, but we settled on the second week in October. And Mother Nature’s timing coincided.

Like many vacationers, we made our base at Bar Harbor, just a mile from the park’s main entrance and visitor center. After a day of hiking, we enjoyed leisurely strolls from our hotel to restaurants, followed by some light window-shopping. Staying in town was a convenience since we didn’t want to drive into Bar Harbor every day and search for a parking spot.

Acadia offers a good variety of day hikes within the park. We avoided weekends and mid-afternoon times, which produced peaceful morning trails and tranquil views. The following describes our favorites.

The trail around Jordan Pond dazzles in autumn.

Any trail around Jordan Pond

True confessions – we love this area because we also eat popovers at the Jordan Pond House. But to our credit, we saved that guilty pleasure for the end of our hike. Most visitors simply stroll around part of the pond’s flat 3.3-mile loop trail. We chose a more adventurous route to escape the crowds and to add some scenic views from above the tree line.

We started at the trailhead for South Bubble, located along Park Loop Road near the northern end of Jordan Pond. We then hiked down to the Jordan Pond Trail and walked around the most northern end to connect with the Penobscot Mountain Trail. This section popped with fall colors and was much less crowded than the southern end of the lake near the pond house. We then trekked up, with an elevation gain of about 800 feet, to reach the gorgeous views from the mountain.

Connector trails led us back down Penobscot to the Jordan Lake Trail, to popover heaven and eventually to our car. The loops we patched together totaled about 5.5 miles and were easy to follow with a trail map and an assist from good signage.

Low tide along the Wonderland Trail reveals interesting ocean life, like this Jonah crab.
We hiked the Ship Harbor Trail after visiting Acadia’s iconic Bass Harbor Lighthouse.
We hiked the Ship Harbor Trail after visiting Acadia’s iconic Bass Harbor Lighthouse.

Wonderland and Ship Harbor Trails

On the day we traveled to the iconic Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park, we added two short hikes that we really enjoyed in that section of the peninsula. Both took us to the coast and I’d recommend visiting during low to mid tide. They’re also heavily trafficked with inadequate parking, so plan accordingly.

The flat Ship Harbor Trail meanders as a 1.3-mile loop with great low vegetation fall colors or, if you arrive in spring and early summer, blooming wildflowers. I enjoyed photographing the trail’s red cliffs with their contrasting layers of colors created by the ever-changing tides.

The Wonderland Trail takes you on a 1.6-mile loop to the ocean shore. Here we enjoyed exploring the tide pools and watching Maine fishing boats glide across the horizon. We carried bug spray because biting insects can be ferocious in the park, depending upon the season.

Even average trails in Acadia National Park are spectacular in fall.
Even average trails in Acadia National Park are spectacular in fall.

Try Mt. Gorman and the Beehives

Visitors flock to the beehives to hike this trail and climb its metal ladder rungs up the rocky cliffs. It’s a unique trail but reconsider taking any young kids or companions who don’t enjoy heights. Two main routes can get you there.

Your first option is to park in the Sand Beach parking lot to begin the Beehives trail, a 1.4 mile loop with a 500-foot elevation gain. Most people choose this route. During peak tourist season (summer, weekends and holidays) you can expect to wait your turn to climb the metal rungs.

We chose a longer hike that gave us the option to include the Beehives or skip them. We started at the Gorman Mountain Trailhead and parking lot. This hike is a 3.2-mile out and back trail to a pond called The Bowl, with an option of adding the Beehives with an extra mile. Again, the park trail map nicely lays out these options.

Be sure to hike up in elevation during autumn for views like this on Penobscot Mountain.
Be sure to hike up in elevation during autumn for views like this on Penobscot Mountain.

Daily hiking and devouring lobster

We hiked other trails, such as Beech Mountain and Pretty Marsh, but they didn’t qualify for our “favorites” list. Acadia also includes 18 miles of hiking trails on the park’s Isle au Haut, but we could not explore those because the ferry service discontinued in late September. In addition, we have driven to and hiked at Acadia’s more remote Schoodic Peninsula but, quite frankly, we’ve never enjoyed this part of the park as much as the other sections.

Our daily hikes helped burn off the calories from eating lobster rolls and other assorted crustacean dishes, usually topped off by a Maine microbrew. On this trip, we started and ended our vacation in Portland, spending two days in the city before we returned home. That culminated our great New England fall adventure. We’ll return and try again to arrive during the peak of autumn’s color extravaganza.

  • John Gevers
    Posted at 17:33h, 27 July Reply

    This makes me want to try visiting Acadia again. The photographs are stunning and the trail recommendations much appreciated. Thank you!

    • admin
      Posted at 17:37h, 27 July Reply

      Thanks, John. So glad you found the article helpful. Another member of the Wandering Rose Travels team did Acadia by bicycle and enjoyed it equally.

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